Punch Shot: Who will win the 99th PGA?

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 9, 2017, 6:14 pm

With the season's final major ready to get underway, GolfChannel.com writers, using real-time messaging system Slack, offer up their thoughts to four big questions:

Moderator: The 99th PGA Championship is this week at Quail Hollow Club. Let's get right to it: Who's your winner and why?

Rex Hoggard: Have asked a dozen players this week what the key to playing Quail Hollow will be and have gotten a dozen different answers. The only common theme is length and the ability to putt on fast, Bermuda grass greens, so I'm going with Brooks Koepka.

Ryan Lavner: Quail Hollow has produced recent winners like Derek Ernst and James Hahn, but no player is more synonymous with this track than Rory McIlroy. He is obliterating his driver and trending in the right direction. If he can shore up his wedge game – it can't get much worse – he should win. By a lot.

Will Gray: Lavner stole much of my thunder, as I'm also siding with McIlroy. The glint in his eye is undeniable, and the advantage he enjoyed off the tee in Akron should be even more significant this week on a wet track he adores. He's had this one circled for a while, and a Kiawah repeat wouldn't surprise me.

Nick Menta: Rain has made Quail Hollow soft, and more is on the way, meaning distance off the tee is going to come in handy with so little roll. Justin Thomas has already fired a 59 this year on the PGA Tour and a 63 at the U.S. Open. Give him his first major.

Moderator: Let's go a bit down the world rankings, outside the top 25: Who is your dark horse pick who could win this week?

Rex Hoggard: Always a bit of a debate over what we all consider a "dark horse," but I'll go with Branden Grace. He always plays well at the biggest events and it was just last month that he made major championship history at Royal Birkdale by becoming the first player to shoot 62 in a major.

Ryan Lavner: I’ll take Tony Finau as my sleeper, for what feels like the third consecutive major. (Someone look that up.) The winner this week will be among the driving distance leaders, and few can send it like Finau. Three top-7s in his last five starts, too, so he’s coming in hot.

Will Gray: Guy that shot 62 last month? Real bold, Hoggard. Xander Schauffele was a surprise at Erin Hills, but he shouldn't be that much of a shocker this time around. The rookie has exceeded expectations since bursting onto the scene with a T-5 finish at the U.S. Open, including a win at Greenbrier and a T-13 finish last week at Firestone. The good form will continue.

Nick Menta: And Will just stole my pick as I also like young Mr. Schauffele. As with Thomas, his prodigious length should give him a leg up. That and he’s got a Max Power kind of name.

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Moderator: Not everyone will leave Charlotte happy. Give us one name, in particular, who will disappoint this week.

Rex Hoggard: Dustin Johnson. The world No. 1 hasn't been the same since taking a tumble at Augusta National, missing the cut at the Memorial and U.S. Open and posting a pedestrian T-54 at Royal Birkdale. On paper, DJ is an easy pick, but for the fourth consecutive major he'll be a non-story.

Ryan Lavner: It’s wildly unfair, of course, but wouldn’t anything but a victory this week feel somewhat disappointing for Jordan Spieth? I just don’t see it happening. He’s ranked 100th in strokes gained-off the tee, and 130th in driving accuracy, so unless he starts hitting the big stick on a rope he’s going to be hacking out of the thick, juicy rough all week. Perhaps that’s why he doesn’t feel stressed – he’s not expecting to win.

Will Gray: I'm not sure what exactly has derailed Jason Day's season, but I don't think he'll find the solution this week. Day has gone 1-2 in the PGA the last two years but has now dropped to seventh in the world and seemingly out of relevance when discussing the game's biggest names. The playoff loss at the Nelson didn't prove to be a spark, and 2017 is shaping up as a year to forget for the Aussie.

Nick Menta: Hideki Matsuyama has been known to get hot, but it seems like a big ask to follow a tournament-winning 61 with his first major victory. Hideki will get his – probably sooner rather than later – but his balky putter may struggle on Quail’s quick, grainy, Bermuda greens.

Moderator: And one final question: What's the story line everyone will be talking about on Monday?

Rex Hoggard: Although my head went with Koepka to win this week, my heart says it's Rory McIlroy's week to get back on the major board. The Monday story will be: Who will win the PGA Tour Player of the Year award - Spieth, Johnson, McIlroy, a TBD champion at East Lake?

Ryan Lavner: Golf is longing for a rivalry, and if the Boy Wonder wins, we’ll finally have one: Spieth vs. Rory, a pair of telegenic 20-somethings who have ambition, swagger and loads of talent. Here’s hoping, anyway.

Will Gray: Quail Hollow's questionable standing as a top-tier venue. The spotlight will return here for the Presidents Cup in four years, but reviews of the recent overhaul have been mixed at best and soggy conditions will prevent the course from playing as firm and fast as officials had hoped. I don't think players will be in a rush to see a major return to Charlotte.

Nick Menta: We’ll wind up with another first-time, 20-something major winner and we’ll continue to be in awe of the post-Tiger era. We’ll also expand golf’s top tier to the Big Ten, but we’ll have an 11 in the logo and 14 guys.

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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