Punch Shot: Breakout performer of 2017?

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 1, 2017, 1:00 pm

Alex Noren and Danny Willett were among the players who had break-out seasons in 2016. Who will take the next step in 2017? Our writers weigh in.

By REX HOGGARD

If it wasn’t for Jason Day, Kevin Chappell would have had a better year in the Sunshine State than Donald Trump.

Chappell finished runner-up to the Australian twice in Florida, first at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March and two months later at The Players. It was all part of a season that was so close to being truly special.

All total, Chappell had eight top-10s and four runner-up showings, which included a playoff loss to Rory McIlroy at the Tour Championship. Although he remains winless on the PGA Tour, that is certain to change in 2017.

He’ll need to improve his play in the majors, where he has just two top-10 finishes, but Chappell has proven he can compete against the world’s best players. The next step is to prove he can beat them.


By RYAN LAVNER

Jon Rahm … unless you don’t like your budding stars to have titanium-denting power, laser-like precision and soft hands on and around the green. This kid is the real deal.

Earning his Tour card only a few months after graduating from Arizona State, Rahm simply built on what was an epic college career, which was highlighted by the second-most victories in school history (behind only Phil Mickelson) and remarkable consistency, finishing in the top 10 in all 13 events last season.

Rahm has already shown that he’s capable of playing with the big boys, finishing in the top 3 twice in his first four pro starts. He’ll win at least once in 2017.


Photos: Players to watch in 2017


By WILL GRAY 

This will be the year that Jamie Lovemark puts it all together.

On the cusp of his 29th birthday, Lovemark no longer qualifies as a young gun by PGA Tour standards. But the fresh face that cruised to an NCAA individual title while at USC is still there, and his game isn’t far behind.

Lovemark’s career was derailed by a back injury, but he has once again found his footing on Tour. He shared the Sunday lead last year in Houston, and he lost a playoff a few weeks later in New Orleans.

Those results were largely thanks to an improved short game, which now complements the missiles he routinely launches from the tee. He came close in 2016, but this will be the year that Lovemark finally wins on the PGA Tour and once again stamps his name as one to watch in the game’s biggest events.


By RANDALL MELL

Thomas Pieters.

The 24-year-old Belgian was known among golf faithful before the Ryder Cup last fall, but his profile soared with his effort in Hazeltine. The first European rookie to win four points in a Ryder Cup, Pieters starred on one of golf’s largest stages, teaming formidably with Rory McIlroy to go 3-0.

Pieters showed a lot of moxie in a hostile environment, fist pumping and even shushing American crowds. He showed us something special just making the European team, mounting a hard, late run under pressure late last summer to secure one of Darren Clarke’s captain’s picks. Pieters is 6 feet 5, a long-hitting, giant talent on the European Tour lauded for his potential. Now, we should be seeing more of him on the PGA Tour, with his top-50 world ranking getting him into more World Golf Championships and majors, including this year’s Masters.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.