Jutanugarn irons out her game

By Randall MellAugust 31, 2016, 9:12 pm

Ariya Jutanugarn is putting more than a happy face into her pre-shot routine this year.

She is putting a big dose of “happy” in her overall game.

It’s become a part of her mantra.

“The only key I want is to be really happy on the course,” Jutanugarn said Wednesday at the Manulife LPGA Classic, where she’s trying to complete a Canadian sweep after winning the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open last week.

Jutanugarn used the word “happy” nine times Wednesday in her 7-minute news conference.

Vision 54s Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott say there is a purpose to that focus as Jutanugarn’s success grows and expectations mount.

“Ariya says everyone’s asking her now about winning and about getting to No. 1 in the world rankings,” Nilsson said. “There was a lot of pressure from back home in Thailand, after her withdrawal from the Olympics, with the injury. And there’s pressure from all the social media that these young players like to read. Ariya says she knows when she focuses on these things, on the outcome, she doesn’t play as well. She told us, `I want to tell the media that I just want to be happy on the golf course. That’s all.’ So we told her, `Well, then, just tell them that.’”

Marriott said working with former world No. 1s Yani Tseng and Ai Miyazato, they saw how expectations can smother a player as success grows.

“That’s how this whole happy thing has come up with Ariya,” Marriott said. “She has to be clear about what she can control, what she should focus on and then really put action to it.”

Like Jutanugarn did, adding a smile as a trigger in her pre-shot routine to get her calm and focused before moving into every shot.

Of course, with five victories in Jutanugarn’s last 10 starts, what’s not to be happy about?

“If I can be happy on the course, I think the outcome is going to be great,” Jutanugarn said.

After that late collapse at the ANA Inspiration, Jutanugarn overhauled her pre-shot routine. Nilsson and Marriott helped her add a smile to get her to slow down and relax before stepping into shots. Now, the smile has become a key to Jutanugarn’s overall game.

Nilsson and Marriott said they gave Jutanugarn a choice of triggers to get her comfortable before walking into a shot, and she chose the smile over a waggle and other possibilities. It seemed natural, they said, given her carefree spirit.

“It’s the Thai personality, wanting to have fun,” said Gary Gilchrist, her swing coach. “It’s not like everything’s life and death. It’s `Let’s go play, have some fun.’”

Jutanugarn’s pre-shot smile actually came before her first win.

“Of course, when you’re playing well, you’re happier,” Gilchrist said. “But she had to change her outlook first.”

A year ago, Jutanugarn was in that awful slump, where she missed 10 consecutive cuts. She was uncharacteristically miserable. A big part of it was her inability to hit her driver. She had lost control of it, struggling to keep her ball in play, and it was destroying her confidence. She said she began playing scared, and the fear infected her entire game.

Nilsson and Marriott helped Jutanugarn develop that new pre-shot routine specifically as a way to manage pressure. Jutanugarn says it’s a real key to calming her in the moment. And Gilchrist went to work helping her with her swing. Another key in Jutanugarn’s turnaround was Les Luark introducing Jutanugarn to a 2-iron. Her former caddie asked her to give it a try late last summer, as they moved away from hitting drivers.

“The thing about the 2-iron, Ariya learned she could hit it as hard as she wanted and it would go straight,” Gilchrist said.

A lot of the fear in Jutanugarn’s game was suddenly gone. She is 13th on tour in driving distance this year (267 yards per drive) even though she is hitting mostly 2-irons and 3-woods off tees.

“The driver was the cause of a lot of her problems, mentally,” Gilchrist said.

How far has Jutanugarn come this year? She hasn’t hit driver in competition since the Kingsmill Championship in May, but she says she’s putting it back in her bag at Whistle Bear Golf Club this week.

“I try to bring it out every week, but some courses I can't hit my driver,” she said. “But this course, I feel like it's wide enough to hit driver.”

Golf Channel analyst Judy Rankin wondered during Jutanugarn’s victory at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open last week just how dominant she could become with driver part of her game plan.

“If she could hit the driver as well as she hits the 2-iron and 3-wood, maybe she could be unbeatable,” Rankin said.

Jutanugarn almost put the driver back in her bag in Calgary last week, but she has become so confident and comfortable hitting 2-irons and 3-woods, she didn’t think she really needed it.

But she thinks it just might be time to give the driver a try again.

“Last week, in Calgary, there were probably three holes she could have hit driver, but it wasn’t that big an advantage,” Marriott said. “Her caddie, Peter Godfrey, says Whistle Bear this week really sets up well to be able to hit her driver more than three holes, where she won’t have long waits between hitting drivers. They were going to check it out in the pro-am today and see how it felt.

“We encouraged her that if this is a course where she is comfortable hitting driver, it would be great to get that experience. We’ve watched her hit it, and it’s just a matter of trusting it in competition. When she hits it, it’s amazing.”

It’s something more Jutanugarn can be happy about.

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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.