With bad weather, it's all in the luck of the draw

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2017, 12:55 am

LOS ANGELES – Louis Pasteur once famously figured, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

There’s no history of the father of pasteurization playing competitive golf, and most players in the Genesis Open field probably wouldn’t recognize his prose, but they certainly live by the concept.

On the PGA Tour, every eventuality is anticipated, from the choice of what clubs to play at certain venues to the shots they practice depending on that week’s conditions.

No golf ball is left unturned.

But during weeks like this when Mother Nature forces her will on the outcome, often there is no way to prepare.

It's an occupational hazard of playing an outdoor sport, but that doesn’t provide any comfort when players end up on the wrong side of the draw.

At Riviera Country Club, that line was clearly drawn as Round 2 got underway on Friday under foreboding skies. After a pair of fog delays on Day 1 pushed the completion of the first round into Friday, the early starters were greeted with increasingly difficult conditions.

By the time many reached the turn, the storm that had been forecast had arrived, with winds gusting to 40 mph and a cold, driving rain making just remaining upright difficult, never mind trying to swing with any consistency.

When play was suspended for the day just past noon, none of the late second-round starters had began their rounds. When those late starters returned early Saturday to a soft golf course and dramatically calmer conditions, the differential between waves was striking.

The early wave scoring average for Round 2, those who played through the worst of Friday’s tempest, was 72.86 (including just 29 of 72 rounds in the 60s), while the afternoon draw was more than two strokes better with a 70.47 average.

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“This weather sure would have been nice to play in yesterday or this morning,” Justin Thomas tweeted of the more benign afternoon conditions long after he’d completed his weather-whipped round.

It’s understandable those on the wrong side of lady luck may lament their misfortune, but they also realize that pulling a “bad draw” is simply part of the game, like a poor lie or a perfect drive that finds a divot (a rub that should be eliminated, but that’s a topic for another day).

“You've got to try and find positives because the moment that you start thinking negatives and 'Why am I so unlucky because I was on the wrong side of the draw?' that's why you're either missing cuts or you're not making the right decisions out there,” said world No. 1 Jason Day, who endured the worst of Friday’s conditions on his way to his second consecutive 70.

Joining Day on the wrong side of fortune were Brooks Koepka (72), Thomas (71) and Hideki Matsuyama, who was 146 under par in his last 10 starts before ballooning to a second-round 80. It was the Japanese star’s first missed cut anywhere in the world since last August.

Although the weather normally doesn’t become such a dramatic influence until the Open Championship, when a shifting wind can bring four seasons in a matter of minutes, the last two Tour stops have been influenced by storms that didn’t impact the field equally.

Similarly heavy rain and wind forced officials to suspend play during Round 1 last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, but that “Crosby” edition of the old clambake also stands as an example of how players can often overcome a poor draw.

Jordan Speith was in the early, more demanding, wave last week at Pebble Beach and had to finish his opening round on Friday on his way to a four-stroke victory; and this week Jhonattan Vegas has defied the odds, coming from the poor side of the tee sheet to grab a share of the early second-round lead.

Vegas played through Friday’s gale, opening his round with birdies at Nos. 1, 5, 6 and 9 before the more difficult conditions set in and he closed his round with seven consecutive pars (including the final four of his second round on Saturday morning).

“It was tough but I knew that you had to stay patient,” Vegas said. “This is a course that nobody's going to run away with it. Just have to stay patient and it worked out really well.”

Given the forecast, which included a 100 percent chance of rain on Friday, Vegas said he knew he was probably on the wrong side of the draw but didn’t spend a lot of time mulling his fate.

“It's too much extra pressure you put on yourself that you shouldn't,” said Vegas, who will begin the third round tied for fourth place after play was suspended because of darkness. “Obviously you plan for what's coming your way, but if you start looking at bad breaks and good breaks and good luck and bad luck, it's just a lot happening that's out of your control that I try not to focus on it.”

Pasteur was right, chance does favor the prepared mind. But on days like Friday, the strong mind also has a say in things.

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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.