Taylor back home – and back in the Masters

By Ryan LavnerApril 4, 2016, 6:50 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Splitting time on the PGA and Web.com tours, Vaughn Taylor didn’t have plans for Masters week a year ago.

With his career sputtering, he hadn’t qualified for his hometown event since 2008 – cruel, really, seeing how he lives about 15 minutes from the entrance of Augusta National Golf Club. And so Taylor, a multiple Tour winner and former Ryder Cupper, took wife Leot and young son Locklyn to the Masters, but as a spectator, after securing practice-round tickets. 

“I had always been a little hesitant to come back,” Taylor said Monday. “I wanted to wait until I got back in the tournament. And the way I’ve been playing and the way things were going, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it back.”

But he did, improbably, shrugging off months (and years) of indifferent play to win at Pebble Beach in February and snap an 11-year winless drought.

The circumstances surrounding Taylor’s victory were even more unlikely.

He described the week before Pebble as one of the low points of his career – he had been violently ill in a hotel room in Bogota, pleading for his body to recover from a rough bout of food poisoning. He didn't have a PGA Tour card, and he only held conditional status on the Web.com circuit. He arrived at Pebble with a carry stand bag, because it was cheaper to travel. And during the final round, he not only needed to hole a 30-footer on 16, but he watched as Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson coughed up the 54-hole lead and whiffed a 5-footer on the final green.

“It was one of those when-you-least-expect-it moments,” Taylor said. 

It wasn’t until a TV interview afterward that Taylor was reminded of more than just his two years of job security. He was heading back to the Masters. 

“It’s a lot different this time around,” he said. “I got here a lot different path, and it’s special. 

“When you’re younger, you expect to play well, and you kind of take things for granted. I thought I would be in every year, but that was just being kind of young and dumb.”

Taylor led the Masters with 21 holes to go in 2007. (He eventually tied for 10th.) A year later, he qualified for his first and only U.S. Ryder Cup team, but he’s fallen on hard times since, failing to clear $600,000 in earnings from 2011-15. 

What to do, then, for that one week a year when the sport’s biggest show comes to his hometown, but he's not invited?

Some years, Taylor played golf at a neighboring course. Other times, he’d watch the coverage on TV.

“But I always wanted to be home,” he said. “I feel like I’m part of the tournament.” 

And last year, he actually was. Taylor and the family headed out to the course for the first time since ’08, just for fun. It turned into a few hours of chasing 16-month-old Locklyn around the course, keeping him from ducking under the ropes or causing a scene, but he was on the grounds nonetheless.

His plans for this year? Well, before his victory at Pebble, Taylor had a tough decision to make.

With only partial status on the Web.com Tour, he was exempt into the first five events on the schedule. That meant he would have needed to fly to Colombia for this week’s event or risk falling further down the priority list. 

“I could be in Cartagena this week,” he said with a laugh. 

Instead, he’s happy to be home. 

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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.