U.S. finds its Ryder Cup leader

By Brandel ChambleeOctober 8, 2016, 4:00 pm

The Ryder Cup is an assault on your senses. It’s a party with the volume turned up to maximum. It’s a sport with hyperbolic acts of partisanship. It’s a schadenfreude parade. No, it is not what Samuel Ryder wanted it to be or intended for it to be, but it is exactly the way to get this “I’m bored” generation, who move from video game to video game, interested in golf.

Think about it - most of the team sports the United States is great at, the rest of the world hardly plays, and the one team sport the world most widely plays, soccer, the United States is hardly great at. So there is no World Cup of American football, and despite the pretentiousness of the title World Series there are no global competitors to the USA’s dominance in baseball. Similarly, every four years the newest version of the Dream Team is a slam dunk to win Olympic gold in basketball.

In the Ryder Cup, the U.S. plays a game where it has an obvious world ranking advantage, and one could assume by golf’s inclusion in the Olympics, an increasing global appeal, and yet, the U.S. has won only three of the last 11 meetings. You may be saying as you read this, that given the decisive victory in this year’s contest, the United States has regained the vertical, so to speak, but in two years, the 12 best from this country will head to France and try to win this biennial back-and-forth for the first time in 25 years on foreign soil.

The European lopsidedness is maddening to the millennial and baby boomer alike. How can the United States be by far the best in the world at golf (the U.S. has 23 players in the top 50 in the world rankings and the next closest country, England, has seven), yet so easily beaten by Europe in the Ryder Cup? If you haven’t noticed there is a lot of commentary on this … and, there is even commentary on the commentary.

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In 2004 on the Sunday after the United States had been thrashed at home, 18 ½ to 9 ½, Tiger Woods was asked why Europe was so much better in this format. “Well, I think they have just gotten the job done,” he said. “When it comes right down to it, I think they just played a little better.” Yes, like Tiger Woods played “a little better” than everyone else at the 2000 U.S. Open. And as much as I’d love to say that Tiger just got the job done at Pebble Beach that year, stating the obvious does not in any way answer the question as to why he was able set the widest winning mark in the history of our national Open. Of course he got the job done and of course he played “a little better” than everyone else, but what made him so much better than the rest of the world of professional golf is at once the most interesting and puzzling of questions. To get the answer right is to get closer to the goal of every golfer, which is to get better, or at least know how to get better. As it relates to the Ryder Cup, to get the answer right as to why Europe dominates, why its sum is better than its individual parts, is to find the definition of team.

That same Sunday in 2004 Tiger’s teammate, Davis Love, was asked a similar question and he said, “Well I don’t think there is an explanation.” His captain, Hal Sutton, suggested it was the media’s fault for marketing the Europeans as underdogs based upon the world rankings. Then he suggested there was a flaw in the world rankings, insinuating that the two-year process of point accumulation somehow ranked European players lower than their actual talent and simultaneously ranked American players higher than theirs.

From having no explanation, to a very clear albeit incorrect and slightly paranoid conclusion, one catches on the edge of their remarks the defensive reaction when there is a hint of debasing the currency of an athlete’s passion for a team event. I think that night Phil Mickelson came closer to the mark than anyone else when he said, “We feel we have everything to lose and nothing to gain.” And that, “We need to play with more of a free spirit” This speaks more to the psychological make-up of the one common denominator of the last 11 United States teams, Phil Mickelson. This was exactly my argument during the week of the Ryder Cup regarding the United States’ losing record being related to the leadership of the teams: The Americans were playing as if they had everything to lose and nothing to gain. The team took on the personality of its leadership and it follows, his record.

After yet another defeat by the Europeans in 2006, Tiger Woods said, “I think each team that you’re involved in takes on the personality of your captain.” I’d argue that while the captain makes the trains run on time, a team takes on the personality of its leaders who are playing. I offer as evidence Seve Ballesteros’ influence on the European teams, not only while he was alive but even now, when Europe evokes the memory of his passion for this event.

Seve’s memory was certainly present in the teams of Jose Maria Olazabal at Medinah and Paul McGinley in Scotland, for which the United States had no answer. But perhaps Phil Mickelson’s didactic diatribe on Sunday night after yet another loss in 2014 convinced just the right person of the importance of proper leadership. Him.

In the build-up over the last two years, and most certainly the last few days before the Ryder Cup began, nobody has ever put themselves more at the center of a sport’s controversy and then done so much to prove themselves to be correct. Leadership is not appointed, it’s earned in the context of achievement in difficult times, From a psychological perspective, I can’t imagine a player being under more pressure to perform than Phil was during the week of the Ryder Cup. Even Freud might have said, “I’m out!” but Phil played like the genius he is.

Of course we are never going to land exactly right on this, and I do not have all the information I need to know all the answers. I have not spoken to Tiger Woods on this subject and have spoken to Phil only once, shortly after the United States lost the 2014 Ryder Cup. I am reminded in matters of opinion that even the scientific world is couched with caveats. Einstein started his explanation of quantum theory with the words, “It seems to me …” and Darwin introduced his Theory of Evolution with the hesitant qualifier, “ I think …”

So it seems to me, the United States has finally found the leader it so desperately needed in Phil Mickelson. Better late than never, I think.

Encore.

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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.