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Youth - and Sergio! - reigned on Tour this season

By John FeinsteinSeptember 26, 2017, 7:29 pm

It was certainly no surprise on Sunday when one of the game’s talented 20-somethings walked off with the Tour Championship trophy.

After all, they had already won three of the year’s four majors and that didn’t take into account 22-year-old Jon Rahm, who won twice worldwide and, along with Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Marc Leishman came to East Lake knowing a win would guarantee the FedExCup and the accompanying $10 million bonus.

Sure enough, when the dust finally cleared late Sunday, there was one of the 20-somethings being handed a replica of Bobby Jones’ Calamity Jane putter, which is the new winners’ trophy for the Tour Championship.

Congratulations, Xander Schauffele.

Xander, who?

It is a reasonable question to ask, given that a year ago Schauffele had to fight his way through the Web.com Tour playoffs just to get to the PGA Tour. His rookie year was already a success when he won The Greenbrier Classic in July, earning a two-year Tour exemption and an invitation to next year’s Masters.

What’s more, he needed a final-round 67 a week ago in Chicago to finish T-20 at the BMW Championship and sneak into the top 30 for Atlanta. Given the chance to play the last week of the season, he never blinked – except perhaps when he almost punched his two-foot birdie putt for the win at 18 past the cup. The ball did a near-360 but went in, leaving Schauffele laughing in both embarrassment and relief.


Video: Top shots from the 2016-17 PGA Tour season


For Schauffele, it was the perfect finish. For the Tour it was almost perfect. A perfect finish would have been Thomas, who should be the unanimous choice as Player of the Year, rolling in his 25-foot birdie putt at 18 and going on to win the tournament and the FedExCup. Instead, he had to settle for second place in the tournament and the $10 million bonus for the season-long competition.

At 24, Thomas is now one of the sport’s elite players. His 2017 wasn’t quite up to the standard set by Spieth in 2015 when Spieth won two majors, five tournaments and that year’s big-money bonus. Thomas won five times too – including the PGA Championship – and just missed win No. 6 on Sunday.

This was a year filled with eye-popping performances. While Thomas was the clear-cut Player of the Year; Spieth the clear-cut runner-up and Schauffele the slam dunk Rookie of the Year, the moment of the year was just as clear-cut: Sergio Garcia winning the Masters.

There’s a famous opera called ‘The Flying Dutchman.’ It is about a sea captain who is destined to sail the world forever unless he can somehow find true love. Every seven years he finds land and is given the chance to find someone who will love him forever. In the Wagnerian opera, the captain DOES find true love – but only in death. After all, that’s the way all operas end.

Garcia was luckier. After sailing the seven seas of the golf world for 18 years without a major title, he found true love – new wife Angela Akins ­– and lived to win in Augusta this past April, coming from three strokes down on the back nine on Sunday to beat Justin Rose in a playoff. Mercifully, Garcia didn’t start singing an aria when his final putt went in the hole.

As it turned out, Garcia was the oldest of the year’s major champions. Brooks Koepka, who won the U.S. Open with a bravura Sunday performance was 27; Spieth was about to be 24 when he won in July; and Thomas, three months older than Spieth, was 24 when he won at Quail Hollow. Schauffele is 23; Rahm is 22.

That list doesn’t include Jason Day, who turns 30 in November, Rory McIlroy, who won’t be 29 until next May and Rickie Fowler who turns 29 in December. All are still young, it only FEELS like they’ve been around forever.

For all three, 2017 was mostly forgettable. Fowler won early and contended often, but didn’t win again. Neither McIlroy nor Day won at all, a stunning development. Day had to deal with his mother’s cancer and his own various health issues and a year that led to his stunning decision to fire Colin Swatton, his longtime mentor and caddie, although he kept him on as his coach.

McIroy also had injury issues. He never completely recovered from the fractured rib he suffered early in the year and, in 20/20 hindsight, it seems apparent he should have taken more time off before coming back to play. One can only hope he will take a lengthy break now and that we’ll see the real McIlroy again next year. It has now been more than three years since he won his last major in the darkness at Valhalla in 2014.

And Fowler? He is still without a major. No doubt that’s unbelievably frustrating for him and he’s probably pretty tired of giving congratulatory hugs to his buddies as they walk off with major hardware. It is worth noting though that some pretty good players were well past their 30th birthday when they won their first major: Ben Hogan and Phil Mickelson come to mind. Arnold Palmer was 28.

It’s far too soon for Fowler fans to panic. He’s far more likely to be Mickelson than Colin Montgomerie.

And what of Mickelson? His streak without a win of any kind dates now back to Muirfield in 2013, when he had perhaps his most satisfying win since The Open was the one major he honestly believed he might not ever win. He’s still got the U.S. Open left to complete a career Grand Slam, just as McIroy still needs a Masters and Spieth needs a PGA. Don’t think for one second that missing out on one major doesn’t weigh on the minds of those great players who win three of the four.

Palmer was in his 80s when someone asked if he could have won wish fulfilled late in life what would it be? “Win the PGA,” he said. Tom Watson once said he would trade three of his five Opens for one PGA.

McIlroy will still be 28 when he next plays the Masters; Spieth will be 25 at next year’s PGA. Mickelson will turn 48 on the Saturday of next year’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock. Clearly, the hourglass for him is close to empty.

In all, 2017 was one of golf’s better years in recent memory. The 20-somethings (19 wins and three of the four majors) dominated. That’s why the combination of Schauffele and Thomas hoisting the big trophies at East Lake was as it should be.

This is the second-to-last year that the Tour Championship will be played in late September. The Tour is already putting together a new, more compact schedule intended to move this event to the last week in August beginning in 2019. In all likelihood, the playoffs will take place in August and should draw more attention without football to compete with.

The change in schedule and format represents a great chance for the Tour to shake up the points system: create a true playoff with everyone starting at zero once the regular season ends.

And so, to put a coda on 2017, how about this: Thomas, Spieth, Koepka and Garcia were the year’s biggest winners, Garcia’s victory the most dramatic. And, it can be argued that Schauffele’s win in the finale was the most surprising. And, in all likelihood, he was the most surprised winner of them all.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.