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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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.