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Randall's Rant: DJ's blast explodes in golf's face

By Randall MellJanuary 8, 2018, 11:15 pm

Dustin Johnson’s nuclear blast in Hawaii Sunday might be remembered as “The Shot Heard 'Round the World” in the war on the golf ball.

His ferocious assault on the 12th hole on his way to winning the Sentry Tournament of Champions was an epic feat that registered outside golf’s niche, even on the first weekend of the NFL playoffs.

His 432-yard drive that stopped 6 inches short of becoming a hole-in-one was Ruthian in every way, including his playful quip about how he “hit it a little thin.”

That’s good for golf, a glorious thing, right?

Not if you’re among the game’s most devoted purists.

If you are, Johnson’s drive was an abomination.

It was another irritating example of how much the game has been corrupted by high-tech witchery, of how scientifically hot-wired drivers and balls are making the game way too easy.

So was Johnson hitting 15 drives of 375 yards or more on the week.

Yes, the Plantation Course at Kapalua isn’t your ordinary venue, with all those hills and high winds boosting big hits, but today’s players are dramatically shrinking the dimensions of venues everywhere.

Johnson’s savage lash at the 12th couldn’t have been better timed, coming in the year’s opening event, because it sets up what finally may be the year golf’s governing bodies force a showdown with golf ball manufacturers.

Two months ago, USGA executive director Mike Davis told the Wall Street Journal that the growing distance players are hitting the ball is having a “horrible” impact on the game.

You don’t say that if you aren’t planning to address the issue in some way. You don’t say there’s a “horrible” problem plaguing the game without bothering to try to fix it in some way.

To be sure, the ball isn’t the only factor fueling the distance explosion. Johnson raved Sunday about how his new TaylorMade M4 driver’s “Twist-Face” technology helps him hit it long and straight, even with a “high toe” miss.

Shaft technology, TrackMan technology that optimizes launch conditions, player fitness, improved instruction and even course agronomy/grooming have all contributed to the distance explosion, but the ball looms as the easy solution.

Sorry, make that the “convenient” solution, because there’s no easy fix to the distance problem, if you even believe there’s a problem, because you can argue scoring averages haven’t been dramatically altered through this power era. You can argue equipment manufacturers have done more to grow the game than the USGA and R&A have.

Chamblee: DJ's drive 'greatest shot ever hit'

There’s no room to blame club and ball manufacturers here.

If you think there’s a problem, your issue is with the USGA and the R&A. Club and ball manufacturers have made the most of their research and development departments, doing what every corporation tries to do, to make their products better and more appealing.

If their good work has corrupted the game, the blame’s with the governing bodies. If they choose to go to war against the ball now, they’re left to also confess to being derelict in their duties as watchdogs. They’re left to concede they failed to properly regulate the manufacturers.

The USGA and R&A allowed this distance explosion to unfold, and now they’re caught in a dilemma.

How would rolling back the distance balls are allowed to go hurt the USGA and R&A’s mission to grow the game’s popularity?

How do the USGA and R&A order ball manufacturers to put the genie back in the bottle without being sued?

Expect to hear more about bifurcation as speculation grows over an imminent war on the ball. That’s the idea of creating one set of rules for pros and another for amateurs and recreational players.

That’s another rant for another time.

The question today is whether Dustin Johnson’s monster drive was good for the game or bad for the game, whether it was something to celebrate or something to disparage.

The war on the ball starts with the nature of that question.

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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.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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.