Who authored the biggest surprise of 2011?

By Randall MellDecember 6, 2011, 5:00 pm

From the unforeseen major champs to head-scratching rises and falls, 2011 kept serving us one surprise after another. But among all the chaos, what was the biggest surprise of them all? GolfChannel.com senior writers Rex Hoggard, Jason Sobel and Randall Mell weigh in.

Phil Mickelson

By REX HOGGARD

He extended his victory streak to eight seasons, posted his best finish ever at the game’s oldest championship and is likely still being impacted by the effects of psoriatic arthritis, but however you slice it, Phil Mickleson’s season is the stuff of double takes.

Maybe it’s unfair to expect more from a 41-year-old with health issues and enough concerns at home to distract the Dalai Lama, but 2011 was Lefty’s to take, particularly after he finished ’10 with a competitive whimper.


Photo gallery: Surprises of 2011


As a rule, Mickelson rebounds. Always has, which explains why the bar was set so high for 2011, and when he began his season with a runner-up showing at Torrey Pines – where he had struggled since the Rees Jones redesign – and a victory at the Houston Open, many tabbed the new year the season of the southpaw.

After Houston, however, he posted just three top 10s, including his tie for second in the wind at Royal St. George’s, and finished 15th in FedEx Cup points.

It was supposed to be the year Mickelson finally ascended to the top of the World Golf Ranking. Instead, he dropped from fourth to 12th and made more news with his switch to the long putter than his stay on leaderboards.

With Tiger Woods reeling, this was Mickelson’s time, but as the calendar closes it feels more like a missed opportunity than a milestone season.


Keegan Bradley

By RANDALL MELL

Keegan Bradley opened the year No. 329 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

If you’re not a devoted golf fan, you probably didn’t know he was Hall of Famer Pat Bradley’s nephew. In fact, before his rookie campaign began, you probably never even heard of him.

The year ends with Bradley a two-time PGA Tour winner, a major champion and a serious candidate for PGA Tour Player of the Year.

Who surprised us with a bigger move than that in 2011?

Bradley was 203rd in the world when he broke through to win the HP Byron Nelson Championship in May. He was 108th in the world when he won the PGA Championship in August in his first start in a major championship. He’s 29th in the world this week.

You want a surprise? How about all the outrage over Tiger Woods being chosen over Bradley as a U.S. Presidents Cup pick. Who would have believed that coming into this season?

As surprises go, they didn’t get bigger than Bradley this year.


Luke Donald

By JASON SOBEL

My biggest surprise of the 2011 golf season was also the best player of the 2011 golf season: Luke Donald.

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to come right out with it. I didn’t think he had the onions. Didn’t think he had what it took to be an elite, top-tier player – let alone the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world.

In my eyes, Donald was a career underachiever. Sure, he’d played on three Ryder Cup teams and owned a world-class short game, but it rarely resulted in victories. Since turning pro a decade earlier, he claimed just a half-dozen titles – three on the European Tour, two on the PGA Tour and the late-season Target World Challenge (now Chevron) – and only one in the previous four seasons, a triumph at the 2010 Madrid Masters.

That all changed this year. With one event left to play on the Euro circuit, he’s already tripled his victory output for the previous four years, winning the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Scottish Open and Children’s Miracle Network Classic. He grabbed two firsts, two seconds and two thirds on the PGA Tour, resulting in the money title, and is on track to mirror that accomplish overseas in Dubai this week, as well. He even improved at the majors; after four top-10s in his first 30 major starts, he was 2-for-4 this season.

Unlike a player like Keegan Bradley, Donald didn’t come out of nowhere to shock the world, but he hadn’t shown signs of breaking through in such a big way, either. Consider it a pleasant surprise – and the biggest surprise of the 2011 season.

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.


CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Web.com Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''