New York New Yorkers and the Open
Walking around Bethpage State Park, this attractive collection of golf courses a few minutes north of the Farmingdale train station, you feel like a guest of the people of New York: The city, the state, the state of mind. This is my second trip to the area since September 11, and I feel confident in concluding this: I like New Yorkers. I want to be on the same team as New Yorkers. As my friends and I used to say years ago when it was more possible, if I ever get in a bar fight, I want New Yorkers on my side.
Reasonable question: How do you discover all this against the backdrop of a golf tournament?
Its more shown than spoken, although people here have never been afraid to speak. Even removing the odd (and in my case, inexplicable) magnetic effect of carrying a microphone around, I was struck by the number of people at Bethpage who approached Golf Channel people, hands out, smiles bright, speaking words to this effect:
Welcome to New Yawk! Like our cawse? Yeah, I play the Red all the time, but the Black, whoa boy, maybe once or twice a yee-ah. Gotta man up for that one. Hey, where you stayin? Theres a good Italian place ovah there. Ill give you directions. Me? Oyster Bay. My friend hee-ahs from Syosset.
Yes, the island and the city are replete with aggressive drivers, rusting bridges, indifferent cabbies, and airports right out of Dante. But theres no one quite like New Yorkers.
As best as I can figure out, they are proud that such a prestigious championship in such a pure sport (no doping, no posses, no prima donna free agents holding management hostage for undeserved millions, no uncaring management looking for naming rights while forgetting the fans) would come to their back yard, to a public course. It fits. Theres more public in New York than anywhere.
And beyond that, they are just proud, but in a way that takes more maturity than jaw-jutting. The entire regions population could be forgiven for terminal belligerence after what happened to their city. But what I see in their eyes looks like a slow, warm burn instead of an inferno. New Yorkers refuse to be daunted. They will not hand over that victory to the blackguards who attacked their city and our country.
Instead, they will come out and enjoy the golf. As I said on television Wednesday, the Masters promotes an atmosphere of easy gentility. But the early part of U.S. Open week is the summers first golf festival.
Not that the week has been without poignant moments. Retired New York firefighter John Vigiano, who lost two sons, a fireman and a policeman, in the attack on the World Trade Center, wears a patch on his golf shirt showing a picture of his boys in uniform. The patch bears the words, Our Twin Towers. If you can hold back tears after seeing that, witness Vigianos grandson giving to U.S. Golf Association president Reed Mackenzie a golf ball that was found in the rubble at Ground Zero. See the widows and other children afterward, smiling in thanks to the reporters and others who attended. Its no wonder that one of our cameramen, who has a reputation for being a little callous, was stone-faced and quiet for some time after shooting that press conference.
But New Yorkers refuse to wallow. They continued to welcome visitors and mingle in friendly fashion on the golf course, by the putting green, in the merchandise tent, and at the train station, where many of us laughed and shuffled about as we tried to fit as many people as possible under a rain shelter Wednesday afternoon.
Back in my lawyer days, in Pittsburgh, I would often work late on summer evenings and then walk across the bridge to Three Rivers Stadium and take in a Pirates game. Along about the third inning, slouching in my seat, tie undone and suit coat rumpled, I had already struck up baseball chats with the strangers sitting around me. The rapport grew quickly, so that by the eighth, the poor guy selling the early edition of the next days Post-Gazette would again have to endure the old joke as one of us mouthed off, Hey, who won the game?
Ive seen it happen over and over, this greasing of the social wheels that sports provides. Be it baseball, World Cup, golf, you name it ' people use sports as a way to loosen up, to relax, to start talking ' and smiling.
New Yorkers have used it as a way to keep healing. And for that, may God and golf continue to bless them.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.