Koepka prevails in Phoenix for first Tour win

first_imgSCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Brooks Koepka has lost track of the miles flown, the oceans crossed and the stamps in his passport as he toiled in remote corners of the golfing world for more than two years to prepare himself for moments like Sunday at the Phoenix Open. The most significant journey turned out to be the 50 feet his golf ball traveled from the fringe, up a ridge and right into the cup. That eagle on the par-5 15th hole gave Koepka a share of the lead, and he left the mistakes to everyone else the rest of the way. He closed with a 5-under 66 for a one-shot victory and his first PGA Tour title. ”I left every long putt short today,” Koepka said. ”I said to my caddie, ‘I’m finally going to get this one there.”’ Waste Management Phoenix Open: Articles, videos and photos Hideki Matsuyama, among five players who had a share of the lead over the wild final hour at the TPC Scottsdale, was the last player in Koepka’s way. The 22-year-old from Japan had an 18-foot putt to force a playoff, but it never had a chance and he closed with a 67. Masters champion Bubba Watson (65) and Ryan Palmer (66) had to settle for pars on the three closing holes and joined Matsuyama in a tie for second. Martin Laird, tied for the lead with two holes to play, hit into the gallery on the 17th and made bogey and yanked his tee shot into the water on the 18th and made double bogey for a 72. A week that began with hype over Tiger Woods, who shot 82 and missed the cut by 12 shots, ended with yet another example of a massive generation shift. The 24-year-old Koepka didn’t get the recognition of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, or former U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein, his roommate in Florida with whom he often traveled in Europe. His raw power got the attention of his peers, however, and Koepka went through enough trials to mature into a rising star. His second victory in four starts against strong fields – he won the Turkish Airlines Open during the final stretch of the Race to Dubai in Europe in November – moved him to No. 19 in the world. ”It’s unbelievable,” said Koepka, who finished at 15-under 269. ”I didn’t think I would work my way up this quickly, but playing the Challenge and European tours led to this. And especially the failure I’ve had. I can’t tell you how much I learned from that.” Koepka proved to be one smooth customer – he describes himself as ”chill” – even when the starter pronounced his name as something like ”cupcake” on the first tee. He laughed during practice swings. He wasn’t rattled when Matsuyama holed a wedge from 129 yards for eagle on the opening hole, or when the Japanese star added two more birdies to catch Laird, who began Sunday with a three-shot lead. Koepka was making nothing but pars. Back-to-back birdies late on the front nine kept him in the game, though still two shots behind. Matsuyama took the lead with a beautiful pitch behind the green at the par-5 13th, and Koepka followed him to 4 feet for a birdie to stay two behind. Matsuyama had gone 44 holes without a bogey until a three-putt on the 14th, and then everything changed on the 15th. Koepka rolled in his 50-foot eagle putt and tied Laird, who two-putted from 25 feet. The tournament effectively was decided on the 322-yard 17th. Laird went well right into the gallery, did well to chip to 50 feet in the fat of the green and three-putted for a bogey. Koepka needed a little luck. With the tees moved forward, it was slightly too close for his 3-wood, not long enough for his hybrid. He hit 3-wood onto and over the green. And when he saw it disappear over the back, Koepka thought he was cooked. ”One of the camera guys said it stayed up. I still don’t know how,” he said. The ball settled on the red hazard line, a foot from the water. He made par, and then showed no nerves on the 18th by smashing a driver over the water and bunkers, 331 yards away. Watson tied for the lead by holing a bunker shot on the par-3 12th for birdie and two-putting for birdie from 20 feet on the 13th. ”I just couldn’t do anything after that,” he said. His lost opportunity came on the 17th, when his 3-wood went to the front of the green and he three-putted from over 100 feet and made par. Palmer also had birdie chances on the last three holes and couldn’t convert. Arizona State junior Jon Rahm closed with a 68 to tie for fifth with Laird. It was the best finish by a Sun Devil still on the golf team playing in the Phoenix Open. The previous best was a tie for 32nd by Phil Mickelson. However, the top 10 does not get the Spaniard into Torrey Pines next week because he is an amateur. Besides, he’s on his way to Hawaii to join his teammates for a tournament. Koepka is going to San Diego – one of the shorter trips in his career – and with new status as a PGA Tour winner.last_img read more

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Next task for Spieth: Leg 3

first_imgSILVIS, Ill. – The golf world may have spent the last two weeks debating whether Jordan Spieth would be better served in Silvis or Scotland, but for all the second guessing and all the unsolicited advice, here’s what Spieth had to say Sunday with the John Deere Classic trophy sitting on a table in front of him: “I really didn’t care anyways. I came here for a reason, and we accomplished that reason, and certainly I’ve got some momentum going into next week. “[After] starting off so slow, to be able to shoot 20 under in three rounds is obviously nice momentum.” As if he needed any more momentum coming off two major victories – or any more motivation. Spieth enters next week at the Open Championship with the opportunity to win his third consecutive major, the third leg of the Grand Slam and the No. 1 ranking in the world. Of course, before he could get on the tournament charter to St. Andrews, Spieth had the small matter of closing out his 54-hole lead at TPC Deere Run. And through the first 12 holes of his final round, it looked as if that wasn’t going to happen. John Deere: Articles, photos and videos From the first tee, when a hooked a 3-wood led to an opening bogey, Spieth looked off. Off with his driver, off his irons, off with his wedges, off with his putter. He exited the par-3 12th green 1 over on his round and four shots back of the lead held by Tom Gillis. “To be four back with six to go, all we were saying was, ‘We birdied five of the last six two years ago to get into a playoff [and win],” Spieth said, referencing his conversation with caddie Michael Greller. “’Why can’t we do it again?’” And so suddenly, Spieth snapped out of his funk, birdied both 13 and 14, holed out from off the green at 16, and made his final birdie at 17 to play his last six holes in 4 under, post a final-round 68, and force a playoff with Gillis. It took him two extra holes, but after Gillis found the water left of the green on 18, Spieth tapped in for the fifth win of his PGA Tour career and his sixth worldwide victory in the last eight months. After entering the interview room, Spieth was mistakenly introduced as a still-four-time champion. “You better get those facts right,” he joked. “I don’t get credit for Australia or Tiger’s event but at least give me credit for my PGA Tour wins.” Spieth picked up the first of those five wins at the Deere two years ago, and while everyone else wants to talk about the Grand Slam, Spieth believes that opportunity wouldn’t be possible if he didn’t hole out from the bunker on the 72nd hole here two years ago. “This tournament means a lot to me,” he said. “I mean this jump started my career. … I’d probably be six months to a year further back in my career had that shot not gone in and had I not survived the playoff. I wouldn’t have been in the [FedEx Cup] playoffs, the Presidents Cup, my world ranking would have been down given that I played the playoffs extremely well. “So I would have been set back a little bit starting the next year. I could have played a different schedule. Who knows what could have happened.” Here’s what happens now. Spieth will hop on a plane with the rest of the Deere participants heading to St. Andrews and he’ll start preparing to take to over the golf world. Included in those preparations will be some diligent work with his driver, which got him in plenty of trouble this week at TPC Deere Run and could get him in even more next week in St. Andrews’ ever-present pot bunkers. Spieth said he’ll spend the bulk of his time the next three days trying to “fine-tune” the longest clubs in his bag. Otherwise, he’ll be taking in the sights and sounds and generally being as in awe of St. Andrews as the rest of us. “I love it. I absolutely love it,” he said. “I love the town. I love the R&A clubhouse. I love the – what do you call it – Himalayas putting green. The entire experience of being there was really cool. The golf course, specifically, I think it’s just mind boggling that it can stand the test of time and hold a major championship centuries after it was built.” And now, after all those centuries, Jordan Spieth is headed to the Old Course, halfway to joining Bobby Jones as the only two men to ever win all four major titles in the same year. Spieth would be the first to ever do it in the Masters era. He would stand alone in history. Surely, by now, that prospect has at least crossed his mind. “If I win next week,” he said, “then I’ll think about it.”last_img read more

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Arnie at 86: Still giving back

first_imgLATROBE, Pa. – Just down Legends Lane about a 5-iron from the golf course where he learned to play the game like a super hero, Arnold Palmer eases into a leather chair in his office. Technically “office” doesn’t really work for a man who has spent the better part of a century playing a game that is better because he was around, but that’s what he calls the cozy complex the includes a museum-like entry and his legendary workshop. The famed workshop is an almost mythical place for most golfers that includes thousands of golf clubs and all the trappings for proper tinkering, from a lie and loft gauge to a blowtorch and a random Williams–Sonoma bag filled with grips. At 86 years young, Palmer continues to look for answers to golf’s endless questions and he still appears at ease in his unique work environment. Although he doesn’t move like he once did and his voice cracks from time to time, he still fills a room with his distinct presence that transcends his decades of relevance. On Monday, Palmer – who turned 86 last Thursday – was back on the clock doing what he does best these days – raise money for charity, and not just any charity but the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Fla. “I like to enlighten people with what we have done with the hospital,” said Palmer, the host of this week’s Latrobe Classic. “I’m very grateful for the efforts I have seen people put forward.” Arnie: A collection of Arnold Palmer stories Palmer was talking about the 120 or so competitors playing the Latrobe Classic, a two-day event that began on Sunday with golf at Bay Hill Club & Lodge followed by a chartered JetBlue flight from central Florida to this corner of Pennsylvania for a round at Latrobe Country Club, where Palmer grew up and learned the game. Those in attendance at Monday’s event likely were thinking the same thing about the tireless King. Palmer met the field as they exited the chartered flight on Monday morning in Latrobe and sent the day’s first group off, a group that included his grandson, PGA Tour player Sam Saunders. “Are you hitting the first shot?” Palmer asked Saunders, who was recovering from a head injury that kept him in intensive care for two nights last month. When Saunders smiled and nodded, Palmer didn’t miss a chance to take a good-natured jab. “I’ll move [the golf cart which was parked on the first tee box],” he smiled. Although his focus on this day was on the charity work he and his Champions for Arnold’s Kids foundation is doing, the living legend didn’t disappoint when asked about a wide range of golf topics during a break in his hosting duties. After his breakthrough year in the majors, Palmer was asked to assess Jordan Spieth’s season, which included a run at the single-year Grand Slam and two major victories. “I hope he continues,” Palmer said. “I hate to make predictions because you never know. You have to work hard and I hope he does, but he has a long way to go.” As a member of modern golf’s Big 3, along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, Palmer was also asked his thoughts on the emergence of a new version of a power triumvirate in the game that includes Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day. “There is more than a Big 3,” he said. “As there was with the Big 3, it’s much more. It’s more than just three people, it’s more than 20 people. You have to have the help of everyone.” He was also asked what advice, if any, he would give to the game’s up-and-coming stars: “Generosity and work. Always be generous and appreciate what you have. It has to work, it will work,” he said. But most of all Palmer kept coming back to his charity work and why, at 86, he continues to show up at an office that is akin to a living history of his legendary career. It’s why he hosts an event like the Latrobe Classic, which is in its third year and has raised more than $1 million for the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children last year. “It’s such a unique experience, to get to come here and play at Latrobe. It’s not like any other pro-am I’ve ever been involved with,” said Saunders, who was playing the event for the first time a day after tying for fourth place at the Hotel Fitness Championship in Fort Wayne, Ind., on the Web.com Tour. For Palmer, it’s not his 62 Tour titles or seven major championships or the dozens of letters that dot the walls of his office from former presidents that he counts as his proudest moments. “I think of the charities and the results that I’ve seen, that’s very gratifying,” he offered with his signature smile. It’s why at 86 the legend continues to go into the office on Legends Lane each day.last_img read more

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Kaymer (65) leads Italian Open after third round

first_imgMONZA, Italy – Martin Kaymer opened with four straight birdies on his way to a 7-under 65 Saturday to grab a share of the lead after the third round of the Italian Open. The former top-ranked German had his lone bogey on the fifth but added another four birdies to sit tied with Jens Fahrbring of Sweden and Frenchman Romain Wattel atop the leaderboard with a 17-under total of 199. ”I am looking forward to tomorrow – it will be a challenge to myself and a challenge to beat my opponents,” said Kaymer, who is looking for a first win since triumphing at last year’s U.S. Open. ”I am up there with a chance to win on Sunday and that’s all you want at the end of the day.” Fahrbring, who led overnight with Lucas Bjerregaard of Denmark, had seven birdies but dropped three shots on his way to a 68. Wattel had spent most of the day in the chasing pack and made the turn in 35, but a birdie on the 13th gave him a boost and he eagled the next hole before further gains on the 16th and 17th on his way to a 66. The trio is two shots ahead of Fabrizio Zanotti of Paraguay (68), Bjerregaard (70) and Austrian Bernd Wiesberger (67). Y.E. Yang hit a hole-in-one on the 143-yard 12th hole – the 42nd on The European Tour this season. Yang shot a 69 to sit tied for 41st, seven shots back.last_img read more

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Replay under fire after Lexi ruling
first_imgRANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Cristie Kerr watched it all end with disgust. Standing behind the 18th green Sunday as this gut-wrenching day came to such an unmerciful ending, Kerr couldn’t hide her outrage. “This is wrong,” said Kerr, the 18-time LPGA winner. “Where’s the common sense? Where’s the discretion? Where’s the honor? This kind of stuff has to end. It makes us look bad. It makes the game of golf look bad.” Kerr nailed Sunday’s unsatisfying ending to the ANA Inspiration in a nutshell. The setting around the 18th green at Mission Hills is as close as there is to a temple of women’s golf, with the walk of champions leading players past the Dinah Shore statue and over a bridge to Poppie’s Pond. Kerr hated how the spirit of the game could seem so cruel and wicked in this special place. Kerr hated that Lexi Thompson had to lose the way she did, with the Rules of Golf and yet another controversially timed video replay spoiling the nature of the finish. That’s not to say Kerr hated So Yeon Ryu winning. She likes Ryu, and she felt bad for her, too. Kerr was moved at how fans around the 18th began chanting “Lexi,” how they rallied for her so empathetically, but she didn’t like how some fans seemed to root for Ryu’s last approach shot to get in the water during their playoff. “I really like So Yeon,” Kerr said. “She doesn’t deserve this.” Ryu is one of the most popular players on tour, a gentle spirit and respected competitor whose kinships cross all the many borders in the women’s game. ANA Inspiration: Articles, photos and videos But Ryu’s win won’t be celebrated the way it should be, not with the way Thompson was so harshly hit with a pair of two-stroke penalties as she left the 12th green in the final round. Thompson was giving a tour-de-force performance Sunday, a virtuoso effort that seemed destined to be the defining high mark of her still young career. The 22-year-old American star never looked better with her combination of power and newfound putting touch reminding us of Dustin Johnson’s magnificent finish at Oakmont last summer. We just didn’t think the comparisons would also go to another distasteful rules controversy. While Thompson couldn’t overcome the hard blow and win the way Johnson did, she was just as magnificent in her fight. She had so much more to overcome than Johnson, four shots instead of the single shot Johnson faced. The blow was so much more dizzying, with Thompson being told coming off the 12th green that she was being penalized two shots for incorrectly marking her ball at the 17th green a day earlier, for placing her ball back down directly in front of her mark, instead of where she originally marked it, slightly to right side of the mark. And that she was getting two more penalty shots for signing an incorrect scorecard. Thompson went from two shots ahead to two shots behind in what had to feel like a kick in the gut. She wept going to the 13th tee but somehow marvelously went on to birdie the hole, and birdie the 15th to briefly take back the lead. In the end, with a brilliant 5-iron to 18 feet to set up a closing eagle that would win her the championship, Thompson looked as if she was going to script the greatest ending in golf history. This looked like it would end as a celebration of Thompson’s great poise, that it would be remembered as a testament to her resilience, but her eagle putt stopped short. And Ryu then went on to beat her with a birdie in the playoff. Kerr shook her head seeing Thompson lose. “Lexi’s the most honest player out here,” Kerr said. “She goes to all the pro-am parties, goes to so many junior clinics, signs so many autographs. She does all the right things.’ Anna Nordqvist was also at the back of the 18th green watching Sunday’s finish unfold, Nobody there could empathize with Thompson more. Nordqvist lost the U.S. Women’s Open last summer after a video replay showed she grazed a few grains of sand with her 5-iron as she pulled it back in a fairway bunker on the second playoff hole. She was assessed a two-stroke penalty as she played the final playoff hole. It sealed her fate as Brittany Lang went on to win. While Nordqvist was encouraged with the USGA & R&A’s recent release of a proposed sweeping makeover of the Rules of Golf, she was disappointed by a glaring absence in their work. She wanted video review to be addressed. “This rule is the major one that needs to be changed now,” Nordqvist said. Nordqvist said she doesn’t have a problem so much with rule violations being discovered by video review. She has a problem with the timing of penalties, how they can be assessed so long after they occur and how that timing changes the integrity of competition. “It was disappointing to see another bad timing here,” Nordqvist said. The LPGA will get hammered for this, but the rules officials applied the rules the way they should have been. That’s because the Rules of Golf allow for no discretion, mercy or even common sense in the way video review is used. Sue Witters, the LPGA’s vice president of rules and competition, had the unfortunate duty to inform Thompson of her violation. A viewer watching Saturday’s telecast alerted the LPGA to the possible violation with an email sent to LPGA.com’s Fan Feedback. Witters’ rule staff received it on Sunday with Thompson playing the ninth hole in the final round. It took the LPGA time to find and review the Golf Channel footage. Witters said the video clearly showed that Thompson put her ball back in the “wrong spot,” maybe an inch from where she should have placed it. “I didn’t realize I did that,” Thompson said. “I didn’t mean that.” Witters acknowledged the human component in delivering the news. “It’s a hard thing to do, and it made me sick,  to be honest,” Witter said. Witters was asked what discretion she had. She said there isn’t any when a rules official clearly sees the violation. “What’s my choice?” she said.  “If it comes out there was a violation in the rules, then it would be the opposite story: `Oh, they knew. Why didn’t they do anything about it?’ I can’t go to bed tonight knowing that I let a rule slide?” The villain here is the Rules of Golf. It’s video review and no good guidelines in how it should be used or tamed or restricted. Video replay has simmered for so long now as a source of the most wicked adjudications of the game’s rules. Nordqvist is right. It’s complicated, but video review ought to shoot to the top of the USGA and the R&A’s priorities in remaking of its rules.last_img
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Foley helping Willett (69) emerge from dark times

first_imgCARNOUSTIE, Scotland – After all of the dark places Danny Willett has occupied over the past 18 months, he wasn’t about to beat himself up Thursday. “As perfect as we try and be,” he said after a bogey-bogey finish gave him a 2-under 69, putting him three shots off the early lead at The Open, “you should remember the times that were terrible and go, Well, that’s not too bad.” There have been plenty of terrible times lately for Willett. Seemingly ever since that 2016 Masters breakthrough he’s been locked in golf purgatory, at times betrayed by his body, his swing and even his own brother. Willett began to break down not long after he won at Augusta, a tournament, not unlike The Open here in 1999, that’s destined to be remembered more for the player who lost (in this case, Jordan Spieth) than the one who executed all the shots Sunday and triumphed. Tournaments near and far wanted the Masters champion in their field, and Willett dutifully obliged, putting his slender frame under duress. First his back began to ache, making routine tasks like climbing out of bed and picking up his kids a chore. Then he blew out his shoulder, the pain eventually creeping into his neck. Trying to manage a body that wouldn’t cooperate, he recently told Press Association Sport that he was taking six painkillers a day, to little effect. With his game and body in disarray, his confidence needed a reboot, too, especially after his brother, P.J., posted a poor attempt at satire in the days leading up to the 2016 Ryder Cup. Already showing signs of decline, Willett withered under the spotlight at Hazeltine and needed more than a year to rebuild his self-belief. How dark were those times? “Pitch black,” he said. “Not a nice place to be.” Save for a scare in Italy (knee) and in a practice round here at Carnoustie (shoulder), Willett has mostly been injury-free for the past eight months, allowing him to dive headlong into some much-needed changes. Needing a fresh start, he blew out the entire team around him late last summer, tabbing swing coach Sean Foley to overhaul his swing. “He was quite battered,” Foley said. Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship But Foley has a history of resurrecting players who have fallen on hard times, most famously Tiger Woods, with whom he began working in 2010, just a few months after his scandal. He’s also helped Sean O’Hair, Stephen Ames and Justin Rose find a swing that alleviates the discomfort in their backs. Willett’s fall was steeper, and more harrowing, but for Foley the challenge remained the same. “I guess I enjoy that in a way, because I’ve grown into a mentor as well as a coach,” he said. “They’ve been playing golf their whole life. They got good really quick, and when you get to the summit, there’s no oxygen and it’s really cold. Most climbers die when they go down a mountain instead of up it. These guys have never really struggled before.” Mentally and physically, on a 0-to-10 scale, Willett was a “0” when Foley first saw him at last year’s PGA. “When you know how good you can be, and you can’t get back to that point, that’s where they lose their mind,” Foley said. “The range can be a dangerous place to be.” And so they targeted some of the moves in Willett’s swing that were causing him pain and went to work. Success was slow, but Foley reminded him to celebrate some of the small victories along the way. Even when he missed eight of 10 cuts earlier this year, Willett took time to appreciate that he wasn’t taking painkillers, or that he didn’t need to spend an hour on the physio table, or that he was starting to grow more comfortable in left-to-right wind. “He’s a very charismatic guy, very upbeat, and I think with where I was, I really needed that,” Willett said. “We often have little jokes about where we were.” Listening to Willett, the cockiness that fueled his rise to the top 10 in the world is gone. Perhaps that’s what happens when just seven of his 54 rounds played on the European Tour last year were in the 60s. Even with three top-20s in his past five starts, rising from No. 462 to No. 320 in the world, he remains cautiously optimistic. Asked Thursday if the worst is behind him, he smiled: “You never know. But I’m pretty hopeful we’ll never be in as dark of a place as we were.” “Regardless of what the golf is and how the golf is,” he said, “it’s a lot better place to be.”last_img read more

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Joh leads Ariya, A. Yang at Ladies Scottish

first_imgGULLANE, Scotland – Tiffany Joh, who is chasing a maiden LPGA Tour victory, shot a 4-under 67 to stay in front after the second round of the Ladies Scottish Open on Friday. The 31-year-old American picked up five birdies and one bogey, her first of the week, to register a 13-under aggregate of 129. U.S. Open champion Ariya Jutanugarn produced a joint best-of-the-day 65 to get within three strokes of the lead on 132, along with Amy Yang (66) of South Korea. Full-field scores from the ASI Ladies Scottish Open Caroline Masson (65) of Germany was alone in fourth position on 133. ”I had pretty low expectations for today,” overnight leader Joh said. ”I probably would have taken anything under par, but on the first hole, right away we made a 45-footer, and I just started laughing. ”I didn’t even know what to say. So, yeah, it was a really good start and I guess I just kept rolling with it.” Georgia Hall was the best-placed British player after a 68 left her in a share of 17th place on 3-under 139, one ahead of a group of players that included fellow Englishwomen Charley Hull, Mel Reid and Jodi Ewart Shadoff.last_img read more

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Player-caddie relationships require give-and-take

first_imgPALM HARBOR, Fla. – Both Jon Rahm and caddie Adam Hayes left the 11th hole shaking their heads during the final round of The Players Championship. Hayes went first, doing little to hide his disagreement as his player vetoed his nominated layup attempt of a wedge down the fairway and instead tried a bold hook with a 6-iron from a mediocre lie in a fairway bunker. Rahm followed a few moments later, as the risky shot splashed in a lake and led to a bogey that cost him a share of the lead. He would go on to tie for 12th. The audio of the Rahm-Hayes exchange was captured live during the television broadcast, and it offered fans a rare glimpse into the sort of discussions that can sometimes crop up between player and caddie with the tournament hanging in the balance. “I thought it was fascinating,” said Paul Casey, who listened to the drama unfold on the radio as he drove to the airport on Sunday. “I thought Adam was brilliant in what he said and how he laid it out there, and the reasoning and the rationale.” Rahm spoke candidly about the interaction Sunday at TPC Sawgrass, insisting that if given 10 attempts at the shot from the sand he would have found land with the other nine. Wednesday at the Valspar Championship, he reiterated that the exchange was nothing more than a testament to the strong bond he shares with Hayes, and the belief they have in each other. “Adam was just doing his job and voicing his opinion, and then, as usual, the player has the last say. It’s as simple as that,” Rahm said. “We always work very openly like that. Honestly, it’s one of the first things we both agreed on when we started working, was honesty. We always say what’s in our mind, whether we like it or not, and that’s why it works so well.” In speaking to players about Rahm’s situation, the concept of honesty came up with frequency. It’s never easy for a caddie to challenge a player’s decision-making on Thursday, let alone Sunday when the tournament (and a seven-figure check) is still on the line. But it speaks to a level of unspoken trust that’s often required for the relationship to thrive under the most strenuous pressures that can be thrown their way. Your browser does not support iframes. “If you’re able to say what you really feel, it frees you up to be the best caddie or even player you can be,” said Webb Simpson. “If he knows I’m choosing a club that’s not good, he’s got to be able to say that. And I’ve got to be able to respond in a way where it’s not going to take confidence away if I still use it.” Playing in the group ahead of Rahm on the Stadium Course, Jason Day was unaware of what transpired on the 11th hole until after the tournament ended. But for the Aussie it immediately evoked memories of the 2017 PGA Championship, when he found himself trapped among the trees on the last hole of the third round at Quail Hollow. Day’s caddie at the time, Col Swatton, wanted his man to play sideways back out into the fairway. Day wanted to try the more risky option, a 7-iron off the pinestraw that he hoped to hook around a stand of trees and back into play. Like with the situation between Rahm and Hayes, Day won the argument. But he probably wished he hadn’t, as he went on to make a quadruple bogey that essentially ended his chances for a second PGA title. “I was so convincing that I ended up changing his mind. Ultimately the player has the authority to hit the shot, but you’ve got to live with that risk or reward if it happens,” Day said. “It’s nice to be able to see a caddie and a player have the conversation, and then ultimately if he pulls it off or doesn’t, then that’s the player’s fault.” Rahm hasn’t been on social media since leaving TPC Sawgrass, and he pled ignorance to the online discussion that has surrounded his back-and-forth with Hayes. But he’s not afraid to encounter a similar situation this week at Innisbrook. He’s confident that Hayes would still offer an unvarnished opinion in an attempt to help his player make the best possible decision. “We’re really good friends, and we’re really close. Because of that he was going to voice his concerns, and I’ll say mine,” Rahm said. “It’s nothing special. I mean, I made a decision, I didn’t’ pull it off, we move on. Period.” Rahm’s aggressive style of play was well known prior to last week, and his decision to take on the low-percentage option in crunch time wasn’t entirely surprising. But it’s also a course of action that may have led to an irreparable fracture in weaker player-caddie bonds, a nuanced dynamic that sometimes incorporates aspects of friend, coach and sports psychologist. But the relationship between Rahm and Hayes works well because both know and expect the other to offer an unfettered opinion, even when the result doesn’t pan out. Because next time around, the same fascinating and frank discussion might be just what the two men need to turn an opportunity into a trophy. “I think after the fact it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, he should have laid up.’ But if he hits a great shot and hits it on the green, then everybody would’ve been, ‘Oh, what a great decision,’” said Sergio Garcia. “So at the end of the day I think Adam gave him what he thought was the most high-percentage play, and Jon felt like he could pull the shot off. Sometimes you don’t execute.”last_img read more

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Monday Scramble: Foursomes for 4 days? Ranking top-10 needle movers on Tour

first_imgThe Australians team up for the Zurich Classic win, the team format needs more adjusting, the rich get richer, Brooke Henderson stars in Hollywood and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble: Getty Images The person most pleased with the ending to the Zurich Classic must have been Trevor Immelman. He’s the next International Presidents Cup captain. Locked in a duel Sunday were the Australians (Marc Leishman/Cameron Smith) and the South Africans (Louis Oosthuizen/Charl Schwartzel), with Leishman chipping in for birdie on the 16th hole to tie it up, then the squad prevailing on the first extra hole after Oosthuizen sailed his tee shot into the water on the closing par 5. With this performance the Aussies seem a lock to be paired together when the Presidents Cup rolls around in fall 2022 at Quail Hollow. “We would certainly have fun there if we did,” Leishman said. “We have given Trevor something to think about anyway.” No world-ranking points were distributed and there wasn’t quite the usual FedExCup point allotment, but the Australians were each credited with a victory: This was Smith’s third Tour title (all in a playoff, including his second in this team event) and Leishman’s sixth. Smith is all the way up to No. 3 in the FedExCup standings as he continues his strong play this season, with six top-10s. Getty Images Seated next to the trophy they may not have offered the most unbiased opinions, but Leishman and Smith were asked afterward if the Zurich should undergo another format change and become 72 holes of alternate shot. “No,” Smith said. “No,” Leishman said. “That’d be too stressful,” Smith added. “I would be too worn out by Sunday night, I think,” Leishman said. “I don’t think Leish and I would be friends after that,” Smith said. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. The best-ball rounds on Thursday and Saturday allow players to get into a flow, make birdies and shoot lower numbers, but we see that every single week on the PGA Tour. It’s slow. And it’s uninteresting (especially on a sleepy layout like TPC Louisiana). But alternate shot? There’s no faking it. There’s room for both spectacular play (Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay combined for a record-tying eight birdies on Sunday) and disasters, with the teams of Tony Finau/Cameron Champ and Viktor Hovland/Kris Ventura plummeting out of contention with blowup rounds.  The scoring average was over par during each of the alternate-shot days and more than seven shots higher (73.225 on Friday, 72.636 on Sunday) than best ball. That’s a good thing! There’s pressure on every shot, and that makes for a compelling competition. We wrote in this space last week how the Zurich is the perfect opportunity for the Tour to join forces with the LPGA and create a mixed team event. If that doesn’t (or can’t) become a reality, then 72 holes of alternate shot is the next best thing. Getty Images The biggest news last week – so said that all-important Google Search! – was a program the PGA Tour had tried to keep under wraps: The Player Impact Program, which will see the top-10 needle-movers earn an extra $40 million in bonus money, with the top player grabbing $8 million. The program was instituted at the beginning of the calendar year and, likely because of optics – we are still in the midst of a pandemic, after all, with businesses hurting – would have gone unpublicized if not for the Golfweek report.   The standings aren’t expected to be updated weekly for public consumption, a la the FedExCup, but by year’s end, it’s reasonable to expect those familiar names to cash in (more on that below). Some questions you may have:   Golf Central Horschel: PIP a chance to ‘thank’ popular pros BY Rex Hoggard  — April 21, 2021 at 5:21 PM As details emerge of the PGA Tour’s Player Impact Program, Billy Horschel sees it a chance to thank the players who draw eyes. • Couldn’t the $40 mil have been used in better ways, like helping out the Korn Ferry Tour? Sure. But the point of the developmental circuit is to keep guys hungry – and that wouldn’t happen with inflated purses and $300,000 winner’s checks. • Wasn’t this just an obvious response to the proposed Premier Golf League, which had promised the superstars huge deals? Of course! Even if the Tour isn’t promising generational wealth like the PGL, a few million a year is still a nice thank-you gift for their loyalty. • Do these multimillionaires really need more millions? Obviously not, but here’s a better way to think about the program: The Tour is essentially sponsoring its biggest stars, since that’s what they’d net in an endorsement deal anyway ($3-8M). They just don’t have to add a Tour logo to their polos. • Is this much hand-wringing about nothing? You betcha. The Tour’s most popular players – those essentially powering the product on a weekly basis – are about to cash in. As they should. The most valuable commodity to superstars is time, and if the Tour can secure those single-name studs for an extra tournament commitment and/or a commercial shoot and marketing promotion, well, that’s a fine tradeoff. Getty Images The winningest Canadian in golf history keeps on winning, as Brooke Henderson earned her 10th career LPGA title with a splashy victory at the LA Open. Trailing by four shots at the start of the final round at Wilshire, Henderson chipped in for birdie on 12th hole and then hung on with a deft up-and-down from left of the 18th green to secure a one-shot victory over Jessica Korda. Henderson also overcame world No. 1 Jin Young Ko to earn her first title since June 2019. The emotion was apparent on her face afterward, as Henderson talked about all of the hard work that she and sister/caddie Brittany have put into getting back in the winner’s circle for the first time in nearly two years. One member of the close-knit team is still missing, however: With Canada under a strict lockdown, Henderson’s father/swing coach Dave hasn’t been out on tour since the beginning of 2020. That at least partly explains why Henderson didn’t record a W in limited action last year and why she had posted just a pair of top-10s this season. The LPGA is a better product when the hard-charging Henderson is gunning for titles.   THIS WEEK’S AWARD WINNERS …  Getty Images Another Youngster to Watch: Garrick Higgo. The sweet-swinging left-hander just won his fifth pro event – and he’s still just 21. The South African ran it up at the inaugural Gran Canaria Lopesan Open, closing with 63 and finishing at 25 under par as he claimed his second career European Tour title. He’s all the way up to 65th in the world ranking. Resurfaced: Tiger Woods. In the first photo he’s posted since his horrific car crash, Tiger appeared on crutches and with an air cast on his lower right leg – and also a smile, after what must have been a trying few months. If we’re looking for silver linings here, it doesn’t appear as though he suffered any major injuries besides his right leg. Best Sports: Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith. Few if any teams had more fun in New Orleans than the All-Aussie squad of Leishman and Smith, especially with the latter sporting a gnarly mullet over the past few months. Big Leish showed up with the perfect prop – the only shame was that he didn’t play with it on. Heater Alert: Peter Uihlein. After winning two weeks ago on the Korn Ferry Tour, the former No. 1-ranked amateur kept rolling at the Zurich, partnering with Richy Werenski to shoot a final-round 67 and surge up the leaderboard, eventually finishing in third place. Don’t Stop Believing …: Tyson Alexander. A pro for a dozen years, Alexander had every reason to wonder if his time would ever come as he sat outside the top 500 in the world ranking and didn’t have a top-50 in his last nine starts. But that didn’t stop him from going 65-64 on the weekend to capture the Korn Ferry Tour’s Veritex Bank Championship, moving him all the way up the points list to No. 31 – and now giving him a shot to earn that long-awaited promotion to the big tour. Good stuff.   … But You May Want to Stop Trying: Tony Romo. It was cool that he wanted to test himself against guys who have been doing this their entire lives, but the results are pretty clear now: At the KFT event Romo finished last among those who finished two rounds – by six shots – after recording scores of 77-76, which means he’s now 0-for-6 in trying to make the cut on the PGA and Korn Ferry tours … and he hasn’t come particularly close, either. No matter what the sponsors say, no one is paying to watch him play golf, so perhaps it’s time for Romo to find another way to support the game he clearly loves so much. Still Ballin’: Angela Stanford. The 43-year-old notched her 100th career top-10 finish, sharing fifth place (four shots back) at the LA Open. At an age when most of the LPGA greats have focused on other passions, it’s inspiring to see Stanford still mixing it up with the kids.  Getty Images Not Too Shabby: Valspar field. Though there was some concern that the later date might hurt the Tampa-area field, that doesn’t appear to be the case – four of the top 10 players in the world will tee it up, including the top two in Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas, and Phil Mickelson was a late addition as he tries to improve his world ranking to avoid needing a special exemption (or a sectional qualifier) to play in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Will Someone Else Step Up … Ever?: Kent State. For the 22nd consecutive time – as long as the tournament has been held – the Golden Flashes, ranked 13th in the country, won the Mid-American Women’s Conference Championship, crushing the field by 36 shots. It’s believed to be the longest streak in NCAA Division I.   UNOFFICIAL LIST OF TOUR’S TOP 10 NEEDLE-MOVERS Getty Images The rich are about to get richer with this Player Impact Program, which will take into account metrics like Google Search, Q rating and nebulous social-media influencing. Final results won’t be known until the end of the year (and won’t be made public anyway), but here’s how we think the top 10 needle-movers will pan out: 1.) Tiger Woods: Meet the new king, same as the old king, even when he doesn’t hit a competitive shot in 2021. 2.) Bryson DeChambeau: He wins and he’s a polarizing personality (that’s helpful!). Big Bryson gets people talking.   3.) Jordan Spieth: Few have played better this year, he’s a media darling and, besides, he should have a pretty good idea of how to boost his clout via the MVP Index – his father, Shawn, co-founded the company. 4.) Phil Mickelson: Rarely competitive these days, but Phil the Thrill retains his popularity and still does enough zany things throughout the year to crack the top 5. 5.) Rory McIlroy: Wisely begged off social media a few years ago, but his press conferences are still appointment viewing and fan interest remains high. 6.) Brooks Koepka: The king of social-media trolling, he’ll make a late second-half charge in 2021. 7.) Rickie Fowler: In the midst of a swing change, he unfortunately doesn’t appear much on the broadcast these days, but no one is seen more during the commercials. He’s a fan and sponsor favorite, and that isn’t changing anytime soon. 8.) Patrick Reed: Considering what went down at Torrey Pines, he’ll put to test the theory that any publicity is good publicity. 9.) Justin Thomas: Apologized profusely for his hot-mic slip-up earlier this year, but his Instagram game is strong and if you’re voted PGA Tour Player of the Year, well, that’ll help too. 10.) Dustin Johnson: The world No. 1 isn’t going to go out of his way to promote himself (his fiancée can for him), but he is still a big draw on Tour. Interested to see: How much Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama’s global appeal factors into this; if the Tour’s IT team can figure out how a Google search of “Adam Scott” can first bring up the Wikipedia page of the golfer, not the actor; whether social-media stars (and 2021 Tour winners) Max Homa and Joel Dahmen can go mainstream enough to factor in; and if studs like Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele and Collin Morikawa – top 6 players in the world, all of them – can boost their profiles and officially become a Tour-approved needle-mover.last_img read more

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Stricker closes in 67 for Chubb Classic win

first_imgNAPLES, Fla. — Steve Stricker figured someone could come out of the pack with a low score and win the Chubb Classic on Sunday, and it turned out to be him. Stricker closed with a 5-under 67, taking control with a wedge into 3 feet for birdie on the 16th hole. That carried him to a one-shot victory in Naples, where the 54-year-old from Wisconsin makes his winter home. The U.S. Ryder Cup captain won for the sixth time on the PGA Tour Champions, his first title since the U.S. Senior Open in the summer of 2019. “I felt like someone could shoot a low number, and I was hoping it would be me,” Stricker said. “There’s a lot of short irons on this course if you put it in play.” Robert Karlsson of Sweden, who shared the 36-hole lead with Fred Couples, and Monday qualifier Alex Cejka of Germany each made birdie on the final hole to tie for second. Chubb champ Stricker eyes FedEx Cup Playoffs Cejka is assured of getting into the next open Champions event without qualifying. Couples was still in the mix until his tee shot on the par-5 15th sailed right into the bushes, leading to a penalty drop and a bogey on a hole where birdie would have tied him for the lead. He made pars the rest of the way for a 71 to tie for sixth. Stricker started one shot behind at Tiburon Golf Club and ran off three birdies on the front nine of the Black course to surge ahead. He stretched his lead to three shots before a collection of players began to creep closer. Stricker had a chance to put it away earlier until catching the lip on an 8-foot birdie putt on the 14th. He had a long eagle putt on the 15th that he left about 6 feet short, and he pulled that one badly to settle for par. That opened the door for others in the group behind, particular with two par 5s over the final four holes. Stricker gave himself a bigger cushion with his wedge that landed about 12 feet short of the hole on the 16th and rolled out to 3 feet. “I could have made it easier on myself,” Stricker said. “It’s tough to win anywhere, and I’m happy to get it done.” Full-field scores from the Chubb Classic Stricker also made a tough bunker save left of the 17th green for par. Cejka and Karlsson in the final group needed eagle to force a playoff. Cejka came up short and in a bunker on the par-5 closing hole, while Karlsson sent his fairway metal well to the right. Kevin Sutherland (66) tied for fourth and stayed atop the Charles Schwab Cup standings. Stricker moved up 11 spots to No. 13 in the Schwab Cup. As Ryder Cup captain, he still splits time between the PGA Tour and the PGA Tour Champions, and he sounded as if he were in no worry to join the 50-and-older set on a regular basis. He is just inside the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings on the PGA Tour. “I enjoy playing out here,” Stricker said. “The competition is great, but I still enjoy playing on the regular tour. I’ve had a couple of good showings. I want to play on that big tour and see if I can’t make the playoffs one more time.”last_img read more

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