Euros hope to improve major performance at St. Andrews

By Brandon TuckerJune 24, 2015, 5:21 pm

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – The only real noise Europe’s top golfers made at the U.S. Open was with their mouths and thumbs.

Shocking, frankly, as Americans have been entirely too accustomed to Europeans walking off with their biggest trophies lately.

Entering the week, four of the last five U.S. Opens had gone to Europeans, and the dominance has been equally, if not more, impressive in Ryder Cups.

And as the sun set at Chambers Bay, what was so remarkable was not one Euro in the field contended on a golf course built by jealous Americans who adore the 200-plus true links courses to be found in Great Britain and Ireland.

Instead, Ryder Cup rivalries be damned. The leaderboard, with three South Africans and two Aussies in the top seven, was Presidents Cup-esque.

A sour week for Europe

Spend some time in a clubhouses in Europe and eventually you’ll hear a member suggest the average American golfer is spoiled by bent grass greens reading 11 on the Stimpmeter and soft fairways you can scoop a ball with a lob wedge straight into the air when a little 5-iron bump-and-run would suffice.

And yet, here was a course with conditions maligned more than any tournament venue in recent memory. And rather than Europeans embracing its imperfections, they seemed derailed from the start.

It began on Thursday with Sergio Garcia’s suggestive tweets the USGA could have done better. On Friday, Henrik Stenson fanned the flames by calling the greens "broccoli." The largely-diplomatic McIlroy was soon pulled into the muck and dropped "cauliflower." Lee Westwood, whose time is running out to win a major, had his cheeky moments online as well. On Sunday, Ian Poulter broke his silence on Instagram around the time the leaders made their way to the back nine with 327 words of indignation going so far as to suggest an apology from the USGA ( who put up a $10 million purse) was in order (a sentiment Billy Horschel echoed just hours earlier on the podium).

No doubt, it’s been a golden age for European golf, a high council of all-stars led by their rosey-cheeked four-time major champion. We've seen it in their recent major and Ryder Cup dominance. McIlroy, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell have all won U.S. Opens on a variety of setups.

Yet top-10 players like Rose and Stenson were non-factors on the weekend, leaving McIlroy and lesser-known Shane Lowry as Europe’s last grasps. McIlroy made a spirited charge on Sunday, but he never threatened past his birdie on 13 and suddenly it was apparent Europe would leave Chambers Bay empty-handed.

Americans do the talking on Sunday

When Jordan Spieth hit the par-5 18th hole in two shots, it became clear an American was poised to win back the U.S. Open.

Spieth and Dustin Johnson were hardly immune to their criticisms of Chambers Bay. But, perhaps because they were in contention from the start, their tone seemed less defeatist than their disgruntled peers on both sides of the pond.

Spieth, when asked about the greens early in the week seemed more analytical than upset, describing in detail different paces on different holes and the misleading speed on the practice green.

His caught-on-camera critique of the par-4 18th, later elaborated on after the round, was a savvy, veteran-lobbying session, like Phil Jackson at the podium ensuring Shaq gets his room in the paint. The USGA will never admit Spieth and others' analysis of the hole swayed their decision to make the 72nd hole a par 5, but the setup committee did know the winds would be shifting to the north on Sunday for days, yet made no word of their intentions to change their plans until last minute.

Meanwhile, Johnson, carrying himself with his usual nonchalant stride and back page-worthy quotes all week, preferred to speak of his ball-striking clinic, highlighted by hitting 14/14 fairways on Saturday including two greens on par 4s.

On Sunday, he could have blamed the greens but instead took the high road; humility normally reserved for his father-in-law, Wayne Gretzky.

"I thought I was hitting them pretty good and they just weren't going in," was all he could explain – and that’s something we hear from runner-ups when most majors are over.

No excuses at St. Andrews

Now, the scene shifts from a modern links "on steroids" to St. Andrews, a place where any disparagement of the grounds in all certainly results in a lifelong condemnation from Old Tom Morris and his fellow souls in golf’s high kingdom.

It’s the purest test in the world with turf conditions as fine as you’ll ever walk; enormous, smooth greens, perhaps the truest 18 surfaces (or, 11 to be correct) on Earth. Unfortunate bounces from humps and bumps are viewed not as manufactured from the mad mind of Mike Davis but rather an appropriate sentence by the Alpha and Omega of our grand game.

A European hasn’t won on the Old Course since Nick Faldo in 1990. White-hot Spieth heads here for the first time in championship conditions having proved he doesn’t need much experience with a complex golf course to win. McIlroy, meanwhile, hopes to defend his claret jug and retain his weakened hold of the No. 1 position in the world.

Twitter will be quiet, there will be no pictures of poa annua on Instagram. The only chatter will be of what might the heavens deliver in terms of wind, rain and luck.

Leave it to the Old Course to bring a little civility back to this game.

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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.