Country and Western
Trevor Immelman, Rory Sabbatini, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Tim Clark. Thats a pretty strong top five.
Immelman won his first PGA TOUR event Sunday at the Cialis Western Open in convincing style. He buried the winning birdie putt on the 72nd hole to hold off a charging Tiger Woods.
Immelman is 26 years old. Many people questioned his selection as a captains pick on last years International Presidents Cup squad. They said he didnt deserve the two-year exemption on the PGA TOUR that went with it.
And Immelman told me, privately, on Friday that the criticism got under his skin, especially since he won $750,000 in 13 events on the U.S. Tour last year.
Anyway, all of that sniping goes away now. Immelman will make the next Presidents Cup team on his own. Suddenly he is on a short list of favorites for the Open Championship to be played a week from Thursday at Royal Liverpool in England.
What wont go away are the memories of the Western Open. It began in 1899 and entertained many title sponsors. But next year its newest incarnation will be the BMW Championship.
The word Western will no longer be in the title. Chicagoans are a proud and proprietary group. I know. I grew up in the Chicago area. When the Chicago Tribune bought the Chicago Cubs the powers-that-be at The Trib were smart enough to keep the name Wrigley Field.
Similarly, somebody in marketing at BMW should be brave enough to march into the executive suite and convince the Beemer bosses to find a way to keep the word Western in the title.
The tournament has earned it. And the people involved in the running of the event, especially the volunteers, will appreciate it. Hard to find anything objectionable about The BMW Western Open.
There is still time to make this simple and thoughtful accommodation. As one person told me Sunday, They are going to play the Western Open next year at Cog Hill. It will just be under an assumed name.
It was a harsh bit of humor. BMW is stepping up to the plate and forking over a lot of money. The companys product is solid, it is upmarket and it has earned its good reputation.
Let this column just serve as a reminder that the people of Chicago believe the reputation of the Western earned its place as well.
Say Western Open and you think of Chick Evans and the caddie scholars. You think of Walter Hagen, who won this thing five times. You think of Joe Jemsek, the patriarch of Chicago public golf who brought the Western to his beloved Cog Hill. You think of Marshall Dann, the man who brought the tournament back to Chicago full time. And you think of Tiger Woods, who in the last 10 years has changed the way the Western was perceived by the casual sports fan.
It was reassuring to see Woods on the prowl again late Sunday, making four birdies on the back nine and energizing a professional golf tournament, as only he can, for the first time in months.
In two years this event will take place in St. Louis at Bellerive. Woods has nothing against that citys good burghers. But, he said Sunday, it was unfortunate that there will be no PGA TOUR event in Chicago that year.
Bringing all of this back to Immelman, my wish is that his countryman and boyhood idol, Ernie Els, completely heals from knee surgery and begins challenging Woods, who is still healing from the passing of his father earlier this year.
It wouldnt be the worst thing in the world for professional golf to have a three-way playoff for the BMW Western Open next year between Trevor Immelman, Ernie Els and Tiger Woods.
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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
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."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
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.'"
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."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
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."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
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.