Players still warming to the idea of golf in the Olympics

By Damon HackFebruary 3, 2015, 4:47 pm

Dan Jansen is more likely to be in golf spikes than speed skates these days, but his experience as an Olympic champion is never far from his mind.

As a boy in West Allis, Wis., the Olympics were the reason to drive hundreds of miles across state lines to compete in tournaments. It was the reason to wake up when the sky was still dark. It was the reason to skate that icy oval until his hamstrings burned.

When Jansen finally became an Olympian, he was met with great joy but also tremendous heartbreak, most notably when his sister, Jane, died the day he was scheduled to compete in the 500 meters in Calgary in 1988. Jansen, dedicating his race to her, fell to the ice just 100 meters in. Four days later, in the 1,000 meters, he fell again.

In his fourth Olympics, at Lillehammer in 1994, he finally outraced his past and the competition, winning gold, setting a world record and hearing “The Star Spangled Banner.”



“Never in my life have I felt more patriotic than when I had the honor of hearing our national anthem,” Jansen said in a recent interview. “I won 46 World Cup races and a bunch of world championship races, but that song never sounded like that.”

Jansen, like many observers, sees golf’s return to the Olympics as a potential boon for a game looking for growth. But he also wonders if professional athletes can grasp the special meaning of the Games, especially when compared with major championships.

Professional golf at the highest level is awash in big-time events – four majors, The Players, four World Golf Championships, a Ryder Cup, a Presidents Cup and a lucrative FedEx Cup chase with four playoff events.

The LPGA added a fifth major in 2013 and the International Crown in 2014, not to mention the growing popularity of the biennial Solheim Cup.

Tom Watson, who calls the majors “the pinnacle of golf,” contends that golf simply should not be in the Olympics. Adam Scott, the former world No. 1, said in December that Olympic golf should at least be limited to amateurs, the better the chance to grow the game globally.

“People watch us (professionals) play 45 weeks a year,” Scott said, adding that he wants to play in the Olympics but the majors are his focus.

To Jansen, therein lies the conflict.

“It’s kind of hard for me to hear the top players in the world say the Olympics will not be their top priority, even that year – it will be their fifth at best,” he said. “I feel this about all professional sports in the Olympics. I completely understand why an NBA player would rather win a title, a hockey player a Stanley Cup, a golfer a major.

“But for most amateur athletes, the Olympic Games are the ultimate prize from the time we could dream. That was our 3-footer to win the Masters, our buzzer-beater to win a title. The fact that they make millions playing their respective sports is not a problem for me. But if the Olympics isn’t the priority, please don’t come.”

It’s an understandable sentiment.

The Olympics are precious, a once-every-four-year proposition, or, in many cases, a once-in-a-lifetime one. They are fleeting moments born of years of toil.

For the most part, the golfers are saying the right things so far.

They realize that people from around the globe may be watching golf for the first time, and that the potential for exponential growth is real.

But will the golfers truly grind for an Olympic medal the way they grind for a green jacket? Can golf find someone like pro tennis’ Andy Murray, the Scot who won Olympic gold at the All-England Club and proclaimed he wouldn’t trade his medal for a Wimbledon title.

“There’s no doubt the four major championships are the pinnacle of the game right now,” Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion, said during the PGA Merchandise Show. “Golf has not been a part of the Olympics since 1904. We have a lot of learning to do, we have a lot of understanding to do. I believe the legacy in golf will grow as players experience it, [and] as we witness the first golfer standing on the podium with a gold medal around their necks, listening to their national anthem.

“Until that point, I don’t think we’ll understand the impact it’s going to have on the world of golf.”

Said Rickie Fowler, when asked about golf and the Olympics: “It’s a dream come true that you haven’t dreamt of because golf was never in it.”

A few weeks ago, PGA Tour rookies Justin Thomas and Carlos Ortiz were talking about the start of their careers when the subject of the Olympics came up.

Ortiz, who is from Mexico, was excited about both of their prospects to qualify.

“You’re going to make it,” Ortiz told Thomas, who fired back with a laugh.

“Dude, I’ve got like 100 people to pass [to qualify for the United States],” Thomas said. “Have fun in Brazil.”

The best news may be that two young players are talking about the Olympics in the midst of their first spin around the PGA Tour. It shows that they care. But if golf in the Olympics is to truly thrive, Thomas and Ortiz will need plenty of company.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

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The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."