Back When Norman Was Norman
Remember Akron, Ohio, Firestone Golf Club and the NEC World Series of Golf? Norman was the best player in the game at the time, before injuries tore up his body and his golf game. And at the NEC, Norman laid it all out there for the world to see ' his game, his moxie, his chutzpah ' and for a change, pure old-fashioned luck. They all added up to something fairly typical for Norman in the mid-90s ' another victory.
It was only the seventh hole in the first round when Norman erupted in a brouhaha that threatened monumental chaos. He was paired with Mark McCumber and Norman thought he saw McCumber tap down a spike mark illegally. McCumber to this day swears that he didnt. Norman was so unnerved that he refused to sign McCumbers scorecard at the end of the round, and only agreed to stay in the tournament through the persuasive efforts of his wife, Laura, and caddy Tony Navarro.
Jim Gallagher, Jr., led the first two days but took a 75 in the third. Vijay Singh led after three rounds but suffered a 74 Sunday. On Sunday it looked like the winner would be Billy Mayfair, who shot a 31 on the front side and held a big three-shot lead on the back. But three consecutive bogeys, at 15, 16 and 17 brought him back to the field.
Nick Price also shot a 32 on the front and actually took the lead momentarily after Mayfairs bogey on 17. Both Mayfair and Price had opportunities to win it on 18 with birdies, but Mayfairs putt from eight feet barely missed on the right side, and Prices 18-footer for par missed ' also on the right ' and he took a bogey.
Norman, meanwhile, had finished in front with a 67, posting a score of 278. First Mayfair, then Price finished on the same score, and it was off to the 18th for the first hole of the playoff.
It didnt look good for Norman after his drive. It went left into the rough, careening off a tree. The ball dropped straight down, landing in a playable lie, though his path to the pin was not good.
Norman hacked his ball up in the vicinity of the green, dying in the greenside rough 66 feet from the pin. Price and Mayfair both placed the ball perfectly off the tee, but Mayfairs approach was in the fringe. Price had by far the most advantageous approach, the ball rolling up to within 22 feet of the pin.
Norman chose a 7-iron for his pitch to the pin. He hit a low shot into the green, the ball skipping and rolling a considerable distance, rolling, rolling toward the cup. Norman watched in stunned surprise ' as did Mayfair and Price ' when the ball limped into the cup on its final revolution.
Mayfairs chip didnt scare the hole and Prices putt was short. And just like that, Norman was the champ.
It was a wonderful feeling, Norman said. Sometimes you have to dig down deep, and thats what I did on the 73rd hole.
Norman has lost several times to dramatic, last hole chips ' Bob Tway, Larry Mize, David Frost, Robert Gamez holed from the fairway. But Norman has holed out for victories, too ' witness Doral in 1990.
The game of golf evens itself out, Norman said. Sometimes you hit it off a tree and it lands in the water. Sometimes it land in the fairway. Those shots have happened against me, as Ive heard about so many times. Now the golfing gods evened things out.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
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."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
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.'"
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."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
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."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
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.