Entries in Brendan Steele (3)


Mickelson, man of the past, talks about the future

By Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — It’s the past that makes us think of Phil Mickelson, the Masters triumphs, the battles with Tiger Woods, the win in the Tucson Open when he was a 20-year-old student at Arizona State. But for Phil and the golfer who beat him Sunday in the Safeway Open, the talk was of the future.

Even though at 47 Mickelson seemingly is near the end of his career on the regular PGA Tour.

Even though he hasn’t won since 2015.

Phil tied for third in the Safeway. The winner for a second straight year was Brendan Steele, at 15-under-par 273. Tony Finau was a shot back. Mickelson and Chesson Hadley were two more behind, at 276.

Two days ago, Mickelson made a bold forecast. He promised he would win. Maybe here, at Silverado Country Club. Maybe in China, where in two weeks he’ll make his next start, at a tournament where he’s twice finished first.

Steele, a southern Californian as is Mickelson, seconded the motion.

“He’s very close,” Steele said of Mickelson, with whom he plays frequently. “He’s been playing really well. I think the only thing that’s holding him back is missing a few fairways here and there.”

Which is what Phil did on the front nine on Sunday, shooting one-over 37. And then, after a run on the back nine, what he did on the little (370-yard) 17th, making a bogey after a birdie at 16 and before a closing birdie at 18.

Missing fairways has always been Mickelson’s weakness, as if a golfer who’s won five majors and 42 tournaments overall can be said to have a weakness. 

What he can do is get the ball into the cup, putting, chipping, blasting, and in golf there’s nothing more important.

You can recover from a shot into the trees. You can’t recover from missing three-footers.

Mickelson shot a two-over 70 the final day of this Safeway, his only round of the week out of the 60s, a score that was a shot worse than those of Steele and Finau.

“When I’ve been home with him,” said Steele, “he’s had good results. He’s trending in the right direction ... I don’t see any reason why he can’t be competitive for a really long time. I’ve always said I think Phil can win at Augusta well into his mid-50s, he knows the course so well. I don’t see him slowing down anytime soon.”

Mickelson won’t slow down over the next two weeks. He will stop, going east to attend parents day at Brown University in Providence, R.I, where the eldest of the Mickelson children, Amanda, is a freshman. Then we will see what happens on the course.

“The game has come back,” he insisted, “and my focus is much better.”

One of the problems for relatively older athletes is a loss of concentration. They perform well for a while, say an inning or two, a set or two, a round or two, and then they fall apart.

The oldest golfer to win a major was Julius Boros, 48, who took the PGA Championship back in the 1960s. Jack Nicklaus won the Masters at 46 in 1986. Subsequently he would return, get in contention and then make bogies.

Silverado played tough Sunday. There was a stiff wind, and the pins were on raised areas of the greens. Mickelson said he liked the challenge and also believed correctly that none of the leaders, including Steele, would get far ahead.

“It was fun to be in the mix,” he said, sounding like a rookie. “It was fun to have a chance.”

The optimism grows from the results.

“It’s just easy to see the ball starting on the right line,” he said. “Iron play’s back, distance control, putting. I’m staying (in the) present and hitting shots.”

What he most wants to hit after four years is the winner’s circle.

10:40PM Open a chance to see how good the pros are

By Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — So it isn’t Augusta National. Or Pebble Beach. Still, Silverado is a wonderful, little and now historic country club course that enables amateurs who play it to have a decent round — and also to appreciate just how good the touring pros are. If they didn’t previously.

That slogan, “These Guys Are Good,” has outlasted its shelf life in this world of constant revision, but indeed these guys are good — very good, low-60s good. Because three rounds into this Open, everyone high on the leader board has a round in the mid to low 60s.

Saturday’s guy was Andrew Loupe, who shot a nine-under-par 63. That’s one off the course record. And the same that Brendan Steele shot Thursday. Or one better than Kevin Na and Jason Bohn shot on Saturday.

Steele, as he has been from the first round, was in first with a 63-70-69—202, 14 under par. Loupe and Na, at 203, not only share second but the distinction of being arguably the two slowest players on the Tour. A year ago, Johnny Miller, who now owns a fraction of Silverado (and won here twice in the 1970s), told his NBC-TV audience about Loupe, “If everyone on Tour played like him, I’d stop commenting.”

Johnny hasn’t stopped, meaning perhaps Loupe has sped up his routine — he once took seven practice swings — or Miller has become more tolerant.

There are a ton of players, eight to be specific, tied for fourth at 204. That group includes Justin Rose, Harold Varner III and Graham DeLaet, but it does not include Rory McIlroy, the Irishman trying to get back the lead in the world golf rankings. McIlroy is at 210, eight shots back after a second straight 71, and tied for 39th. Yes, 39th.

In addition, he nearly got skulled while on the green of the short (375-yard) 17th, reachable by long hitters who cut a dogleg where oak trees flourish. “Missed me by a couple of inches," said McIlroy. “Would have put me out of misery.”

He’s joking. McIlroy, who is third in the rankings behind Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, neither of whom is here in the opening event of the 2015-16 Tour, flew Tuesday from his home. He was obligated to enter after receiving an exemption of three years to skip the event and hoped it would give him a jump-start instead of waiting until February or March.

“I came here with the intention of trying to play well,” said McIlroy, who splits his time between the European and PGA Tours. “I’m here. I might as well give it my best shot.”

Loupe, 26, was born and resides in Baton Rouge. Yes, he graduated from LSU, in sports administration. Yes, he sped off after the round to watch the LSU-Florida game. “I love ’em,” he said when someone asked about the Tigers.

He also had to love a round of 31-32—63 that included 10 birdies and one bogey. “It was a fabulous day,” affirmed Loupe. Also one that didn’t take as long as some feared.

Steele, who’s from the little community of Idyllwild in the mountains above Palm Springs, gave a few clichés and, smart fellow that he is — a UC Riverside grad — conceded they were clichés.

“Sundays are tough,” said Steele about the final round. “Fridays when you’re hanging around the cut line and Sundays when you’re in the lead, those are the two toughest times. That’s when the character comes out.

“Any Sunday you’re in good position, you feel like every shot is important. You have to try the best you can. I mean, all the super cliché phrases, one shot at a time, and stick to the process and all that stuff. But it’s true. They are clichés for a reason.”

Steele is in first for a reason. He’s made only four bogeys in 54 holes, three Friday and one Saturday, the latter on the tricky, uphill eighth hole. “I can’t control what the other guys are going.”

That’s both the best and worst part of golf. There’s no defense. There’s the opportunity to shoot a terrific round. At Silverado, a course basically for amateurs, the pros have been shooting one terrific round after another. Those guys are good.


Brendan Steele, down the mountain and up Fry’s golf leader board

By Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — So it’s the first tournament of the new PGA Tour season Thursday and on his sixth hole of the round — the 15th, since he began at the 10th — Brendan Steele already has four birdies and has playing partner Steve Wheatcroft shaking his head.

“I made like three 20-footers in a row,” Steele said almost apologetically, “and he was like, ‘Just hang in there, it’s a long season. You’ll make one eventually.’” Oh those pros, determined to get under your skin, as well as under par.

On this first day of the wrap-around 2015-16 season, Steele was way under, minus-nine, a 63 at Silverado Country Club’s North Course, atop the leader board but only by a shot over Jhonhattan Vegas. Another shot back, at 65, is Harold Varner III, who Tuesday talked about being one of the few African-Americans on the Tour.

The big guns had big days. Justin Rose was among those at 67. And a satisfied Rory McIlroy shot 68, saying, “It definitely was a step in the right direction.” But the biggest day was Steele’s, a 29 on the back, a 34 on the front that included birdies on holes 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 and without anything worse than a par.

“It’s always hard to just to have a solid nine,” Steele philosophized, “after you shoot six, seven-under on one side.” He’s 33, a golfer despite growing up in the mountains southwest of Palm Springs, in Idyllwild, where the nearest course was in the desert town of Hemet, 22 miles of winding road distant.

Brendan was a baseball and soccer kid until visiting his half-brother, who lived at Newport Beach and played golf. “I wanted to do everything my big brother did,” said Steele.

Steele’s father, Kent, an attorney who had escaped the hassle of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, a hundred miles down I-10, put up a net and dug out a bunker in the backyard of their home. “That’s sort of where I learned to play,” said Steele.

Then he would ride buses, leaving at 5:45 a.m. from Idyllwild, elevation 5,600 feet, to Hemet High, at the 1,200 foot level. “I started when I was 13,” said Steele, “so pretty late for PGA Tour players, but I just fell in love with the game and found a way to get in some practice when I could.”

Steele played for UC Riverside, not too far from Hemet, graduating in 2005 with a degree in business. He qualified for the Tour in 2011 and with his wife, Anastassia, moved to Irvine in Orange County, where there are no mountains but dozens of courses and one airport, John Wayne.

“I didn't think much of it at the time,” said Steele, referring to his mother and father’s drives up and down what he refers to as “the hill” to take him to and from golf practice. “I just thought that’s what parents do. Looking back, it’s a pretty big sacrifice they made.”

All sports require sacrifice of some sort whether it’s a mom hauling a kid — think of Kutida Woods, Tiger’s mother — or a kid spending hours hitting baseballs or golf balls. Or jump shots.

“I’m doing a lot of things that I didn’t do before,” said Steele, “and kind of understanding how to play better.”

What McIlroy, the Irishman who is No. 3 in the world, understands is if you want to be high in the Tour’s FedEx Cup standings as well as the Euro Tour’s Race To Dubai, you have to be competing. He said because he didn’t enter events in America until March, he felt he was playing catch-up.

Now he’s in at the start, and he believes he's in for some good times as well as very good golf.

“I’ve never been to this area before,” he said of the Napa Valley, maybe 60 miles north of San Francisco — where in May McIlroy took the Cadillac match play. “You can see why everyone is so relaxed. Beautiful weather, a lot of stuff to do away from the golf course. Trying to find a balance between enjoying myself this week and still trying to play well. Yeah, it’s a great event. I’m obviously very happy to be here.”

Brendan Steele, the man who came down the mountain, would second the motion.