Timing, guts make Beljan's win memorable

By John HawkinsNovember 12, 2012, 2:00 pm

The longer I play this stupid game, the more inclined I am to believe the U.S. Golf Association handicap system could stand a fresh coat of paint, if not an extreme makeover. Sandbaggers and vanity caps will continue to exist regardless of the mathematical formula. My gripe is based primarily on the fact that we use stroke-play scores to balance the competitive scale when a vast majority of recreational golf is played in a best-ball format.

We all know guys who never miss a 5-footer when it matters and never make one when it doesn’t. They throw four birdies at you and shoot 82 with a grin, as opposed to the dude who calls himself a 7 but rakes everything inside 6 feet and hasn’t really broken 80 since July 2008.

I understand the reasoning behind equitable stroke control. I acknowledge the widespread obsession with pace of play and insist on giving you a putt of any length if it’s for triple bogey, but these are things that have a substantial impact on how many cookies you get at the start of the day. So let’s get real. Very few amateur golfers count every single shot. We play a two-man team game based on data compiled on individual performance, and in this context, it makes no sense.

How do you fix it? People smarter than me can handle that, but you start by factoring in a best score/worst score differential on the 20 posted rounds. You play matches with everyone getting 65 to 80 percent of their handicap in the current system, which would help counter the effect of meaningless strokes.

It really is a low-net world, and maybe that’s a good thing, but that doesn’t mean the process as we know it is working. It wouldn’t take a lot to revise the calculation structure. Just a couple of single-digit numerical engineers and a firm grasp of how the game is played at the grass-roots level.

ALTHOUGH I BASICALLY get paid to watch golf tournaments, I would have watched the final 36 holes of the CMN Hospitals Classic simply out of respect for the second-round leader who was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital (and held overnight for observation) right after signing his scorecard.

It sounds like something out of a Dan Jenkins novel. I’ll admit that I didn’t expect Charlie Beljan to hold on to his lead the rest of the way, much less win the tournament rather comfortably, which makes it a great story in any number of ways. It is unfathomably unique – always excellent copy. It comes with a happy ending – never a bad thing.

We’re talking about a guy who struggled mightily in his rookie season on the PGA Tour, which only adds additional frosting to the feel-good cake. A tie for third at The Greenbrier in July accounted for about 83 percent of Beljan’s regular-season earnings. He made $103,250 in a couple of Fall Series events before this past weekend, which is little more than lunch money in this day and age.

Beljan needed an industrial-strength miracle to retain his Tour card. If you had the big fella in the GolfChannel.com Fantasy Challenge, we’d like you to head straight over to the company’s drug-testing unit.

What struck me in the final hour Sunday was that Beljan moved and behaved very much like a guy who was super-nervous – a panic attack was the apparent reason for Friday’s medical emergency. I can’t recall any player leading a tournament and appearing so visibly consumed by it, but this was perhaps the weakest field all year, and nobody could chase down Beljan.

Does it rank among the 10 best stories of the year? Probably not, but Beljan’s victory underscores what should be the essence of the Fall Series: a chance to salvage something, a four-tournament window of hope. From there, the truth and fiction can become inseparable.

THE FIRST PGA TOUR event I covered for Golf World was the 1995 Walt Disney World Classic – long before the FedEx Cup and subsequent schedule changes relegated the event to Fall Series status. Seventeen years ago, Disney fields were considerably stronger than this latest gathering.

Tiger Woods picked up his second Tour victory in ’96, beating Payne Stewart in a head-to-head showdown, but that day became memorable for a bizarre incident that led to the disqualification of Taylor Smith, who would have faced Woods in a playoff. The Jean Van de Velde fiasco (1999 British Open) remains the nuttiest thing I’ve ever covered as a golf writer, but the Smith DQ ranks a strong second.

Van de Velde’s demise was self-inflicted. And though Smith couldn’t blame anyone but himself for continuing to use a long putter with an illegal grip – he’d been told it was non-conforming at a Tour event a couple of months earlier – he was turned in by veteran pro Lennie Clements, who was paired with Smith in the final round.

Clements didn’t report Smith to tournament officials until deep into the front nine. It led to a number of questions that were never really answered. How did Clements know of such a rule? Why did he wait until the two men had played seven or eight holes? Smith was told he likely would be DQ’d on the ninth hole but kept playing under the premise that he was appealing the ruling.

He shot 67 and caught Woods at 21 under, setting up the ultimate David-vs.-Goliath playoff that never happened. There wasn’t a dime of prize money that afternoon for a guy who would finish 102nd on the ’96 money list, then vanish from the Tour a year later. When Smith agreed to my request for an interview in 1999, he was struggling on and off the course.

He would run into problems with the law on charges of illegally forging prescriptions – his explanations on the matter didn’t check out when I began verifying facts for the article. A sad story would only get sadder. In 2007, Smith died at age 40 of undisclosed causes. By all accounts, he was a good man who struggled with certain elements of reality, a talented guy who never recovered from what happened at the 1996 Disney Classic.

ANTHONY KIM. CAMILO VILLEGAS. Golf’s two biggest young stars in 2008 have been missing from the competitive landscape for an extended period, and in 2012, things only got worse. Kim was playing horribly while battling assorted injuries in the spring, then ruptured his Achilles and hasn’t played since late March.

Villegas, as Rich Lerner pointed out on the Sunday telecast, is headed back to Q-School after managing just four top-25s in 25 starts. A T-18 in New Orleans was Villegas’ best finish all season. As his career took full flight in 2008, some Tour pros still thought Villegas was grossly overachieving, especially after he won back-to-back FedEx Cup playoff events and missed just three cuts in 22 tournaments.

They saw a hard worker whose swing had too many mechanical flaws – a guy whose putting wasn’t consistent enough to compensate for any ball-striking woes. Turns out the doubters were right. Amazingly, Villegas ranked fourth on the Tour in greens in regulation in 2012 but still finished well outside the top 125, largely because his putting stats were horrible across the board.

You can generate a ton of commercial income simply striking a low-to-the-ground yoga pose while you read greens. Eventually, however, those putts have to go in. Spiderman hasn’t come close to making his share over the last four years.

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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.