Cut Line: The long and short of it

By Rex HoggardJune 30, 2017, 7:16 pm

In this week’s edition, TPC River Highlands makes the case that bigger isn’t always better, the field at the Quicken Loans National needs to be better, and it might be time to reassess the best use of sponsor exemptions on the Tour.

Made Cut

When less is more. It’s an apples-to-oranges deal, but entirely unavoidable considering the dramatic juxtaposition.

In one corner there was Erin Hills, a 7,800-yard brute that was built specifically to challenge the modern long ball; and in the other corner was TPC River Highlands, which was built in 1929 and at 6,841 yards qualifies as a bona fide welterweight in the Big Leagues.

In a single news cycle, one of those courses yielded a winning score of 16 under par, and the other was River Highlands with a 12-under winning tally.

To be fair, conditions at each course varied dramatically and the two layouts are Venus and Mars when it comes to design philosophy, but the last fortnight in golf has proven that you don’t fight distance gains with longer courses.

With 1,000 yards of additional real-estate, Erin Hills had 182 double bogeys during the U.S. Open, compared to 155 at TPC River Highlands last week.

There’s nothing wrong with Erin Hills that a little more wind and dryer conditions couldn’t have helped, but the last two weeks is another example that more length isn’t always the answer.

Tweet of the week: @LukeDonald (Luke Donald) “Love that 12 under won this week on a 6,850 yard course, last week at Erin Hills 7,650 yards and 16 under wins. Making courses long isn’t the answer.”

Better with Boo. Although his quest to win his fourth Tour title came up short last week at the Travelers Championship, Boo Weekley proved yet again that he’s still among the game’s most entertaining players on and off the course.

Consider a few examples of Boo’s best, like when asked on Saturday the last time he’d spoken to the media: “[In 2013] at Colonial. I think that was the last time I did any kind of media stuff besides getting in trouble or something or saying something wrong.”

Or when he was questioned about changing putters: “I change putters like I change underwear, man. If it don't work, we're putting another pair on. If these are a little too tight, you know, we're changing something, buddy. Something's going to get done.”

And this gem when a scribe inquired about his philosophy on life: “I ain't going to say everything's a joke, but, yeah, you've got to look at it as a joke. What you do for a living and when you get off the golf course, it's over with. It's time to have fun.”

You get the idea. Golf is enjoying an embarrassment of riches at the moment, with classic performances from the likes of Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, et al in recent weeks, but things are always better with a little Boo.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Schedule Showdown. Maybe it’s the new course, maybe it’s what has become an inhospitable spot on the schedule, whatever the reason, or combination of reasons, this week’s Quicken Loans National desperately needs a lifeline.

The field at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm includes just a single top-10 player from the Official World Golf Ranking and four from the top 30, which is about the same as last year’s field.

Compared to the Arnold Palmer Invitational or Memorial – which are also limited-field events with legends as hosts – those numbers paint a less-than-stellar picture.

This year’s field at Bay Hill had five top-10 players and 17 from the top 30, while the Memorial had six top-10 players and 16 from the top 30.

The Washington, D.C.-area stop deserves better. Tiger Woods deserves better, but without a better date, and a long-term home, that’s not going to happen.

Missed Cut

Game ready? There’s really no need for a task force here; the reasons behind Europe’s struggles in the Solheim Cup can be traced to single element.

When a handful of European Solheim Cup hopefuls teed off at this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship it was their first start in two months. In fact, the Ladies European Tour has played just four events this year and the 2017 matches in Iowa loom just eight weeks away with the U.S. having won four of the last six meetings at the biennial event.

Although credit should probably be split among a number of factors, including that task force that dramatically changed the way players and captains were selected for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, one of the often overlooked elements of America’s reemergence last year at Hazeltine National was the introduction of the PGA Tour’s season-long points race and four-event postseason.

The playoffs forced Tour types to remain competitive later in the year, much like a more robust LET schedule would give the Europeans a better chance at what is becoming a one-sided affair.

Making a splash. Nothing gets folks fired up like a good cross-over story, so it was little surprise that Stephen Curry’s invitation to play in a Tour event in August has polarized the golf world.

While opinions vary wildly regarding the unrestricted sponsor exemption, from those who criticized officials for giving a coveted spot to an amateur when aspiring professionals go without to the theory that the two-time NBA MVP will bring some much needed attention to the Ellie Mae Classic, this really isn’t about Curry or his curious exemption.

The bigger issue is how all sponsor exemptions are doled out on the Tour. Although sponsors sign large checks for, among other things, the right to award exemptions, according to various sources the system lacks some basic checks and balances.

There’s always an element of entertainment to professional golf, even at the Tour level, but along with that there must also be a measure of competitive purity, otherwise it’s little more than professional wrestling.

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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.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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.