Stories From the Nationwide Tour
Joe Ogilvie has received the lion's share of publicity this year as he's been on top of the money list all but one week after winning the season-opening Jacob's Creek Open in Australia. Ironically, Joe had to receive a sponsor's exemption just to get into the field. He began the year as a conditional member with relatively poor status after finishing 216th on last year's PGA Tour money list. Joe originally earned his way onto the PGA Tour via the Nationwide Tour by finishing third in earnings in 1998.
He's already guaranteed himself a return trip back to the 'big tour' next year. The only question remaining for Joe is whether he'll earn the Battlefield Promotion. He's only one win away from that instant promotion after winning his second tournament this year in Hershey, Pa..
While Ogilvie has enjoyed a virtual lock on the top spot on the money list, another player has been the subject of much of the driving range chatter amongst the players and caddies.
Zack Johnson also began the season as a conditional member, although he earned his card through Q-School. This is his second go-round with the Nationwide Tour. In 2000, Zack's rookie season, things weren't quite as easy as they've seemed this year. He finished 174th on the money list. This year's been quite the opposite.
Zack survived a seven-way playoff for one spot at the Monday qualifier for the First Tee Arkansas Classic back in April, his first start of the season. Since then, he has been on a tear, the likes of which has rarely been seen before on the Nationwide Tour.
Zack Johnson has played 46 competitive rounds this year. After 41 of those rounds he was in no worse than 20th place in the tournament. 35 of the 46, he's been in the top 10. He's had eight top-10 finishes in 12 events played, including a victory. Zack has the lowest stroke average of any player on the three tours (PGA, Champions, Nationwide). Actually, Tiger's is lower but it's an adjusted average--his unadjusted (real) stroke average is higher. Perhaps most remarkable of all, Zack was the 16th-ranked player in the world (yes, the WORLD) last week according to the Golfweek/Sagarin ranking system.
Zack's stats from this 12-tournament tear dwarf those from some of the best players the Nationwide Tour has ever seen. Better than Stewart Cink's in 1996 when he finished 11th or better in his first seven events. Better even than Tom Lehman's of 1991 and Chad Campbell's of 2001. Zack is currently second on the money list and also a lock to graduate.
Vaughn Taylor is one of four players this year to play their way onto the Nationwide Tour from non-member status. Shain Tait, Andre Stolz, and Jason Bohn are the others. From no status to third on the money list with $215,018 is pretty amazing. If it weren't for the play of his good friend Zack Johnson, Vaughn would likely be the subject of most of the 'envy-chatter'.
Ryan Palmer, a rookie who won the second tournament of the year, seems to have gotten back on track. Having struggled some since his victory in March, Ryan just had back-to-back solo third-place finishes the last two weeks. He's also now playing on house money with just under $200,000 - more than enough to gurantee a top-20 finish this season.
(Shameless plug here: Ryan Palmer is also one of four players featured on each episode of Quest for the Card: Inside The Nationwide Tour hosted byno, that would be too shameless, even for me. This wonderful show next airs Thursday @ 7:00 pm.-- don't miss it!)
By my estimation, the number of player's who've already locked up their PGA Tour cards for next year runs all the way down to Tom Carter at No. 9 with $175,000. Using the past few seasons as a guideline, the 20th position at year's end should be somewhere in the neighborhood of $165,000 to $170,000. There are a few players that I certainly expect to earn their diplomas this year that haven't yet earned enough to put it on cruise control.
Kyle Thompson and Lucas Glover are two that I picked before the season started and they seem to be up to the monumental challenge of proving me right.
Thompson currently sits in 11th place on the heels of his second runner-up finish of the year last week at the Chattanooga Classic. And Lucas Glover is 21st with just over $100,000. Both are young players just out of college with tons of game and seemingly less than zero fear.
Tommy Tolles, currently 19th, appears to finally be regaining the confidence that took him to a third-place finish at the 1997 Masters and nearly a spot on that year's Ryder Cup team. I would be surprised if he doesn't lock up his card by the end of September.
Tjaart Van Der Walt, D.A. Points, and Charles Warren, all currently in the top 30, could easily find their way to a cap-and-gown fitting at the Nationwide Tour Championship--where commissioner Finchem hands out tour cards.
Van Der Walt is a steady South African who's improved his game each year. Points is much the same. With one title to his credit in 2001, he continues to work hard on his already impressive skills.
And Charles Warren, the 1997 NCAA individual champion and three-time First Team All America out of Clemson, was my only pre-season lock. Charles got out of the gates slower than my last two stock tips, but his recent form has been super, climbing him out of the cellar and into 30th position with $75,000.
Now it's time to list some of the bigger surprises of the year in no particular order.
I'm not sure I would have checked the odds on Guy Boros winning twice by this point in the season. However, I must say that Im thrilled to see it. He is one of the most likeable, harmless, gentle individuals on the Nationwide Tour, and it's great to see that, as he says, golf seems easy to him again.
Blaine McCallister is a seasoned veteran and, like Boros, a former winner on the PGA Tour. But at 44 years old, I wasn't expecting to see him play this much, or this good on the Nationwide Tour. To go along with his five career PGA Tour victories, Blaine has one Nationwide win this year and ranks 13th in money.
There are quite a few players who are well behind where they expected to be at this point in the season. That's always the case though - if everyone in the field played good enough to finish in the top 10, there still would be 140 or so who don't.
Jess Daley is 74th. He's another I picked for the top 20 at the start of the year. And what about Jeff Klauk? He probably would have earned his PGA Tour card last year if the final round of the Nationwide Tour Championship hadn't been rained out. He ultimately finished 22nd last year, and now he's 174th.
But to me, the two biggest surprises (or should I say disappointments) this year have been Edward Fryatt and Steve Scott. Both have yet to make a cut. But once again, there's still plenty of time this season and plenty of money up for grabs.
All in all, it's been an encouraging year thus far: the crowds continue to grow over the previous years, the courses keep getting better, the youth is being served, and there's even a new half-hour show about the Nationwide Tour. It's called...(you know the rest.)
Now its off to the Omaha Open, one of the premier events of the year. The scores are destined to be low and the excitement will be high. With four reachable par-5s and two driveable par-4s, theres usually much drama. All four rounds can be seen live on The Golf Channel starting Thursday, Aug. 7, which happens to be the next day this great new show airs at 7:00 pm.
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.