Scientific DeChambeau nearly bested every pro in field

By Joe PosnanskiApril 9, 2016, 2:02 am

 “Why trust instinct when there is science?”

 – Homer Kelley, author of “The Golfing Machine.”

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The sports kids are all into science. It started in baseball, of course, because baseball is a wonderful little laboratory where just about everything that happens on the field is logged in. For a long while, baseball’s compulsive scorekeeping inspired nothing more than quirky statistics and great trivia questions. Then came Bill James and sabermetrics and computers, and then there were all these advanced statistics, and then there were more analytics, and before long Ivy League educated economists were running Major League Baseball teams.

This trend, of course, seeped into other sports, where the basketball kids began going on and on about player efficiency ratings and true shooting percentage, and the hockey kids began talking about Corsi and Fenwick and other advanced stats that made Don Cherry’s face red with rage. The kids, of course, are not always actual kids – some are older – but they think new, and the trend toward analytics keeps heading skyward. It got to the point this year where the Cleveland Browns hired baseball guy Paul DePodesta; he was the Jonah Hill character from “Moneyball.”

So, yes, it was inevitable that some kid would come along with science and blow up golf.

That kid might just be a Kangol-hat wearing 22-year-old named Bryson DeChambeau.

You have no doubt heard that DeChambeau plays with a set of equal-length clubs, something that sort of blows the minds of many people. Golf clubs are supposed to be different lengths, or anyway that’s what everyone has long believed.

DeChambeau plays with the same-length clubs because he wants to swing every club on the same plane, and he says this same-plane swing is a big reason why he emerged from a so-so college player into a superstar, just the fifth man to win the NCAA title and U.S. Amateur in the same year. The other four are Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore, so that bodes pretty well for his future.

You have no doubt heard that DeChambeau studied physics at SMU and likes to talk about the science of how putts break, the various effects, the velocity and drag and spin rates. He and Phil Mickelson were having such a discussion early in the week when their practice partner Dustin Johnson shouted out in despair, “If I hang around you guys much longer, I’ll never break 100.”

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You have no doubt heard that DeChambeau names his clubs. He calls the 60-degree club “King” after Arnold Palmer, who won the Masters in 1960. He called the 42-degree club “Jackie” after the great Jackie Robinson, who wore No. 42. He calls his 3-iron “Gamma,” which is the third letter of the Greek alphabet. And so on.

You have no doubt heard that when DeChambeau was 13 years old, his coach Mike Schy gave him a book, mentioned at the top of this column, called “The Golfing Machine.” That book was written by a quirky character named Homer Kelley, a not especially good player who dedicated his entire life to breaking down the golf swing to its very core. Kelley believed that just about everything that people taught about the golf swing was wrong and, worse, oversimplified.

“Treating a complex subject or action as though it were simple,” he wrote, “multiplies its complexity because of the difficulty in systematizing missing and unknown factors or elements. Demanding that golf instruction be kept simple does not make it simple – only incomplete and ineffective.”

With that in mind, Kelley broke the swing down to 24 components with 144 variations. He called it simple geometry and physics. For DeChambeau, it was like opening up a new world.

You have no doubt heard all of this stuff and formed an opinion about Bryson DeChambeau. That opinion might be: “Hey, this guy is revolutionizing golf by bringing science in and looking at the game in a whole different way. Good for him!”

Or your opinion might be: “Hey, who does this guy think he is, Galileo? He’s going to learn pretty quickly that it takes more than physics to win golf tournaments.”

Then again, you might just want to wait and see. Friday at the Masters, DeChambeau shot just about the wildest even-par round you will ever see. The conditions – gusting winds, fast greens, tough pin placements – made it pretty miserable for the players. It was the first time in almost a decade that not even a single player broke 70. Heck, Jordan Spieth shot his first over-par round ever at Augusta.

And in that environment, DeChambeau seemed to be playing a different course.

He made six birdies on the day, one of those a remarkable birdie at the all-but-impossible 11th hole. He pulled his second shot a bit too much to the left, but it ended up perfect. “Twelve feet from the hole,” he said. Then he corrected himself: “No, it was 8 feet from the hole. And I played 14-inches of break.”

Yes. Eight feet. Fourteen inches of break.

“It is soon apparent,” Kelley wrote in “The Golfing Machine,” “that the body can duplicate a machine.”

DeChambeau came to the 18th hole 3 under par for the day, and he was in second place, one shot behind Spieth. He then pulled a drive into a holly bush, couldn’t play it, went back to the tee and pulled another drive. This one rolled up to a concession stand, and he got to drop the ball some 40 yards away. He then hit it short of the green, failed to get it up and down and ended up with a triple-bogey 7. The science didn’t seem all that great on that hole.

“Everybody is going to go back to 18 and say, ‘Oh, he was nervous,’” DeChambeau says. “No. I hit two pulled drives. … (The driver) was only two degrees closed. That’s what does it.”

In sports – and other arenas too - there tends to be a growing divide between old school and new, between analytics and gut, between numbers and emotions. DeChambeau looks like he will bring that clash to golf, which could be fun. He has ideas. He is not shy about sharing them. He is not shy about his ambitions either.

“I mean, it's as much for me about playing golf as it is growing the game,” he says. “If I can do that, that's ultimately what I want to try and do, just like Arnold Palmer did and Jack Nicklaus.”

Bold stuff for a kid who is still an amateur and just played his second round at the Masters. But DeChambeau doesn’t mind being bold. Someone asked him what he learned playing with defending Masters champion and current leader Jordan Spieth the last couple of days. He talked about how amazing Spieth is at hitting his wedge shots. DeChambeau would like to hit his wedge shots like that.

“I’m definitely not there,” he says. “I hope to be soon. And if that part of my game comes along, it will be a fun, fun journey.”

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.