The Bear's Club preps young guns for Tour stardom

By Rex HoggardMay 28, 2015, 2:56 pm

Some would consider this classic name-dropping.

“It’s been big for me. This being my rookie year I didn’t really play with many big [named] guys [before],” Justin Thomas said recently. “Down at The Bear’s Club, I’ve played with Camilo; I’ve played with Luke and going out and playing with MJ.”

Morgan Hoffmann added, “Keegan’s [Bradley] around, but he plays with Michael most of the time. There are so many guys.”

Of course, “MJ” would be Jordan, Michael not Spieth, along with Villegas and Donald and whatever other “A” list professional or celebrity who lops up on the first tee at The Bear’s Club.

But for the likes of Thomas, Hoffmann and Patrick Rodgers it’s less about the name than it is the game when it comes to their adopted Tour home.

Consider it on-the-job training.

For the up-and-coming threesome – who set out today at the AT&T Byron Nelson in search of a spot in the elite 20-something club that currently includes Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy – South Florida’s Bear’s Club is like a never-ending PGA Tour combine.

As stressful as Tour life can be for a newcomer – Hoffmann is playing his third year in the big leagues, while Thomas is a rookie, and Rodgers is closing in on Tour status – it’s nothing compared to the nerves one will face on the first tee at The Bear’s Club.

“At The Players, playing with Graeme [McDowell] and Sergio [Garcia] I wasn’t too nervous,” said Thomas, who is currently 39th on the FedEx Cup point list with five top-10 finishes. “Last year, it would have been, ‘Wow, I’m playing with Sergio today. This is going to be big.’ That for me has been the biggest thing.”

The ready-made games also add for a rare level of familiarity on Tour at times when things normally feel as foreign as the metric system, like earlier this month when Rodgers found himself in contention at the Wells Fargo Championship.

He set out on Sunday in the penultimate group paired with Thomas and despite a tough finish at Quail Hollow – he played his last two holes in 3 over to finish tied for second – the week moved him closer to his goal of playing the Tour.

“It was like just hanging out playing at The Bear's Club,” Rodgers said. “I was telling my caddie walking off the first tee it almost didn't feel like a tournament, playing with Justin in a twosome. We had a lot of fun. We're both really lucky. This means a lot to us.”

But as beneficial as it is to punch a clock next to the likes of Donald, Bradley and McIlroy, who all call the Bear’s Club home, it’s the internal competition that gives the would-be world beaters an edge.

The three have regular games back home, something simple like a Nassau or just a team match, and normally it doesn’t even involve The Bear’s Club’s championship layout. The trio often eschews the 7,164-yard layout for the facility’s par-3 course.

At just 1,133 yards, with the longest hole little more than a 7-iron for most Tour players, the par-3 course fulfills two needs for the likes of Hoffmann and Thomas – a place to hone their short games and perfect their trash talking.

“Justin and I go to the par-3 course pretty much every time we’re home and try to kill each other,” Hoffmann said. “We’ve really been pushing each other and we’ve really gotten a lot better because of it.

“My wedges when I first turned pro were terrible, but they’ve gotten a lot better.”

Along with Hoffmann’s wedge game, he said his trash talking has also improved thanks to Thomas.

“Every hole, it’s great. There are really not many compliments. Just putting each other down to pump the other guy up,” Hoffmann said. “He’s so skinny and small, he has to have something to back it up.”

Thomas had a slightly different take on the games as well as an interesting glimpse into what those rounds must be like.

“On the par-3 course there’s really not much competition [with Hoffmann]. I beat him every time,” smiled Thomas with only a hint of good-natured ribbing.

For Thomas, who at 5-foot-10, 145 pounds possesses an uncanny ability to bomb it with the best on Tour, he comes by his ability to talk trash naturally and it’s allowed him to fit in at The Bear’s Club like a 20-year Tour veteran.

“I take pride in being able to talk more crap than anyone else,” Thomas said. “I sometimes get on guy’s nerves. I definitely irritated some guys on the team at Alabama. I just think it’s a part of it. You’ve got to go out and have some fun. That’s why I go out and play with MJ and those guys. We talk a lot of trash and it gets me more prepared.”

MJ, Rory, Keegan.

For the likes of Thomas, Hoffmann and Rodgers it’s not so much about dropping names as much as it is trying to add there’s to the list.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.