Kostis’ Corner

Sergio is almost waiting for putts not to go in on the weekends.
Robert Beck/SI

Carnoustie provided yet another thrilling finish to an Open Championship, but you might be surprised to know that I don’t think the site of the 136th Open Championship can be called a “great” golf course.

Don’t get me wrong, Carnoustie has a great final three holes where anything can — and seemingly does — happen. And the course is very well designed to take in the elements. Wind coming from one direction makes the front nine benign and the back nine very tough, and when the wind shifts the front nine becomes tough and the back nine plays easier.

When the wind is calm, good players can shoot low scores, but on foul-weather days (which are frequent along the coast of the North Sea) the course can be a real brute. The design flexibility of links courses is often limited because designers have to factor in worst-case scenarios with regard to weather so the golf course remains playable. But when the weather is not there, the golf is less demanding.

For a golfer to be called great, he needs to have won a major championship, and Sergio Garcia certainly let his first title slip through his fingers.

Because Phil Mickelson had already won three major championships before he blew the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, I think this loss will be even harder for Garcia to swallow. The young Spaniard has been close to winning before, but he’s never been through anything like this.

Sergio’s problems are not with his swing but inside his head. I am a firm believer that a people’s perceptions shape their thinking process, and that the thinking process in turn dictates actions. Sergio Garcia sounds like a person who thinks the world is against him. Look at what he said about his shot Sunday to the 16th green. “It’s funny how some guys hit the pin and the ball goes to a foot. Mine hits the pin and goes 20 feet away.”

I’m sorry, but if his shot had not hit the stick, Garcia’s ball would have gone at least 30 feet past the hole because it was coming in hot. But instead of looking at it as a good thing, Garcia saw it as just another bad break. “You know what’s the saddest thing about it,” he said. “It’s not the first time. It’s not the first time, unfortunately. So, I don’t know, I’m playing against a lot of guys out there, more than the field.”

When Garcia is upbeat and positive, he’s a wonderful player and can shoot seriously low numbers, as we saw Thursday when he shot 65. But something happens in his mind on the weekends, and it’s almost as if he is waiting for bad things to happen. Great players like Nicklaus have a convenient memory — like a great relief pitcher in baseball — that lets them recall all the positive things that happen but block out the bad stuff. You have to do that if you want to win.

As for Garcia’s switch to a belly putter, I love it. From a technical standpoint, the belly putter will help Garcia make a quality stroke more easily. But great putters need to believe they’ll make everything they see, and Garcia, even with an improved stroke, didn’t believe that on Sunday, and his putts stopped dropping.

I’m not a betting man, but given a choice between a player with a wonderful stroke and a bad attitude, and a player with a poor putting stroke who believes he can’t miss, I’ll bet on the player with the good attitude every time. When Garcia has a better attitude and emotional control, he’ll not only win his first major, but several others.

Four holes is just right
I would have hated to see a one-hole playoff on the 18th at Carnoustie. The R&A’s four-hole aggregate playoff system is wonderful because it creates drama and gives players plenty of chances to both win and lose the title. Carnoustie is also an ideal course for the four-hole playoff because the 1st, 16th, 17th and 18th holes are close together, and the last three are among the most difficult on the course.

In contrast, the USGA is completely ridiculous in its assertion that the U.S. Open is so important that it warrants an 18-hole playoff. Really? Then why is it that if the score is tied after an 18-hole playoff, the players go to sudden death. If sudden death is good enough after 96 holes, why not after 72? The R&A’s philosophy is better for the players and the fans.

Phil needs a 28-hour day
The old cliche, “robbing from Peter to pay Paul,” is never more evident than when a player makes a swing change. Regardless of how good a player may be, when he makes a swing change he is going to put in more time on the range to make it stick, so other areas of his game won’t get as much attention. Generally, that means short game.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut at Oakmont because his wrist was clearly not 100%, but at Carnoustie I don’t think he putted or chipped as well as he’s capable of because he’s been working so hard on his full swing. Mickelson needed 33 putts on Thursday and 32 putts on Friday (when he 3-putted three times). That was almost three more putts per round than the field average during the first two days!

When Mickelson won The Players, his short game was still razor sharp, but you won’t see consistently good results from him until he has completed the swing changes and has a chance to spend the necessary time getting his short game back in order.

Tiger was out of synch
In several events this summer Tiger Woods has either been hitting the ball great and putting so-so, or vice versa. He hasn’t put it all together. His leg action looked less than crisp to me at Carnoustie, so he seemed to have a lot of trouble releasing the club properly through impact, which resulted in lots of blocks and hooks. He’ll need to work that out before the PGA Championship in a few weeks.

My take is that Woods will put it all together fairly soon. But look for him to play even better yet when his wife, Elin, and their daughter, Sam, can start traveling with him.

The FedEx Cup could mean something after all
The winner of the British Open is, by tradition, called the Champion Golfer of the Year, but so far in 2007 no one has put together a body of work that makes him a clear favorite to be the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year. So, if we get another first-time major winner at Southern Hills (we’ve had three first-time winners so far this year), the FedEx Cup could be the deciding factor.

I’m sure nothing would make Tim Finchem and the folks at the Tour happier.