Knox's WGC win brings Ryder Cup (almost) into play

By Doug FergusonNovember 11, 2015, 12:15 am

SHANGHAI - Russell Knox was the center of attention after winning the HSBC Champions, and not just with the sponsors.

After his press conference, he posed with four flight attendants from Emirates Airlines. Next up was a photo with the owner and executive staff of Casillero del Diablo, which supplied the wine for the week.

When he sat back down to sign flags and caps for HSBC, another man approached whom Knox did not recognize.

''Hello, Russell. I'm Keith Waters with the European Tour.''

Waters is the chief operating officer, and he was equipped with all the answers Knox did not know and was too overwhelmed to ask at the moment - mainly, the process of becoming a European Tour member and how that relates to the Ryder Cup.

Sensing that the 30-year-old from Scotland was still trying to digest his first big win - a World Golf Championship, no less - Waters gave him a business card with his mobile number and told him he would be available any time. And there was one more thing.

''Also just so you know, Darren Clarke is going to be calling you,'' Waters said.

''We'll be in touch for sure,'' Knox replied with a grin.

Clarke is the European captain for the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. Odds are, he has been on the phone with Matthew Fitzpatrick, Thomas Pieters and any other European who appears to have even a remote chance of qualifying.

To be realistic, Knox barely has that.

Is he interested in the Ryder Cup? Of course. Even though he has lived in Florida his entire professional life, he grew up in Inverness and is proud of his Scottish heritage. His sister, Diane, is a popular radio DJ in Scotland.

''Obviously, it's going to be a goal of mine to make the European Ryder Cup team, and this obviously springboards me to a place where ... I mean, yesterday I was nowhere near it,'' Knox said. ''I have no idea where I stand on making the team or what I need to do. But I look forward to finding out and giving it a run, that's for sure.''

Much will depend on what European Tour chief Keith Pelley announces next week in Dubai on a new membership policy.

One of the options is to require a minimum of five European Tour events (down from 13), but that number would not include the majors or WGCs. So it really would be no change at all, except for making it practical for players who have slipped out of the top 50 - such as Luke Donald andGraeme McDowell - and no longer are automatically eligible for the eight biggest events in world golf.

For Knox, that would mean adding four tournaments to what he already plays.

Knox is among dozens of Europeans who live in America and play the majority of their golf on the PGA Tour. But his career is more closely in line with the likes of Carl Pettersson and Martin Lairdthan with McDowell, Ian Poulter or a resurgent Paul Casey.

Pettersson was born in Sweden and moved to North Carolina when he was in high school. Laird is from Glasgow, played at Colorado State and never went back to Europe until he already had his PGA Tour card. One year he played the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond, and a local radio reporter aware only of his accent innocently asked Laird why it had taken so long for him to do well on his home soil.

''This is my first event,'' Laird said.

Knox played 99 times on either the PGA Tour or the Tour before making his European Tour debut last year in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart, not far from where he grew up. He played his first British Open this year - he was the alternate who replaced Rory McIlroy when he tore up his ankle playing soccer.

Knox was the only player keeping the third round from being completed Saturday evening at Sheshan International because he thought it was too dark to play the final hole. That led some in the British press to jokingly refer to him as the ''American'' because of the minor inconvenience. When he returned the next morning and made birdie, and then never lost the lead on Sunday, he became a Scot again.

It was all in good fun, but to be fair, only the diligent golf press in the U.K. knew much about Knox, and for good reason. This was his first win on any of the six main tours around the world. Knox had never been remotely close to the top 50 in the world until he won the HSBC Champions and shot all the way up to No. 31. Now he's the 10th-highest European in the world ranking.

He is guaranteed two majors (Masters, PGA Championship) and a WGC, and he's likely to get in the other two WGCs. Whether he takes up European Tour membership and makes a run at the Ryder Cup, Knox ultimately concluded that ''it's a great problem to have.''

Besides, it beats the alternative.

''I always joked with my caddie that if I ever won,'' he said, ''I was going to retire.''

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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.