Bunker Shots A pro debut and a brave new world

By Randall MellSeptember 15, 2009, 6:39 pm

Rickie Fowler makes his pro debut this week. In honor of his teacher, a driving range pro, we frame the coming week’s storylines with quotes from the movie Tin Cup.

Tin Cup’s prized pupil goes pro

“I tend to think of the golf swing as a poem.” – Roy McAvoy

Rickie Fowler should be riding high into Idaho this week for the Nationwide Tour’s Albertsons Boise Open.

Four days after closing his stellar amateur career in dramatic fashion at the Walker Cup, he will tee it up for the first time as a pro.

With the PGA Tour off for a week for rest and relaxation before the Tour Championship, more eyeballs than normal are likely to be trained on the Nationwide Tour event, especially if this 20-year-old standout gets in contention. Fowler was 4-0 at the Walker Cup. A month before that, he nearly won as an amateur on the Nationwide Tour, losing on the second hole of a playoff to Derek Lamely at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational. He's the only player to win the Ben Hogan Award as the nation's top collegian as a freshman and is leaving Oklahoma State after two seasons.

What fans who have never seen Fowler before will notice is that his swing is distinctive, with a flat takeaway, slightly laid off.

Fowler learned to play hitting balls when he was 3 with his grandfather, Taka Tanaka, at Murrieta Valley Golf Range near his home in Murrieta, Calif. His father, Rod, cut down some clubs but not a driver.

“He played with a full length ladies’ driver,” Taka said.

It might explain that flat takeaway, but Rickie’s father, Rod, said wielding the big driver made the boy better.

“Rickie was winning quarters off his grandfather and me when he was 7,” Rod said.

Taka’s favorite story of Rickie’s upbringing in golf was when the boy was 10 and won $100 off a friend of Rod’s. Taka said the man watched Rickie awkwardly swinging the big driver and told Rickie if he could hit a green 200 yards away with it he would give him $100.

“A few minutes later, the guy was peeling out a $100 bill and giving it to Rickie,” Taka said.

Rickie’s only swing coach was Barry McDonnell of Murrieta Valley Golf Range, the facility Taka first took Rickie to play. Rod said McDonnell taught Rickie to play by feel. That also helps explain the uniqueness of Fowler’s swing.

Welcome to a brave new world

“I’m just thinking about how to get in your heart.” – Roy McAvoy

With a week off before the Tour Championship, 10 players can ponder what great rewards are within grasp besides the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus or the $1.35 million first-place tournament check.

Ten players will be making their first appearance in the Tour Championship next week.

Their playoff run thrusts them to an elite level with a chance to stay there. They have a chance to keep stockpiling money and world rankings points that can get them into major championships and World Golf Championships they’ve never played before.

Of the 30 players who will tee it up next week, Marc Leishman’s the only one who hasn’t played in a major. Dustin Johnson had played in just one before this season. Johnson and Brian Gay had never played in a WGC event before this year. Leishman, Marino and Jason Dufner are still looking to tee it up in a WGC event for the first time. Every player in next week’s Tour Championship is assured of getting into next year’s WGC-CA Championship by virtue of making it among the top 30 in FedEx Cup points. They also are all guaranteed spots in the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open.

The South Korean Express keeps on churning

“This is the choice it comes down to; this is our immortality.” – Roy McAvoy

Jiyai Shin continued South Korea’s LPGA dominance with her victory Sunday at the P&G Beauty Northwest Arkansas Championship.

It’s the eighth LPGA event won by a South Korean this year, the country’s seventh title in the last 12 events.

Shin’s now atop the LPGA money list and Rolex Player of the Year points list and will be looking to pad her totals when she tees it up at the Samsung World Championship at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif., this week.

Paula Creamer’s the defending champion and will be looking to end a drought that has seen Americans go 12 consecutive LPGA events without a victory.

Shin is bidding to become the first LPGA player to win Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year honors in the same season since Nancy Lopez did it in 1978.

Welcome to a brave new world, Part II

“Greatness courts failure.” – Roy McAvoy

Amanda Blumenherst leads the field of women’s prospects looking to prove themselves at LPGA Q-School.

The former Duke standout and ’08 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion will be among 139 players teeing it up in the year’s first LPGA Sectional Qualifier beginning Thursday at Mission Hills Country Club in Palm Springs, Calif. It’s a 72-hole event with a 36-hole cut with the top 30 players advancing to Q-School finals Dec. 2-6 at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla. The second LPGA Tour Sectional Qualifier will be Sept. 29-Oct. 2 at Plantation Golf and Country Club’s Bobcat and Panther Courses in Venice, Fla.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

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."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

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.'"

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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."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

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."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

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.