Notes: Next for Spieth? Facing McIlroy in Abu Dhabi

By Doug FergusonJanuary 12, 2016, 11:45 pm

HONOLULU – Fresh off an eight-shot victory, Jordan Spieth gets one week of rest before stepping back into spotlight. He leaves this weekend for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and his first meeting of the year with Rory McIlroy.

''I didn't know he was playing. I'll probably withdraw now,'' Spieth jokingly said Tuesday during a conference call for the Valspar Championship.

McIlroy was in Spieth's position a year ago - No. 1 in the world (by a greater margin), a multiple major champion, a great start to the year. What he never saw coming was an ankle injury while playing soccer that kept him out for two months and kept him from defending titles in the British Open and Bridgestone Invitational. He ended the year with a victory in the DP World Tour Championship to win the Race to Dubai.

The ankle injury slowed what could have been an interesting year between Spieth and McIlroy. Three weeks after Spieth won the Masters, McIlroy answered with victories in the Cadillac Match Play and Wells Fargo Championship. Spieth won the U.S. Open. And then McIlroy put on soccer shoes.

''In a season that he considered lost, he still came back and ended up winning the Race to Dubai, the final event. It proves what a player he is,'' Spieth said. ''I'm sure there's very few people working harder than he is to make this season his best season yet, which is scary. Hopefully, I can help prevent that to an extent.''

Spieth is playing Abu Dhabi for the first time before going to the Singapore Open. He returns for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the Northern Trust Open at Riviera before heading to Florida for the World Golf Championship at Doral and his title defense at the Valspar Championship.

That playoff win at the Valspar Championship seems like a long time ago considering all Spieth has done. He mentioned Tuesday that it was his first professional victory when he had to make a big putt on the final hole, in this case a 30-foot birdie on the third extra hole.

That remains true. He won the Masters by four shots and the U.S. Open with a two-putt birdie. He won the John Deere Classic when Tom Gillis hit into the water in a playoff. He won the Tour Championship by five shots. And he won at Kapalua by eight shots.


CADDIE RACE: Jordan Spieth wasn't the only one at Kapalua who turned in a remarkable performance.

Mark Urbanek, the caddie for James Hahn, remembers hearing about the time in 2002 that Steve Williams won a bet with Tiger Woods and swing coach Butch Harmon that he could run the back nine of the Plantation Course in under 30 minutes.

Williams won handily, going from the back of every tee and front of every green in 19 minutes, 28 seconds.

Urbanek decided to give it a try. He started even with the first tee and ran through the tunnel and up a path to reach the 10th tee, and then touched the back of every tee and a part of every green. He finished in 20 minutes, 15 seconds. If the starting line had been the 10th tee, he would have finished in 19 minutes event.

What inspires such a challenge?

''I got into running a couple of years ago,'' Urbanek said. ''I love the mental challenge. I hate running more than the next guy, but when you hit that wall and your brain is telling you, 'What are you doing?' I enjoy continuing through that.''


SPRAGUE'S MOVE: The president of the PGA of America also has a day job, and for Derek Sprague, that job is changing.

Sprague, who had been at Malone Golf Club in upstate New York for the 27 years as general manager and director of golf, has been hired as managing director of Liberty National Golf Club. In a peculiar twist, he will be employed by the PGA Tour as an expanded relationship between Liberty National and the tour.

Here's another way to look at it. Sprague will preside over the Ryder Cup this year as PGA president. He also will be working on the Presidents Cup, which will be played the following year at Liberty National.

The role between the tour and Liberty National came from a 25-year partnership in which the New Jersey golf club, which sits across from Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, will host up to 10 tournaments. That includes a FedEx Cup playoff event in 2019.


GWAA AWARDS: Dottie Pepper's career didn't end when she stopped playing the LPGA Tour. The 17-time winner with two majors will receive the William D. Richardson Award from the Golf Writers Association of America for her outstanding contributions to the game.

The GWAA also voted Davis Love III for its ASAP Sports/Jim Murray Award for his cooperation with the press, and J.B. Holmes with its Ben Hogan Award for staying active in golf despite a physical ailment.

Pepper was an analyst for NBC Sports after she retired, served on the PGA of America board of directors for two years, went to ESPN and recently was signed by CBS Sports, where she will be the first female to be part of the CBS team at the Masters. Along the way, she been a strong promoter of junior golf.

Holmes had two operations in 2011 after being diagnosed with brain defects in his cerebellum. One surgery was to remove part of his skull. He has won twice since and played on the Presidents Cup team last year.

''It's a great feeling to be recognized for overcoming adversity,'' he said. ''I am also proud to be affiliated with the great Ben Hogan, whose legacy is one that I admired.''

They will be honored at the GWAA's annual awards dinner April 6 in Augusta, Georgia.


IRISH MENTORING: The death of Christy O'Connor Jr. allowed Padraig Harrington to reflect on how much O'Connor and other veterans meant to young Irish players. Harrington turned pro in 1995 and played a few years with O'Connor. He also was close with Des Smyth and Eamonn Darcy.

''We would have had dinner every night of the week - a group of Irish guys - and practice rounds,'' he said. ''They were a big influence. The year I came out, there were six or eight rookies, and these were the elder statesmen. They looked after us and put us right. If you stepped out of line, you were told.''

Harrington said he often referred to Smyth as ''Dad'' because if there was an issue, he would be the one to sort it all out.

The social aspect to golf is important, especially for young Europeans coming to America. Harrington said he felt lucky have the Irish connection.

''It was a big bunch of us at the time, nearly 12 of us at dinner every night,'' he said. ''Socially, it was brilliant. A big part of having the elder guys is we weren't going to get too cocky around them. Des was 'Dad.' Christy and Eamonn were like a double act. They were fantastic.''


STAT OF THE WEEK: Dustin Johnson last week became the 20th player to surpass $30 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour. Only two of those 20 players, Vijay Singh and Davis Love III, are eligible for the Champions Tour.


FINAL WORD: ''Improving as an individual player is first and foremost. Also, I'd really, really, really like to get a Ryder Cup win this year.'' - Jordan Spieth.

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

BORN IN 1912

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


BORN IN 1949

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


BORN IN 1955

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


EUROPE'S BIG 5

Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


BORN IN 1980

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.