Notes: Poulter works on putting; Eyes on Olympics

By Doug FergusonFebruary 10, 2015, 7:18 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The golf world has seen Ian Poulter making five straight birdies in the 2012 Ryder Cup to win a pivotal match and swing momentum toward Europe. It has seen him holing key putts in winning a pair of World Golf Championships.

Poulter has seen the statistics. And he didn't like what he saw.

For a guy reputed to be among the best with the putter, Poulter spent the last eight weeks working harder than ever on the one part of his game that wouldn't seem to need much work. Except that when Poulter studied his putting statistics for 2014, he wasn't happy.

''I think too many people comment on putting that's happened probably in the Ryder Cup and seem to think that I'm a great putter,'' he said. ''When you actually dissect the stats like I did at the end of last year, my putting was nowhere near acceptable.''

He was No. 172 on the PGA Tour in putts holed from 10 to 15 feet. And on par 5 scoring performance – a large part of that is putting for players who can't routinely reach the green in two – Poulter ranked No. 122.

Perhaps more disturbing was to realize how much it was costing him.

Poulter added a little mystery to self-analysis by mentioning an unidentified player whose statistics were eerily similar from tee-to-green. This player doesn't hit it further off the tee. They both hit about the same percentage of greens in regulation.

''But he holed more putts from 10 to 20 feet than I did,'' Poulter said. ''He won $3 million more than me last year.''

Poulter wasn't clear on which statistics he was using – he mentioned 10 to 15 feet, 15 to 20 feet and 10 to 20 feet for his putting statistics – but one possibility for this mystery player is Chris Kirk. Poulter said the player was in the top 10 in the area where the Englishman did poorly. Kirk was in the top 10 on putts made from 10 to 15 feet and par 5 scoring performance. He made about $3.2 million more than Poulter last year.

Poulter's broader point is that his putting has been poor and he is determined to fix it. He said some big tournaments where he made a lot of putts can be a ''smoke screen.''

''I am a good putter,'' he said. ''But I miss putts, and that's a problem. I'm addressing that right now. ... The numbers don't lie. You have to take it on the chin sometimes. You think an area is good and you find out something different from the numbers. They are unacceptable numbers and they will be worked on.''

OLYMPIC GOLD AND THE TRICOLOR: Rickie Fowler drew chuckles when he referred to playing in the Olympics as ''a dream come true that I haven't ever dreamt of.'' That makes sense. Golf hasn't been in the Olympics since 1904, and Fowler was still in college when the sport was voted in for the 2016 games in Rio.

Carlos Ortiz never dreamed of being an Olympic athlete, either. But the PGA Tour rookie from Mexico is close to making it a reality. And he has reason to like his chances.

''Of course, I want to play. I'm really excited about that,'' Ortiz said. ''It's a little easier for me than some of the guys out here to get into that.''

Countries can only send a maximum of two players – four players if they are in the top 15 in the world – until the field reaches 60. Mexico only has three players listed anywhere in the world ranking, and the other two are nowhere near Ortiz at No. 135. He won three times on the Tour last year and already has three top 20s in his rookie season on Tour.

Ortiz currently is No. 43 in the Olympic ranking. Fowler is No. 12 in the world, behind four Americans, and thus is not listed.

''If I keep playing good, I believe I'm going to be in the Olympics,'' Ortiz said. ''And I believe that's going to be another major. It's very exciting. I grew up watching Winter Olympics, Summer Olympics, the normal sports. With golf, it's a dream come true. Any guy dreams of getting a gold medal for their country.''

TIGER AND TORREY: The wild final round at Torrey Pines on Sunday, where seven players had at least a share of the lead at some point in the final round and Jason Day won in a four-hole playoff, was a reminder of how Tiger Woods once dominated the PGA Tour, especially this golf course.

In the last 15 years of what is now the Farmers Insurance Open, the tournament has been decided by one shot or in a playoff 10 times.

Those five exceptions were Woods winning by four shots in 2013, by eight shots in 2008, by two shots in 2007, by three shots in 2005 and by four shots in 2003.

PGA AWARD: Ron Sirak has been selected to receive the 2015 PGA Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism that honors the media for steadfast promotion of golf on the local and national levels.

Sirak is a senior writer for Golf Digest and previously was executive editor for Golf World. He spent 18 years at The Associated Press and was the golf writer prior to leaving for Golf World in 1998.

He will be honored April 8 at the annual Golf Writers Association of America awards dinner in Augusta, Georgia. Sirak is a past president of the GWAA.

''Ron Sirak has brought readers to the heart of a story, connecting us with many of the amazing personalities in our game while also delivering balanced reporting on issues affecting our industry,'' PGA of America President Derek Sprague said.. ''Ron is one of the most trusted voices in golf and a friend to all who play the game.''

DIVOTS: Rory McIlroy is playing the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the first time this year, and the King was thrilled. ''I have talked to Rory about playing here, and it didn't work into his schedule in the past, but he told me that when it did work into his schedule that he would be here,'' Palmer said. ''And he is making good on his word. We look forward to having him.''... Thomas O'Toole was re-elected to another one-year term as USGA president during the annual meeting over the weekend in New York. ... Anirban Lahiri of India won the Malaysian Open and moved to No. 37 in the world. ... Tiger Woods is likely to be out of the top 70 in the world when – or if – he plays in the Honda Classic after the West Coast swing.

STAT OF THE WEEK: The five players who have won PGA Tour events in 2015 had an average world ranking of 24. The seven players who won PGA Tour events during the fall start of the wraparound season had an average world ranking of 167.

FINAL WORD: ''He's got 79 wins. Of course, second sucks.'' - Jason Day, when asked what he thought about Tiger Woods' famous comment as a PGA Tour rookie.

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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.