One Good Zone Deserves Another
I first saw it on the putting green early Sunday afternoon when I watched him and playing competitor Vijay Singh going through their final preparations for the last round of The Players Championship that Ames would win by a stunning six shots against a field that included 48 of the top 50 ranked players in the field.
There was an almost dream-like quality to the way Ames chipped and putted in the moments before he and Singh, comprising the final pairing, teed off Sunday at Sawgrass. Bunker shots emerged softly, landing lightly and tight to their targets. Ames shoulders were square, his step was light, his movements were in synch and his posture was athletically-erect.
Of course I didnt realize it at the time. No one, certainly not me or anybody I know, is that smart. But reflecting back and replaying it in my minds eye, it was clear afterward that Ames was preparing to enter that most sought after place in golf'The Zone.
His body language combined focus, relaxation and energy.
Ames had hinted he knew he was getting there as early as late Saturday when someone asked him if he was still scarred from the 9 and 8 match play dismantling he suffered at the hands of Tiger Woods earlier this year in California.
I put it aside right away, Ames said. Woods had been in the zone himself that day at LaCosta, stringing birdie after birdie and leaving Ames in his turgid wake.
The good golf shrinks like Bob Rotella and Gio Valiante make their living trying to define and put their patients/clients/students in the zone. What I know about this is that Ames magical mystery tour around 18 holes Sunday, all factors considered, was the longest and most compelling zone visit I have seen this year.
I am reminded of what Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously opined about obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio way back in 1964. I dont know if I can define it, Stewart wrote. but I know it when I see it. Same thing applies to the zone.
Woods had put it to Ames at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. And Ames had gotten even, with interest, at The Players.
His final round 67 was eight shots better than the scoring average for the field and was the low round of the day. It left him tied for first in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation for the week. The victory exempted him into The Masters and the British Open through 2008. It exempted him on the PGA Tour through 2011. And it earned him spots in this years U.S. Open and PGA Championship.
Four years ago Ames had posted an early final round 67 in this event only to come second, losing by two when Craig Perks needed just one putt on the final three holes at Sawgrass.
This time 67 was much more than good enough. And, oh-by-the-way, Ames played those daunting final three holes in six under par for the week.
My enduring memory of Ames Sunday at Sawgrass will remain fixed on how he bottled it for four-plus hours on one of the worlds toughest golf tests.
I will be surprised if anybody, including Tiger Woods, plays a better, more compelling, efficient and quietly-spectacular round of golf this year.
If I am proven wrong, I cant wait to see the evidence.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
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.