Molinari a surprise visitor to Maui

By Doug FergusonJanuary 8, 2011, 12:06 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – The so-called European snub of the PGA Tour was supposed to be evident at the season-opening Tournament of Champions, which is missing Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and PGA champion Martin Kaymer.

All of them are PGA Tour winners, high in the world ranking, with no intention of taking up PGA Tour membership this year.

So what to make of Francesco Molinari?

The Italian was a surprise visitor to Kapalua. He became eligible by winning the HSBC Champions in Shanghai with as fine a performance as any last year, beating Westwood by one shot and finishing 10 ahead of everyone else in the world-class field. He is No. 16 in the world and has no plans to be a regular in America.

So why waste one of his 12 exemptions in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and in the middle of a short vacation?

His wife, Valentina, is expecting their first child in February, so Molinari wants to get in as many tournaments as he can.

“My idea for this year was to play more in January,” Molinari said after opening with a 4-under 69 on a Plantation Course he had never seen until this week. “I was thinking of doing the Africa Open, but when I got a chance to come here … it’s a great tournament, and I’m happy to be here.”

Molinari will return next week to London – he moved there from Italy last year for easier travel – and then play the Middle East on the European Tour before going home to await the birth of his son.

Because he has never been a PGA Tour member, Molinari can play as many as 12 tournaments. That typically means the four majors, three World Golf Championships and five regular tour events. He doubts he’ll reach his minimum, in part because he most likely won’t be at the Match Play Championship. His wife is expecting a week before the first WGC event in Arizona.

Molinari has not entirely ruled himself out, but it’s not currently on his schedule.

“There’s always the outside chance if the baby comes a month early, I might decide to come play,” he said. “But when the baby is coming, I want to be home for at least two or three weeks, if possible. It’s quite unlikely I’m going to play.”

Starting a family is yet another reason Molinari isn’t interested in being a PGA Tour member, although he loves playing in America. His first golf trip was to the Houston area in 2004 for The Spirit, an international amateur event. He didn’t return for another five years, when he qualified for his first U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.

“I will come over this year maybe two or three times to play regular events,” Molinari said. “It’s very nice for a European player in the top 50 to come here and play against these guys. It’s still part of the learning experience for me. Last year was the first time I played four majors in the same year. I’m trying to make the most of it.”

Molinari’s plan is to return to the U.S. in time for Doral in early March, and he would like to play the Houston Open after hearing strong reviews about the tournament and the course as a good preparation for the Masters a week later.

The Italian Open, where he won his first tournament as a pro in 2006, is no longer the same week as The Players Championship. It’s a week before the U.S. Open instead, although Molinari figures there will be a charter flight for Europeans.

Also on his wish list is The Heritage at Hilton Head, even though it is two weeks after the Masters this year.

“The great thing about being high in the world ranking is you can pick and play half the schedule here and half the schedule in Europe,” he said. “In the future, what I’m going to do with the baby coming, I’m going to have some interesting times. I think I’ll be a member in Europe for a few years. But you never know. I love being here.”

Molinari might not have registered with American fans until the Ryder Cup, and that was only memorable because Tiger Woods played the final seven holes against him in 7-under par.

His performance in Shanghai was simply stellar, though, with a 67-67 weekend to hold off Westwood in the Englishman’s first tournament as the No. 1 player in the world. Molinari didn’t have a chance to soak in that big win until he returned home after the season, and someone sent him DVD’s of his WGC victory.

“It was definitely a huge achievement, especially playing Lee. That wasn’t easy,” Molinari said. “I waited a long time for the second win, but it was probably worth it. You can’t play, unfortunately, every single week like that. At least it’s good to know you have that in the bag. If you prepare properly, you can do that sort of stuff.”

His infrequent trips to America included a stop at the Reno-Tahoe Open two years ago, when he was not in the top 50 and couldn’t play the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.

He loved it.

“I used to live in Torino, and it’s so close to the mountains,” he said. “It reminded me a little bit of home. We went to Lake Tahoe and I really enjoyed the week.”

Hawaii isn’t bad, either.

His pre-tournament festivities included a a boat ride with Graeme McDowell to watch humpback whales, and it made quite an impression when a few of them were right under the boat.

“That was great,” Molinari said. “We don’t have whales in Italy.”

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.