Cut Line: Plenty of short stories in golf

By Rex HoggardApril 15, 2016, 6:23 pm

This week’s edition of Cut Line focuses on short stories – like Harbour Town’s comparatively short, 6,973-yard test, Vijay Singh’s short-sighted Olympic decision, and Dawie van der Walt’s short fuse.

Made Cut

Safe Harbour (Town). Last week at Augusta National, Jack Nicklaus made what has become his annual stand against distance gains and the length modern pros hit the golf ball.

“I think with the length the guys hit today, the simplest solution is change the frigging golf ball,” Nicklaus said. “The golf ball goes so far. Augusta National is about the only place, the only golf course in the world, that financially can afford to make the changes that they have to keep up with the golf ball.”

Although no one is disputing the Golden Bear’s take, it is worth pointing out that there is still a place in the game for the short and subtle.

The par-3 12th hole at Augusta National, the shortest hole on the iconic golf course at 155 yards, decided the outcome of the Masters when Jordan Spieth deposited two golf balls in Rae’s Creek.

And at only 6,973 yards, Harbour Town, among the Tour’s shortest layouts and the site of this week's RBC Heritage, regularly proves a worthy test of the game’s best.

“It's a classic Pete Dye, one of his earlier [designs],” first-round co-leader Luke Donald said. “Not very long, small greens. You get some wind here. Anywhere from 10 to 14 [under] wins here. He had a blank canvas to work on Whistling Straits - 8,000 yards, bunkers everywhere, and what does Jason Day shoot? It's built to be a major championship and he shoots 20 under.”

Length has always been an advantage in golf, but there is still something to be said for big things coming in small packages.

The Bohn Revival. Jason Bohn, who ordinarily would not be considered one of the sullen types on Tour, was particularly bouncy this week at the RBC Heritage.

The 42-year-old was making his first start since suffering a heart attack in February at the Honda Classic, and the opportunity to return to the Tour was something to be savored.

“The opportunity that I have to play again is huge,” Bohn said. “The fact that I did it this quickly is a little surprising to me. I thought I might be out for a few months. Very grateful and thrilled to be here.”

According to Bohn’s doctors, the two-time Tour winner’s left anterior descending artery, also known as the “widow maker,” was 99 percent blocked and he needed surgery to insert a stent.

Bohn has never been the type of player lacking  perspective, but his brush with mortality certainly gave him a reason to expand his outlook.

“It's definitely put life into a bigger picture, just realizing how quickly it can all go away,” he said.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Olympic games. With the notable exception of Adam Scott, players likely bound for this year’s Olympics have said all the right things, explaining the importance of golf’s return to the Games and the benefits of playing for country and medals.

This week, however, Vijay Singh broke rank and – along with Miguel Angel Jimenez, the first alternate for Spain – withdrew his name from the Olympic pool.

“The timing of it, you know I have to focus over here [the PGA Tour]. I would like to play the Olympics, but the Zika virus, you know and all that crap,” Singh told Golf

Singh also mentioned the distance athletes will have to travel to participate in this year’s Rio Games as a reason to skip the Olympics, and it’s hard to question the Fijian’s decision.

Still, for Olympic organizers Singh’s withdrawal may set a dangerous precedent for other players who have said all the right things publicly, but privately questioned many aspects of this year’s Games.

Captain conundrum. This week’s announcement that Steve Stricker will captain the U.S. Presidents Cup team next year was met with a chorus of kudos from those he may lead next fall at Liberty National in New Jersey, but the move did prompt other questions.

Stricker was named one of Davis Love III’s vice captains for this year’s Ryder Cup and would seem to fall into a legacy role as a future Ryder Cup captain.

The problem is this: Only Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have captained both teams, and on both occasions they led the Presidents Cup squad after taking their turns as Ryder Cup captains.

“I think what we went through with the task force and the committee, we're going to look at the most qualified guy, no matter what,” Love said this week. “I think when you've seen the last two Ryder Cups are [Tom] Watson and me, it's a blank sheet of paper.”

Stricker would be a popular choice in either role, and it turns out he may be a trail blazer.

Missed Cut

Tweet of the week: @Dawie1983 (Dawie van der Walt): “Gota [sic] love a guy who gets an invite into a Tour event and then WD after the first round. #hangitupmike”

The South African was referring to Mike Weir, who was playing this week’s RBC Heritage on a sponsor exemption but withdrew from the event after an opening 78.

Van der Walt, the second alternate into this week’s field, didn’t end up getting a tee time at Harbour Town and frustration boiled over onto social media. He later clarified his statement with a second tweet, “I should not have said that, it’s nothing against [Weir] it’s just you’re hurt and WD and other could have played.”

For Weir, who has dealt with a litany of injuries in recent years, his withdrawal is hardly surprising or suspect, and van der Walt’s frustration seemed to have less to do with Weir than it does an increasingly limited schedule for Tour graduates as the circuit inches toward the summer months.

Riding the bench is never easy for an athlete. Doing so with access to Twitter can be explosive.

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.

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Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.