Sophomores are slumping in 2006
Six months ago, they were the talk of the PGA Tour, riding incredible golfers' highs into the holidays after taking bold steps to the next level of their careers. The putts were going in. Confidence was not an issue and neither was health -- either physical or mental. Now it's June and Ryan Moore, Jason Gore and Sean O'Hair will tell you that validating a breakout season can be more demanding than getting there.
Moore was on a plane Sunday night to Columbus, Ohio, hoping his hand had healed, his body had recovered and his mind was fresh enough to reset the season. What's happened thus far in 2006 doesn't constitute a slump, not when hand surgery sidelined him in March and knocked him out of the Players and the Masters, but it certainly hasn't been the start Moore expected. He was hoping to get back to Winged Foot, where he won the 2004 U.S. Amateur, and not even that is assured. For a spot in the U.S. Open, Moore has to advance through a sectional qualifier the day after the Memorial Tournament.
Moore withdrew from the FedEx St. Jude Classic after shooting 80 Thursday, raising speculation he returned too soon, that the hamate bone in his left hand had not completely healed. According to his brother, Jeremy, who serves as Moore's agent, the hand was sore, but it was the rest of his body that needed some downtime after completing his first tournament in two months one week earlier at the Bank of America Colonial. He flew home to Las Vegas to rest and is committed to play every event through the B.C. Open in July.
Two years ago, Moore had one of the greatest seasons in amateur history. Last year, with a second-place finish in the Bell Canadian Open and four other top-20s, he looked like the first collegian since Tiger Woods who could have an immediate and sustained impact on tour. This year, Moore has missed four cuts and ranks 210th on the money list.
"For everything he has gone through, he's in a pretty solid state mentally," said Jeremy. "Like anybody, it'll take some time to get back to peak form."
The road to Westchester County also is paved with uncertainty for the darling of last year's U.S. Open. Hearing a pop in his right elbow, Gore pulled out of the Colonial with what later was diagnosed as lateral epicondylitis, a severe inflammation more commonly known as tennis elbow. His final-round 84 in last year's Open was costly in many ways, one being that it knocked him five strokes out of a top-15 finish and exempt status at Winged Foot. Gore, like Moore, is scheduled for the sectional qualifier in Columbus.
Those who witnessed Gore's violent reaction to the injury during a second-round tee shot on the 2nd hole at Colonial -- he bent at the waist, grimaced and grabbed his elbow -- were worried about a tendon tear that could have sidelined him for the year. That's not the case, but he does have another issue at the Memorial. "He's now in Columbus and has the flu," Ralph Cross, Gore's agent, wrote in an e-mail to Golf World. "But his arm is better."
Three nights before the WD, Gore was smiling while taking batting practice at Ameriquest Field in Arlington, Texas, before a Texas Rangers game. But on the course, he wasn't the same smiling teddy bear who had three wins on the Nationwide Tour, and another at the 84 Lumber Classic in 2005. He salvaged his West Coast with a T-7 at Tucson and has been scraping it around ever since, with no scores in the 60s between the first round of Bay Hill and Colonial.
O'Hair is exempt for the Open, based on his top-30 status on last year's money list and hopes a top-20 finish at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship has turned his season around. Coming into Dallas, he had missed three straight cuts.
There is talk on tour that O'Hair has become too much of a lab rat, getting his mind clogged with positions, thinking swing rather than target. Now he has quietly made a caddie change, replacing his father-in-law, Steve Lucas, with Bobby Verwey, Gary Player's nephew and former caddie. O'Hair said it was just a temporary arrangement with Lucas anyway, and the new combo resulted in instant success.
"It's a combination of having such a good year last year, and trying to do better and putting that pressure on yourself," O'Hair said before a two-week break. "The thing I've got to remember is I'm still young. I've got a long career ahead of me, and I've still got a lot to learn. I think this year is going to be a good year. I'm actually very excited about it to be honest with you."
Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine
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