Day: No drinking from the Wanamaker Trophy

By Al TaysAugust 20, 2015, 12:00 pm

Drinking from trophies: Original Idea? Hardly. Just this year we’ve had reports of Zach Johnson and family quaffing Coke, wine, champagne, beer and water out of his newly won claret jug, not to mention sticking an ear of corn from his native Iowa in the thing (which he swears he did not actually eat). Jordan Spieth flew home from Scotland with Johnson and also drank out of the jug. Rory McIlroy opted for Jagermeister after he won the Open Championship in 2014. The year before, one of Phil Mickelson’s friends reportedly poured a $40,000 bottle of wine into the jug. 

“One of the things that I stressed is that we have to treat the claret jug with reverence and respect that it deserves and only put good stuff in it,” Mickelson said during the week of his title defense in 2014. 

Jason Day also believes in treating golf’s major trophies with respect. Which is why he says he won’t be treating his newly won Wanamaker Trophy as some sort of glorified Slurpee cup.

Last week, Day made the PGA Championship his first major victory, winning by three strokes at Whistling Straits. During a conference call on Wednesday, he said the trophy “is just going straight into the trophy cabinet. … [It] apparently has not had any sort of liquid in it and I don't plan to because I just respect the trophy too much to put anything in it.”

Some other highlights from Day’s interview:

Playing in the final PGA pairing with Jordan Spieth and hearing many fans openly rooting for Spieth motivated him.

“Jordan Spieth is a young 22‑year‑old American from Dallas, Texas, and he's the poster child for American golf right now. Like I said, if I was in the crowd, I'd be supporting him, as well, because he's just so easy to support. And I understand that. I understand that people wanted him to win. That was the hardest round of golf that I've ever had to play … having some negative comments out there, that's tough. But things like that you just grow from. You gain experience and you grow from and makes you mentally tougher in the long run. 

“I'm glad it happened that way. I'm not saying that these people that were saying negative stuff out there, that they really wanted it to happen. But it was just a good way to kind of fuel the fire for me at least to know that these people - I felt like these people were against me; I'm not going to have that. I'm going to keep pushing forward. I'm going to keep grinding it out and I'm not going to stop until I win this tournament.”

Tiger Woods is a valuable sounding board.

“He's the reason I started playing golf. He's the reason I got into the game of golf, because of the way he played, how dominating he was, and then reading that book about him when I was a 14‑, 15‑year‑old kid, and him changing the way I looked at the work ethic that I had, how hard I had to work to get to where I am; has been a big influence on me.

“To be able to call him a friend and really to be able to pick his brain about certain things and what keeps - how do you stay so motivated and how do you - what do you do in certain situations and stuff like that, has been a huge help.  We've talked a bunch of times on the telephone.  We've texted a bunch of times just back and forth each week.

“And really, to be able to get the help from arguably the best player ever to walk or ever to live in our sport, I mean, there's no other way, because he's lived it, he's walked it, he's done it; and to be able to have that as someone to bounce things off when you don't quite have the answers, but he has the experience and the knowledge of finishing and playing and winning a lot of tournaments, is the best sort of advice that you can get out there.”

He won’t be able to return to Australia and show off his trophy this year.

“Unfortunately, I'm not going to return home to Australia, which is very sad for me, because I want to be able to share this moment that I have, the trophy, the Wanamaker Trophy, and the moment that I had, the experience that I had with the Australian crowd, the Australian fans, the Australian media.

“It's kind of sad because I really want to be able to get home and share this with them. But with [baby] No. 2 on the way and Ellie due around mid‑November, it's just - I think I wouldn't be living in the house if I just got up and left Ellie with a brand new baby and Dash to look after by herself.”

Now that he has his first major, he isn’t thinking about how many more he’d like to win.

“I have not picked myself a number. The only number that I will pick is what I get at the end of my career. I'm going to try and win as many as I can, and you know, it would be fantastic to win all four at one point in my career.”

Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from a trip to Augusta.

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.