Early portion of season is important for those trying to retain cards

By Jason SobelJanuary 10, 2013, 1:47 am

HONOLULU – There’s an old trick that college presidents have been using for years during freshman orientation. It’s less cautionary tale than scare tactic.

Look to your right. Look to your left. One of these people won’t be here next year.

The Sony Open represents the first week at school for new PGA Tour professionals. If someone was to give a speech to each of the groups of three that will tee off in Thursday’s opening round, it would probably sound eerily familiar to one they’ve heard before.

Look to your right. Look to your left. One of these people won’t be here next year.

It’s no secret that getting a PGA Tour card is only half the battle. Keeping one is the hard part. And it may be even harder this season.

Photos: 2013 PGA Tour rookies

With a one-year shortened schedule that ends with the Tour Championship, there will be an added emphasis on making the most of opportunities. No longer is there a Fall Series on which to fall back and the Mayakoba Golf Classic, once an opposite-field event, has been shuttled to the 2013-14 early season.

That may not sound like much of an impact, but it should have a profound effect on journeymen and young players trying to keep their cards. Players who previously got into 24 events may now only get 20 starts; those who played 20 may now get 16; those who played 16 may now get only 12.

Meanwhile, the Sony Open remains an anomaly. Every single player who earned his playing privileges for this year through the Web.com Tour or Q-School was able to qualify for this event if he committed. That won’t be the case for much of the season, where fewer opportunities will mean more pressure to perform.

In other words, these pros can’t just play early and often, they’ll need a modicum of success early and often.

“It’s funny – you do get your card, but you’d better go play well or sit on your couch in July,” explained Scott Langley, who qualified through Q-School. “But thankfully, any events that I have this year are more than I had last year, so I’m happy for that. I hope to play well and move up the list and get into many more.'

“Obviously with the shortened schedule you’ve got to play well early,” Donald Constable added. “Being in my position where I just made it through Q-School, I need to play well early so I can get in the reshuffle and kind of climb up the ladder a little bit.”

Ah, yes. The reshuffle. Consider it the seedy underbelly of newfound PGA Tour privileges. At various points during the season, those playing from the Q-School and Web.com categories will be renumbered based on their FedEx Cup points standings.

This year, though, there will be more of a squeeze than ever. The reshuffle will take place after the eight West Coast tournaments. However, that includes the Hyundai Tournament of Champions (which obviously didn’t include any players from this category) and the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship (which likely won’t – and if it does, they won’t need the reshuffle by that point anyway).

That leaves six events. After this week’s Sony Open is the Humana Challenge, which has expanded from a 144-player field to 156. In other words, everybody in the pool. If you’ve got a card and a pulse, you should be able to play. The Farmers Insurance Open will be a little tougher; same goes for the Waste Management Phoenix Open. After those comes the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, another easy entry for most players, but it’s followed by the much more difficult Northern Trust Open.

And then? Well, young players had better have a decent enough standing going into that first reshuffle or it could be a long season almost before it really gets started.

“I think it’s important every season,” Andres Gonzales explained about his second tour of duty in the big leagues. “Everybody is going to have the same opportunities, but everybody wants to get up in the reshuffle in our category. But I’m fortunate enough to play in [the Sony]. A couple of years ago, I wasn’t able to get into this. But I’m in this, I’ll be able to play next week, so I have better opportunities to at least move up in the reshuffle.”

“Everybody says, ‘Learn to love the West Coast,'” said Web.com grad Robert Streb, “I’m just trying to play all I can get into right now. If the West Coast works out well, maybe I’ll figure it out after that.”

When it comes to scheduling, that word “maybe” is currently permeating many minds. For those trying to find PGA Tour success, the focus isn’t just on playing or even playing well, but playing well early.

If it doesn’t happen, well, you know what they say at orientation.

Look to your right. Look to your left. One of these people won’t be here next year.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

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

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

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

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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

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

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

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

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

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

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

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

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