Punch Shot: Breakout star in 2016

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 3, 2016, 2:15 pm

Daniel Berger and Kevin Kisner were just some of the breakout stars in 2015. Who will make a big splash in 2016? Our writers weigh in.

By RYAN LAVNER

Matt Fitzpatrick.

And yes, if you’re keeping score at home, that’d be back-to-back breakout years for the baby-faced assassin. After ending 2014 at No. 413 in the world, he soared into the top 50 this year on the strength of a European Tour victory and six other top-10s.

The 21-year-old Fitzpatrick didn’t play in a single major this year, but that will change in 2016 because of his top-50 status. His game draws plenty of comparisons to Jordan Spieth, a fellow youngster who won two majors by playing to his strengths – smart preparation, an off-the-charts golf IQ and a superb short game.

Fitzpatrick should make what could be a new-look European Ryder Cup team, and his match-play prowess will make him a tough out at Hazeltine. Don’t be surprised if he’s a top-10 player by this time next year.


By RANDALL MELL

South Africa’s Branden Grace has the resume for a breakout year.

At No. 14 in the Official World Golf Ranking, he is the highest-ranked player without a PGA Tour victory. He was one errant shot onto the railroad tracks on Sunday at Chambers Bay from a possible U.S. Open victory last summer. He followed that up later in the year with a third-place finish at the PGA Championship. He’s only 27, and now for the first time he will be playing as a full-time PGA Tour member. Add in a 5-0-0 week at the Presidents Cup, and this guy’s trending up.

With six career European Tour victories, Grace has more than proven himself overseas. He had his breakout year on the Euro Tour in 2012, winning four times. A victory in the United States could move him among the top 10 in the world rankings, and a major would put him in the mix with all the other young stars rising up in the ranks.


By REX HOGGARD

Perhaps Kevin Kisner already qualifies as a breakout star following breakthrough victory on the PGA Tour at Sea Island in November.

A week prior, he finished second in a deep field at the WGC-HSBC Champions. It was Kisner’s fourth runner-up showing of 2015, a run that began at the RBC Heritage in April when he suffered, on that occasion to a determined Jim Furyk, the first of three playoff losses.

He was beaten for the second time in extra holes at The Players Championship when Rickie Fowler turned in what was arguably the year’s most clutch performance down the stretch.

Another near miss at the Greenbrier Classic in July seemed to solidify Kisner’s fate for ’15 as a perennial bridesmaid, but he never doubted himself.

“This year I saw the strides where I'm leading coming into Saturday or taking the lead early in the week or having a chance on Sunday,” he said following his victory at the RSM Classic. “I knew if I kept playing that way I was going to win one sooner or later.”

It’s the same internal drive that will take Kisner to a new level in 2016.


By WILL GRAY

While he didn’t garner much Rookie of the Year attention, Tony Finau quietly had an impressive debut season and should only continue to improve in the new year.

The Utah product logged 16 top-25 finishes in 31 starts last season, including seven in a row during the summer. What’s more, he saved some of his best play for the biggest stages: a T-14 finish at the U.S. Open in his first-ever major appearance, followed by a T-10 finish at the PGA where his name was on the leaderboard deep into the weekend.

Finau has been one of the longest hitters for years, but he has sharpened other areas of his game in recent months and his results have consequently improved. He finished seventh last season in birdie average and 43rd in FedEx Cup points, barely missing a spot in the Tour Championship.

Finau ended 2015 ranked No. 87 in the world, but you can expect two things in the coming months: that the 26-year-old will land his first PGA Tour win, and that he’ll crack the OWGR top 50 in time to earn a spot at the Masters.

Lexi 'applaud's USGA, R&A for rules change

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 5:15 pm

Lexi Thompson’s pain may prove to be the rest of golf’s gain.

David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of governance, acknowledged on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" Monday that the new protocols that will eliminate the use of TV viewer call-ins and emails to apply penalties was hastened by the controversy following Thompson’s four-shot penalty at the ANA Inspiration in early April. The new protocols also set up rules officials to monitor TV broadcasts beginning next year.

“Clearly, that case has been something of a focus point for us,” Rickman said.

Thompson reacted to the new protocols in an Instagram post.

“I applaud the USGA and the R&A for their willingness to revise the Rules of Golf to address certain unfortunate situations that have arisen several times in the game of golf,” Thompson wrote. “In my case, I am thankful no one else will have to deal with an outcome such as mine in the future.”

Thompson was penalized two shots for improperly returning her ball to its mark on a green during Saturday’s round after a viewer emailed LPGA officials during Sunday’s broadcast. She was penalized two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard for her Saturday round. Thompson ultimately lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

The new protocols will also eliminate the additional two-shot penalty a player receives for failing to include a penalty when a player was unaware of the penalty.

Shortly after the ANA Inspiration, the USGA and R&A led the formation of a video review working group, which included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America.

Also, just three weeks after Thompson was hit with the four-shot penalty, the USGA and R&A released a new Rules of Golf decision decision (34-3/10) limiting video evidence in two ways:

1. If an infraction can’t be seen with the naked eye, there’s no penalty, even if video shows otherwise.

2. If a tournament committee determines that a player does “all that can be reasonably expected to make an accurate estimation or measurement” in determining a line or position to play from or to spot a ball, then there will be no penalty even if video replay later shows that to be wrong.

While the USGA and R&A said the new decision wasn’t based on Thompson’s ANA incident, LPGA players immediately began calling it the “Lexi Rule.”

Getty Images

PGA Tour, LPGA react to video review rules changes

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 1:32 pm

The USGA and R&A announced on Monday updates to the Rules of Golf, including no longer accepting call-ins relating to violations. The PGA Tour and LPGA, which were both part of a working group of entities who voted on the changes, issued the following statements:

PGA Tour:

The PGA Tour has worked closely with the USGA and R&A on this issue in recent years, and today's announcement is another positive step to ensure the Rules of Golf align with how the game is presented and viewed globally. The PGA Tour will adopt the new Local Rule beginning January 1, 2018 and evolve our protocols for reviewing video evidence as outlined.

LPGA:

We are encouraged by the willingness of the governing bodies to fully vet the issues and implement real change at a pace much quicker than the sport has seen previously. These new adaptations, coupled with changes announced earlier this year, are true and meaningful advances for the game. The LPGA plans to adopt fully the protocols and new Local Rule as outlined.

Getty Images

Sharma closes on Monday, wins Joburg Open

By Associated PressDecember 11, 2017, 12:43 pm

JOHANNESBURG – Shubhankar Sharma won his first European Tour title by a shooting 3-under 69 Monday in the final round of the weather-delayed Joburg Open.

The 21-year-old Indian resumed his round on the eighth green after play was halted early Sunday afternoon because of storms. He parred that hole, birdied No. 9 and made par on every hole on the back nine.


Full-field scores from the Joburg Open


Sharma finished at 23-under 264, three strokes ahead of the pack, and qualified for next year's British Open, too.

''I actually wasn't going to come here about a week ago ... so I'm really happy that I came,'' said Sharma, who shot 61 in the second round. ''I don't think I'm ever going forget my first time in South Africa.''

Erik van Rooyen (66) was second, three strokes ahead of Shaun Norris (65) and Tapio Pulkkanen (68).

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 pm