Wie, Thompson both in search of second major

By Randall MellApril 1, 2015, 8:16 pm

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – They arrived at the ANA Inspiration this week searching for the powers that made their major championship breakthroughs so magical last year.

Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie will tee it up at Mission Hills looking to put the hocus pocus back in their games.

Thompson overpowered the Dinah Shore Course in winning her first major last year, electrifying women’s golf with the kind of performance so many insiders believed would make this young dynamo a dominant force. She won the Kraft Nabisco, now the ANA Inspiration, launching mammoth drives in a game of bomb-and-gouge usually only witnessed in the men’s game.

“Everyone I know who sees Lexi up close, who sees her play in person, from caddies to PGA Tour pros, says, `Dude, she doesn’t hit it like a girl. She mashes it,’” Nicholas Thompson, the oldest of Lexi’s two brothers, said of the show his sister put on last year. “She amazes people with some of the shots she can hit.”

Stacy Lewis, the best American in the game, knew what was possible when Thompson put it all together.

“As soon as she figures out her putting, she’s going to be unbelievable,” Lewis said before Thompson’s Kraft victory. “She’s hands down the best ball striker on tour.”

Thompson put it all together at Mission Hills, combining power and one of the best putting performances of her career. She needed the virtuoso effort to hold off Wie in a head-to-head Sunday duel with Wie beginning to show she was ready to realize the vast potential in her game. Thompson closed with a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 to win by three shots.

With that major championship title in hand, Thompson looked poised to launch a dominant run, but it didn’t happen. She arrives this week looking for her first victory since last year’s triumph. Though she hasn’t played poorly, picking up seven top-10 finishes over the past year, even Thompson expected more.

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“I would say I’m definitely a little surprised that I haven’t won,” Thompson said. “I know my game is very close. I’ve been working really hard on every aspect of my game. My short game, I’ve been practicing hours a day trying to improve.”

Expectations have followed Thompson since she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open as a 12-year-old and then won her first LPGA title as a 16-year-old. Now 20, she’s a four-time LPGA winner who climbed as high as No. 5 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She’s No. 9 this week.

“Golf is all about being patient,” Thompson said. “You can’t win every week. You just have to go with the same positive mindset. All you can do is try your best.”

Wie, 25, turned the disappointment of losing to Thompson into the best run of her career. In her very next start after the Kraft Nabisco, Wie won the Lotte Championship. Two months later, she broke through to win her first major, putting together every component of her game to win the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst.

After that Kraft Nabisco loss, Wie’s game came together brilliantly, with the return of her command with her driver and the development of her unusual “table-top” putting stroke. In eight starts after the Kraft, she finished top-10 in seven of them, winning twice and finishing third twice. But a deep bone bruise to the index finger of her right hand derailed most of the rest of her season. She also battled a bad knee last year. She missed almost two months recovering from the finger injury.

“Injuries suck,” Wie said.

With strep throat and a sinus infection impacting the start of this season, Wie hasn’t been the same formidable presence.

In six starts this year, Wie’s best finish is a tie for 24th in the season opener at the Coates Golf Championship.

“I'm a strong believer, and always been a strong believer, that everything happens for a reason,” Wie said. “I learned a lot. I think I learned a lot from last year, just how I approached it. Just from winning and losing, I think you learn from both, equally as much. Definitely, I was fired up after this event last year.”

Wie has been working hard to get the same feeling in her swing that she had at Pinehurst last summer. As part of her pre-shot routine lately, she has been thrusting her left hip outward, in an exaggerated motion, and pumping her downswing from the top. Her swing coach, David Leadbetter, says she’s looking to feel the “lag” that worked so well last year.

“I think that every week it's definitely getting better,” Wie said. “I think just from how I played in Phoenix, and how I played at Kia, just getting back to feeling comfortable. That's really what I've been working on. I just felt like I played a lot better than what my score showed, especially last week. But it's just every week feeling more comfortable and trying to work on things for the long-term, not just for that week.”

Karen Stupples, the 2004 Women’s British Open winner and Golf Channel analyst, can see how Mission Hills could reawaken Wie’s game. This is where Wie first emerged in a large way in the women’s game. As a 13-year-old, Wie played in the final Sunday pairing of the Kraft Nabisco with a chance to win. She tied for ninth, one of her five top-10 finishes here. As a 14-year-old, she finished fourth.

“Michelle Wie would dearly love to win this,” Stupples said. “She's been so close in the past. I think she's just waiting for her game to turn the corner. She hasn't played great this year, but it's going back to familiar ground and a course that she feels comfortable on and she loves. I think that could be the turnaround for her game.”

Hall of Famer Judy Rankin isn’t sure what to expect from Wie this week.

“I have no idea when she's going to play well,” Rankin said. “She might be 25 under at Mission Hills, and I'd be glad to see it, but I don't have a feel for when she'll play well and when she won't. It's somewhat mysterious.”

The ANA Inspiration begins with Thompson and Wie both looking to find the answers that will put them back in position to win their second major. They’re both suited to win at Mission Hills, if they can just find the magic that made last year successful for them.

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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.