Spieth keeps Grand Slam quest alive

By Joe PosnanskiJuly 19, 2015, 8:22 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – There’s a touching scene at the end of the movie “Big” when Tom Hanks’ girlfriend realizes that he really is just a little kid who was magically made into an adult by a carnival machine called “Zoltar.” It was a lot to take in.

“I tried to tell you,” he says.

“I didn’t listen, I guess,” she says bewilderedly. “I didn’t hear you, or want to or how would I have ... even if I did listen, why would I know? Why would I know that?”

At this moment, I feel as disoriented as she did in that one. Until Sunday, I did not really believe Jordan Spieth could win the Grand Slam. Sure, the kid is impressive – more than impressive. Yes, he has the all-encompassing game that can win any week on any golf course. And absolutely, his composure is awe-inspiring both on the golf course and off it.

Still, I just didn’t believe for a minute that anyone could really win golf’s Grand Slam.

And now, after Sunday, I do.

Now, let’s state the obvious first: Spieth is a long way from the Slam. Heck, he’s a long way from victory here at St. Andrews. He’s 12 under, a shot behind a couple of stars (Jason Day and Louis Oosthuizen) and an amateur who is actually eight months older than him (Paul Dunne). Three of the world’s top 11 players – Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Adam Scott – are just two shots behind Spieth. With the wind down Sunday, the Old Course was like a Chuck E. Cheese, with every player* having his very own birthday parties. Unless the wind howls (and it is not expected to blow exceptionally hard), Monday figures to be like that again.

(* Except Dustin Johnson, who shot a miserable 75 that was more like an 80 considering the conditions and his length off the tee.)

So, no, nothing is done yet. But Sunday, Jordan Spieth showed something. It isn’t entirely different from what he showed at Augusta when he won the Masters or Chambers Bay when he won the U.S. Open. But what he did Sunday on the Old Course with all the history on the line and doubts in the air, it sure seemed different.

Look: Here was Spieth, winner of the first two major championships, on perhaps the world’s most famous golf course. And he wasn’t playing very well. Over a 27-hole stretch he was just even par, which is less-than-special this week. In the multi-day adventure that was his second round, he three-putted five times. Five! On the front nine on Sunday, he missed two good birdie chances and on the ninth hole he had a dreadful three-putt – one that prompted him to slug his golf bag in fury.

“I couldn’t hold (the frustration) in,” he said. And he added, “I didn’t want to hit Michael (Greller, his caddie) so I figured I’d hit my golf bag.”

At that moment, it was absolutely clear: The Slam had slipped away. That seemed bound to happen at some point. It always has seemed to me that winning all four major championships in the same year is impossible. Heck, what Tiger Woods did – winning four major championships in a row over two seasons – is almost impossible. But to do it all in a calendar year, to beat more than 100 of the world’s best players on four wildly different golf courses in a four-month span – with all the attention and focus on you and the ghosts of golfers shrieking in the background – well, that seems fully impossible.

Nobody has ever done it. Palmer couldn’t do it. Nicklaus couldn’t do it. Player couldn’t do it. Woods couldn’t do it. See, golf is a game of the mind, and every crack of doubt, every sliver of uncertainty, every moment of hesitation weighs down the mind. When Spieth punched the golf bag, he was three shots out of the lead. It looked then that was as close as it might ever get.

And then the kid birdied the 10th hole, the 11th hole and the 12th hole to move into the lead.

That’s when it really hit home: This kid does not doubt. And this, I think, is the greatest gift in golf. I once asked Dan Jenkins what he thought separated Jack Nicklaus from all the other talented players, and he said this: “You can’t compare Jack with anyone else. It was almost as if he felt it was his birthright to win major championships.”

Tiger Woods was like that too at his best. He didn’t have to fight doubt because he never felt doubt.

And now, there’s Spieth. Maybe it’s because he’s 21 (he turns 22 next Monday) and simply hasn’t learned how to doubt. Maybe it’s because of his family, who so obviously raised him to believe without limits. Maybe it’s because he’s accomplished so much already.

Or maybe he was just born with this unique talent. What is the first thing they tell you when you are trying to walk a tightrope? Don’t look down. But Spieth does look down, he looks down again and again. He knows exactly what’s on the line here. He understands it thoroughly. And he embraces just how high he is flying.

Here’s what Tiger Woods said in 2002 when he was trying to win the third leg of the Slam.

“I’ve got to play well and take care of business,” Woods said.

And here’s what Jordan Spieth said:’ “I see it as something that's only been done once before and it was a long time ago (Ben Hogan in 1953). That opportunity very rarely comes around. … And I'd like to have a chance to do something nobody has ever done. And so if I think about it that way, then I just want it a little bit more tomorrow, to be able to try and go into the last major and accomplish something that's never been done in our sport. … I do recognize what's at stake, and for me to accomplish that feat is going to be to simplify things and to just go about our business.”

So, yes, Woods and Spieth ended their thoughts the same way, but Spieth was a little bit more expansive – he knows that he’s playing for the Grand Slam, and he knows what that would mean, and he knows enough about golf history to understand just how the odds stack against him.

But you know what? He can do it. On the back nine Sunday, he played as if he had already won the tournament and was just acting it out for the public. To watch someone be that confident, that assured, that poised is inspiring. It’s at the heart of why I love professional golf.

Jason Day could win on Monday. He’s an amazing player who keeps getting close and one of these days he will break through. Louis Oosthuizen could win on Monday. He already won an Open at St. Andrews five years ago and he understands how to do it. Padraig Harrington could win on Monday. He’s a three-time major champion who seems to have found his game again.

Frankly, two dozen people could win the Open on Monday because the field is bunched up and the golf course is exposed and shootouts are unpredictable. But it sure seems to me that while a lot of players believe they can win the Open, Jordan Spieth believes he will. There’s a wide chasm between “can” and “will.” I believe, too.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.