Mickelson: Mixed emotions for North, South courses

By Will GrayJanuary 22, 2014, 7:34 pm

SAN DIEGO – Phil Mickelson is in a unique position at this week’s Farmers Insurance Open: when he tees off Thursday morning in his opening round on the North Course, he’ll look to go low on a track that he will have a hand in overhauling next year.

Mickelson explained Wednesday that his work on redesigning the easier of the two courses at Torrey Pines will begin in 2015, and the five-time major champion has eyes on making the layout accessible for the average player.

“The last year, year and a half we’ve been taking a lot of input from the public and making sure that we’re on the right track to make the golf course as playable as possible,” noted Mickelson. “There was concern that after what happened to the South becoming almost unplayable for the average player and 80-plus percent of the local rounds going to the North … that the North would become too difficult in an attempt to make it more challenging.”

A key for Mickelson’s prospective design will be to remove obstacles in front of greens, ones which prove difficult for higher-handicap players to overcome with their approach shots.

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“Why so many players love links golf is that you always have the avenue to run a ball up and it’s very easy to make the parameters left and right,” he explained. “There’s no need to block the fronts of greens.”

The changes align with Mickelson’s overall thoughts on golf course design, which he reiterated Wednesday has led to courses becoming overly difficult as players increasingly watch shots carom away from their intended targets.

“So much of golf now repels balls away into trouble,” said Mickelson. “What I want to do is contain. I want to create containment where balls run up to the green. Once you get to the green, that’s where you can start repelling and making it challenging.”

He also expanded on his desire to cut back on overall maintenance and water costs by removing sections of grass that rarely are in play, and Mickelson will look to make the scenic coastline that borders the course a larger factor in the future.

“I want to bring the canyon back into the feel of the golf course,” he added. “I don’t want to move the holes to the canyon; I want to bring the canyon back into some of the holes so that you feel the natural beauty that’s here.”

While Mickelson hopes to make the North more playable for amateurs, he’s confident that the course will remain a suitable test come tournament week, when the track in its current form frequently averages two shots easier than the South, if not more.

“You can make any golf course hard by simply making the greens firm and making thick rough,” said Mickelson. “What I want to do though is make a course that is fun to play, that is playable under a variety of conditions.”

Mickelson remains upbeat about the prospect of rolling up his sleeves and getting to work on the North Course, but his attitude is somewhat frosty when discussing its counterpart at Torrey Pines. The 43-year-old has won this event three times, but his most recent victory came in 2001 – not coincidentally, the final time the event was played before Rees Jones’ redesign.

He admits that his attitude toward the course that comprises 75 percent of this week’s competitive action hasn’t exactly helped his playing record, which includes just one top-10 finish since 2009.

“My feelings of animosity toward it might be a factor as to why I haven’t played well per se on it,” said Mickelson, who tied for 51st here last year and missed the cut in 2012. “I’ve learned to play it over the years, but it is not conducive to the way I like to play, which is aggressive.

“Every shot is repelled away from the tucked pins, every green breaks away from the bunkers, every time you’re in a bunker you’ve got a downhill shot,” he continued. “It’s just monotonous to me and it doesn’t allow for great recovery and it does not allow for aggressive play. It allows for 40 feet away from the hole and try to make a putt, try to take advantage of the par 5s.”

Mickelson cedes that a bevy of positives have come to both the course and the area following the redesign, which led to the venue landing the 2008 U.S. Open, but concluded his comments Wednesday with a terse response when asked if it surprises him that the season’s second major hasn’t returned to San Diego.

“No, it doesn’t,” he noted.

For Mickelson, the South Course will wait until Friday morning. Thursday will be about making birdies on the North, and perhaps bringing with him a notebook to jot down changes to make next year when shovel meets dirt.

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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.