Punch Shot: Biggest over- and underachievers

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 4, 2013, 11:00 pm

Dustin Johnson, fresh off his WGC-HSBC victory, has eight career PGA Tour wins, including at least one in his first seven full seasons on Tour. But that's not enough for everyone. Some believe Johnson, with his immense talent, is underachieving. GolfChannel.com writers weigh in with who they believe are the most underachieving and overachieving players in the game.


Overachiever: David Toms

Early in my career I asked Charles Howell III if he considered himself an underachiever. The answer was all at once an indictment of the concept and an enlightening glimpse into the mind of an elite athlete.

“Do you consider yourself an underachiever?” retorted Howell, who is normally as accommodating as they come on the PGA Tour but clearly I had struck a nerve. His point was one’s expectations are entirely homemade and the only benchmarks worth considering come from within.

With that baseline, give David Toms the nod for this generation’s top overachiever. Just twice . . . twice, in a 21-year Tour career has Toms failed to finish inside the top 125 in earnings, a statistical anomaly considering that he’s never ranked higher than 50th in driving distance. In the era of the bomber, Toms won 13 Tour titles and a major despite his distance limitations.

Underachiever: Fred Couples

Conversely, Couples still ranks among the game’s longest and his smooth, effortless swing continues to be the envy of players half his age. While 15 Tour tilts and a major was enough to earn Couples a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame, the King of Cool certainly expected more from himself.

A chronically cranky back cost Couples much of his prime, but that doesn’t change the fact he probably had greater expectations than 15 titles and a single green jacket.


Underachiever: Anthony Kim

At age 28, Kim certainly has the talent to compete at the highest level – his three PGA Tour titles attest to that fact, as do his spots on both the 2008 Ryder Cup and 2009 Presidents Cup squads. The last of those wins, though, came in April 2010 and feels much more distant than that. In the interim 3+ years, Kim has battled multiple injuries while essentially falling off the golf radar. After joining the short list of players with three wins before age 25 – one that includes Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott – Kim hasn’t cracked the top 10 since the 2011 British Open and hasn’t even played on the PGA Tour since withdrawing from the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship.

Overachiever: Zach Johnson

If you saw him warming up on the first tee at your home course, you might think you could get the better of him – then he’d probably drum you 6 and 5. Though diminutive in size and hardly a bomber off the tee, Johnson has found a way to win, and win often. His victory this year at the BMW Championship put him into rarified company of players with 10 PGA Tour wins and a major title, and the Iowan could potentially be headed toward a Hall of Fame induction years from now. His win at the 2007 Masters, one in which he laid up at each of Augusta National’s par-5 holes, shows just how effective Johnson’s game can be, even if he takes the less-traveled route to success.


Overachiever: Henrik Stenson

Stenson is No. 3 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Given how his game has taken him to the last outpost to hell on more than one occasion, that's some mighty overachieving. Stenson started playing golf when he was 12, and later worked himself on to the Swedish national amateur team, but by his own admission, he was middle of the pack on that team, until a surge late in his amateur career. As a fledgling pro, he played the South American Tour, the Swedish Tour and the European Challenge Tour. He failed to get his European Tour card his first time through, and he battled through two dizzying spells of lost form, but look at him today. He has already won the FedEx Cup this season and is looking to win the Race to Dubai, too. No player has ever won both. Stenson has won seven European Tour events in his career and four PGA Tour titles, including a World Golf Championship event and The Players Championship. At 37, he has the game to break through and win his first major championship.

Underachiever: John Daly

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s Daly. It’s difficult to consider a guy who won two majors an underachiever, but Daly seemed capable of leaving such a larger mark on the game. He showed his great skills winning the PGA Championship and the British Open in two completely different tests of heart and skill. His personality and his lifestyle brought challenges, distractions and obstacles. He never made a Ryder Cup team. He’s the only player from Europe or the United States to win two majors and not make a Ryder Cup team. Surely, even Daly would concede he was capable of more.


Overachiever: Bubba Watson

Now, I understand that such a question can be taken in a few different ways. Some will translate overachieving as the player who has accomplished the most with the least amount of tangible skills.

Well, that player certainly isn’t Watson. His raw talent may be unparalleled in the professional ranks; his ability to hit sweeping hooks and towering cuts is second to none.

But I consider the 2012 Masters champion an overachiever for a few different reasons than the obvious ones.

One is because he’s gotten to where he is without ever taking a formal lesson. That’s right – while most pros are victims of paralysis by analysis, Watson enjoys a homemade swing that probably couldn’t be taught anyway.

The other is because he had never won a professional event before reaching the PGA Tour. Not on the mini-tours; not anywhere. Check the record books: Back in 2005, he finished 21st on the Nationwide Tour money list, which then promoted its top 20 players to the big leagues. However, because No. 1-ranked Jason Gore had already claimed his card through other means, the circuit extended the offer to the 21st player.

The rest is, quite literally, history.

Underachiever: Charles Howell III

It pains me just to type this name, because if the question instead had been, “Who is the nicest guy on the PGA Tour?” there’s an excellent chance I would have offered the same response.

Stats are stats, though – and the stats show that while CH3 owns 14 career second-place finishes and eight third-place results, he still has just two total victories.

Granted, much of that can be chalked up to bad luck more than underachieving. After all, on 22 separate occasions he was better than some 150 of the world’s best players. So, too, can his uncanny ability to fall one or two spots shy of qualifying for the Masters or U.S. Open or WGCs seemingly every single year.

Simply watch Howell at the driving range and you’d think he was one of the game’s elite ball-strikers. And he is – he ranked 14th in both scoring average and greens in regulation during the 2013 season. He’s hardly a terrible putter, either, placing in the PGA Tour’s top-third in strokes gained-putting.

These numbers can be perceived as underachieving, but they can also be looked at another way: Howell is on the verge of – finally – producing some more victories. The second half of his career could be very much like that of Matt Kuchar, going from underachiever to overachiever in no time at all.

For one of the nicest guys on the PGA Tour, let’s hope it happens.

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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.