Monday Scramble: Golf's fabulous fortnight in Rio

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 22, 2016, 4:00 pm

Inbee Park takes home gold, Si Woo Kim wins the Wyndam, Darren Clarke's European Ryder Cup team is nearly set and more in this week's Monday Scramble.

Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson's battle for the gold medal was a heck of an opening act at the Olympics. And while the race for gold wasn't nearly as exciting for the women, it was still an incredible two weeks in Rio for golf.

It's been mentioned already, but it's worth repeating – the sport is in better shape than it was two weeks ago. And could there be a better endorsement for golf's inclusion in the Olympics?

There were plenty of concerns heading into the Games, but the top players rose to the occasion and it became clear early on that, yes, this was something bigger than another 72-hole, stroke-play event.

In the end, six medals were handed out to six different countries – Great Britain, Sweden, the United States, Korea, New Zealand and China. Those who missed out on the podium were heartbroken when the realization hit that it would be another four years before they would get another chance.

With great attendance in Rio and strong TV ratings, it would be very surprising not to see golf become a fixture at the Olympics, long past Tokyo in 2020.

1. After she won her fourth different major title last year (and seventh of her career), our Randall Mell wrote that Park “closed with a vengeance” when she came from three back to take the Women’s British at Turnberry.

Saturday in Rio, she cruised with a vengeance. As her playing competitors, Lydia Ko and Gerina Piller, struggled with the wind – or perhaps the grand stage – early in the round, Park went out in a bogey-free 4-under 31 two go from up two to up six.

Yes, a hard-charging Shanshan Feng quickly cut the lead to three, but the result was never in doubt. Park displayed her signature staid demeanor as she left the field in the dust and reasserted herself as a dominant force in the women’s game after months of injury and absence and doubt.

2. Speaking of which, it sounds like we can press pause on the idea of any imminent retirement. While she’s been honest about wanting to start a family in the near future, Park told Golf Channel's Todd Lewis after the gold medal ceremony that “there is no plan for retirement at the moment.”

“I really haven’t planned for anything,” she said, “so I’m just going to go day by day and see.”

Regardless of how she performed in Rio or how she wants to wind down her career, Park always owed it to herself to play the Evian next month. Her win at Turnberry prompted a lot of hand-wringing when it came to whether Park had actually won the career Grand Slam, given her claim to only four of the LPGA’s current five major titles. [She won the Evian before it was deemed a major.]

Frankly, the debate was and remains silly. Whatever we do or don’t call it, we all know the circumstances and the facts. There were five majors, then four, now five again. Park has four. Call it what you want.

3. A Park victory at next month's Evian would mean an end to the equivocating. She would become only the second player in the game’s history to win five different majors, joining Karrie Webb, who won the now-defunct du Maurier in 1999.

Park is already the only player in history to own multiple majors and Olympic gold. While wunderkinds like Ko and Brooke Henderson will have the opportunity to play in 50 majors over the next 10 years, they’ll only be able to play in the Olympics twice over that same span.

It’s going to be hard enough to win a medal on its own. If Park is able to complete the Grand Slam and boast Olympic gold, she could be in a class by herself for a long time. She probably already is.

Justin Rose

4. While we’re discussing gold, the medals that belong to Park and Rose are going to be held in higher esteem four years from now in Tokyo.

Both the men’s and women’s medal stands were filled with three of the top-15 players in the world. Both events benefitted from the major-championship pedigrees of their contenders. Who knows what the world will look like in 2020, but it’s highly unlikely Tokyo will resemble Rio.

Let’s assume there won’t be a mosquito-transmitted virus, polluted water or unpaid police forces. Short of a zombie apocalypse, the top players in the world will go, they will be excited and the IGF will fully realize its dream for Olympic golf.

The scarcity of opportunity will make Olympic medals precious commodities. Now let’s announce Bill Murray as the official 2020 mascot and enjoy relaxing times.

5. With respect to both Japan and the medal stand, Haru Nomura and Stacy Lewis missed out on a potential playoff for bronze Saturday by a combined ... three inches? Maybe four? Lewis arrived at the 72nd hole 9 under for the week and left her birdie putt hanging on the edge, one roll short. Had it dropped, she would have tied Feng at 10 under, forcing a playoff had all things stayed the same (which they probably would have – more on that in a minute).

Nomura, on the other hand, unknowingly cost herself a medal during the first round on Wednesday when she missed this backhanded tap-in attempt.

6. As for that would-be playoff, Terry Gannon, Annika Sorenstam and Curt Byrum made a point during the coverage to hammer home that Feng does not look at leaderboards down the stretch.

Gannon could best be described as mildly apoplectic, and it’s hard to disagree with him. There is a logic to playing with blinders on, but when you’re coming down the stretch, wouldn’t you want to know what you need to do to win? It’s impossible to say whether Feng would have done anything differently, whether her three-putt par at 18 would have somehow turned into something else. It’s just hard to get over that look of pleasant surprise that came to her face when she finally looked at the leaderboard.

7. Poor Gerina Piller. But you know what? Good for you, Gerina Piller. It’s refreshing to see athletes who care this much.

Contrast Piller’s emotion, resolve and general level of give-a-damn with Dustin Johnson last year at Chambers Bay. Who is more relatable? Who is more likeable? Who are you more likely to root for in the future? Hold your head high, Gerina Piller. You’ll be back.

8. There is still one more week until it's official, but Clarke's Ryder Cup team is almost complete. With a fifth-place finish at the Czech Masters, Matthew Fitzpatrick secured the ninth spot on the team, and no matter what happens this week there won't be any scenario where someone can pass him.

That means the automatic qualifiers for Clarke's team are: Rory McIlroy, Masters champion Danny Willett, Open champion Henrik Stenson, Chris Wood, Sergio Garcia, Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Andy Sullivan and Fitzpatrick.

A nice mix of major champions, Ryder Cup veterans and rookies who are proven winners.

Clarke will have an extra week to ponder his three picks before the August 29 deadline. Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer are likely picks, but Shane Lowry, Russell Knox and Thomas Pieters are all strong contenders for Clarke's consideration.

9. The race to make Davis Love III's U.S. team will be a juicy subplot at The Barclays. One thing is for sure with each passing week, it is getting harder and harder for Love not to pick Jim Furyk.

He dropped from T-3 to T-10 Sunday with a sloppy double bogey on 18, but Furyk still moved up to No. 15 in the U.S. standings. Incredibly impressive since his season didn't begin until May, and he didn't start making a serious move up the rankings until a T-2 at the U.S. Open.

10. So who is looking like the odd-man out? Fowler hasn't done much this summer, and even worse his putter has been chilly. But Holmes hasn't been stellar, either. He missed his third cut in a row at the Wyndham, and fourth in his last five events. The last time he made the cut, he finished third at The Open.

11. Thanks to a rain delay, Si Woo Kim had to wait a little longer for his first PGA Tour win that was never in doubt on Sunday. The 21-year-old Korean became the youngest winner of the season, and the youngest international winner since Seve Ballesteros (20) won in Greensboro in 1978.

This will be a strong contender for the WTH? Hall of Fame.

In the final round of the Tour's News Sentinel Open, there was a threesome of Jhared Hack, Adam Schenk and Ryan Yip

That's right – Hack, Schenk and Yip.

Not quite a legendary threesome like Palmer, Nicklaus and Player, but still unforgettable, nonetheless.

This week's award winners ... 

More International Flavor: As if the Olympics didn't prove how global golf has become, for the third time in four years the U.S. Amateur champion is from outside the U.S. Australia's Curtis Luck won eight consecutive holes on his way to defeating Oklahoma's Brad Dalke, 6 and 4, in the 36-hole finale.

Ace is the Place: Scott Brown is making quite the name for himself at the Wyndham without taking home the trophy. Last year he made an ace in the final round at the par-3 third while paired with Tiger Woods. On Sunday, he aced the same hole again, this time with Boo Weekley as his witness.

That's Nice, But ...: Brown's ace was remarkable, but it didn't payoff as handsomely as Luke Donald's. Donald made a hole-in-one Thursday at the par-3 16th to win vacations for life at Wyndham Resorts. And as if his week wasn't going well already, Donald finished second, collected a six-figure paycheck and now he heads into the playoffs with a great chance to make the Tour Championship.

Talk About Some VIPs: Before the playoffs start, Rory McIlroy and buddy Niall Horan of One Direction watched Ireland's Conor McGregor defeat Nate Diaz at UFC 202 in Las Vegas.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.