College roommate hopes DJ can shake 'personal issues'

By Jason SobelAugust 3, 2014, 12:44 am

Zack Byrd remembers the first time he met Dustin Johnson. It was his senior year of high school and Johnson was already a freshman on the Coastal Carolina team.

“I didn’t know anything about him,” Byrd says of seeing him play in a tournament at Country Club of South Carolina. “I watched him hit a golf ball and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’”

In between admiring his prodigious blasts off the tee, they started talking.

“He didn’t know me,” recalls Byrd. “We just struck up a conversation. I was like, he’s a nice guy. Took the time to talk to me and said he’s looking forward to playing with me.”

They spent the next three seasons as not only teammates, but roommates on the road. Over the years, they’ve grown apart. Byrd, who has status and also plays mini-tours, hasn’t seen him since they both competed in the 2011 U.S. Open.

After hearing Johnson’s latest news that he is taking an indefinite leave of absence for what his management team termed “personal struggles,” the former roommate painted a picture of a supremely talented player who showed few signs of any private transgressions back in those days.

“Everybody that knows Dustin knows he likes to have fun,” Byrd says, “but it never affected his golf. We played for pretty tough coach [Allen Terrell]. We had 6 a.m. workouts three days a week, long practices, we were out there grinding. He never showed up late, he never slept through anything. Never had any issues.

“He was just Dustin. Nothing bothered him. He never acted out, never caused any problems on the team.”

Just because they’re no longer as close as they were in college doesn’t mean that this recent news isn’t weighing heavily on Byrd’s mind.

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“My main concern is whatever his issue is. I know how much talent he has. I lived it for three years and got to see it. Whatever all this is, I hope that he gets it straight, because the personal issues that he’s had are keeping him from being the best player in the world.”

He’s dead serious about that last part.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that if he really wants to be, he could be the No. 1 player in the world,” Byrd continues. “He’s so freakishly talented. He could be a world-beater. He can win multiple majors, a bunch, and I think everybody knows that.”

He also maintains that while others on the team had to work harder at certain things, everything came easier for Johnson.

Maybe too easy.

“If we were struggling with our game, he would always try to help us,” he remembers. “But when you’re freakishly talented, you look at golf differently. It was so simple to him. That’s the way he treated everybody on the team. If you were hitting it left, he’d say, ‘Quit hitting it left; aim right.’ Golf was so easy to him that he didn’t understand it actually is a tough game.”

That concept stretched behind golf, too.

“He could have played basketball in the NBA or wide receiver in the NFL,” contests Byrd. “His hands are the size of any wide receiver in the NFL; he can jump out of the gym. We played a lot of sports together. The kid is unbelievable at everything.”

While he admits he doesn’t keep up with too many of his old teammates, Byrd says those he’s spoken with this week have all offered a similar sentiment.

They’re worried about Johnson.

“It’s all pretty much the same. Everybody wants to know what’s going on. Everyone wants to know that everything is alright.”

For his part, Byrd has been thinking about his old roommate a lot over the past few days.

Even though they’ve grown apart, he’s still pulling for the guy who struck up an easy conversation back when he was still a high school kid, the one whom he believes has the talent to become the world’s best player.

“Whatever it is that’s going on,” he says, “when it’s over and he’s back to playing again, I just hope his full potential comes out. I hope he comes back a champion, like he said in his statement. I believe he will.”

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


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The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."