A Room Divided

By Big Break ProducerOctober 31, 2012, 12:00 pm

In four seasons of working as a producer on the Big Break I have frequently heard from competitors that the best part of being on the show is the relationships that are developed with fellow cast members.

At times it’s the worst part.

Many viewers will remember the story of “Clutch” Carl Whyte and Robbie Biershenk (aka “Shank”) from Big Break Indian Wells.  On the surface the two have less in common than Ford and Chevy men.   The fact that they were roommates on the show was completely by chance.  The friendship they forged was by choice.

Twice on the Indian Wells series, Carl and Shank had to face off in emotionally charged duels (Carl won both times), and each time the result was highly dramatic both during and immediately after the challenge.  That’s the nature—in many ways, the essence—of the Big Break.  The competition comes and goes.  The exemptions and cash are eventually spent.  The friendships remain.

Flash forward to the Greenbrier, where another battle of the buds was brewing in episode 5 between Brian and Ray.

Some friends are born out of camaraderie.  This one seems rooted in mutual respect.

Though they come from very different parts of the world ¬– Brian is blue-collar, Pittsburgh through-and-through, Ray a savvy and slick Aussie in flashy pants – the Phoenix area of Arizona has become their adopted home.  My job on Big Break Greenbrier afforded me the opportunity to get to know Brian and Ray in their own back yards.

Brian and his wife Shelley are the embodiment of the adage that “life begins at forty”.  After finding each other later in life, it’s obvious they both realize the importance of making every moment count.They value family and friendship above all else.  If you’re ever lucky enough to be invited to dinner at the Coopers’ house, make sure Brian’s blackened tilapia is on the menu.  (Follow Brian, as I do, @CoopsGolf – but don’t expect the recipe.)

A Scottsdale transplant by way of Australia’s Gold Coast, Ray is 20 years Brian’s junior and as tough as his background in rugby would lead you to believe.  (The black eye he sustained while shooting some rugby scenes for the Big Break Greenbrier preview show serves as evidence.)  The next time you’re looking for a tremendously entertaining Friday night in Scottsdale, look for Ray at Harold’s Corral or the Buffalo Chip Saloon.  You won’t be disappointed.

So the two men from vastly different backgrounds found more common ground as they became roommates in West Virginia, and ultimately opponents in an Elimination Challenge.  A room divided.

Brian’s choice between Rick and Ray was not an easy one.  After cruising through the first 3 shows, Rick had finally shown some vulnerability.  But it’s hard to put yourself in a match against the guy who shot 63 on the Old White TPC in the practice round.  So you go with the guy who’s spent a year on the Web.com Tour.  Such is life on this Big Break.

Like that Safe City bench at the chipping location, Brian was kicking himself for getting into this spot in the first place.

As Brian made clear, it was nothing personal.  By the time they reached the elimination challenge, Ray expected it.  What the rest of us expected was a very good match.  And we got it.

As the guys said after the match, another birdie – and another good player gone.

Some additional notes:

• According to Brian, the most nervous he’s ever been over a golf ball was on his shot from the fescue in regulation of the elimination challenge.

• In his 3 attempts at the flop wall in the first Immunity Challenge, Mark averaged exactly 2 feet 11 inches per shot.  And he never bothered to watch where his ball landed.

• Though Brian calls the flop wall “that 9 foot beast” in episode 5, the wall is in actuality 8 feet tall.  (We kept the reference in there because it makes it seem even scarier, and hey, it’s close enough.)

• Did you notice the rectangular cut in the rough on the right side of the green in the first Immunity Challenge during episode 4?  (Ray’s tee shot lands directly in the middle of it.)  The cut was made in anticipation of the flop wall challenge, which would take place on that same hole on the Snead Course one day later.

• For a man who’s got hands as big as catcher’s mitts, Isaac has surprisingly soft touch around the greens.  So soft, in fact, that he can’t even hold onto a rainbow trout.

• Episode 5 marked the second appearance of James’ hockey-inspired “saucer pass” shot.  The former victim of the chip yips was the only player to score a 1 at the first location in the second Immunity Challenge.  (Note: “The sauce” does not work well at a flop wall.)

• James’ inability to hit inside 25 feet from the last location in the second Immunity Challenge nearly cost him dearly.  He went from firmly in control of his destiny to relying on others to bail him out - which they did.

• Despite his lack of confidence, Anthony continues to impress his fellow competitors with timely shots.  The shot that earned him immunity was actually the second time he hit the green in that playoff (during the second Immunity Challenge).  The first had to be cut do to time constraints.  Ray also hit the green once in that playoff, before eventually falling to Anthony.

• For the record, Chan does not eat extra grass when he is in the rough.

• Rick would later say that the most nervous he’s been on the show was when Brian reached out to shake his hand on the range right before choosing Ray to compete in the Elimination Challenge.

• Astute Big Break viewers may have noticed that the man Ray tackled in the preview show to get his black eye was none other than Matt Melrose, the South African native who competed on Big Break Ireland.  Ray and Matt have a regular game when they’re both home in Scottsdale.  It can get pretty ruthless.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

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."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

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.'"

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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."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

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."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

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.