My 2014 moment: Rory makes his dad proud

By Rex HoggardDecember 20, 2014, 2:50 pm

(Editor's note: This is part of a series in which staff reveal their favorite or personal moments of 2014.)

Just as his high-profile son made his way up Royal Liverpool’s third fairway on Sunday at this year’s Open Championship Gerry McIlroy flashed a nervous smile and offered some polite small talk.

How’s the family? Lovely weather. How’s your game? You know the drill, anything to fill the void and defuse the tension of the moment.

At the time, the elder McIlroy’s anxiety seemed out of place – like a two-tee start for Round 3 at the game’s oldest event, but that’s another story. Young Rory was fresh off a birdie at the first to extend his advantage, at least temporarily, to seven shots and was on his way to another signature major rout like those eight-shot boat races he enjoyed at the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship.

As it turns out, Gerry McIlroy’s concern was well founded.

Things would become much closer than anyone could have imagined following back-to-back bogeys by McIlroy at Nos. 5 and 6 combined with an out-of-character final-round charge by Sergio Garcia.

However, like he did on Saturday, when he eagled two of his last three holes to pull away from the field, McIlroy would birdie the 16th hole for a two-stroke cushion he would not relinquish.

It was a milestone major for McIlroy on many levels. For the first time in his young and prolific career he was pushed on a Sunday and delivered. That he did it at the Open Championship only made his triumph that much more compelling.

Just three years earlier the Northern Irishman appeared to set his own limitations following a tie for 25th at the Open Championship played at Royal St. George’s.

“I’m not a fan of golf tournaments that the outcome is predicted so much by the weather,” he said in 2011. “My game is suited for basically every golf course and most conditions, but these conditions I just don't enjoy playing in really. That's the bottom line. I'd rather play when it's 80 degrees and sunny and not much wind.”

But it was a new McIlroy, with a more refined view of his own potential, who arrived at Hoylake. Even on the eve of the third round – when the forecast called for, as one scribe figured, “varying shades of horrendous” – the world No. 1 had a vastly different outlook.

“Whatever the weather is tomorrow I won't mind and just try and play another solid round of golf,” he said on Friday.

Saturday’s awful weather never materialized, although it likely wouldn’t have mattered the way McIlroy was playing.

The victory, which moved McIlroy within a green jacket of the career Grand Slam, would also mark the first time McIlroy’s mother, Rosie, would see her son win a major in person.

“It was just great to see her on the back of the 18th there and how much it meant to her,” McIlroy said. “I was trying not to cry at the time because she was bawling her eyes out. But it was just . . . the support of my parents has been incredible.”

As for Gerry McIlroy’s angina as his son overpowered yet another major venue, it turns out he came by his suspense honestly. Ten years ago Gerry and three friends made a £400 bet at 500-to-1 that his son would win the Open before he turned 26. McIlroy turns 26 next May.

Gerry McIlroy’s windfall was just one of many elements that culminated on Sunday with one of the loudest (non-Ryder Cup division) victory laps your scribe has ever heard and the year’s best moment.

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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.