Notes: Pinehurst only the start of men's, women's doubles

By Doug FergusonMarch 12, 2014, 2:11 am

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – NCAA and Olympic officials might want to pay close attention to two weeks at Pinehurst No. 2 this summer, when the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open are held on the same course.

It could be a blueprint for the next two years in how to set up a golf course.

The NCAA men's and women's golf championships in 2015 are being held at The Concession in Bradenton in back-to-back weeks, the first time they are being played on the same course in the same year. And then in 2016 at the Olympics in Rio, the men's competition will be held ahead of the women.

''I believe we were in the middle of the bid process when it was announced by the USGA that they were planning to do back-to-back weeks for the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open,'' said Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour executive overseeing golf's return to the Olympics.

''The issues that present themselves in that, whether it's obviously tee boxes, landing areas, even the positioning of grandstands in relation to tee boxes from a fan perspective, are all things that we are going to be following and looking at and learning from,'' he said.

Votaw said the idea is to ''make it a fair and good test'' for men and women.

Meanwhile, the International Golf Federation is waiting for approval on eligibility for the Olympics. The IGF has proposed a 60-person field for 72 holes of stroke play, with the field determined by the world ranking. The top 15 in the world ranking at the cutoff would be guaranteed a spot, with a maximum of four from one country, and then no more than two from any country.

Votaw said the idea was to get the most number of nations involved, which would be 34 countries for the men and 33 for the women. He also said the proposal would include a golfer from the host nation if none is eligible from the ranking, and that athletes be represented from every Olympic continent.

Still to be determined is how the worldwide golf schedule will come together around the Olympics, which will run from Aug. 5-21.

The British Open and PGA Championship are likely to be played in July, with the FedEx Cup playoffs on the PGA Tour and the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine to be held after the Olympics. That could lead to a scenario where a player who wins the PGA Championship - and perhaps even the British Open - is not eligible for the Olympics, depending on the qualifying cutoff for making an Olympic team.

GRADUATION DAY: Even though he is coming up on the one-year anniversary of turning pro, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan already has played in all four majors and every World Golf Championship. As a PGA Tour member, one tournament he looked forward to playing was the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

That will have to wait.

The 22-year-old Matsuyama headed home after Doral for a big occasion. He's graduating from college.

Unlike Ryo Ishikawa, who turned pro as a teenager and played big events while working on a high school diploma, Matsuyama went to college and pursued his degree while competing against the world's best. His field of study was social welfare.

Asked if he was excited to graduate, Matsuyama smiled and said, ''I'm more excited about playing here in America.''

He won't play again until Augusta National, which makes him unusual in one respect. It takes most people at least one full year to go from a college degree to a Masters. For Matsuyama, it will only be a few weeks.

NEW SPONSOR: The LPGA is off to a good start even before it starts its domestic schedule next week. JTBC, a leading broadcasting company in South Korea, has agreed to be the title sponsor of what now will be the JTBC Founders Cup in Phoenix.

The tournament starts next week at Wildfire Golf Club.

JTBC is an affiliate of J Golf, which recently signed a contract extension with the LPGA. Along with being a title sponsor in Phoenix, JTBC will be presenting sponsor at three other LPGA events this year. Those four events will be shown on JTBC's network, which is distributed to more than 21 million households in Korea.

Its first order of business for the Founders Cup was to give sponsor exemptions to Cheyenne Woods and former U.S Women's Open champion Birdie Kim.

OOSTHUIZEN BACK: Louis Oosthuizen was worried about his back after losing in the quarterfinals of the Match Play Championship to eventual winner Jason Day.

He's not out of the woods yet, though he was pleasantly surprised by how he felt at Doral last week.

Oosthuizen, whose back injury caused him to withdraw from two majors and not play a third one last season, said tests have revealed disk problems in the L-5 and S-1. He had two cortisone injections during his week off between Match Play and Doral.

Of greater concern is practice.

Oosthuizen said he has only been able to warm up for about 30 minutes before each round. Even with arguably the sweetest swing in golf, ''You can't be consistent with your swing if you only do that,'' he said.

''But it's a lot better,'' he said. ''And that's a good sign.''

Oosthuizen is playing this week in the Valspar Championship.

MASTER PLAN: Roberto Castro, who went to Georgia Tech, played four rounds at Augusta National before he qualified for his first Masters this year.

He already has played twice in the fall, and plans two more rounds during the week of the Texas Open.

How many times can he go before the Masters?

''Within reason,'' he said with a smile. ''They have been very nice to host me.''

He last went with Chris Kirk, who also lives in Atlanta, the week of Thanksgiving. The Eisenhower Tree was still standing, which Castro said presented a problem because he tends to hit a fade off the tee. What he remembers more is playing the championship tees on a cold, soft day.

''When the ball backs up in the fairway, it's like the longest course in the world,'' he said.

DIVOTS: Patrick Reed (twice) and Ryan Moore are the only players to go wire-to-wire, including ties, in 16 stroke-play events on the PGA Tour this year. ... Derek Fathauer, who missed the cut last week in Chile, shot a 59 during a practice round for the Tour event in Brazil on Tuesday. ... Minjee Lee of Australia, the No. 1 amateur in the world, was among nine amateurs awarded exemptions to the Kraft Nabisco Championship on April 3-6, the first LPGA major of the year.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Tiger Woods earned $82,194 in his first three PGA Tour events as a pro in 1996. He has earned $86,919 in his first three PGA Tour events this year.

FINAL WORD: ''There are pretenders on Sunday, contenders and closers. The rarest of all golfers are closers that can actually win tournaments, not win by accident because of other people falling apart.'' - Johnny Miller.

Getty Images

McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in four months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014. 

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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."

Getty Images

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."