Daly bashes ball, keeps it straight and enjoys debut

By Mercer BaggsMay 7, 2016, 12:07 am

THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Uh, oh. Here we go.

As soon as John Daly hit his approach shot into the water on the par-4 seventh hole Friday at the Insperity Invitational, that was the first thought.

Daly, making his much anticipated debut on the PGA Tour Champions, had been piddling along for his first six holes. He was hitting fairways, finding greens, but nothing was dropping. Until his second at No. 7 dropped into the drink.

The ball cleared land so Daly was able to get a drop behind the green. He chipped up to 3 feet and made the bogey putt. That’s when Daly’s round really began.

The day officially started at 11:25 a.m., local time. Daly arrived on site one hour and five minutes before his tee time. He finally made it to the range at 11:55, signing hats and flags and bobblehead dolls (of his likeness – a giveaway on Day 1 of the event) en route. Four minutes later – and 31 minutes until show time – he finally hit his first practice ball.

Daly took six one-handed swings with his wedge to start, only five with his driver near the close, and 38 total. After 36 putts on the practice green, it was finally go time. Almost.

Daly posed for photos with the Insperity staff – all clad in Loudmouth pants and shorts – and with the members of his threesome, Fuzzy Zoeller and Peter Jacobsen.



Zoeller showed up in green pants, large Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka logos adorning both thighs. He then presented Daly with a bottle as a form of payment for a bet he made years ago with Daly that he would never reach 50 years of age.

Daly, for the record, had on a light blue shirt and red pants that looked like they were covered in amoebas. He was pretty tame compared to others in the gallery, many of which were wearing their loudest Loudmouth apparel.

After the festivities settled, Daly hit his first official shot as a senior at 12:35 p.m. – five minutes after the scheduled start, but, as they would soon find out, there was no rush. The crowd was seven deep and few remained for the following group.

Daly used driver on the par-5 first, something he would do only five times on Friday. Daly had previously stated that his game plan was to primarily use 1-iron off the tee, and he abided.

Speaking of abiding, The Dude was in attendance. Or, at least, a reasonable facsimile of “The Big Lebowski” protagonist. A guy walking around in a purple robe, cargo shorts, sandals, long hair and a goatee asked Daly for a pack of cigarettes at the practice green. Daly didn’t abide this time, but he joked with the guy.

The crowd, on the whole, was fairly tame, never raucous. Even with a couple of hundred fans in tow, there weren’t any disruptions or over-the-top outbursts. A guy offered an attractive woman $100 if she’d yell, “Take your shirt off!” after Daly teed off on the 11th hole. She gave it some thought, but kept silent.

The crowd, you could tell, was waiting for something to happen, a reason to get a little nuts. But there wasn’t much going on early. Daly made par after par, displaying steady play for someone with only four competitive rounds under his belt this year.

And then came the seventh.

“It was a 178-yard 8-iron, and I had the 7 (iron) out and I said, ‘Well, I’ll just hit the 8, see if I can get it right up there in the chute,’ and I just flushed it right over the flag and it ended up going about 191 (yards) into the water. But I think that’s just from being pumped up,” Daly said.

Maybe it was because he was playing with Fuzzy and Jake. Maybe it was because he got up and down for bogey. Maybe he knew the water ball was a bad break, not poor play.

Whatever the reason, Daly remained calm, joking with his guys on the next tee box. There was a lot of that, because there was a lot of downtime. The group routinely had 10-minute spans between holing out on the green and hitting tee shots on the next hole.

As Jacobsen said during the round, “I’m playing with two of the fastest players out here.”

He’s no slouch, himself. On the par-4 17th, for example, the green cleared and Daly hit first. Eight seconds later, Zoeller hit. Ten seconds later, Jacobsen hit. It was like that all day. The round took four hours and 23 minutes, but would have been cut in half had it just been the three of them out there.

There was a very casual feel to the round. There was the camaraderie; lots of fan interaction, particularly during the walks to the tee boxes and the subsequent waits; Daly was drinking Diet Coke from his Dallas Cowboys tumbler and placing it a foot from his ball when he’d hit; Fuzzy was riding around in a cart.

While Zoeller rode, Jacobsen walked with Daly. “God bless Jake for walking,” Daly said. “He’s got that bad hip. But he said, ‘I just wanted to walk with you today.’”

Jacobsen could have used a ride from Zoeller to get from his ball to Daly’s, when the driver came out. Daly destroyed a drive on the par-5 13th and had to be 90 yards in front of the others. He pounded another one on the par-5 15th and was at least 50 yards clear.

Daly averaged 317.5 yards off the tee, which led the field on Day 1. Jacobsen averaged 246.5 yards, Zoeller 242.5 yards. Surprisingly, Daly only made only one birdie on the four par 5s.

The nerves were present for Daly, and he said he never managed to fully shake them. But he outwardly appeared comfortable and, when that first birdie putt fell on the par-3 eighth, confidence came with it.

He lashed a beautiful 1-iron off the ninth tee and made his second consecutive birdie. He continued to hit fairways and greens, 13 of the former and 16 of the latter, but couldn’t covert several birdie opportunities inside of 15 feet. He managed to make a couple, as well as a bogey at the par-3 14th, and finished with a 2-under 70.

“Hopefully, I just feed off some of the good things I was doing and, you know, just thinking about some of the things that weren’t so good,” Daly said. “My three-quarter shot wasn’t very sharp today, but other than that, it was really solid.

“I mean, it’s something I really didn’t expect.”

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.