USGA's 'Heavyweight' group causing minor stir

By Jason SobelJune 11, 2014, 8:53 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – Imagine this: You’re a professional golfer. Not one of the bigger stars of the game, but certainly one of the bigger players. Physically, that is.

But so what? Golf is a game for all shapes and sizes. Not everyone has washboard abs like Camilo Villegas or linebacker shoulders like Gary Woodland or Popeye-ish forearms like Paul Casey. Success isn’t determined by physical appearance.

And you’ve had your share of success. You’ve qualified for this week’s U.S. Open, the year’s second major championship. Just before the week starts, though, something happens.

That major championship makes fun of you.

The USGA has a long-standing tradition of grouping like-minded players. Old guys. Young guys. Winners of the same event. Residents of the same state. Even players whose names sound similar.

It’s a fun little custom. This week, though, a proverbial line might have been crossed.

In the 1:14 p.m. grouping off the 10th tee on Thursday will be the trio of Brendon de Jonge, Shane Lowry and Kevin Stadler.

Or as Stadler’s caddie, Shannon Wallis, calls ‘em: “The Heavyweights.”

Officially, they are listed respectively at 230, 225 and 250 pounds – more than one-third of a ton of golfers.

“When I saw it, I was pretty annoyed,” said Lowry, who points out that he’s lost about 18 pounds in the past six months. “I think it’s very cheeky of the USGA to do what they’ve done. I don’t think it’s fair to the three of us. It’s a mockery, to be honest.”

This isn't a serious injustice. It isn't a breach of protocol. It doesn't disrupt the competitive balance of the tournament.

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It's just kind of rude.

“I think the USGA is a little mean and insensitive, but that’s just the way it goes,” Stadler insisted. “They’re invoking their 5-year-old sense of humor.”

From the USGA’s perspective, the tradition of producing these groupings is simply a unique part of U.S. Open ritual.

“There are some themes, you know,” said Jeff Hall, the organization’s managing director of rules and competitions. “There’s a fair amount of leeway.”

There were also plenty of other options for de Jonge, Lowry and Stadler.

When asked why those three competitors were grouped together, Hall responded, “I’ve got to be careful. We have some fun.”

He allowed that it is the USGA’s goal to keep players with those of similar abilities and past success.

Suggesting that might have been the primary motivation for this grouping, he said, “It certainly wasn’t the case that we were trying to do anything. But if you look at the three, they’re all pretty comparable as far as the world rankings.”

For the record, Stadler is ranked the highest at 59, followed by Lowry at 71 and de Jonge at 80.

However, this isn’t the first time it’s happened.

The last time Stadler competed in the U.S. Open, back in 2006 at Winged Foot, he was grouped alongside Tim Herron and Carl Pettersson – not exactly a pair of gym rats.

“I was kind of expecting it, honestly,” he said of this week’s playing partners, “just because they did it last time.”

Of the three, Lowry was clearly most annoyed by the USGA’s decision.

“They’ve obviously paired the three of us together for a certain reason,” he maintained. “I’ve been working hard on my fitness most of the year. I’ve been getting a few digs here and there on social media and it’s just not nice. But I’ve had that most of my life. I don’t really care what people think, other than my close friends and family.”

In just his sixth career major and second U.S. Open appearance, Lowry is hoping to find the leaderboard for multiple reasons – but one is so that he can bring attention to this USGA decision.

“I’d like to do well this week, because I’ll make a point about saying something,” he said. “I’m not going to make any excuses if I don’t. I was pretty annoyed when I saw it.”

At some point on Thursday, the three big fellas are likely to walk down a fairway and discuss why they were grouped together.

At least one of them will be laughing.

“I was actually pretty amused by it,” de Jonge said with a smile. “I wasn’t offended at all.”

Maybe it’s not offensive. And it’s certainly not illegal.

It’s just kind of rude.

Even if the players involved aren’t going to worry too much about it.

“I don’t care,” Stadler insisted. “It’s not like I don’t pretend that I’m not a fat-ass.”

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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.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

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

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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."