Downey Wins on Futures Tour
The highest she had finished as a pro during the first five tournaments of her inaugural professional season was a tie for 57th. That was a far cry from the days when she won the New York State Amateur Championship three times, or when she won three college tournaments and posted three top-six individual finishes at the NCAA Women's Golf Championship.
'Just last week, I was questioning whether I belonged with all of these players out here,' said Downey of Spencerport, N.Y., a three-time All-American at Auburn University. 'At every level, you look back and see what you've accomplished, but none of it means anything to anyone out here.'
But a little of her history stepped into her future today when Downey became the first American to win this season after eight Futures Tour tournaments. She simultaneously claimed her first win and first top-10 finish at the $65,000 Lima Memorial Hospital Futures Classic at Lost Creek Country Club.
And she charged onto the leader board in dramatic fashion today in the rain-shortened event. Downey birdied the first hole and played her front nine at 1-under 34, making the turn at 2-under par. Then she stepped up to the 10th tee -- one of the most challenging holes on the course -- choked down a 3-iron and knocked her 186-yard, uphill tee shot into the cup of the par-3 hole for an ace. That one shot tied her for the lead at four under par.
'I just wanted to hit the green,' said Downey. 'I didn't see it go in. Then I heard everybody scream.'
But Downey wasn't finished. She rattled in three more birdies on the back nine, including a 60-foot slam-dunk on the 18th green from the front fringe. It was an exclamation point at the end of her career-low professional round. Downey fired a final-round 65 to finish the week at 7-under-par 135, on the par-71, 5,897-yard course. This year's event, presented by WLIO/NBC and the WB, was looking for a new winner in its 11th staging.
'It's a great finish for her and she had a magical day,' said former Auburn teammate Celeste Troche of Asuncion, Paraguay, who carded her own final-round 68 and tied for second at 137 (-5) with Marcela Leon of Monterrey, Mexico and non-exempt LPGA Tour member Kim Augusta of Rumford, R.I. Leon posted a career-low round of 66, while Augusta came in with a final-round 67.
Lost Creek Country Club took a beating earlier in the week when heavy rains pounded the course Friday morning, then added a total of 2 1/2 inches of rain by Saturday morning. With creeks on the course causing flash floods and floodwaters turning at least three holes into lakes, Saturday's second round was canceled, shortening the 54-hole tournament to 36 holes.
Tournament organizers were concerned when today's forecast called for more afternoon rain. Friday's first round wasn't completed until this morning. Once 30 players finished Round One, an 18-hole cut was made at 74 (+3). Seventy-one players of the 144-player field went back out on a sunny day that made Saturday's washout only a distant memory. Players were on the highways by the time another storm ripped through the area around 7:30 p.m., dumping more rain on an already saturated golf course.
'I'm so glad we finished,' said Augusta, who used 24 putts to post her season-best finish for second place. 'It was a week of patience. We can't control the weather, so you just have to make the best of it, hang in there and see what happens.'
Prior to her arrival in Ohio this week, Downey traveled home to the Rochester area and worked with her pro, John Hoecker, for three days. She turned a nasty hook into a fade, and resurrected her confidence coming into this week. Most of all, she listened to her sister Erica Downey, who suggested that Danielle try treating Futures Tour events like the NCAA Championship.
'She really opened my eyes when she asked me why I had been such a good post-season player in college,' said Downey. 'So I came out here this week pretending this was the national championship.'
That strategy and her resulting win didn't surprise Kim Evans, her former coach at Auburn University.
'It's just a matter of her getting into the groove,' said Evans of her former college player. 'She always got up for big tournaments and she has the capability of going low. One thing I've seen is if Danielle ever gets into the hunt, she'll win.'
Downey won the Southeast Conference Championship her freshman year and beat current LPGA Tour player Beth Bauer of Duke University twice for two other collegiate titles that first season. Her coaches always knew she had the goods to win. Her teammates always knew they could depend on Downey to hold up her spot on the team.
'I played with her for four years and never trusted anybody any more than Danielle on the golf course,' said former teammate, Troche, playing in her second season.
That's also why former Auburn University assistant coach Shannon Hanson, who was playing alongside her former player in today's final round, smiled as her group climbed the stairs to the 18th tee box. She told Downey to take a deep breath and enjoy her final hole.
'Danielle was solid and she handled her game very well,' said Hanson, who finished tied for 22nd. 'I wasn't even in the hunt, so of course, I was cheering for her.'
Maybe now, Downey can cheer a little for herself. Maybe those two winning games of 215 that she bowled against friends during Saturday's washout, or the $500 she collected for her first professional hole-in-one, or the $9,100 winner's paycheck now in her hands are the validation she needs to know that she's a winner.
Or the confirmation she has waited for that a new chapter of her professional journey has finally begun.
'Putting Stroke Whisperer' helps get McIlroy on track
AUSTIN, Texas – During a charity event a few years ago Brad Faxon was asked what he’s thinking about when he putts. A hush fell across the green as everyone within earshot eagerly awaited the answer.
Imagine having the chance to quiz Leonardo da Vinci about the creative process, or Ben Hogan on the finer points of ball-striking. Arguably the best putter of his generation, if anyone could crack the complicated code of speed, line and pace, it would be Faxon.
Faxon mulled the question for a moment, shrugged and finally said, “Rhythm and tempo.”
If Faxon’s take seems a tad underwhelming, and it did that day to everyone in his group, the genius of his simplicity was on display last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Before arriving at Bay Hill, Rory McIlroy ranked 124th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting, losing .1 strokes per round to the field. In fact, he’d missed the cut a week earlier at the Valspar Championship when he needed 58 putts for two days and made just a single attempt over 10 feet.
It’s one of those competitive ironies that having the weekend off turned out to be just what McIlroy needed. He went home to South Florida to work on his game and ran across Faxon at The Bear’s Club.
Although Faxon’s take on the art of putting was probably more involved than it had been a few years earlier, he seemed to have touched on all the right points.
“Freed up my head more than my stroke,” McIlroy explained. “I sort of felt like maybe complicating things a bit and thinking a little bit too much about it and maybe a little bogged down by technical or mechanical thoughts.”
Earlier in the week McIlroy had a slightly different take on his putting turnaround at Bay Hill, where he led the field in strokes gained: putting, picking up 10 shots for the week, and rolled in 49 feet of putts over his last five holes to end a victory drought that had stretched back to the 2016 Tour Championship.
“Just playing around with it. Seeing balls go in in the front edge, trying to hit them in the left edge, the right edge, hit them off the back of the cup,” he said on Thursday. “Just trying to get a little bit more feel into it and a little more flow.”
If that doesn’t exactly sound like an exact science, welcome to the Faxon way. In recent years, he’s become something of F which is no huge surprise considering his status as one of the game’s best on the greens.
Between 1991, the year he won the first of eight Tour titles, through 2005, the year he won his last, Faxon ranked outside the top 20 in putting average just four times, and he led the circuit in that category three of those years. But in recent years he’s come into his own as a putting guru.
“The first clinic I attended that a Tour player gave, it was Hale Irwin, and he talked about rhythm and tempo, I was disappointed because I wanted to hear more than that,” Faxon explained. “I thought there would be more technical stuff. I thought it was the default phrase to take pressure off the player, but the more I’ve learned about teaching the best players in the world don’t have many complicated thoughts.”
Faxon’s career has been nothing short of impressive, his eight Tour titles spanning two decades; but it’s his work with players like McIlroy and Gary Woodland that has inspired him in recent years.
A man who has spent his life studying the nuances of the golf swing and putting stroke has created a teaching philosophy as simple, or complicated depending on the player, as rhythm and tempo.
“He teaches me, which is a good thing. He doesn’t have a philosophy,” Woodland said. “I was around him a lot in 2011, 2010, it’s unbelievable how well he can relay it now. He has video of a million guys putting and he’s one of the best to do it, but he can show you that you don’t have to do it one certain way and that was good for me.”
For Woodland, Faxon keyed in on his background as a college basketball player and compared the putting stroke to how he shoots free-throws. For McIlroy, it was a different sport but the concept remained the same.
“We were talking about other sports where you have to create your own motion, a free-throw shooter, a baseball pitcher, but what related to him was a free-kicker in soccer, he mentioned Wayne Rooney,” Faxon said. “You have to have something to kick start your motion, maybe it’s a trigger, some might use a forward press, or tapping the putter like Steve Stricker, sometimes it’s finding the trigger like that for a player.”
Faxon spent “a good two hours” with McIlroy last weekend at The Bear’s Club, not talking technique or method, but instead tapping into the intuitive nature of what makes someone a good putter. Midway through that session Faxon said he didn’t need to say another word.
The duo ended the session with a putting contest. Putting 30-footers to different holes, the goal was to make five “aces.” Leading the contest 4-2, Faxon couldn’t resist.
“Hey Rory, after you win Bay Hill this week you’ll have to tell the world you lost to Brad Faxon in a putting contest,” Faxon joked.
McIlroy proceeded to hole three of his next four attempts to win the contest. “I’m going to tell everyone I beat Brad Faxon in a putting contest,” McIlroy laughed.
Maybe it’s the way he’s able to so easily simplify an exceedingly complicated game, maybe it’s a resume filled with more clutch putts than one could count. Whatever it is, Faxon is good at teaching. More importantly, he’s having fun and doing something he loves.
“I have a hard time being called a teacher or a coach, it was more of a conversation with Rory, being able to work with someone like Rory is as excited as I’ve ever been in my career,” Faxon said. “It meant much more to me than it did Rory.”
Frittelli fulfilled promise by making Match Play field
AUSTIN, Texas – Dylan Frittelli attended the University of Texas and still maintains a residence in Austin, so in an odd way this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is a home game for the South African who plays the European Tour.
Frittelli actually attended the event last year as a spectator, when he watched the quarterfinal matches on Saturday afternoon, and made a promise to himself.
“I told a lot of people, I was running into them. I said, ‘I'll be here next year, I'll be playing in this tournament,’” said Frittelli, who climbed to 45th in the world ranking after two victories last year in Europe. “People looked at me, you're 190 in the world, that's hard to get to 64. It was a goal I set myself.”
Frittelli’s next goal may be a little payback for a loss he suffered in college when he was a teammate of Jordan Spieth’s. Frittelli is making his first start at the Match Play and could face his old Longhorn stable mate this week depending on how the brackets work out and his play.
“We had the UT inter-team championship. Coach switched it to match play my senior year, and Jordan beat me in the final at UT Golf Club. It was 3 and 2,” Frittelli said. “So I'm not too keen to face him again.
Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings
AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.
The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.
“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”
In a statement, the PGA Tour said, “While we do not comment specifically on security measures, the safety and security of our players and fans is, and always will be, our top priority. Our security advisors at the Tour are working in close collaboration with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to monitor, review and evaluate the situation and implement procedures as needed. We encourage all spectators to review the PGA Tour's bag policy and prohibited items list, available at www.dellmatchplay.com, prior to arriving at the tournament."
Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.
“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”
Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke
With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.
Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.
The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.
The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.
As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”
“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”
Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.
“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”
All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.
“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”
Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.
Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.
“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”
Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.