The Life of Chris Riley
On the other end of the line was Chris Riley.
'He could hardly speak to me on the phone,' Sutton said. 'He was ecstatic. If God lets me live long enough to hear one of my kids be that excited ... then it will all be worthwhile. Because Chris Riley was that excited.'
Wait until Sutton really gets to know him.
Riley gets excited over a plate of onion rings.
'He's like an 8-year-old,' said Stewart Cink, who at 31 is about six months older than his Ryder Cup teammate. 'Jay Haas is like our uncle. And then Chris is like our nephew. He's got a naivete about him that draws you in. He's one of the great personalities on the tour that many people don't realize.'
For most people, Riley is one of the great unknowns.
His only PGA Tour victory came two years ago at the Reno-Tahoe Open. The most TV time he got this year was when his 5-foot birdie putt in the playoff at Torrey Pines somehow defied gravity and spun out of the cup, allowing John Daly to win for the first time in nine years.
Riley showed up again at the PGA Championship, somehow salvaging par from the bottom of the cliff on the par-3 17th at Whistling Straits. He missed a 4-foot par putt on the final hole and fell one shot short of the playoff, but still got the final spot on the Ryder Cup team with a tie for fourth.
On paper, he is the least accomplished player on the American squad.
But take a poll of his teammates, and all of them are just as excited about having him at Oakland Hills.
'He's going to keep everyone loose,' David Toms said. 'I think he's going to be great. Half of what he says is nuts. He asks so many questions that we call him 'Really Riley.''
Kenny Perry hasn't heard anyone that inquisitive since his son was in diapers.
'When my son was little, he was always saying, 'Why, Daddy? Why this? Why this?' And that's what Riley is like,' Perry said. 'He's a pure kid. Pure joy. He's a lot of fun to be around.'
Riley played a practice round at Firestone with Phil Mickelson, Chad Campbell and Davis Love III, asking them everything and more about the Ryder Cup.
When he sat down for lunch in the grill room, the questions kept coming.
'Do you think I'm going to like the Ryder Cup better because it's in the States?'
'If someone hits it in the water, will some knucklehead go, 'YEAH!' Really?'
'Hey, is there water at Oakland Hills?'
'Is it always close? Really?'
'Have you ever interviewed Johnny Miller? What's he like?'
'Hey, why did that captain not play those European guys until Sunday? You think Hal will do that? Really?'
'Do you want some of these onion rings?'
One of the famous stories on tour is the time Riley was playing in Reno and gazed at the snowcapped mountains. According to two players and their caddies, Riley asked one of them, 'That's not really snow up there, is it? Really? But it's warm down here, and wouldn't the snow melt being that much closer to the sun?'
Riley swears he never said that, but then he smiles and hits you on the arm, and you start to wonder if maybe he's not the one who had the best laugh.
His game is hardly a case of hit-and-giggle.
This is his sixth year on the PGA Tour, and he has been to the Tour Championship the last two seasons. He isn't the longest driver, and not always the straightest. But put the flat stick in his hand, and Riley expects to make everything inside 50 feet.
That wasn't always the case. Riley had the yips as a teenager, and that leads to another story that his frequent partner in junior matches - Tiger Woods - loves to tell.
'It was alternate shot. I teed off on a par 5, Riley laid up and I hit a wedge into about 3 feet,' Woods said. 'We were 2 up at the time, and if we made birdie, we were almost a lock to win. So we get to the green, Riley looks at the putt and says to me, 'You putt this one.' I said, 'Riles, I can't. It's not my turn.'
'I had to stand right next to him and say, 'OK, put a good stroke on it.' He jabbed it, but he made it.'
The turnaround came at UNLV, where golf coach Dwaine Knight recognized tremendous feel in Riley's hands. Knight taught him to keep his head still, let his stroke go through the ball and not worry about the result. Riley still follows that advice, and sometimes doesn't know he has made a 10-foot putt until he hears it drop in the cup.
'A lot of people don't see how hard he works,' Knight said. 'He looks flippant in a lot of ways. But what gets lost is he's a great competitor. He has a deep, deep passion for everything he does.'
Woods abuses Riley like a kid brother, but ask him what Riley brings to the Ryder Cup and he doesn't hesitate.
'He's someone who will fight all the way around,' Woods said. 'He never dogs it. He's one of the top grinders out here. And he's such a nice guy - a little strange at times, but that's just Riley.'
The first order of business for Riley is becoming a father. His wife is expecting a daughter (Taylor Lynn) on Sept. 17, the first day of the Ryder Cup, although they will try to induce sometime next week.
'What kind of father do you think I'll be?' Riley says.
'You have girls, right?'
'I think I'll be a good father.'
'Hey, is it awesome?'
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey
SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.
The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.
Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.
It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.
“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”
Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.
According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.
“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”
Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.
And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.
As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.
He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.
“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”
If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.
Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.
“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”
Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.
Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.
“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.
Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.
Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1
SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.
After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.
With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.
“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.
“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”
Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.
Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'
SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.
“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.
“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”
On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”
Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”
Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.
“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.”
Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines
SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.
The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.
Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.
Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.
Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:
• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10
• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1
• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1