DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) – The biggest distraction Jack Nicklaus ever faced on the golf course was from a helicopter.
It's an old story, but Nicklaus chuckled while recalling the time he lost his concentration when a chopper flew over Cherry Hills in the 1960 U.S. Open and he three-putted for bogey. Two years later, Nicklaus had gone three rounds without a three-putt in the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont when a helicopter approached as he played the first hole of the final round.
“I reverted and thought right back about it,'' Nicklaus said over the weekend. “It was the only three-putt I had in the whole tournament.''
The issue at Memorial was cellphones, which contributed to Phil Mickelson withdrawing after an opening round of 79. Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler mentioned the vast number of fans taking pictures with their phones, to the point players had to back off their shots.
Mickelson is not afraid to send a message to the tour – in this case, literally.
According to four people with direct knowledge, Mickelson sent a text message to PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem from the sixth fairway at Muirfield Village suggesting that a lack of policing fans with cellphones was getting out of hand.
Mickelson withdrawing for what he called “mental fatigue'' is not a tour violation. Players can withdraw for any reason after completing a round. Using a phone to send the commissioner a text is another matter, though the tour doesn't disclose any disciplinary actions.
If nothing else, one official said it got the tour's attention.
Mickelson doesn't mind taking criticism, even for pulling out of Nicklaus' tournament. He skipped the Tour Championship during a debate over the length of the PGA Tour season and decided not to play a FedEx Cup playoff event in the inaugural year to protest the inequity of the pro-am policy. Those close to the tournament host said Nicklaus wasn't bothered by Mickelson's decision to leave and never brought it up.
Last year, the tour began allowing fans to bring phones to the tournament so long as photos weren't taken during competition. There are designated areas to make calls. That's not going to stop fans from taking pictures, and most annoying are the people who don't switch the phones to silent.
Banning the policy isn't an option. The tour is moving forward in the digital age with programs to enhance the gallery's experience. Plus, the increase in attendance has been tangible this year. Nowadays, if fans can't bring their phones, they're more likely not to come at all.
The solution is to add security or volunteers to the two or three marquee pairings, and to take away phones from fans caught taking pictures (giving them a claim check to retrieve the phone at the end of the day). That's what happened on Friday, and there were no big incidents the rest of the way.
Q-SCHOOL PROGRESS: The PGA Tour is trying to move quickly to identify the best model to combine tour players and Nationwide Tour players for a three-tournament series that will determine who gets full PGA Tour cards.
This is the last year for Q-school. Starting in 2013, all PGA Tour cards will be awarded through a three-event series.
Three ideas were presented at a Player Advisory Council meeting last week at the Memorial, though progress was best described by Stewart Cink.
“It's very much fight and fall back,'' he said. “I'm a little frustrated the way the PAC is going on it. It seems like we come to a meeting, and everyone has new ideas. The staff has done what it can do. But the players have new ideas every meeting, and we're not getting anywhere.''
The three-tournament series combines the top 75 on the Nationwide money list with Nos. 126 to 200 on the PGA Tour money list. Fifty cards would be distributed. Q-school held late in the year would be only for Nationwide Tour access.
The tour brought two proposals to the Memorial.
One of them is not going anywhere – using a formula to convert PGA Tour earnings to Nationwide Tour earnings because the three tournaments would be $1 million purses. That was quickly dismissed.
The other tour plan was for everyone to start from scratch except for the top 25 on the Nationwide money list, who would be assigned prize money depending on their position to give them a head start. The top 15 on the Nationwide list would be assured of getting one of the 50 cards.
The PAC offered a third option: The top 15 on the Nationwide would be guaranteed cards and would have a separate money list during the three-tournament series to determine their priority ranking. Everyone else would start at scratch and compete on a separate money list for 35 cards.
The tour hopes for something from the policy board meeting at the end of the month during the AT&T National.
“We're about halfway there,'' said Steve Stricker, who is on the board. “We determined there's going to be something different, but that something different isn't close yet. It's tough. No matter what system you come up, everybody pokes holes in it. We're trying to make sure we think about every possible person or category.''
The key is to keep it simple. Golf already has too much math.
“That's what it's getting down to,'' Stricker said. “Let your score be the judge where you're going to go.''
What has emerged over two months of study is that the tour is leading toward automatic PGA Tour cards for the top 15 on the Nationwide Tour. Now, the top 25 on that money list graduate to the big leagues.
DONALD'S ROAD: Luke Donald won an NCAA title at Northwestern, earned his degree, met the woman who became his wife and eventually rose to No. 1 in the world. His path, personally and professionally, nearly went a different direction.
“I knew nothing about the American college system,'' the Englishman said last weekend. “I thought I was going to go to Stanford. They had one scholarship, and it was between me and this other guy named Jimmy Lee. (Stanford coach) Wally Goodwin could only get one of us in.''
Stanford went with Lee. Donald went to Northwestern.
“They told me it was academic stuff,'' Donald said. “I would have thought Northwestern had a high standard.''
Donald does not know what became of Lee, though he did mention him and the story of how he got to Northwestern during a recent trip to his alma mater to be honored.
“My biggest `thank you' goes to Jimmy Lee,'' he said. “If I got the nod, who knows?''
ISHIKAWA TO AMERICA? Already a special temporary member, Ryo Ishikawa is virtually a lock to earn his full PGA Tour card for next year.
He tied for ninth at the Memorial and earned $167,400, pushing his season earnings to $763,631. He is exempt into the U.S. Open and British Open, and is guaranteed to make about $36,000 even if he finishes last in the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.
To become a full member next year, Ishikawa has to finish the equivalent of No. 125 on the money list. The player at No. 125 has finished at more than $800,000 only once in tour history, and that was in 2008.
DIVOTS: U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy needs someone to play golf with at the U.S. Open. The USGA typically puts the defending champion with the U.S. Amateur champion and British Open champion. Kelly Kraft is ineligible because he turned pro, and Darren Clarke withdrew with an injury. Before Clarke withdrew, USGA executive director Mike Davis considered putting Graeme McDowell in the group. The pairings will be announced this week. … Tiger Woods has led the field in greens in regulation in both of his PGA Tour wins this year. He has led in GIR in 20 out of his 70 stroke-play wins on tour. … I.K. Kim has become a Special Olympics Ambassador. She presented Special Olympics a donation of $100,000, half her earnings from the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Nearly half of Tiger Woods' wins on the PGA Tour (35 of 73) have come on six courses – Torrey Pines (7), Bay Hill (7), Firestone (7), Muirfield Village (5), Cog Hill (5) and Augusta National (4).
FINAL WORD: “I think the Open is where most people come unglued. I don't think there's any championship as nerve-racking as the U.S. Open.'' – Johnny Miller.