Lexi, Bubba bomb way to season's first majors

By Randall MellApril 15, 2014, 7:03 pm

If her shoes weren’t tied tightly, Lexi Thompson might come out of them making that powerful swing of hers.

It’s a signature move, that tippy-toe finish, where all the torque she creates fuels her feet's liftoff at impact, like a rocket leaving Cape Canaveral.

“I get a little airborne,” Thompson says.

At 6 feet tall, with her wide arc and a full-shoulder turn that reaches past parallel, the 19-year-old unleashes tremendous club-head speed. She put it all on display winning the Kraft Nabisco Championship, where she pounded her driver with impunity, hitting it just about every chance she got on the way to her first major championship title.

“She hit the ball so well, it was unreal,” says Jim McLean, Thompson’s swing coach.

The LPGA is back in action this week at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii, but Thompson will be taking the week off as she remains aglow in the aftermath of her breakthrough major. She plays a lot of events, and there’s a run of regular events now leading into a super-heated summer of more majors.

Notably, Thompson is part of a bigger story in the game this spring.

With Bubba Watson winning the Masters bombing big drives a week after Thompson did the same thing winning Kraft, the start of the year’s majors feels as if it’s all about the long ball. The biggest hitters in the men’s and women’s games claimed the year’s first majors.

Thompson leads the LPGA in driving distance, averaging 274.6 yards per drive.

Watson leads the PGA Tour in driving distance, averaging 315.4 yards per drive.

Lexi Thompson and Bubba Watson

It’s funny, but they share a lot in common in all the power they generate. Nobody taught them how to hit it long. Well, nobody beyond their fathers, who never considered themselves “swing coaches” in any formal sense. Thompson and Watson both grew up without coaches.

After putting a golf club in his son’s hands for the first time, Gerry Watson offered Bubba some simple advice.

“My dad told me to hit it as hard as I can, and then we’ll figure out the rest,” Bubba once said.

Watson, 35, is a marvel of the modern swing. He hits shots the way Johnny Coltrane blew improvisational genius through his saxophone. He takes pride in the fact he honed his swing all on his own.

“I’ve never had a swing coach, never had a lesson,” Watson said. “So, it’s all slap cuts, I guess you could say, with my driver.”

Like Watson, Thompson got her start with her father, Scott, giving her the basics and then giving her the freedom to allow her natural gifts to flow through them.

Scott didn’t have to tell his daughter to hit the ball hard. He sent her out on the course with her older brothers, Nicholas and Curtis. She learned to hit it hard watching them, swinging like them. Nicholas is one of the best drivers in professional golf. He was 13th in total driving on the PGA Tour last year. He was first in total driving on the Web.com Tour the year before that. He was third on the PGA Tour in total driving in ’08.

Curtis, who plays at LSU, is the longest hitter in the family.

Thompson and Watson aren’t just long. They can be uncannily accurate, given how far they hit it. When Watson won the Northern Trust Open at Riviera, he led the field in driving distance while finishing eighth in driving accuracy. Rolex world No. 3 Stacy Lewis says Thompson is “hands down” the best ball striker in the women’s game.

Thompson and Watson share something else in common. Their footwork isn’t classic sheet music for the golf swing.

Watson’s alignment mechanism is a golf mystery. It’s like he is the only one who knows true north in his setup. His feet shift and shuffle like Fred Astaire’s, but there’s no denying the athleticism in his move.

Thompson’s footwork is distinctly her own, also. While she grew up without a coach, she has one now. She has worked with McLean for the last five years.

“We did a lot of work on her short game, her wedges, and we look at her swing plane, but we’ve mainly tried to keep the swing that she brought to us,” McLean said. “Her footwork, the way she pulls up off the ground, that was something her father, Scott, asked about when we started working together. I said ‘We’re keeping that.’ It’s something she’s done since she was a little girl in trying to it hit it as far as she can. I like that move, and it’s not something I was going to train her out of.”

McLean, who has one of the greatest video libraries of golf swings in the game, says Thompson’s liftoff at impact isn’t as uncommon as people think among gifted drivers of the golf ball. He says there’s some liftoff in Louis Oosthuizen’s swing, in Patrick Reed’s and in a young Davis Love III’s swing. Of course, Laura Davies features the most pronounced liftoff in the women’s game.

And while Greg Norman didn’t have that same move, he had his own unique footwork, an unconventional slide that helped make him one of the great drivers of all time.

“I’m biased, but when Lexi is hitting it good, nobody hits it better in the women’s game,” McLean said.

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.