Plenty of Buzz at the Cliffs
But Tuesday afternoon, the players on The Nationwide Tour were abuzz with the rumored presence of someone far less famous to the masses.
The BMW Charity Pro-Am signals the beginning of The Golf Channels domestic broadcasts of The Nationwide Tour. We will televise 14 of the remaining 25 events, so for us, this is the exciting beginning to The Nationwide Tour.
Exciting because weve seen this tour develop at a monumental pace in recent times.
Exciting because weve seen firsthand just what this tour means to the young rising stars.
Exciting because weve witnessed the birth of many of golfs current stars through the years.
And exciting because amongst the many stars of screen, stage, and sport on hand this week, we know that The Nationwide Tour players will be the stars of our show not only by weeks end, but all year.
The Nationwide Tour schedule is already six tournaments deep, but the plot has already started to develop. Jimmy Walker set a record by winning two tournaments out of the first four'the fastest ever. And now hes on the brink of a Battlefield Promotion to the PGA Tour with just one more win. Today he shook hands and chatted with someone who embodies just what success on this tour means, and hes already hearing comparisons to Chad Campbell and Zach Johnson.
Through the first six events, seven Australians are currently in the top-20. Theyre there primarily because of the Aussie friendly conversion rate from the two co-sanctioned events with the Australasian PGA Tour earlier this year down under. That number is likely to dwindle, but Euan Walters, currently second on the money list, has arrived to start his stateside campaign.
The Australian proved his metal earlier this year by winning the Jacobs Creek Open in Adelaide, Australia, and he should prove himself worthy during the remainder of the season'much the same as Andre Stolz did last year after earning his way onto the Nationwide Tour. And although Euan is new to The Nationwide Tour, he knows what the rumored player on site Tuesday symbolizes.
Everybody on this tour shares the same goal. In short, its not to be here next year. Defending champion is not a title anyone relishes on The Nationwide Tour. Champion is always a nice title, but defending champ? Thank you but no.
This is the second year that 20 players will graduate come years end. They graduate to the PGA Tour where each year Nationwide Tour players feel more comfortable. Their ease in transition comes courtesy of the current mass of former Nationwide Tour players that make up a virtual whos who of the PGA Tour. Already, Walker and Walters have amassed enough to all but guarantee themselves a trip to the show next year.
Once players get comfortable with the fact that theyre likely to graduate, then they readjust their aim in search of the top spot. Many benefits come with money leader honors. First, No. 1 means a fully-exempt card on the PGA Tour. The other 19 graduates reshuffle with other members throughout the year.
No. 1 means being able to set a schedule. No. 1 means added endorsement dollars. No. 1 means a better chance of getting into some of the bigger and more exclusive invitationals on the PGA Tour. No. 1 means the respect of your peers and the added confidence of hearing your name in the same sentence with Tom Lehman, Chad Campbell, Stewart Cink, and Zach Johnson. And No. 1 means that you are a shoe-in to be voted by those same peers to be presented with the Jack Nicklaus award signifying player of the year.
Jack Nicklaus is again playing this year at the BMW Charity Pro-Am with his four sons.
Wednesday hell be at a ceremony to present the first ever Jack Nicklaus award. Of course, hell be presenting it to the one young man who stands for everything this years players hope to achieve.
Zach Johnson arrived a day early to see his old friends. Tomorrow hell shake hands with Jack, but today he unknowingly did something that earned him even more respect. He spent time with the guys, his old friends, the ones who emulate his success and character, the ones all vying to be the next Zach Johnson.
And he turned plenty of heads in the process.
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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
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."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
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.'"
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."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
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."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
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.