Shag Bag Blog January

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 31, 2009, 5:00 pm
Welcome to the Shag Bag, where the GolfChannel.com team and Golf Channel talent will regularly file thoughts and opinions from around the world of golf.
 

 
The entry deadline for the Buick Invitational came and went Friday and, despite tournament director Tom Wilson's best efforts, Tiger Woods' name was not on it.
 
Indications from within the Woods' camp suggest the world No. 1 is back to something approaching a full workout routine, but his much-anticipated return will have to wait. Next month's WGC-Match Play Championship in Tucson, Ariz., has been reported as a possible return while many consider the Arnold Palmer Invitational or WGC-CA Championship at Doral likely openers.
 
Some good news for Wilson. Rocco Mediate, David to Woods' Torrey Pines U.S. Open Goliath, is in next week's field. The Buick also marks the beginning of the Woods 2009 countdown.
 
' Rex Hoggard
Posted Jan. 31

 

 
Here is the LPGA's Thursday response to the Ginn Companys termination of sponsorship in professional golf, including the Ginn Open:
 
We are extremely disappointed and surprised by yesterday's announcement by the Ginn Company that they have terminated all sponsorships in professional golf, including the Ginn Open. While we are keenly aware of the challenges that all businesses are facing in today's economy, we had been led to believe by the Ginn Company that the event would be held as scheduled in 2009. The Orlando community has been terrific throughout the years and the LPGA looks forward to returning to the Orlando market in the future.
 
Here is my response to the LPGA's response: The next time one of these dominoes falls (and we all dearly hope Ginn is the last one), nobody should be surprised.
 
' Brian Hewitt
Posted Jan. 31

 

 
Time is not on Buick Invitational tournament director Tom Wilsons side, despite all the optimism in Del Mar, Calif. Wilson has waged a well-intended texting campaign to draw Tiger Woods off the DL and back to Torrey Pines for next weeks event.
 
Its too early to tell, Wilson said. Were hoping for an early Christmas present, but Im not holding out hope. From what I understand (Woods) is back at his full regimen, but he wont play until he feels like hes 100 percent ready for competition.
 
In practical terms that means Woods will probably not rush his recovery just to return to the scene of last years U.S. Open, and perhaps the greatest victory of his career. But Wilson is not finished trying or texting.
 
Ill text Mark (Steinberg, Woods agent) on Thursday, Wilson said. By then hopefully well have some good news.
 
' Rex Hoggard
Posted Jan. 27

 

 
One last note on Pat Perez' play last week.
 
On Saturday, I followed Pat on the back nine at Bermuda Dunes. His brother Mike, also an accomplished player formerly on the Nationwide Tour, was in the gallery and very excited, if not nervous for his brother. On the par-5 13th hole, Pat couldn't reach the green but hit 3-wood anyway. It went way left and looked for a time as though it could be close to the OB stakes. Mike, on the other side of the fairway asked me if it was safe. Not sure, I told him it looked like it bounced right off the tree and probably safe. Somewhat under his breath, Mike muttered, 'Why in the world does he hit 3-wood? Why not just lay up?' I turned to look at Mike with an amused expression ' as I also covered Mike when he was playing well and he plays exactly like his brother. 'Because he's a Perez,' I said. Mike looked at me, then looked toward where he hoped Pat's ball was, raised his eyebrows under his large aviator sunglasses and softly said, 'Good point.'
 
' Jerry Foltz
Posted Jan. 27

 

 
For all those who were surprised to see third-year Tour player John Merrick make a run at his first title on Sunday, consider the Southern Californians offseason sparring partners.
 
Merrick is among an up-and-coming threesome that works out at Virginia Country Club in Long Beach, Calif., under the tutelage of uber-cool swing coach Jamie Mulligan. A typical December day at Virginia includes some range time, putting drills and perhaps a game with fellow rising star Peter Tomasulo and proven veterans John Cook and Paul Goydos.
 
Its a great mix and good for the younger guys to have someone like John and Paul to learn from, Mulligan said. Its also good for John and Paul to have some young guys to play against.
 
Some spring trainings are better than others.
 
' Rex Hoggard
Posted Jan. 26

 

 
I've done this before and I'll do it again, because it can lead to stories like this one.
 
For all that golf has to offer fans as entertainment and professional players as an unbelievable living, there is more to the game. As Ive said before, golf is not life; its just a part of it. And for many, it is therapeutic. Its a connection with family. Its solace.
 
There are stories out there: stories of inspiration and great spirit; stories of tragedy and heartache. These are stories of life.
 
If you have or know of an inspirational story relating to golf, e-mail me at mbaggs@golfchannelclub.com ' the same if you have one of woe or caution which relates to the sport.
 
I look forward to hearing from you and possibly telling your story.
 
' Mercer Baggs
Posted Jan. 26

 

 
Pat Perez may have been best remembered to the golf masses for his display of temper seven years ago at Pebble, but as he said two days ago, 'I need to win' to put that behind him.
 
While he may have had a questionable reputation with the golf audience, his peers have a significantly different opinion of Perez as evidenced by the number of players that were out there on the 18th green when he finished at the Bob Hope.
 
PGA Tour veteran Tommy Armour III was there even though he missed the cut a day earlier and could have easily been excused if he wanted to get a head start on the four-hour drive to Phoenix to get ready for next week's FBR Open. So, too, was Jason Gore, who also missed the cut ' and Jason lives less than two hours away in Southern California. Andrew Magee, no longer an active PGA Tour player, drove over from Phoenix to be there for his friend.
 
Typically, a few players are there to congratulate their friends upon winning, but usually only if they happened to have finished around the same time. Rare is the occasion when they hang around an extra day just on the chance their friend pulls through.
 
When you combine his loyal friends with the large number of family and friends on hand, it would be understandable if a rather large party broke out somewhere in the Coachella Valley Sunday night. And it might not stop there. Pat traditionally hosts an annual get together at his home during tournament week in his hometown. And Pat lives in Scottsdale. Maybe the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale has met its match in terms of the biggest party of the year.
 
' Jerry Foltz
Posted Jan. 26

 

 
Steve Stricker went 7-over par in a four-hole stretch Sunday in the final round of the Bob Hope Classic to squander a commanding lead and miss winning a tournament that was squarely in his gunsights. This is the same Steve Stricker who won two Comeback Player of the Year awards in consecutive seasons on the PGA Tour (a record that surely never will be broken).
 
If he wins his next start (and don't bet against it), Stricker will be the 2009 Comeback Player of the Year to date. By the way, there are players people pull for and players people don't. Stricker is near the top of the list of the former.
 
' Brian Hewitt
Posted Jan. 25

 

 
The assembled scribes had waited six days but the payoff would be worth every awkward delay. For five rounds Frank Lickliter II eschewed the press during the final stage of 2007 PGA Tour Q-School. It wasnt until hed put the finishing touches on his four-stroke victory that Lickliter was finally asked if his opening rounds of 62-62 were the best consecutive cards of his career.
 
Thats the best back-to-back rounds anybody has ever shot, Lickliter deadpanned.
 
Seems Lickliter was only half right. On Saturday at the Bob Hope Classic, Steve Stricker completed the back-end of a 61-62 card that was the lowest consecutive rounds in Tour history.
 
Give Stricker credit for posting his 123 two-round total at the games most lucrative putting contest. But we still give the nod to Lickliter for style points. Q-School pressure and the Lickliter presence is a potent combination.
 
' Rex Hoggard
Posted Jan. 25

 

 
To put the birdie-fest known as the Bob Hope Classic into context, when Arnold Palmer ' host of this years 50th tournament ' won his last title in the Coachella Valley (1973) he lapped the field with a five-round, 17-under-par total. By comparison, Pat Perez teed off late Friday, was 1 under for the day and 21 under for the tournament and not in the lead.
 
By all accounts Palmer was fine with the scoring assault. Hell get his revenge in March at Bay Hill.
 
' Rex Hoggard
Posted Jan. 23

 

 
It happened in an uncharacteristically quiet way, at least for Rory Sabbatini. Adams Golf didnt renew the four-time PGA Tour winners endorsement deal. Inside word is that money was an issue, as well as Rorys decision to wear a Callaway hat (he plays a Callaway ball) during a practice round and a TV interview in Decembers South African Open. But the same source said that for most of his year with Adams, Sabbatini was an excellent brand ambassador.
 
On the plus side for Rory: He has a new endorsement deal with Hasbro, the toy maker. Hell change out bags throughout the year, each featuring a key Hasbro product. At Sony, he began with a bag featuring the Nerf line of toys. Which is all well and good, but still: no swinging in the house, now.
 
' Adam Barrr
Posted Jan. 23

 

 
LA QUINTA, Calif. ' Wanted: Weatherman for the La Quinta area. No experience required. No training necessary.
 
Honestly, there can't be an easier place in the world to be a weatherman. The only variable this week has been whether it's going to be partly cloudy or mostly sunny.
 
As the day begins here for the third round, it should be just like the previous two days. 70 degrees with no wind. As my friend, Wayne Grady, would say, 'There isn't enough wind to blow out a match.' Where most players judge a wind as a one-club or two-club wind, here it's more like a one-yard or two-yard wind. Combine the docile conditions with the easy hole locations necessitated by having three amateurs in each group, and the scores will be ridiculously low once again.
 
And if a birdie-bonanza isn't enough to make you want to tune in, then perhaps Arnie will change your mind. Today we turn our spotlight on the King with soundbites from an interview yesterday with the 79-year-old legend that I'm told are fantastic.
 
' Jerry Foltz
Posted Jan. 23

 

 
Year in and year out, one of the most respected and judicious users of sponsors exemptions has been Clair Peterson, tournament director of the John Deere Classic which will take place, this year, July 9-12. What follows is Petersons response when I asked him where Tadd Fujikawas recent 62 got him on Petersons exemption radar screen:
 
Tadd has been on our radar screen for a couple of years but has not made it to our final exemption list yet. We dont make our final decisions until closer to July and, unfortunately, his star has shined most brightly in January and has dimmed a bit as the year has progressed. If he continues to do exciting things, in the next four to five months, he would increase his chances with us.
 
Last years John Deere exemptions included Webb Simpson, Philip Francis and local Brady Schnell. U.S. Publinx champion Jack Newman, from nearby Des Moines, is getting a long look from the John Deere at the moment.
 
But, Peterson added, no shortage of great players out there. This is the same Peterson who, in the past, wasnt bashful about bringing another Hawaiian, Michelle Wie, into his field as a sponsors pick.
 
' Brian Hewitt
Posted Jan. 22

 


 
Its all who you know, and what you need. A friend of mine from Columbus, Ohio has a buddy who is a pilot. They ' and two other golf junkies ' are coming down to Orlando today to play golf. Just today. In at 9 a.m., quick round, back on the plane to Cold & Snowland. What is it about golf? Well, when winter has been forcing you not to play, what isnt it? All I know is, I dont see people scrambling onto airplanes just to go running or biking or the like. But a taste of golf? For that, theyll burn a vacation day and brave two airports. Rock on, Golf America.
 
' Adam Barr
Posted Jan. 22

 

 
LA QUINTA, Calif. ' Pat Perez once asked me why he's only shown on TV when he's acting up and never at the good moments. Of course we all remember that infamous display on 18 at Pebble when he appeared to be checking to see if there was a well under the sprinkler head. My response was that if you never act up, we would never see it. Truth be told, if Pat ever lost his fiery edge, he'd likely lose a little of what makes him good. Today he was good. An 11-under par 61 that didn't look like it could have been one shot higher. According to his amateur partners, the longest putt he made in his first-nine 8-under 28 (actual back nine at PGA West Palmer Private course), was a 12 footer for eagle at 18. A couple of whiffed 6-iron's on his back were all that stood between him and that magical number of 59.
 
But it was his amateur partners that told the real story of Pat that we rarely see. They had a blast with him and he with them. Nicknames, needling, and smiles all around. And I thought, Pat was right ' we rarely get to see that side of him. While it's easy to be engaging when playing that well, the fact is that Pat is always going to be Pat. And when he gets to be around a group of guys that have a similar temperament, they all thoroughly enjoy it. At the end of the day I was left with two impressions. First, Pat was actually disappointed with 61 when a 59 was so close. And secondly was that I can't recall seeing a group of amateurs enjoy themselves that much in a round of golf with any pro.
 
' Jerry Foltz
Posted Jan. 21

 

 
Numerous reports surfaced last week regarding the legal wrangling going on between Anthony Kim and the wunderkinds former manager Rocky Hambric of Hambric Sports Management.
 
Kim split with Hambric last May and the veteran agent filed a breach of contract lawsuit against the Ryder Cup star later that month. According to the Sports Business Journal, Hambric also has served subpoenas on IMG, Gaylord Sports Management and Kims adviser, Sterling Ball.
 
Lost amid the lawsuits and media reports is the impact an extended legal battle will have on one of the games brightest rising stars. After a hectic offseason, Kim withdrew from this weeks Bob Hope Chrysler Classic with a sore left shoulder. Adding to the uncertainty, Kims endorsement contract with Nike Golf ended last year and he has not resigned with the Swoosh.
 
Although it seems likely Kim will stay with Nike, sources suggest his ongoing legal issues have slowed the negotiations and the longer the deal is drawn out the more it may be negatively impacted by a bear economy.
 
' Rex Hoggard
Posted Jan. 21

 

 
Adam Scott arrived in Qatar late Tuesday night after a 22-hour journey from Hawaii, missing a valuable piece of his luggage. The airline lost Scotts clubs en route to Doha, forcing the defending champion to skip Wednesdays pro-am and walk the course instead in preparation for Thursdays Commercialbank Qatar Masters Presented by Dolphin Energy. Scott hopes to be reunited with his Titleist clubs prior to teeing off on Thursday, but just in case, Titleist UK built him a new set from scratch and shipped them off on Wednesday. Titleist UK built the clubs exactly to Scotts current specs, courtesy of information provided to them by Scotts U.S. tour department.
 
The airline mishap is the latest in a string of unfortunate events for Scott, who dislocated his right kneecap while surfing (running out of the water) in Australia back in December. Scott skipped the Australian Open but returned for the Mercedes-Benz Championship at Kapalua two weeks ago, where he finished tied for 18th. Scott rebounded with a strong showing at last weeks Sony Open in Hawaii, vaulting into a tie for second after a final-round 64. Scott was playing a new driver (Titleist 909D2) and irons (Titleist AP2) at Kapalua, but would go with his previous generation of Titleist clubs on Thursday if neither new set showed up on time.
 
' Casey Bierer
Posted Jan. 21

 

 
OK, since its Bob Hope Classic time it must be Yogi Berra stories season again. My personal favorite: Yogi is working his way up to the front of the reception line on a hot summers night at the Governors mansion in New York. He is wearing a lime green leisure suit...Oooh, Yogi, you look so cool, coos Governor Cuomos wife. Thanks, Mrs. Cuomo, Yogi replies shyly, you dont look so hot yourself.
 
' Brian Hewitt
Posted Jan. 21

 

 
LA QUINTA, Calif. ' I promise you, it's not bragging, but I must share my best lunch story in a long time. The tales that were told were fantastic, the food was probably my favorite ever, and the company couldn't have possibly been more enjoyable for a golfer.
 
The place? The driving range at PGA West Palmer Private course -- probably not what you imagined with that preamble. The stories? Great reminiscence of the old days from the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic -- starting with year one. The food? In-N-Out Burgers supplied by their mobile unit, complimentary to all tournament folk. And if all of that isn't enough to make you want to come to the desert for the 50th Hope, then consider who I sat with: the King, Arnold Palmer. I won't soon forget it, if ever.
 
It was surreal for me, but I think Rich Lerner (also at the table) summed it up best in a brief conversation in passing with Scott Walker. 'I just had a double-double with Arnie.'
 
' Jerry Foltz
Posted Jan. 20

 

 
They say it takes a village to raise a child. In the case of Zach Johnson it takes a committee to focus a champion.
 
Late last year Johnson was putting the final touches on perhaps the most pedestrian year of his career when he gathered Team Zach in search of answers.
 
He knew he was hitting it well, said Dr. Morris Pickens, Johnsons sports psychologist. It was more the impatience of when is it going to come back.
 
Johnson, Pickens, caddie Damon Green, swing coach Mike Bender and putting guru Pat OBrien gathered for an impromptu meeting after the 2007 Masters champion failed to advance past the first playoff event. The payoff was almost immediate, with Johnson winning his next event (Valero Texas Open).
 
Team Zach met again in November for three days at Sea Island (Ga.) Resort and Johnsons 09 start followed the script ' one victory (Sony Open) and a tie for sixth (Mercedes-Benz Championship).
 
The meetings, which Pickens characterizes as passionate, focused on Johnsons smooth putting stroke and featured a healthy amount of friendly competition.
 
Were guys who are in their 30s that are acting like they are 17, Pickens said. Whatever game were playing, I will change the rules to give myself an advantage. Typically, if Im ahead the game is over.
 
' Rex Hoggard
Posted Jan. 20

 

 
From the equipment innovation front: The first modern-era adjustable clubs we saw a year ago were as the Mercury program to this years Apollo generation. Most major manufacturers, driven to compete despite a down economy, will come to market with aggressive designs.
 
A couple cases in point: TaylorMades new driver is called the R9 ' not a new R7, but a new family of clubs. Not only does it feature adjustable weights, but also a highly machined shaft-to-hosel-to-club connection that adjusts the face angle, loft and lie. That affects not only ball flight, but also the all-important over-the-ball look. Combined with the weights, the adjustment scheme offers up to 75 yards of side-to-side latitude, TaylorMade says. The price tag is not for the timid, though: $500 list. Look for it in March.
 
Even outside adjustability, designers are working to innovate within the confines of modern head size regulations. Adams Golfs Speedline driver uses geometry in the form of highly engineered hollows and scoops to improve air flow and reduce drag. That speeds up the driver through the hitting zone, Adams says, and can get you as much as nine more yards. Thats the kind of language recreational golfers listen to. List price will be $400; delivery will be in February.
 
These are just two examples. Callaways I-MIX is now a veteran product in the interchangeable shaft category, and Nikes 360 Fitting System relies on an interchangeable shaft connection. But this year, the innovation has taken a step toward even more variety ' and perhaps complication ' but definitely more interest for the avid player.
 
' Adam Barr
Posted Jan. 20

 

 
HONOLULU ' Its all been carefully orchestrated. Adam Scott being linked to actress Kate Hudson is just a ruse to get people to quit asking when hes going to start fulfilling his potential, challenging Tiger and winning majors.
 
Instead hes being peppered with the really important questions: Are you and Kate really just friends as youve said? When did you meet? What do Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell think?
 
Its also a clever way to expand the golf audience, because this is People Magazine, Entertainment Tonight territory: Handsome golfer seen with Hollywood star!
 
While were at it lets land Camilo Villegas a spot on Dancing with The Stars, and watch the ratings for golf go through the roof.
 
' Rich Lerner
Posted Jan. 19

 

 
You know you're getting there when the people of the United States of America vote you in as their next President. But you haven't officially arrived until Tiger Woods shows up in the nation's Capitol and delivers a speech at your pre-inaugural festivities. Barack Obama: This Is Your Life.
 
' Brian Hewitt
Posted Jan. 19

 

 
HONOLULU ' How big was the hype surrounding Charles Howell III coming out of Oklahoma State eight years ago?
 
When he signed with representative Rocky Hambric, the agent gave him five percent of his company. Callaway handed a four-year deal for better than a mill per year. Tony Navarro, who caddied for Greg Norman and now Adam Scott, said, 'theres nothing this kid cant do.' It's scary to think about. And when Jack Nicklaus was asked who might challenge Tiger? He said Charles Howell.
 
So how is it that the young-gun train left the station in 2009 and Howell wasnt on board?
 
In search of answers, Charles has left David Leadbetter for Todd Anderson. And hes put on close to 20 pounds.
 
Charles once told me hes never been without the video camera on a lesson tee. He feels it would be foolish not to take advantage of modern technology, and thats hard to argue.
 
Hes admitted hes never been a guy who just tees it up and goes. He likes the mechanical side. He likes to take a peek under the hood and tinker.
 
Charles also understands he needs to improve from 130 and in, and concedes that hes probably underachieved to this point with just two wins and little to speak of in the majors.
 
Nick Faldo used mechanics to create feel and didnt win the first of his six majors until he was 30. Howell executed brilliantly at 16 and 17 on Sunday at the Sony Open, giving himself a chance. After he came unglued at 18, he said hell take the positives and not the negatives into the early part of the season.
 
Charles Howell remains a work in progress.
 
' Rich Lerner
Posted Jan. 18

 

 
HONOLULU ' During our post-production meeting/discussion, the thought occurred to me that there are probably a lot of people who, although amazed at what an unproven 18-year-old did on Saturday at the Sony, wouldn't be surprised if the pressure of a PGA Tour final round might be too much for Tadd Fujikawa. While I believe that most are really pulling for this talented young man, perhaps their expectations don't equal their hope. It's understandable. For that matter, I'm not sure what my expectations are for Tadd on Sunday. I do know that, in my mind, his Saturday 62 should erase any question about whether or not the kid is for real ' regardless what Sunday holds.
 
Is Tadd ready to contend? Here's some food for thought: When is the last time you've ever heard a player talk about standing on the practice green until dark, repeatedly hitting putts, all the while daydreaming that each putt was to win the Sony Open? Well dreaming is exactly what kids do, and winning the Sony is something kids from Hawaii might just think to themselves. He just might be more prepared for this than any of us would rationally suspect. I, for one, can't wait to watch.
 
' Jerry Foltz
Posted Jan. 18

 

 
Funny how some of the best work a player can do in the offseason doesnt have anything to do with either a club or a golf ball. Tom Pernice Jr. signed for his bogey-free 63 Friday, a round that left him tied for first place at the Sony Open, and immediately went shaka cool on the gathered scribes.
 
Just trying to have some fun, enjoy life a little bit, a laid-back Pernice said. I have two wonderful girls and a wonderful wife. So I need to enjoy life even when I'm trying to win out there on the golf course a little bit.
 
Pernice added Jim Fannin to his entourage during the offseason. Although Pernice would not characterize Fannin as a sports psychologist, it seems their work focused on goal setting and keeping things in perspective.
 
An island cool attitude to begin the season at the Tours most soulful stop ' how shaka.
 
' Rex Hoggard
Posted Jan. 17

 

 
REUNION, Fla. ' The Shag Bag staff had a Hollywood Insider moment Thursday morning with recently wed Annika Sorenstam. Speaking publically for the first time since her Jan. 10 wedding to Mike McGee, the Swede ' who postponed her honeymoon to fulfill her duties as host of the AJGA Annika Invitational at Ginn Reunion Resort near Orlando, Fla. ' said the ceremony was perfect.
 
The ceremony and reception were held at nearby Lake Nona Golf & Country Club and Sorenstam reportedly provided the highlight of the evening when she began break dancing in her wedding dress. Sorenstams father, Tom, also was a hit on the dance floor and at one point members of the wedding staff joined the revelry.
 
It was like a scene out of Mamma Mia, said McGee, whose father Jerry is a former PGA Tour player and lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan. My dad was out there with his Steelers socks on. It was a blast.
 
The party lasted until about 3 a.m., McGee said, but neither the bride nor the groom would say whether Tiger Woods attended the ceremony.
 
We want to protect the privacy of our guests, Sorenstam said. He did get us a big bottle of wine.
 
Sorenstam will attend the PGA Merchandise Show in late January then participate in the Annika Celebration at Reunion, a skins game between Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis, before taking time for a honeymoon.
 
' Rex Hoggard
Posted Jan. 15

 

 
Sometimes, you just have to be there. Anyone who was around last year for Kenny Perry's three wins (I happened to have been assigned to all three, plus the AT&T in Atlanta, which he narrowly lost in a playoff to Ryuji Imada) knows that when Kenny says he can win eight more, he ain't whistlin' Dixie or anything else. Face to face with this polite but determined Kentuckian, there is no doubt.
 
Perry, now 48, wants to do this before he's 55. That would give him 20 career PGA Tour wins. Did anyone think he could win one last year, let alone three (Buick in Michigan, Memorial, John Deere)? Don't come between Kenny Perry and a goal, such as making the Ryder Cup team. He'll do what it takes.
 
' Adam Barr
Posted Jan. 15

 

 
HONOLULU ' The Eddie Aikau watch is on for the North Shore of Oahu. Evidently it's a surfing contest that only takes place when the waves are massive and the sports superstars all make their way to Hawaii this time of year in hopes that the conditions are ripe. What this means to the players at the Sony Open is that high winds are possible.
 
Stewart Williams, the official PGA Tour meterologist told me that starting sometime Thursday, the gusts could reach upward of 30 mph. As of now, those players in the late Thursday, early Friday wave are wondering if they drew the short straw in the pairings as they may play their first 36 holes in the worst of it. Of course, as word of the forecast made it's way around Waialae the last two days, things naturally began to get exaggerated. At the pro-am talking with Boo, who is in the fortunate early/late wave, he said, 'Foltzy man, I heard it's gonna be blowin' a somethin' crazy. Like 60 mph.'
 
' Jerry Foltz
Posted Jan. 14

 

 
Tadd Fujikawa spent much of the offseason working with swing coach Todd Anderson but it wasnt the Hawaiian teens iron play or driving that received the most attention. According to Anderson, Fujikawa ' who earned a spot in this weeks Sony Open via Monday qualifying ' focused on his short game and wedge play, particularly shots from 125 yards and closer.
 
He called me after the qualifier and said he hit a wedge to a couple of feet on the last hole for birdie to earn his spot. He said, All that wedge work is paying off, said Anderson, the director of instruction at Sea Island (Ga.) Resort.
 
Anderson said hes trying to convince the teen to focus on the mini-tours this year and prepare for Tour Q-School. If you have to make a 10-footer to win a Hooters Tour event youre learning what you need to learn, Anderson said.
 
' Rex Hoggard
Posted Jan. 14

 

 
Vijay Singh is scheduled to have knee surgery today in Jacksonville, Fla., and the English punters have even money on the Fijian heading straight for the practice range at TPC Sawgrass after the procedure.
 
Actually, Singh may follow Tiger Woods lead and show some restraint. He wont start wearing the grooves out of his irons until this weekend.
 
' Rex Hoggard
Posted Jan. 13

 

 
HONOLULU ' I was struck by the irony of the two surreal settings. The first was Sunday night in the Ritz lobby lounge area at Kapalua; the second was the beachside institution in Waikiki known as 'Duke's'. At the Ritz, it was a very casual evening trading stories with some of the most accomplished players on the PGA Tour in an environment the was devoid of egos and social status implications (kind of ironic considering is was at the Ritz). I kept thinking what a dream spot this would have been for a any golf fan. Everyone was welcome, but for the most part, it was only a few GC employees, a handful of the game's stars, some Tour brass, caddies, and tournament folks just relaxing and watching the sun go down. Evidently, a few almost made it to sun-up.
 
The next night, I walked into Duke's and chatted with about a dozen PGA Tour rookies who were all preparing for the first tournament of their PGA Tour careers -- each with stars in their eyes and full of hope. In a few short days, they'll no longer be chasing their dreams, they'll actually be living them. Very few of them will make it to the Mercedes Benz Championship next year, and odds are that most won't even be back at the Sony Open next year. The reality of trying to beat those odds will intensify later in the season, but for the next few days, the world is their oyster and their new workplace is as scenic as both sunset locales.
 
' Jerry Foltz
Posted Jan. 13

 

 
D. J. Trahan, who will defend his Bob Hope Chrysler Classic title next week, went moose hunting in the off-season and, well, well let him tell the story: ... I shot a nice big bull moose probably 850 pounds. I've got a lot of moose meat in my freezer right now, about 350 pounds' worth ' maybe 300 now because I've given some away. But it was about 350 pounds' worth of meat. It was a sight to see. It was unbelievable, especially after ' obviously when I shot the animal I saw the 'ginormous' size of it. It was amazing to walk up on an animal that big, and then obviously when all the meat came, I was like holey-moley. It was unreal. It's actually quite good to eat, which is even better. Obviously I don't just hunt to kill. I like to ' I enjoy deer hunting and doing things like that as much to harvest the meat as I do enjoying the hunt.
 
Memo to Bullwinkle: Youre not safe.
 
' Brian Hewitt
Posted Jan. 13

 

 
This just in from Michelle Wies agent, Jill Smoller of the William Morris Agency: As of now Wie plans to start her season at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay which also happens to be the LPGAs season opener. Smoller warned that Wies participation in the event, close to her home in Oahu, is not yet confirmed. Meanwhile, Wie has enrolled for the winter quarter at Stanford University. If she plays at Turtle Bay, she will miss classes. But, as Smoller likes to say about schedule-juggling, She (Wie) has been doing this all her life.
 
' Brian Hewitt
Posted Jan. 12

 

 
It was reported Sunday that Anthony Kim was experiencing slight shoulder pain near the end of his round at the Mercedes-Benz Championship where he finished runner-up to Geoff Ogilvy. Kims agent at IMG, Chris Armstrong, was aware of the report but told GolfChannel.com Monday that he had talked to Kim and Kims trainer, Craig Davies. There is no cause for concern, Armstrong said. There was no immediate word on whether Kim cancelled his scheduled surfing lesson Monday.
 
' Brian Hewitt
Posted Jan. 12

 

 
This weekend, published reports stated that Adam Scott and actress Kate Hudson were spotted in Maui canoodling, dining together, and hopping into the same luxury car together. (The indisputable hat-trick of dating evidence!) And just to ice it, another report quoted a shared friend saying that the two had been 'flirting electronically' prior to this (alleged) first meeting at Kapalua.
 
Hmm. Ive flirted electronically before. And I can tell you, Match.com never paired me with a young, sexy Australian professional golfer, and I certainly have never had that first date in Hawaii. (I want my money back, Dr. Neil Clark Warren!) My bitterness aside, though, if these two crazy kids do end up together ' based on the 283,849 proven dimensions that matched them as soul-mates, of course ' then I cannot wait for his awkward E-Harmony commercial with the Oscar-nominated 'Almost Famous' starlet: Kate saw me as a winner, even though Ive never won a major. I never thought I could find unconditional love like that.
 
Listen, after a tumultous 2008 season replete with missed cuts, mental fatigue, nagging tonsillitis, flu bugs and a dislocated knee, Scott could use something positive in his life. And Penny Lane might just be what the doctor ordered. No, she can't surgically repair his kneecap, but taking a cursory glance at her recent love life, it seems she can have quite the influence on her former beaus. After ending a romance with Hudson last summer, Lance Armstrong was suddenly able to father children. Following their divorce over a year ago, Black Crowes lead-singer Chris Robinson mounted a career comeback releasing his bands first album in seven years. And look at Owen Wilson. Their break-up last year forced the 'Wedding Crashers' star to deal with his depression and get the help he needed. Granted, it required him ending up in a hospital after a suicide attempt, but still
 
The moral of this story is that this new 'electronic flirting' interest for the Aussie could be an auspicious sign for Scott's career. My advice to him? Turn this new friendship into a fling through the Hawaiian/West Coast Swing ' or as long as her new 'Bride Wars' film stays in the theaters (guessing the latter would come sooner). Then break up and watch the majors roll in!
 
' Dena Davis
Posted Jan. 12

 

 
Strolling through the Rolex Womens World Rankings Monday morning, I noticed that Annika Sorenstam is not listed. Last week, she was No. 3 behind Lorena Ochoa and Yani Tseng. We all know that she retired but that doesn't mean that past results shouldnt remain in the system.
 
An educated guess says that someone (either from the LPGA or Sorenstams camp) suggested that the Swedes name be deleted so it wouldnt continue to fall in the rankings when previous results drop out of the two-year ranking window. The LPGAs Web site says those eligible for the rankings are any professional or amateur woman golfer who has completed in at least 15 official events over a two-year rolling period is eligible to be ranked. Under this criteria she ought to stay in the system until she falls out, which would probably be later this year. Also, what happens if she wants to return for an event this year or next? Will the LPGA then place her back into the rankings? Odd.
 
I understand wanting to save Sorenstam from embarrassment, but this doesnt pass the smell test. If she did remain ranked, and her name did fall, everyone would know the reason.
 
An e-mail to the LPGA seeking comment was not immediately returned.
 
' Jay Coffin
Posted Jan. 12

 

 
Ryan Palmer finished 31st at Kapalua, his second start in the lucrative season opener, but his card of 78-75-72-66 only told half the story. Six weeks ago Palmer had surgery on his right shoulder to shave down a bone spur. Palmer, who won the Ginn Sur mer Classic in the fall, probably could have used more time on the DL, but he wasnt going to pass on a trip to Maui.
 
Palmer planned to return to Texas after the Mercedes-Benz to rest his shoulder, likely playing again at the FBR Open.
 
' Rex Hoggard
Posted Jan. 12

 

 
KAPALUA, Hawaii ' I bumped into Boo Weekleys mom in the clubhouse at The Plantation Course. Youre not surprised that her name is Patsy, are you? In our Friday night interview on Golf Channel, I asked Boo if he had sushi for dinner the previous evening. Without hesitating he said, Nope, pork chops. Said Patsy, I dont know how he thinks so quick and talks so slow. Boo did more for his image signing autographs and sharing some laughs with Golf Channel after a four-putt double on the 18th than he could have ever done making double-eagle. The fans see it and say, He gets it; hes a good guy. The Tour should use the episode as an example to every young player coming through the ranks.
 
' Rich Lerner
Posted Jan. 12

 

 
Whenever Tiger Woods returns, it can't be soon enough for him. At the unveiling of the design for his Cliffs Communities golf course near Asheville, N.C. in early November, he rolled his eyes over a hang-dog frown when asked off-camera how it was going, all this waiting. Doctors, family members, others in his entourage had all been counseling Tiger to use restraint in his rehab ' a hard sell for the admitted workout junkie. And Tiger is not just any workout addict ' he adds that otherworldly focus to it. His natural inclination is to push it and get back to what he loves most about his day job: competition at the highest level ' a level he sets himself, by the bye.
 
Still, Woods is too smart to risk the entire second half of his career by coming back too fast on less-than-completely-healed stilts. So when he comes back, it will be on better legs. A more sobering thought, though: In seven, 10, 15, however many years, whether its injury or ennui that does it, what will golf do when Tiger stands down? Have Kobe, Carmelo, and Lebron, despite their immense talent, managed to bring the NBA back to those glory days when we wouldnt dream of missing an MJ-Magic matchup?
 
' Adam Barr
Posted Jan. 11

 

 
KAPALUA, Hawaii ' We dont know the exact date of Tiger Woods return, but when the big cat does come back Nikes prepared with what Im told is a home run ad that has already been shot. A source tells me that the spot features several players, including Anthony Kim, chatting happily in the locker room. Theyre discussing just how well its been going for them on Tour. Suddenly, Tiger walks in and greets the guys. Their enthusiasm drains away as they realize the partys over with Tiger back. Word is that its vintage Nike: very funny, and a definite buzz generator.
 
' Rich Lerner
Posted Jan. 10

 

 
KAPALUA, Hawaii ' Geoff Ogilvy hit the longest drive of his PGA Tour career Friday on the par-4 17th hole, a 415-year bomb. Through the years, ridiculously long drives on the final two holes have become a Kapalua tradition. Of course, if it ever snowed here, both holes would be black diamond runs, but nonetheless it's fun to watch.
 
Here's the statistical anomaly of 2008: The Plantation course averaged the shortest on Tour in driving distance ' a mere 255 yards for the field. That was a full 53 yards shorter than the driving distance averages for both Tour events held in Nevada.
 
' Jerry Foltz
Posted Jan. 10

 

 
KAPALUA, Hawaii ' On Friday our Golf Channel spotlight player of the week Ernie Els told us the story of landing to refuel his jet on some remote runway in Africa. Evidently, he had to barter with the locals in order to refuel his jet so Els traded them some vodka.
 
Mark Rolfing then related a similar story of having been on a flight that required a similar amount of deal making to secure some vodka. All I could think of was how happy I am that this never happened to me. Most of my flights run out of vodka.
 
' Jerry Foltz
Posted Jan. 9

 

 
KAPALUA, Hawaii ' Having followed Geoff Ogilvy for the entire round, I understand his frustration with finishing with two consecutive three-putts (albeit from very long range both times).
 
The irony was that earlier in the broadcast, my on-air colleagues had documented how Ogilvy was once a self-admitted hot-head on the course and now he seemed to be as cool, calm and collected as anybody. Well, consecutive three-putts could drive Ghandi to the brink, so it wasn't a huge surprise when he blew by the interview area and hopped in a cart destined for the clubhouse.
 
To his credit, Ogilvys uncharacteristic behavior lasted a short time and the smile on his face let us all know that the underside of this newly turned leaf in his demeanor could be permanent. When he came over to me to do the interview, an interview in which he demonstrated his immense likability, he sheepishly grinned and said, 'Once in a while, everybody needs 10 minutes.'
 
' Jerry Foltz
Posted Jan. 9

 

 
Have to admit we were a tad surprised to hear the report that Tiger Woods may return to Tour life at next months WGC-Match Play Championship. To be clear, were surprised but very thankful.
 
It is curious, however, that Woods would pick the Match Play to make his much anticipated 2009 debut. The Dove Mountain layout is hardly the most user-friendly walking course and the weather in the Tucson, Ariz., area can get p

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern of architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: For some, the struggle is real

By Will GrayNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

They all have stories.

Tales about the time that they went toe to toe with a future major champ, or maybe even clipped him by a shot. Memories of walking the range just a few short years ago and viewing some of golf’s brightest stars simply as peers.

The Class of 2011 continues to expand its collective footprint on the national stage, but it extends beyond names like Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. In almost every field at every level of professional golf, there are players from that prodigious class, each still straddling the divide between memories of the past and dreams for the future.

Once junior competitors, they are now young men entrenched in their mid-20s. And while some of their former classmates have already piled up long lists of achievements, dozens more are still fighting for status on the various echelons of golf’s meritocracy.

Their common goal remains a simple one: join former classmates on the big stage as soon as possible.


Michael Johnson at the 2016 Barbasol Championship (Getty Images)


Michael Johnson gets asked about it a couple times per year.

When The Players Championship rolls around in mid-May, his phone lights up with calls or texts about the time that he topped an elite field on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.

It was the 2010 AJGA Junior Players Championship, and its leaderboard could pass for a current-day PGA Tour event. Spieth was a runner-up alongside Emiliano Grillo, while Patrick Rodgers was seventh. Daniel Berger and Ollie Schniederjans tied for eighth.

But the man with the trophy was Johnson, who also ended up sixth in the final AJGA/Polo recruiting rankings for the Class of 2011 – ahead of the likes of Grillo, Berger and Schniederjans.

“Obviously that Junior Players is something I look back on, and it puts a smile on my face,” Johnson said.

He went on to have a successful career at Auburn, including first-team All-American honors his senior year. A hip injury led to a redshirt season and dropped him a year behind his classmates, but he graduated in the summer of 2016 and quickly turned pro.

Johnson’s PGA Tour debut revealed just how thin the margin can be between the fast track to stardom and a more arduous battle. Playing on a sponsor invite at the Barbasol Championship, he finished third.

Officials told him that based on the non-member FedExCup points he earned, Johnson could expect a spot in the Web.com Tour Finals that fall and a chance to play for a PGA Tour card. At worst, he’d lock up Web.com status for 2017.

But the numbers didn’t pan out as expected, and even after Monday qualifying for the season-ending Wyndham Championship, Johnson knew he had work to do. But he missed the cut by a shot.

With the top 200 in points qualifying for the Finals, Johnson finished 201st.

“It was pretty tough, honestly,” he said. “I was on such a high that whole summer and came crashing down pretty quickly.”

Instead of a shot at the PGA Tour, Johnson tumbled all the way down to the ground floor: the first stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

“It was kind of funny,” he said. “I’d be on the range and my friends would be like, ‘Why are you here?’ I’d be like, ‘Well, I’ve got to go through Q-School, just the same as you.’”

Johnson played his way up, one level at a time, before ultimately earning his Web.com card for 2017 and retaining it for the upcoming season. This fall he watched on TV as several of the players he beat that memorable week at TPC Sawgrass competed at the Presidents Cup.

Johnson still awaits his next opportunity, and the confidence that he’ll soon join former classmates on a full-time basis hasn’t wavered.

“I would say that people, they don’t know how hard it is,” Johnson said. “People are just confused, thinking golf is just a recreational sport and you’re out there having fun. But it’s just like any other sport in that it’s so hard to get into the big leagues.”


Morgan Hoffmann, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth and Byron Meth at the 2015 Masters (Getty Images)


For Byron Meth, the questions always trace back to the 2015 Masters.

That’s when the winner of the final U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship made his Augusta National debut. As he soaked in the azaleas, Meth asked to join Morgan Hoffmann for a Tuesday practice round. Hoffmann told him simply to turn up to the 10th tee to see who they were facing.

Their opponents for the day turned out to be Spieth and Brooks Koepka.

“It was a little reminiscent of our AJGA days, but more so our college practice rounds,” Meth recalled. “We were just hitting shots and telling stories. Just kind of hung out and embraced the day.”

Five days later, Meth watched the kid from Texas he had known for years slip into a green jacket. Inevitably, reporters wanted to know what sort of spark he had seen from Spieth in their practice round together.

“Jordan didn’t look any different that day than he did when we were kids,” Meth explained. “But the confidence was definitely way higher because of his success.”

Growing up in Southern California, Meth’s duels with reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele date back to their high school days. Meth was 26th in the final recruiting rankings, one spot ahead of current PGA Tour player C.T. Pan, and it was qualifying for the Masters that convinced Meth that his game was strong enough to compete on an elite level.

That belief was quickly reinforced in his first event as a pro, a pre-qualifier for the 2016 Sony Open. He advanced, then went on to Monday qualify for the main event.

It was success beyond anything that he could have anticipated, but it’s a result that now elicits a sigh.

“It kind of sounds strange, but Monday-ing into the Sony might have been one of the worst things that happened to me in 2016,” he said. “I made the mistake of having expectations. I thought it was going to happen like that all the time.”

As many other pros can attest, easy success is either fleeting or entirely non-existent. Meth quickly learned that lesson, and like Johnson became the victim of razor-thin margins. He missed the cut in the first stage of Web.com Q-School by a shot last year, and fell short by the same number this year. In between, he spent his months toiling on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and now faces a similarly uncertain future in the spring.

The rigors of Q-School do not show favor to former major participants, nor do they offer midseason reprieves for those who fail to advance. Meth is back to the drawing board, fully aware of the uphill battle that awaits.

But he remains imbued with confidence from his week at Augusta National, a brief stint alongside the game’s best where he had a front-row seat for the pinnacle of Spieth’s career.

“I asked him that day, ‘It doesn’t look like you’re doing anything different physically than you did when we were kids,’” Meth said. “He goes, ‘I just had an opportunity to play, and I took advantage of it.’”


Joseph Winslow competing on the 2017 Latinoamerica Tour (Getty Images)


As one of the top junior golfers in the Kansas City area, Joseph Winslow had a keen eye for other Midwest names on the leaderboard. One, in particular, continued to stand out.

“I would look at the standings and saw this kid from Avon, Indiana,” Winslow said. “And I was just wondering like, ‘What’s his deal? Why is he winning, what’s he doing?’”

That kid turned out to be Rodgers, who went on to a decorated career at Stanford and has won more than $4 million on Tour. As the No. 18 recruit in the Class of 2011, according to AJGA/Polo rankings, Winslow saw plenty of Rodgers growing up. But he also ventured south to challenge elite fields that featured Spieth, Thomas and Grillo.

“I think if you look at the invitationals from late 2010 into 2011, those were probably some of the strongest fields ever in AJGA, junior golf history, when you look at current players today,” Winslow said.

He committed to Iowa, and as freshman tied for 13th alongside Rodgers at the 2012 NCAAs. Days later, Spieth edged Thomas in a memorable match at Riviera while helping Texas win a team national title.

The chilly winter weather led him to transfer to the University of South Florida, and Winslow’s first move after turning pro was to qualify for the Asian Tour. But the status he earned didn’t make the extensive travel worthwhile, so he opted to spend his first summer scratching out checks closer to home on the Adams Pro Tour.

“It was a little bit of culture shock starting out, turning up to golf courses and seeing greens with weeds on them,” he said. “Just stuff that you’ve never experienced before, and that’s part of the life.”

This year Winslow gained a foothold with status on PGA Tour LatinoAmerica, and he’s been giving his passport a workout ever since. A pro for less than three years, he estimates that he’s already teed it up in 21 different countries in search of a path that will earn him another tee time next to Rodgers.

“My goal is to be out there on the PGA Tour, playing with the guys I’ve been playing with my whole life,” he said. “We’re just working our way back up, putting in the time that you have to, and take advantage of your opportunities when you get them.”


Stephen Behr at the 2017 Amateur Championship. (courtesy: Stephen Behr)


Stephen Behr knew that the sound was just different.

It was at the 2010 AJGA Polo Golf Classic that Behr, No. 11 in the Class of 2011, looked around him on the driving range and found all the usual suspects: Spieth, Thomas, Grillo, Schniederjans.

“Berger wasn’t even that good back then,” Behr recalled. “And now he’s a stud.”

Going through his own warm-up routine, Behr took in the sights. But he listened even more intently, focusing on the sounds of future major champions making crisp contact each and every time. Whoosh. Whoosh.

And it was the sound that gave him pause, even at age 17.

“It was just like, it almost made you feel bad about your game,” he said. “You’d watch them hit it and it was like, I’ve got training wheels on and they’re in Ferraris.”

That realization is a big reason why Behr, an accomplished player who earned All-American honors during his senior year at Clemson, now works as a risk consultant with Ernst & Young. His battles with the stars from his graduating class are now entirely in the rear-view mirror, a wistful recollection of time spent in the arena.

“I don’t think I ever beat Spieth,” he said. “I think my record against him is like 0-52. I never beat him because his off weeks, I feel like he still finished third.”

While Behr didn’t turn pro after graduation, his clubs aren’t exactly collecting dust. His amateur ranking based on his final days at Clemson was good enough to gain entry into the British Amateur this summer, and these days the self-described “weekend warrior” carries a plus-3.2 handicap.

“I can still get it around, man,” Behr said. “I’m just not quite as sharp as I used to be.”

Behr excelled both in the classroom and on the course at Clemson. Afforded the option of a promising gig in finance with ample on-course networking opportunities, he happily headed for corporate America while some of his former peers were busy racking up trophies.

“A lot of people, when I tell them that I played with those guys, they think that maybe I just played like in one tournament against them,” he said. “But like, no. I actually played in the same group with them, and competed with them.”

Behr explained that while his time against such top-tier talent created great memories, it also affected his career choice. Perhaps, he admitted, he might have tried the pro golf circuit had he been a member of the Class of 2010 or 2012.

Instead, he was constantly flanked on the range by Ferraris.

Behr still plans to remain active in amateur golf, and next year will take his first crack at the U.S. Mid-Amateur. A win there would earn him a spot in two majors, and perhaps a chance to improve his record against Spieth.

Until then, he’s able to reflect fondly from an office chair on memorable days gone by.

“I’m glad I got into those AJGAs and got to compete against them, and see first-hand how impressive they were,” he said. “I think this 2011 class, I’ll look back when I’m a granddad and be telling my grandkids about some of these guys that I got to play with.”

Class of 2011: Who's got next?

By Rex HoggardNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

The sprawling legacy of the Class of 2011 can be traced to any number of origins, but for some among what is arguably the most prolific class ever, it all began in June 2009.

The 99-player field that descended on Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C., for the AJGA’s FootJoy Invitational included Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and so many others, like Michael Kim, who up to that moment had experienced the weight of the ’11 class only from afar.

“It was that year that Justin won the FootJoy Invitational and that got him into [the Wyndham Championship]," Kim recalled. "That was my first invitational and I was like 'these guys are so good’ and I was blown away by what they were shooting. I remember being shocked by how good they were at that time.”

Tom Lovelady, who like former Cal-Berkeley Bear Kim is now on the PGA Tour, remembers that tournament as the moment when he started to realize how special this particular group could be, as well as the genesis of what has become lifetime friendships.

In the third round, Lovelady was paired with Spieth.

“We kind of hit it off and became friends after that," Lovelady recalled. "The final round I got paired with Justin Thomas and we became friends. On the 10th hole I asked [Thomas], ‘Where do you want to go to school?’ He said, ‘Here. Here or Alabama.’ My first reaction was, ‘Don’t go to Alabama.’ He’s like, ‘Why?’ I wanted to go there. I knew the class was strong and they only had so many spots, but that’s where I really wanted to go.”

Both ended up in Tuscaloosa, and both won an NCAA title during their time in college. They also solidified a friendship that endures to this day in South Florida where they live and train together.

While the exploits of Thomas, Spieth and Daniel Berger are well documented, perhaps the most impressive part of the ’11 class is the depth that continues to develop at the highest level.

To many, it’s not a question as to whether the class will have another breakout star, it’s when and who?



There’s a good chance that answer could have been found on the tee sheet for last week’s RSM Classic, a lineup that included Class of ’11 alums Lovelady; Kim; Ollie Schniederjans, a two-time All-American at Georgia Tech; Patrick Rodgers, Stanford's all-time wins leader alongside Tiger Woods; and C.T. Pan, a four-time All-American at the University of Washington.

Lovelady earned his Tour card this year via the Web.com Tour, while Schniederjans and Rodgers are already well on their way to the competitive tipping point of Next Level.

Rodgers, who joined the Tour in 2015, dropped a close decision at the John Deere Classic in July, where he finished a stroke behind winner Bryson DeChambeau; and Schniederjans had a similar near-miss at the Wyndham Championship.

To those who have been conditioned by nearly a decade of play, it’s no surprise that the class has embraced a next-man-up mentality. Nor is it any surprise, at least for those who were forged by such an exceedingly high level of play, that success has seemed to be effortless.

“First guy I remember competing against at a high level was Justin. We were playing tournaments at 10, 11 years old together,” Rodgers said. “He was really, really good at that age and I wasn’t really good and so he was always my benchmark and motivated me to get better.”

That symbiotic relationship hasn’t changed. At every level the group has been challenged, and to a larger degree motivated, by the collective success.

By all accounts, it was Spieth who assumed the role of standard-bearer when he joined the Tour in 2013 and immediately won. For Rodgers, however, the epiphany arrived a year later as he was preparing to play a college event in California and glanced up at a television to see his former rival grinding down the stretch at Augusta National.

“Jordan’s leading the Masters. A couple years before we’d been paired together battling it out at this exact same college event,” he laughed. “I think I even won the tournament. It was just crazy for me to see someone who is such a peer, someone I was so familiar with up there on the biggest stage.”

It was a common theme for many among the Class of ’11 as Spieth, Thomas and others emerged, and succeeded, on a world stage. If familiarity can breed contempt, in this case it created a collective confidence.

Success on Tour has traditionally come slowly for new pros, the commonly held belief being that it took younger players time to evolve into Tour professionals. That’s no longer the case, the byproduct of better coaching, training and tournaments for juniors and top-level amateurs.

But for the Class of ’11, that learning curve was accelerated by the economies of scale. The quality and quantity of competition for the class has turned out to be a fundamental tenet to the group’s success.

“Since the mindset of the class has been win, win, win, you don’t know anything other than that, it’s never been just be good enough,” Lovelady said. “You don’t think about being top 125 [on the FedExCup points list], you think about being as high as you can instead of just trying to make the cut, or just keep your card. It’s all you’ve known since you were 14, 15 years old.”

It’s a unique kind of competitive Darwinism that has allowed the class to separate itself from others, an ever-present reality that continues to drive the group.

“It was constantly in my head motivating me,” Rodgers said. “Then you see Jordan turn pro and have immediate success and Justin turn pro and have immediate success. It’s kind of the fuel that drives me. What makes it special is these guys have always motivated me, maybe even more so than someone like Tiger [Woods].”

The domino effect seems obvious, inevitable even, with the only unknown who will be next?

“That’s a good question; I’d like for it to be myself,” Lovelady said. “But it’s hard to say it’s going to be him, it’s going to be him when it could be him. There are just so many guys.”

Class of 2011: Origin of golf's great group

By Ryan LavnerNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

Years before they became inextricably linked, before the photo of them together went viral, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas sat next to each other on a transatlantic Swissair flight.

They had met three months earlier, in April 2007, at a junior event in Spieth’s backyard. Tied for the lead heading into the final round at Walnut Creek outside Dallas, Spieth dusted his fellow 13-year-old by five shots in his first AJGA start. Now, they were part of a U.S. foursome that was headed to France for the inaugural Evian Masters Junior Cup, an international mixed competition in which the top three finishers earned a spot in the pro-am prior to that week’s LPGA event.

During their weeklong trip, the boys shared a one-bedroom unit, noshed on chocolate croissants, toured the Olympic Museum and jostled for a spot next to Paula Creamer in photos. (Spieth, 1 up.) Determined to win the friendly exhibition, they skipped a white-water rafting excursion for a few more hours in the short-game area, much to the chagrin of the adults in the group. “I thought, Man, that would be so much fun!” recalls the AJGA’s Beth Dockter, who accompanied the team. “But they were both very intense and very competitive – even at that age.”

Skinnier than his 6-iron, Thomas finished third and played the pro-am with Juli Inkster. Spieth served as Thomas’ caddie, but they were stewing after the Americans took bronze.

“They were really driven. I remember them feeding off each other,” says U.S. teammate Grace Na. “You could tell they wanted to beat each other, even though they were on the same team. They motivated each other to bring the best out of themselves.”

A decade later, not much has changed.

That same combination of talent, camaraderie, ambition and ego produced a pair of global superstars, but Spieth and Thomas have made an even bigger impact on their peers, inspiring a once-in-a-generation class that overwhelmed the PGA Tour this year.

Spieth secured the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

Thomas won a Tour-best five times, including his first major, to sweep the end-of-season awards.

Even Xander Schauffele – such an outsider that some college coaches didn’t realize he was in the same gilded class – capped a breakout season with Rookie of the Year honors.

“I always joked with my buddies that it’s not cool to be 23 on the PGA Tour anymore, since everyone that’s been 22, 23, 24, they’re all winning,” Schauffele says. “I guess kudos to them for pushing me along.”

The youth movement on Tour isn’t just an intriguing storyline; it’s a competitive reality. Last season was the first that the average winner was younger than 30 (28.9). And to Schauffele’s point, his season-ending victory was the 18th by a player 25 or younger – eight more than the next-best year.

But of all that promising young talent, no collection of stars figured more prominently this year than the members of the Class of 2011, a group whose rise was so meteoric that they’re recognized not by their graduation year from college, but from high school.

Most of them can’t rent a car, and yet they factored nearly every week on the PGA and European tours. They played key roles in the majors, the playoffs and the Presidents Cup. In all, a whopping 11 members of the ’11 class own a PGA Tour card this season.

How has that particular group – born 13 months apart, from every corner of the country – grown so close, and been so successful, so quickly?

Thomas offered one simple theory – “I just think we’re all good” – but the origins of this fabled class are much more complex.


2009 AJGA First Team, including: Grillo (top, third from left), Spieth (right of Grillo), Alison Lee (bottom left), Jessica Korda (bottom, third from left) & Lexi Thompson (right of Korda) (AJGA).

Click here for a look at images from the Class of 2011 during their AJGA days


PLAYERS TODAY ARE BETTER younger for a multitude of reasons – advancements in technology and coaching, increased focus on fitness and nutrition, the Tiger Effect – but perhaps the most significant development has been the evolution of the country’s premier junior-golf circuit.

In 2003, the AJGA created a Performance Based Entry system to fill out its tournament fields. It’s essentially a miniature version of the PGA Tour. Roughly a thousand local, state and regional events are entered in the AJGA database, and with good results players gain status through performance stars – think of them as FedExCup points – that allows them to compete throughout the year. Players with enough performance stars qualify for the invitational tournaments that bring together the best juniors in the country nearly a dozen times a year.

The upshot? The top high school quarterback and pitching prospect don’t face elite competition every game, but these wunderkinds are tested at each event.

“That’s what made it so easy to transition from junior golf to college to the pros,” Spieth says. “We were already playing against the best talent level, and that stayed relatively similar moving forward. We didn’t see anybody at that level that we hadn’t seen before.”

The fraternal vibe – now viewed as an integral part of Team USA’s success – was ingrained early, too. If a player’s parents couldn’t travel to an event, the AJGA set him up with another junior’s family. With his father, Shawn, at work and his mom, Chris, at home with his two young siblings, Spieth traveled alone to nearly half of his tournaments from 2007-10. That’s when most of these friendships were formed.

At night, there always was a function for players to attend – a group dinner, a sponsor meet-and-greet, a clinic – while parents mingled and swapped stories. There were glow-in the-dark putting contests and balloon tosses and leaps into Poppie’s Pond, all while they downed milkshakes and danced to music.

“It was like a PG-rated college experience,” Spieth says. “We were able to build close relationships other than our friends at home. It was a weird, two-life thing that continues today.”

Not only did his core group of friends (Thomas, Patrick Rodgers, Emiliano Grillo, Ollie Schniederjans) often stay together on the road, but they spent countless hours after their rounds in the practice area, competing in extravagant putting and flop-shot contests for quarters.

“If there was a snot-blowing contest, by gosh, one of them would have the most snot,” says Baylor coach Mike McGraw. “They’re so competitive. That’s really what drove this generation.”

And so they racked up invitational titles. They bonded on Junior Ryder Cup, Canon Cup and Walker Cup teams. They played for national championships, with Spieth joining Woods as the only players to win multiple U.S. Juniors.

By the time they prepared to make their college decisions, three members of the class had already made the cut in a Tour event: Thomas at the 2009 Wyndham Championship; Spieth at the 2010 AT&T Byron Nelson; and Anthony Paolucci at the 2011 Farmers Insurance Open. Several others boasted decorated amateur résumés.

“I preach to recruits all the time that you want to go somewhere that you’re going to be pushed,” says USC coach Chris Zambri. “With Spieth and Thomas playing the way they were, that’ll push you. Go shoot 210 in a tournament and lose by six when you’re 14 years old, that’ll get you to practice harder.”

But it wasn’t just the quality of their scores that turned heads. “The common denominator was their mental approach,” says Stephen Hamblin, the AJGA’s executive director. He recalled the frenzy following Spieth’s stunning debut at the Nelson, where he tied for 16th as a 16-year-old high school junior. The following week, Spieth played against kids his own age and lost by nine, but there was so much media attention that the AJGA organized a news conference. “He articulately went through why he felt like he had a great week and, without sounding conceited or arrogant, said, ‘Now that I’ve had this experience, I know for certain that I can go out and compete on the PGA Tour,’” Hamblin says. “That’s how it was with these guys.”

Sure, success in pro and amateur events at a young age is usually a strong predictor of success, but nothing was guaranteed. Hotshot prospects had fizzled out each of the previous few years. College coaches were intrigued, but also wary.

“Honestly, we knew there were a lot of good players,” Zambri says, “but at the time none of us were thinking that this was the chosen class.”

Oh, how wrong they were.



ZAMBRI IS STANDING IN his son’s bedroom, staring down at his desk.

Preserved under the glass is a USC recruiting questionnaire, filled out by a 15-year-old Jordan Alexander Spieth. Zambri begins scanning the water-stained page.

“5-foot-11, 140 pounds.”

“Nickname is Spiethy.”

“GPA is 4.0.”

“Schools considering is TBD. … Smart.”

Then he pauses.

“Interest in us is extreme,” he reports.

“Well, not extreme enough.”

College coaches possess an uncanny ability to recall where they were when they received the dreaded call from a prized recruit. The office. The bathroom stall. The Best Buy parking lot. When Spieth phoned Zambri in fall 2010, the USC coach had just hopped on the 101 northbound.

Even without Spieth onboard, Zambri was still “stoked” about his incoming class, which included top-ranked Paolucci. That group just didn’t work out – for three years, the Trojans didn’t finish better than 15th at NCAAs. The questionnaire is a cool memento for Zambri’s 15-year-old son Joey, but it’s also a painful reminder of how the past few years could have been different.

McGraw, too, is tinged with regret. Then the coach at perennial power Oklahoma State, he first watched Spieth and Thomas as seventh-graders. “Those two guys had a look about them,” he says. “They competed really hard. They were supremely confident. Very animated. And they had an intensity about them, too. They looked like mini pros. The personality you see them play with today, it was there then.”

Believing they were program-changers, McGraw put on the full-court press and got burned in recruiting. Neither star came to Stillwater, nor did any of the other boldfaced names.

“This was quite the class, and it was slim pickings,” he says. “If I’d been smarter, I would have realized that I wasn’t going to get any of those guys and focused elsewhere.” McGraw’s underwhelming 2011 class didn’t pan out, either, clearing the way for Texas and Alabama’s three-year run of dominance.

Longhorns coach John Fields had been sold on Spieth early, after watching him play as a 12-year-old at a junior event in Ardmore, Okla. On the second hole, Spieth drew a gnarly lie on a downslope behind the green, but his majestic flop shot trickled within 6 inches of the cup. “No one else in the field could do that,” Fields said.

That he eventually persuaded Spieth to stay in state was a testament to the program he had built. Sizing up his options, Spieth coveted two things: a shot at a national title and fierce, intra-squad competition, which Cody Gribble and Dylan Frittelli – now winners on the PGA and European tours, respectively – helped provide.

They steamrolled into the NCAA Championship, setting up a 1-vs.-2 final against Alabama, which featured its own freshman sensation.

Scott Limbaugh had made dozens of trips to Bowling Green, Ky., to watch Thomas play. As a youngster, he was easy to spot – the son of a club pro, he often wore khaki slacks – and popular among his peers, befriending many of the other juniors.

“I always remember how much Justin respected the other guys’ games,” says Limbaugh, then an Alabama assistant. “He could do all the flashy stuff, driving it longer than you think he should and hitting 3-irons that landed like feathers. But he always admired Rodgers’ putting and Spieth’s wedges. With him, it was an I’ve-gotta-get-there type of thing.”

Limbaugh and head coach Jay Seawell were at the team facility when Thomas made his decision between Alabama and Florida State. That single call altered the trajectory of the program.

“We went absolutely crazy,” Limbaugh says, “because you just knew.”

The decision paid almost immediate dividends.

In a taut singles match at Riviera, and with the overall result hanging in the balance, Spieth holed an approach shot on the 15th hole to defeat Thomas and earn a critical point for the Longhorns, who captured their first national title in 40 years. He still needles Thomas about that shot, and that outcome, texting him a photo from the course each February.

At least Thomas didn’t leave empty-handed – he edged Spieth for national Player of the Year honors, then claimed his own NCAA title a year later, the first of back-to-back championships for the Tide.

As usual, Spieth and Thomas led the way, but the one-upmanship among classmates continued around the country.

Rodgers matched Woods’ school record of 11 wins at Stanford.

Schniederjans rose to No. 1 in the world while at Georgia Tech.

Cheng-Tsung Pan set a Washington record with eight career victories.

Michael Kim became the first Cal player to win the Haskins Award.

Daniel Berger paced Florida State as a two-time All-American.

And even though he turned pro after high school, Grillo won in his native Argentina, then again in the PGA Tour’s 2015 season opener in Napa.

“The belief in who they were, that’s what stands out,” Fields says. “There are a lot of guys with talent, but their ability to dream and to get out of the way and allow those things to happen, that’s monumental.

“And to have all of those guys in one class, well, that’s just the sun and the moon and the stars lining up.”



IN THE PRO SHOP at Harmony Landing Country Club in Goshen, Ky., hangs a display rack that is filled with more than 130 golf balls, each marked with a tournament name and date.

They’re from all of Thomas’ victories, both large and small, a collection that began while he was in elementary school. Every scenario was different – needing a late rally, going wire-to-wire, scraping it around without his best stuff – but the end result was the same.

“It’s uncomfortable to win, but he became very comfortable and very experienced in that position,” says Thomas’ father, Mike. “Winning is winning, and he got that mindset started early.”

That’s why Limbaugh wasn’t surprised by the text he received after he congratulated Thomas on winning the FedExCup.

“Winners win,” Thomas replied.

“That may sound arrogant,” Limbaugh says, “but that’s all they’ve known. Winners win, and these guys have won all their freakin’ lives.”

Spieth just happened to win first on the big stage.

Leaving Texas after three semesters, he began 2013 with no status on any major tour. He ended that year – what would have been his sophomore season in college – with a victory, a Tour Championship berth and a Presidents Cup uniform. His near-instant success had a seismic impact on his peers, leading to even more early defections and erasing any lingering doubts about whether they belonged.

“They probably didn’t know it at the time,” Mike Thomas says, “but they were pushing each other. Jordan having success was the start of it. Guys were saying, ‘Hell, I’ve played with this guy since he was 12. I’ve beaten him before.’ That spurred everyone on to think they can do this, too. They said, ‘I guess I’m next.’”

But those outsized expectations can also test a player’s patience and create competitive friction.

No one was obscured by Spieth’s considerable shadow more than Thomas, whose good play, invariably, tied back to Spieth. Though their friendship elevated his profile among fans, Thomas has understandably grown weary of the overblown, best-buddies storyline.

Indeed, even after a Player of the Year campaign, he still can’t escape the Spieth connection. Last month, after winning the CJ Cup in South Korea, Thomas was asked by a reporter if he would convince “his good friend” to play in next year’s event, implying that his presence alone wasn’t enough.

“I don’t care what he does,” Thomas sniffed.

The dynamic of their relationship changed forever at the PGA Championship. A week that had been dominated by Spieth's quest for the career Grand Slam ended with Thomas winning his first major. The message was clear, and afterward Mike Thomas couldn’t overstate its importance. “This is huge,” he said. “This lets Justin know he can do this.”

And so it’s easy to see how Thomas’ banner year now will motivate the next wave of 2011ers – his sublime play acting like a vortex, pulling in more talent.

“When there’s a confluence of really great players who have played a lot against each other and beaten each other and are not afraid of a challenge, it just drives better golf, for everyone,” McGraw says. “They push each other to different heights.”

“The rest of the guys always saw what great was,” adds Limbaugh. “You get some guys in there like Jordan and Justin that set the bar. They’ll drag some along, but they’ll leave some of them behind, too.”

Including the class’ No. 1-ranked player.


L to R: Patrick Cantlay, Justin Thomas, Anthony Paolucci (winner), Gavin Hall, Franco Castro at the 2010 Thunderbird International. (AJGA)


GROWING UP IN DALLAS, Anthony Paolucci was a ready-made rival for Spieth.

When they were 10, Spieth played his first Legends Tour event, got waxed by Paolucci and wondered whether he should stick with baseball. Paolucci continued to impress over the next few years, reaching the final of the 2007 U.S. Junior, making the cut in the Tour event at Torrey Pines and dazzling prospective coaches with his crisp ball-striking.

“They had a really nice rivalry going,” says Zambri, and for a while there was legitimate debate about who was the better prospect.

But with his career starting to take off, Paolucci moved with his family from Dallas to San Diego before the start of his junior year of high school. Unlike Spieth and Thomas, who have kept the same instructors and equipment, Paolucci began working with Dave Phillips at the Titleist Performance Institute.

“There was a disruption there, and it was at a critical moment,” says Texas coach John Fields, who recruited Paolucci. “The potential for change is so significant that it can upset that delicate balance within a player.”

Signed by USC to be a difference-maker like Spieth and Thomas, Rodgers and Schniederjans, Paolucci won only one event and was a solid, but unspectacular, contributor before turning pro after his junior season.

While the rest of his heralded classmates graduated to the PGA Tour, earning major victories and millions in endorsements, Paolucci, 25, has battled a shoulder injury and toiled for the past few summers on the mini-tours. This year, he banked $17,915 in Latin America and failed to advance past the second stage of Q-School.

His career at a crossroads, Paolucci has moved back to Dallas. He still runs into his former junior rival on occasion, but how much the growing divide gnaws at him remains unclear. He declined to be interviewed for this story.

“Jordan is kicking ass and taking names, and I would guess it probably wasn’t easy for Anthony,” Zambri says. “That probably added to some of the pressure being felt by not playing his best golf. As much as them being great as youngsters may have pushed him, it may have made things a little more difficult now.”

Even without the highest-ranked player, this high school class is unlike any we’ve seen recently.

Of the top 30 players in the 2011 rankings, 10 are currently on Tour. To put that figure in perspective: None of the previous four classes have more than six of the top 30 on Tour, even now, with more time to establish themselves in the big leagues.

And that figure doesn’t even include Schauffele, the Tour’s reigning Rookie of the Year, who was ranked 45th, nor does it account for those who are apprenticing on the Web.com circuit, or the class members who have played in the Masters (Matias Dominguez) or represented the U.S. at the Walker Cup (Hunter Stewart) or topped the Mackenzie Tour Order of Merit (Kramer Hickok) or won on the European and Challenge tours (Paul Dunne, Lucas Bjerregaard and Thomas Detry).

“Honestly, I don’t know why our class was so deep,” Spieth says. “Maybe it’s dumb luck. Or maybe we had top-heavy players where adjustments needed to be made because it was such a high level – a few guys jumped out early and made the others work hard and set the bar even higher.

“I couldn’t tell you exactly why, but it’s amazing.”


Thomas, Spieth at the 2007 Evian Masters Junior Cup


GRACE NA IS “80 PERCENT” certain that she snapped the viral photo.

By now, you’ve probably seen it – the candid shot from the 2007 Evian Masters Junior Cup in which Thomas sits on the grass with a hamburger stuffed in his mouth as Spieth looks on, unfazed.

It’s adorable, sure, but the image endures because of what it represents – the beginning of a friendship, a rivalry and a revolution that has come to define American golf.

Na and Erynne Lee have played hundreds of tournaments since then, and yet the memories of that particular trip, a decade later, remain as vivid as ever.

They remember that Spieth was fiery, becoming so upset after missing a putt that he snatched his hat and smacked his knee, drawing blood. And they remember that Thomas was feisty, contending despite his slight physique. And they remember that Dockter, the AJGA rep, had to prepare the team uniforms, because the kids didn’t know how to use an iron.

Even now, they’re asked in pro-ams whether they know the boys. They smile and then share stories about where it all began.

“Erynne and I still talk about it,” Na says, “about how crazy it is to see where the guys are now, what they’ve become.”

Not just multimillionaires and major champions, teammates and community leaders.

They’ve become sources of inspiration – the headliners of a remarkable 2011 class that, somehow, keeps getting stronger.