Dont Always Follow the Leader
World-class stars to be certain. You can bet each and every one of them will lead a tournament, win a tournament (or two, or three), or have a great chance to win a tournament (or four or five) before the kids are out of school for the summer.
But this is a tour with appeal well beyond its ratings-grabbers. So take those kids, a program and a Sharpie and go check out Darren Clarke. He's a fan's man, a guy's guy and apparently ready to be a ratings horse. albeit some 30 pounds lighter. Find Aaron Baddeley, too. You can say the pants on 'Badds.com' are plaids-gone bad if you want, but the young Aussie is a swashbuckling superstar in the making.
Same goes for Hank Kuehne. Make sure you watch him play a par 5. You won't believe how far you have to walk to watch his second shot! Jerry Kelly's a workin' man's pro with arguably the best 'walk' on tour next to Couples. Talk up Rocco Mediate, Scott McCarron or Jeff Sluman if the chance presents itself. Plenty of success among that trio and they take nothing for granted.
And I'm set to give you 10 other players worth following for a few holes like
they're your brother. Ready? Here's the categories:
'THEY'VE EARNED IT'
1. Nick Price - Recently inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, Nick is all class. If you want your son or daughter to watch the definition of 'professional' in person, he's your man. No other reason necessary.
2. Paul Azinger - Who knows how long Zinger can keep his name among the tour's elite. But, like Price, he's one of the great ball-strikers and a true gentleman of his time. He's funnier than you'd imagine and would probably be more well-received than any of the top analysts currently sitting in the booth for the networks.
3. Hal Sutton - This year's American Ryder Cup captain is a guy who's all business on the course and one of the game's classiest off the course. He speaks his mind when asked and makes a whole lot of sense when he does. Taking nothing from any of the captains in recent memory, but the PGA of America hit a home-run with Sutton. Plus, listen close and he might just utter, 'Be the right club TODAY!'
'THEY NEED IT'
4. David Duval - Did you see the two hours he spent with us last year at the PGA Championship? Duval stood up to every question, offered nothing but candid comments and is worthy of every bit of your support. Don't get me wrong here - not every guy would handle things the way he has. His personal life is on the upswing, now let's hope his backswing and downswing find the proper groove.
5. Steve Stricker - Ever been to the Greater Milwaukee Open? I have. And trust me when I say, it's his town! It's been too long since Stricker really impressed us. He won the WGC-Match Play in Australia in 2001 and seemingly hasn't come up from Down Under. A genuine good guy. Nothing phony. Make the SHO and the GHO feel like the GMO, would you please? Let's get him a win.
6. Joe Durant - Multiple wins on the PGA Tour for one big reason. The guy hardly misses a green. Personable and unassuming. A guy you'd have no trouble getting for an autograph and a re-cap of just how he did it that day.
7. Heath Slocum - No wins on the PGA Tour, but don't be surprised when it comes. If Durant is your guy to hit greens, Slocum's the guy you want putting him in the fairway! The next one he misses will be his first! (figuratively speaking)
8. Neal Lancaster - A winner on tour, this guy's so down to earth he's buried up to his waistline! He's a nervous-Nellie who'd be perfect for reality television. Catch him on the tee during a long wait or under a tree after a wayward drive. You'll get your money's worth.
9. Ian Leggett - Winner in Tucson a couple year's back. The Canadian is a former speed skater who won't forget a face or a name or a joke you told a few months back. Some players don't get it when I say he's a cut-up. Try him yourself. In fact, tell him I sent you.
10. Dean Wilson - Do you like a guy who's grinding his tail off but actually looks like he's enjoying every minute of it? Here's your man. Wilson might be best known for playing two days with Annika last year at the Bank of America Colonial. Don't short him. Wilson's got a great smile, a great attitude and he 'gets it,' if you know what I mean.
This list could go on and on - It's the beauty of covering this sport for a living. People always ask me - 'Who's the nicest guy on the PGA Tour?' I like the fact that it takes a while to answer that one.
P.S. How about that Steve Flesch on the Sprint Pre-Game Wednesday night!
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
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."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
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.'"
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."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
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."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
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.