In this week's Rosaforte Report: The birthplace of Andrew Landry's grit, Tiger's former coach invites instruction debate, downtime may be good for Brooks Koepka, Stacy Lewis is amped for 2018, and a "very boring" birthday gift for Jack Nicklaus.
The beauty and drama of tournament golf played out in the California desert on Sunday when Andrew Landry, a journeyman who learned the game on a shabby nine-hole course called the Pea Patch in Port Groves, Texas, took the hottest young player in the game, Jon Rahm, to four holes of a sudden death playoff before finally succumbing. It was riveting drama in a yard-for-yard, stride-for-stride and putt-for-putt contrast that ended with the sun setting over the Santa Rosa Mountains.
With it, the 23-year-old Rahm went to No. 2 in the world and the 30-year-old Landry, a grinder finally off the Web.com Tour, moved from 184th to a career high 102nd in the world ranking.
The 5-foot-7 Landry, who had his “Tin Cup” moment in the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, where he held the first-round lead and hung with the big boys until a T-15 finish, never backed off in the shadow of the 6-foot-2 Rahm, just as he never backed away from bets in the Tuesday and Saturday games at the Pea Patch. That’s where he would write his name on the chalkboard for the “Dog Fights” that were the club’s version of the SWAT competition that is an Oakmont tradition.
“Those money games are what made us,” Andrew’s brother, Adam, told me the day his sibling became the proverbial no-name leader after shooting the lowest opening round (66) in U.S. Open-Oakmont history.
Andrew Landry lost his money game to Rahm, but his second-place finish still paid out $637,200, putting him over the $1 million mark for the season, and sending him off to the Farmers Insurance Open with a message that this isn’t the last time we’ll hear from him.
“We’ll take it and move on to Torrey Pines,” Landry said before exiting Palm Springs. “It’s obviously a great course for me. I’m driving the ball really well and I’m doing everything really good, so we’ll try again next week.”
GREAT(S) DEBATES: Chris Como may not be Tiger Woods’ teacher anymore, but he was recently appointed director of instruction at Dallas National, one of the plush practice environments in golf. He is also architect of an interesting forum on the mental game and the philosophy of instruction Tuesday at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla., which features Claude Harmon III, David Leadbetter, Jim McLean, Mike Adams, Fran Pirozzolo, Hal Sutton, Brad Faxon and Brandel Chamblee.
“It’s an event that invited open dialog and debate about all the topics of golf instruction,” Como said in a text message. “The goal is to put a bunch of smart people in the same room together to move our industry forward in a positive direction.”
This should be entertaining dialog, especially coming two days before Tiger makes his comeback at the Farmers.
STACY'S SPARK: On the week when she was named winner of the Ben Hogan Award for overcoming scoliosis, Stacy Lewis did what Hogan epitomized – she doggedly continued to work on her game.
Heading into her 10th season on the LPGA tour and facing her 33rd birthday on Feb. 16, Lewis flew from Houston to Florida, on her way to the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic, for checkups with instructor Joe Hallett and performance coach Dave Donatucci.
After workouts and an evaluation at his gym, Donatucci noted the veteran’s vertical leap was 2 inches higher than she’s ever jumped before. “Physically, she’s in a great place,” Donatucci said. Mentally, she is in a great place as well, breaking a 39-month winless streak in September with a victory in the Cambia Portland Classic. After playing lessons at Old Palm and The Floridian, Hallet told me, “There’s an energy there that she’s always had.”
Other than Cristie Kerr, who is 40, the top 10 players in the Race to the CME Globe were all in their 20s. Lewis, who was 13th, told the Houston Chronicle she played some of her best golf the last six to seven tournaments of 2017. “Honestly it doesn’t feel like that start to a new year,” she said. “It just feels like a little bit of a break and I’m starting up again.”
KOEPKA'S HEALING TIME: Claude Harmon III had an interesting take on the torn wrist tendon that will sidelineU.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka until the Masters. “To be honest, the time off for the injury part of it doesn’t worry me,” Harmon said, using last year as his point of reference.
Looking back to the start of 2017, Koepka missed cuts at the Farmers Insurance Open, was T-42 as defending champion of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, missed cuts at the Genesis Open and the Honda Classic, finished T-48 in the no-cut WGC Mexico Championship, and didn’t play on the weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Three months later, Koepka overpowered Erin Hills and tied Rory McIlroy’s U.S. Open scoring record of 16 under par. Harmon used McIlroy’s third-place finish at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in his return “as something to look at and emulate.”
The hard part is that Koepka closed out the 2017 season with a second-place finish in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China and a nine-stroke win over Xander Schauffele in the Dunlop Phoenix, rising to a career high seventh in the world. But between cardio at Joey D’s gym and putting practice (once he gets doctor’s clearance), Harmon doesn’t think Koepka will look at the next three months as down time.
BIG-TIME PERFORMER: Thomas Pieters was back in the top-five of a premier tournament again, finishing T-5 in Abu Dhabi after a run of nine events at the end of 2017 that did not match the first eight months of his rookie year.
Coming off a Ryder Cup performance in 2016 that set European records for most points (4) and wins (4) by a rookie, Pieters was T-2 at the Genesis Open, T-5 at the WGC-Mexico Championship, T-4 at the Masters and solo fourth at the Bridgestone Invitational.
In a news conference after his opening-round 67, Pieters admitted it was nice having fun again and attributed the lack of enjoyment to some struggles he was having off the golf course.
“With a lot of players these days, it’s more off the course than on the course; life in general sometimes causes problems,” swing instructor Pete Cowen told me Monday morning from Dubai, without getting into specifics. “Pieters is looking a lot better. I think he’s now in a great frame of mind.”
After winning the NCAA Championship as a sophomore for Illinois in 2012, the now 25-year-old Belgian is 34th in the world, 33 spots behind his goal.
“Tom Pieters doesn’t want to be a superstar, he just wants to be the best player,” Cowen said. “That’s what drives him … what I like about him. He wants to be the best, and will do whatever it takes to be the best.”
GIFT OF LOVE: What do you give a man that has everything for his 78th birthday? For Barbara Nicklaus it was classified in a text message with a smiley face emoji as a “Very boring!!!!!” gift of two pairs of pants and a shirt.
As you can see from the above photo, just being together with his family and bride of 57 years at The Bears Club was enough.