Punch Shot: Best West Coast storyline this year

The Northern Trust Open wraps up an eventful West Coast swing. What has been the primary storyline over the first couple of months on the PGA Tour in 2016? Our writers weigh in:

By WILL GRAY

The biggest storyline from the West Coast swing is that the top Americans have realized it’s a Ryder Cup year.

Jordan Spieth long ago clinched his spot on the team at Hazeltine, but he added a win in Hawaii for good measure. Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson both probably should have won over the last two weeks, but their near-misses will still go a long way toward ensuring that they’ll make the trip to Minnesota as well.

Patrick Reed, Jimmy Walker and Brooks Koepka have quietly notched a few top finishes, while Jason Dufner and Brandt Snedeker both made it back into the winner’s circle in California.

Victories like Dufner’s at the CareerBuilder Challenge and Snedeker’s at the Farmers Insurance Open could prove especially important. Everyone expects Davis Love III’s squad to be much younger than the team he took with him to Medinah four years ago, which is likely a promising development. But having Americans – and veteran Americans at that – play well this early in the season bodes well and could allow Love to get more creative with one of his four captain’s picks come September.


 

By REX HOGGARD

It was a typical Left Coast swing for Lefty: plenty of inspired play interspersed with dollops of dubious moments. In other words, it was entertaining.

Phil Mickelson began his year with a tie for third at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his first top-10 finish on the PGA Tour since last June’s FedEx St. Jude Classic; missed the cut at Torrey Pines and sandwiched flashes of brilliance between a pair of relatively pedestrian rounds (even-par 71s on Days 2 and 4) at TPC Scottsdale.

Last weekend’s finish at Pebble Beach, however, was quintessential Lefty. He opened with rounds of 68-65-66 to take a two-stroke lead into Sunday only to struggle with his ball striking when he needed it the most, hitting just nine of 18 greens in regulation in the final round.

His title bid came up one stroke short and drops the curtain on what should be considered a step in the right direction for a player who has been less than consistent since winning the 2013 Open Championship, his last Tour triumph.

Mickelson split with swing coach Butch Harmon this off-season and began 2016 with a cautiously optimistic outlook.

Although a runner-up showing at Pebble Beach, where he’s won four times, isn’t what we’ve come to expect from a Hall of Fame player it’s an encouraging sign that the 45-year-old still has plenty to prove.


By RYAN LAVNER

The biggest storyline of this West Coast swing has been a player who hasn’t even won: Phil Mickelson. He dominated the conversation from PGA West to Torrey Pines to Pebble Beach.

It was a busy four weeks: He shined in his season debut, added a few new terms to the golf lexicon (“face awareness” and “divot entry point”), publicly shamed a 17-year-old for discussing details of their offseason wager, bombed out in his hometown event, grabbed a 54-hole lead for the first time since Merion in 2013 and botched a 60-foot up-and-down on one of the sport’s most famous holes to fall one shot short of a playoff with a 39-year-old journeyman. Phew.

The big-picture takeaway here is not just that Mickelson, at 45, is still capable of winning tournaments. If the Masters were held this week, he’d be on the short list of contenders, an idea that seemed unimaginable just a few months ago, when his game lacked any direction and his confidence was in shambles. Lefty has been the biggest revelation of this Left Coast swing.


By RANDALL MELL

The rejuvenation of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the old “Clam Bake” theme is the West Coast’s best storyline.

The fact that celebrities are now recruiting Tour pros to come play there is a notable development.

Here’s why: My wife almost never watches golf. She wouldn’t know Justin Rose from Justin Thomas, but she knows who Justin Timberlake is. She wouldn’t know Chris Kirk from Chris Wood, but she knows who Chris O’Donnell is. So there I was Saturday, watching the pro-am on the couch with my wife next to me playing Words with Friends on her cell phone when she heard Ray Romano’s name mentioned.

“Ray Romano’s playing golf on TV?” my wife asked. “Yeah,” I said. “So is Bill Murray, Mark Wahlberg, Justin Timberlake and Huey Lewis."

She set her phone down, and for the first time in years she watched golf with me. Yes, the most devoted golf followers among us may get annoyed seeing celebrity amateurs mixed into the weekend action, but there is an appeal to the old Clambake that golf’s diehard fans shouldn’t dismiss. There’s a reach outside the sport’s niche that is still good for the game in measured doses. It’s a worthy tradition nice to see thriving there at Pebble Beach.

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.


Masters victory


Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative


Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ


Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket


Man of the people


Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief


Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together


Ace at 17th at Sawgrass


Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018


Departure from TaylorMade


Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade


Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'


Victory at Valderrama


Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm