Bubba and buddy have a Super time in Phoenix

By Jason CrookFebruary 1, 2017, 11:35 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – What a difference a year - and an A-list Hollywood actor - makes.

During his stop at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last year, Bubba Watson bashed TPC Scottsdale. He apologized for it, but the words hung over his head all week as he struggled, at times, to a T-14 finish at a place where he has twice finished runner-up.

"I don't like it," he said at the time. "I'm not going to PC it. I don't like it at all. I just mentioned why I'm here. I've got three beautiful sponsors that love it here."

This time around, with pro-am partner Mark Wahlberg seated next to him, Watson couldn’t have been more upbeat, no matter what question was thrown his way. The duo, who have been friends for years, yucked it up like a couple of old college buddies meeting for happy hour and reminiscing about old times.

After brushing aside a question about the golf course (which he went out of his way last year to criticize) with typical golf clichés – “the course is in the best shape I’ve ever seen” … “the forecast looks amazing” – Watson and Wahlberg touched on everything from a shirtless Marky Mark to the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl and recruiting Arizona Cardinals all-pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald for next year.

They talked about Wahlberg’s mulligan on the famed 16th hole after hitting his first shot over the stands and how the “Patriots Day” actor nearly beaned a woman earlier in the day.

“She was excited about it,” Watson cracked.

Bubba did give his buddy’s game some credit, letting him know he definitely played better than Michael Phelps when they played together in this same pro-am years ago.

“You have that going for you," Watson said, channeling his inner Carl Spackler. “The best Olympian - you beat him.”

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(For what it’s worth, Phelps actually did nail someone in the crowd in the face on Wednesday while playing a few groups behind Watson.)

When asked about “wearables” as they relate to golf technology, Wahlberg quipped, “Wearable? Is that like an edible? … Are we in Colorado or Arizona?”

“Is that back to your underwear days?” chided Watson.

Those “underwear days,” of course, were the beginning of Wahlberg’s entertainment career, with Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. And don’t worry, they were more than happy to dive deeper on that subject as well, even leaving the door open for a return to music, kind of.

“No, my kids would be mortified. I embarrass them enough already as it is,” said Wahlberg. “Although, you know, a duet with Bubba? Then maybe.”

Which prompted the former Golf Boy to exclaim, “I’ll take my shirt off.”

And of course, no chat with Boston native Wahlberg, would be complete without talking New England Patriots football, especially on the week they’re playing in the Super Bowl.

Wahlberg will be at the big game with his family in Houston on Sunday,

“I’m a die-hard Patriots fan, obviously” … “I go crazy. I lose it. I’ve got this whole system. I don’t want anybody talking at me, looking to me,' Wahlberg said, before guaranteeing victory over the Atlanta Falcons and setting his sights on recruiting Arizona Cardinals all-pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald for next year.

“Here’s the thing. When they win the Super Bowl, [Bill] Belichick will be playing at the AT&T, so we’ll recruit him. I have [Patriots owner] Mr. Kraft, and give [Fitzgerald] a big check and go get that ring and go out in style,” he said.

“Yeah, but can they throw it to him?” Bubba retorted with a smile, happy to get one last jab in.

In short, Bubba was very comfortable talking about all things not Bubba.

At one point, Wahlberg said his arrangement with Watson to play pro-am events like these is as simple as, “If he asks me, I show up. That’s pretty much mandatory.”

Considering how much more smoothly this press conference went than the one a year ago, Watson may think about adding an amendment to that agreement to include future talks with the media.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

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

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

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

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

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