UGA coach makes players earn their playing time

By Ryan LavnerMay 23, 2014, 3:51 pm

HUTCHINSON, Kan. – Already this season there have been eight PGA Tour winners with University of Georgia ties.

Brendon Todd, a four-year All-American in Athens, won last week’s Byron Nelson Championship, following the lead of Bubba Watson (twice), Russell Henley, Chris Kirk and Harris English. Patrick Reed, a two-time winner in 2013-14, briefly attended Georgia before transferring to Augusta State.

For Georgia head coach Chris Haack, “it’s a huge point of pride” to see all of the former Bulldogs having success at the pro level.

As a coach, Haack has always done it his way.

He isn’t a world-class player like Illinois’ Mike Small, or a passionate and emotional leader like Alabama’s Jay Seawell, or a number-crunching tactician like former Oklahoma State coach Mike McGraw. But Haack is arguably the best recruiter in the country, and for years he has fostered a competitive atmosphere in practice.

“Nobody’s spot is safe,” Haack said. “They’ve gotta earn their spot every week.”

The only way players can stay in the lineup is to post a top-10 finish in the previous event. Otherwise, they’re all fair game in a top-5 qualifier in practice. Depending on the turnaround between events, that can either be a one-round shootout or a three- or four-round mini-tournament.

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In Haack’s 18 years at Georgia, only three players have never missed a tournament because of qualifying: Kevin Kisner, Brian Harman and Henley. All three currently play on the PGA Tour.

“It makes them stay sharp and stay focused,” Haack said. “Nobody can get too comfortable.”

Sometimes, that means the team’s best player is left out of the lineup. 

That’s what happened this season to senior Joey Garber, the No. 7 player in Golfstat’s individual rankings. The former Michigan transfer failed to qualify for events at both Crooked Stick and Kiawah Island. He played as an individual at Kiawah and won the tournament, but his 9-under total didn’t count toward the team score. As a result, the Bulldogs finished third.

“As I tell them, it’s no different than a U.S. Amateur qualifier, a U.S. Open qualifier or a Monday qualifier,” Haack said. “You have to figure out how to do it when the time comes.

“We hope it’s beneficial. They prefer it that way, as opposed to me just picking them. As a player you want to feel like you have as good a chance as everybody else, and they’re all very comfortable with that. If they don’t make it, they know it’s not because of me.”

Though in recent years Georgia has churned out pro prospects at the same rate Harvard produces lawyers, it’s remarkable to think that the school has only won two national titles in the past 15 years, in 1999 and 2005. The Bulldogs also were NCAA runners-up in 2007 and ’11, the latter with a team that included PGA Tour players Henley, English and Hudson Swafford.

So, Haack was asked: Which Georgia player is next to break through on Tour?

“Erik Compton, from a ball-striking perspective, was one of the best I’ve ever had,” he said. “With his situation, I would love nothing more than to see him in the winner’s circle. Also Brian Harman. I’m surprised he hasn’t gotten himself in the winner’s circle yet. He’s so talented. And Kevin Kisner. He always seemed to get himself in the hunt in college, and getting out on the Tour and winning a few times gave him some confidence.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if any of those guys did it,” he added. “To see any of these guys win is a huge thrill for me.”

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x