Remarkable and unpredictable year in golf

By John FeinsteinDecember 8, 2015, 1:30 pm

It was, first and foremost, the year of Jordan. But it was also the year of Jason. And Zach. It was the year Tiger Woods confessed that he understood mortality. It was the year when soccer – pickup soccer at that – changed the storyline for a major championship. 

It was also the year when the Presidents Cup had some drama and the Solheim Cup became a melodrama. It was the year that Lydia Ko and Inbee Park dueled to the finish line to be queen of the women’s game. 

It was the year when the U.S. Open began each morning with a guessing game: Par 4 or par 5? Only Mike Davis knew. It was the year of the new Big Three: Spieth, Day and McIlroy. Or would it be a Big Four with Rickie Fowler jumping on board? 

And, it was the year of the task force. 

In short, 2015 was the year that golf had just about everything one could possibly ask for in terms of storylines and drama. 

Think first about the four major championships: Spieth's bravura performance going wire-to-wire at Augusta; Spieth's birdie and Dustin Johnson’s three-putt at spectacular but quirky Chambers Bay; Spieth and Day each missing the three-man playoff – won by Zach Johnson – at St. Andrews by inches; and finally, Day putting on a historic performance at Whistling Straits to hold off Spieth and win his long-awaited first major. 

The only down note connected to the majors was McIlroy’s absence from St. Andrews. Two weeks prior he was playing pickup soccer with some friends when he tore ligaments in his ankle. All the kid’s horses and all the kid’s men couldn’t put him back together again in time to defend the title he had won a year earlier in Liverpool. 

McIlroy made it back to play respectably in the PGA but his major season was effectively ended by the fluke injury. He did win in Dubai at year’s end, reminding everyone that he plans to be a major factor next year. 

After winning the PGA, Day then played so spectacularly the first three weeks of the playoffs – winning twice in dominant fashion – that there were actually some saying he could win Player of the Year honors if he climaxed his run with a win at East Lake. Spieth put an end to that talk by winning for a fifth time to wrap up everything there was to be wrapped up. 

And so, one year after everyone agreed the next 10 years would be dominated by McIlroy, Spieth dominated in much the same way McIlroy had in 2014, and moved to No. 1 in the world rankings. With Spieth (22 years old), Day (27) and McIlroy (26) ensconced in the top three spots in those rankings it seemed clear that golf’s new order had arrived. 

Of course, Johnson reminded everyone that the old guys can still play, too, when he won the British Open nine months prior to turning 40. 

Johnson is two months younger than Woods – who will hit 40 on December 30. The year wasn’t nearly as joyous for the man who transformed the game early in this century as it was for many others.

Once, Woods never missed cuts – making 142 in a row at one point. In 2015, most of his starts were divided into two categories: those in which he struggled to make the cut and those in which he missed it by a mile. 

He shot a historically-awful 82 in the second round at Phoenix, then walked off the golf course a week later in San Diego saying that his glutes weren’t firing. He managed to conquer the chipping yips in time to finish T-17 at the Masters, but that turned out to be his best performance in a major. He missed the cut comfortably in the other three. 

Through it all, Woods kept insisting it was all a process, that he saw progress and that he just had to stick to what he was doing. He finally did show some progress in Greensboro, contending for three rounds before a final-round 70 dropped him from a tie for second to a tie for 10th. 

On that same day, Davis Love III shot 64 and, at age 51, won for the 21st time in his career. 

Love was a major figure in the sport all year because he was the surprise choice as next year’s Ryder Cup captain. Love was part of the 11-man task force assigned to figure out a way to stop the bleeding for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, which dropped to 2-8 dating to 1995 after the debacle at Gleneagles. 

When Love realized that everyone in the room was (metaphorically) looking at him (he was on the phone) during discussions about who should be the next captain, he began calling the other players on the task force as soon as the group took a break. 

“I’ll do this,” he told them all, “but only if I have your word you’ll do anything I ask you to do.”

That included accepting a role as vice captain for those who weren’t on the team, which is why several months later, Woods, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker were named along with Tom Lehman to be assistants. 

The task force discussions were Mickelson’s one real victory of the year. While he struggled with his game, his imprint was clear on many of the decisions made by a group that came into existence in large part because of the invective Mickelson directed at previous captain Tom Watson. The players need more input in all decisions, Mickelson insisted. Six players were on the task force, with Mickelson the most vocal. 

The year came to a stunning conclusion on a quiet Tuesday in December when all the important golf had been played and everyone was ramping up for 2016. 

By then, Woods had been absent from the golf course since that Sunday in Greensboro when he began to feel pain in his hip. A few weeks later, he underwent back surgery, again. And then, stunningly, he had to go back for yet another procedure. 

Woods arrived at the exhibition event he has hosted for a number of years to play host to the 18-players competing and to all his various sponsors. When he met with the media for a pre-tournament news conference everyone expected the usual platitudes about process and progress and staying the course. 

Instead, they listened to a Woods they had never heard before. There was, he said, no timetable for his return or even for beginning rehab. He talked about his career almost as if it was past tense saying at one point, "Anything I do from here on will be gravy." If he didn’t catch Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories, “I’ll still have had a pretty good run.”

Woods’ run has been spectacular. Hearing him concede that the end of that run may be in sight was stunning, even shocking. 

In a sense, though, it was an apt ending for 2015. Because, in truth, almost nothing that happened during the year was predictable: Spieth’s dominance; Day’s remarkable summer; Johnson’s Open victory; even Love’s win in Greensboro. No one saw any of that coming anymore than they foresaw Woods opening his mouth and, for all intents and purposes saying, “yup, I’m mortal, too.” 

Which is why predicting what is to come in 2016 is just about impossible. Which means, like the year just past, it should be remarkably compelling. 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

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."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

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.'"

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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."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

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."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

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.