Wedging Your Way onto a Leaderboard
And sometimes, you have to do it in one putt. Players at this weeks Zurich Classic of New Orleans are finding out that wedge play ' full-swing and otherwise ' is one of the keys to staying into contention. And it will be in two weeks in Augusta as well.
That shouldnt be a surprise. The TPC Louisiana is a Pete Dye design (with Steve Elkington and Louisiana native Kelly Gibson as player consultants), so short-siding yourself is out of the question. Avoiding getting yourself into a bad spot takes as much brain as body.
Jay Williamson, who shot 69 Friday to get to within a stroke of overnight leader Briny Baird, cruised on solid wedge play. In Fridays round, Williamson whirled it to three feet on No. 1 from about 114 yards and made birdie. He got to two feet on the par 5 seventh from a similar distance; birdie again. A great sand save on No. 4 helped preserve his round.
I actually changed my wedges after [last weeks tournament in] Puerto Rico, Williamson said after Fridays round. I even put a 61-degree in there. I needed a different gap. Id carry four if I could.
When Saturdays round started, the only player in the top 10 on the leaderboard who definitely had a ticket to Augusta was Zurich defending champion Nick Watney. Everyone else, Williamson included, is trying to take advantage of the win-and-youre-in rule, an exemption category the Masters reactivated for this year.
Even those players who are already in the Masters field are thinking about what theyll need from their short games in two weeks. Woody Austin got in when he won the Stanford St. Jude in Memphis last summer.
Im experimenting with new wedges this week, Woody said before Saturdays round. Definitely thinking of what Ill need off tight lies. Woody is a staff player for Cleveland Golf, a company that made its reputation on solid short game tools.
The firm greens this week are also good preparation for Augusta, said Austin and many of his colleagues. Smallish putting surfaces all over TPC Louisiana, full of undulation and interest, challenge players to find the proper landing sector of each green ' much as they will have to do in the Masters.
The interesting thing is that whether discussing this tournament or the Masters, no one is talking much about driving the ball. You dont want to miss many fairways here ' Peter Lonard has fairway bunkers to blame for bogeys on both 15 and 18 on Friday ' but the players understand that the biggest challenges will be within 100 yards, and usually within 40. Thats a springtime ritual.
Its a lesson we could all benefit from, and certainly not news in the world of golf instruction. But hitting the ball long is so much fun that recreational players, even the disciplined ones, resist breaking off some time for short game practice. Even tuning up ones wedges, or getting them fitted, doesnt get the attention it deserves.
Except from chronic winners.
Something to think about this spring.
Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test
One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.
Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.
"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."
Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.
"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.
Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.
"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."
Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage
Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.
Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.
Swipe to see what’s up in my world. It’s long-winded.... short version, we lost the baby. Had to share this since we had shared the news already. I know you’re all so supportive and kind. I just couldn’t face it before. Now let’s get back to our regularly scheduled programming. #ihavealotoffeelings #andphotostocatchupon
“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”
The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.
“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.
Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia
This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.
The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.
Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.
The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.
A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.
And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.
The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.
Green jacket tour
Man of the people
Ace at 17th at Sawgrass
Departure from TaylorMade
Squashed beef with Paddy
Victory at Valderrama
Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017
GolfChannel.com is counting down the top 10 Newsmakers of the Year as voted on by Golf Channel’s writers, editors, reporters and producers. Check out the list below, including future release dates:
No. 4: Dec. 13
No. 3: Dec. 14
No. 2: Dec. 15
No. 1: Dec. 18