Game Changes Price Still the Same

By Mercer BaggsJanuary 20, 2003, 5:00 pm
A man hits his final practice ball, trades his club for a cigarette and readies himself for the remainder of the day.
He stands in a row with people half his age, with half his talent.
His thoughts arent evident; theres no cartoon bubble floating above his head. But ask him a question and his thoughts spill like a waterfall.
Nick Price is open and honest. Hes been around too long and accomplished too much not to be this way.
If he says theres a problem in the sport, you tend to believe him, because Price doesnt complain about much.
Thats why you take notice when he says: The greatest thing about this game is it was always the ultimate test of David versus Goliath. Its not that way now. Its rapidly changing. Its moving to all Goliath now. I dont think thats the way golf should be played.
These arent sour grapes from an aging golfer. Even though Price, particularly at the age of 45, is among the tours Davids in terms of distance.
You get the feeling hes speaking more on what he believes to be for the greater good of the game than making self-enhancing statements.
Price is one of the games great tacticians. Someone who relies on his ability and intelligence to navigate a course. Not someone who uses technology to go over, around and through the zigs and zags of the maze.
Hes won 18 times on the PGA Tour, almost all on notable tracks. Hes conquered Turnberry, Bellerive, Southern Hills, TPC at Sawgrass, Glen Abbey (twice), Firestone, Cog Hill (twice), TPC at Las Colinas, TPC at River Highlands, Harbour Town, TPC at Southwind (twice), Oak Hills and Weston Hills.
He most recently planted his flag for the second time at Colonial.
These layouts, for the most part, are classics. Theyre representative of the tournaments they host: The British Open, PGA Championship, Players Championship, Canadian Open, World Series of Golf, Western Open, Byron Nelson, Hartford, Heritage, FedEx St. Jude, Texas Open, Honda Classic and Colonial.
And representative of the man who won there.
Price is right for courses that require precision over power. Take out a par-5 or two, add in a little rough on the sides, throw in a few doglegs that cant be shortcut, and he will always be among the favorites to win.
Technology, however, has made many of these courses obsolete by tour standards. Modern-day cavemen are wielding titanium death-sticks and launching two-piece scuds, turning a Doral dinosaur into petroleum.
Ive tried to explain to (PGA Tour Commissioner Tim) Finchem how we should set up courses a little bit more, which I think would not just even up the field, but give a shot-maker the ability to compete, Price said.
By extending hazard lines, putting trees in, making it more (for) precision players as opposed to standing there, hitting it so far and so high off the tee.
Price makes this past years U.S. Open a case in point.
He tied for eighth at Bethpage -- an impressive accomplishment considering the 7,214-yard, par-70 Black Course.
In fact, lesser hitters like Nick Faldo, Jeff Maggert, Scott Hoch, Billy Mayfair and Tom Byrum were also inside the top 10.
But, according to Price, these guys never really had a chance to win.
We all had to play our tails off to finish in the top 10, he said. There was no way ' we finished eight shots, nine shots, 10 shots back of Tigers score. No way any one of us could have won.
And thats what drives Price.
Thats why I still keep playing right now, is the fact I feel deep down inside I can still win a major championship, he said. As soon as that feeling wanes, I think my desire will go a little bit.
Price has a British Open in the bag, as well as a pair of PGA Championships. But there is no thought of accomplishing the career Grand Slam. His bitterness towards course set-up runs deeper than the USGA.
I can kiss Augusta goodbye. I might as well go fishing that week, to be honest, he said in obvious frustration. What theyve done to that golf course is basically ' theres going to be maybe seven, eight guys that can win around there now. Im certainly not one of those.
Each year, Augusta officials make adjustments to the legendary track. However, since 2001 more than 300 yards have been added to the overall total.
There are a lot of us out there who are really good players who are going to have a tough time winning at Augusta, which I think is very unfair, said Price, who has only three top-10 finishes in 17 career Masters starts.
If you look at the history, you have Doug Ford, Gary Playereven Ben Hogan wasnt that long. You now have eradicated that type of player from winning Augusta. I think its pitiful.
The 1994 British Open champion would like to see U.S. officials follow the form of the Royal & Ancient (who sets up the British Open).
Augusta, USGA, PGA do a pretty good job, but they need to look at what the R&A is doing, he said. Theyre dealing with golf courses that are a lot older than their (the USGA, PGA and Augusta) golf courses, yet theyre still holding up to the modern equipment.
These courses are still competitive without having to put 50 yards on every tee.
They narrow up the fairways, put in some extra bunkers. They just make club selection off the tee very important.
This years major venues are Augusta National (Masters), Olympia Fields (U.S. Open), Royal St. Georges (British Open) and Oak Hill (PGA Championship).
With the exception of the Masters, where Price has already accepted defeat, each major will be played on a par-70 course. Thats good news for Price, who has only won at three par-72 courses in his career.
Still, Olympia Fields, outside of Chicago, will play to 7,188 yards; and Oak Hill, in Rochester, N.Y., will be at 7,098. Royal St. Georges is listed at 6,947.
The British Open is my most obvious opportunity (to win), Price said. The last two years I played really well in that.
But, the U.S. Open, you know, if it hadnt been for three of the holes, I think I would have had a chance at winningIt will be interesting to see what they do at Olympia Fields.
Price is an optimist, but a realist. Hes been on the PGA Tour for 21 years, and knows his prime is past. But he still holds out for at least one more major moment.
Eight or 10 years ago, one out of every three or four tournaments I entered I had a chance of winning, he said. Nowadays, thats down to about one and eight, maybe one and nine. If you play 20 tournaments a year, that gives you maybe two, maybe three chances a year to win.
I hope that two of those three opportunities will be in major championships.
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Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

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“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

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On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

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Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.

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Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1