USGA to let alternates play U.S. Open practice rounds

By Doug FergusonJune 8, 2017, 10:44 pm

The USGA is relaxing its policy on alternates and will let them practice at Erin Hills even if they're not officially in the field.

Jeff Hall, the USGA's managing director of rules and open championships, said recent history at the U.S. Open has shown that with most players practicing in the morning, there would be room to accommodate first alternates in the afternoon.

The U.S. Open starts June 15, the first one held in Wisconsin.

''We haven't been overly public with it,'' Hall said. ''But we've been communicating to the alternates that they will be entitled to play.''

That would apply only to first alternates from each of 12 sectional qualifying sites, or no more than one alternate from each section if the first alternate is not there.

The U.S. Open was the only major that did not let alternates play the course until they were in the championship (the Masters has no alternates). Until this year, alternates were allowed full access to the practice facilities and could walk the golf course; they just couldn't play.

The USGA was concerned that practice rounds for a 156-man field often take more than five hours, and it feared adding a dozen or so players to the tee sheet on Monday through Wednesday would make the course overly crowded.

''We found there were a lot of vacancies in that Monday-to-Wednesday afternoon wave,'' Hall said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Open published its tee times for next week. Defending champion Dustin Johnson will be in the same group with Jordan Spieth and Martin Kaymer, making it a threesome of the most recent winners. Johnson won last year at Oakmont, Spieth won in 2015 at Chambers Bay and Kaymer won in 2014 at Pinehurst No. 2.

They start at 8:35 a.m. on the 10th hole Thursday, and will be in the afternoon wave off the first tee Friday.

Phil Mickelson, who plans to skip the U.S. Open this year because his daughter's high school graduation is at 10 a.m. in California on the day of the opening round, is not withdrawing until he knows there is no way for him to make his tee time.

He was grouped with Steve Stricker and Stewart Cink, two of the more compelling qualifiers for Erin Hills. Stricker grew up in Wisconsin and was no longer exempt for the U.S. Open because of reducing his schedule and going through surgery on his hip in recent years. He led the qualifier in Tennessee. Cink did not attempt to qualify last year because it was just over a month after learning his wife had been diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer.

Lisa Cink is doing well enough to travel with him.

Jason Day, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy make up another strong threesome that will start Thursday afternoon off the first tee.

The USGA awarded the opening tee shot to Jordan Niebrugge, the other Wisconsin native in the field, who was low amateur at the British Open at St. Andrews in 2015.

Still to be decided are six more spots for the 156-man field, which the USGA set aside for those who get into the top 60 in the world ranking this week.

No more than two players are likely to crack the top 60, and one of them would have to win the FedEx St. Jude Classic this week.

Among those waiting to see if he gets in is Dru Love, the son of two-time Ryder Cup captain and PGA champion Davis Love III. Love was the first alternate out of the Georgia qualifier and could be in line for Mickelson's spot depending on how many alternates get in.

Watch: Fleetwood gets emotional with family after Race to Dubai win

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 5:30 pm

Tommy Fleetwood took home the season-long Race to Dubai title on Sunday after a T-21 finish at the DP World Tour Championship.

He was, understandably, emotional after learning his fate while sitting with his wife and baby following a career year in which he won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the French Open and finished fourth at the U.S. Open.

Luckily for us, cameras were rolling:

Matsuyama after Koepka rout: 'Huge gap between us'

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 4:22 pm

Hideki Matsuyama offered a blunt assessment after finishing 10 shots behind Brooks Koepka at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event.

Koepka waxed the field en route to successfully defending his title in Japan, shooting a 20-under par total that left him nine shots clear of a runner-up group that included PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Koepka's score was one shot off the tournament record, and his margin for victory eclipsed Tiger Woods' eight-shot romp in 2004.

Matsuyama appeared set to make a final-round charge after a birdie on No. 2 was followed by an ace on the par-3 third hole. But he played the next eight holes in 3 over and eventually finished alone in fifth place following a 2-under 69. Afterwards, he stacked his game up against that of Koepka in a telling comment to the Japan Times.

"I feel there's a huge gap between us," Matsuyama said.

The Japanese phenom entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, though he will be passed in the next rankings by Jon Rahm following the Spaniard's win in Dubai. Matsuyama won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but he has largely struggled since missing out on a maiden major title at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fifth.

Matsuyama was a runner-up to Koepka at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and the 25-year-old seems headed back to the drawing board before defending his title at the Hero World Challenge in two weeks.

"I don't know whether it's a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well," Matsuyama said. "It seems there are many issues to address."

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.

Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 1:42 pm

Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.

Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."

But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.

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With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.

Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.

The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.

"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."