Decisions Decisions

By Rex HoggardMay 18, 2011, 11:20 pm
In fading light last Sunday Scott Gneiser rocked against the weight of his man David Toms’ staff bag and took the weight of the world, or so it seemed, onto his tired shoulders.

“Sixteen . . . I wish I would have talked him into laying up,” sighed Gneiser, a caddie-yard legend and Toms’ bagman for the better part of 12 years and 11 of his dozen Tour victories.

David Toms
David Toms reacts to his missed putt on the first playoff hole at The Players. (Getty Images)
Monday morning caddying is a dangerous business, and maybe the entire affair played out in surround-sound raucousness on TPC Sawgrass’ 16th hole, was still too fresh for Gneiser. Objectivity is a rare commodity following a playoff loss.

These are the facts: with a one-stroke lead and a swing that hit more fairways than anyone else at The Players Championship, Toms narrowly missed the fairway at the par-5 16th hole on Sunday but arrived at his golf ball with his mind already made up, or so it seemed.

“We got to the ball and he asked, ‘What do you think of 2-iron (hybrid)?’ and I liked it with a one-shot lead. He just hit it against the bottom of the club and it ran into the water,” Gneiser said of Toms’ approach shot from 249 yards.

Toms made bogey, eventual champion K.J. Choi signed for a par, and as Gneiser assessed the outcome it was impossible for his mind to not race back a decade, “We’ve laid up before to win a golf tournament.”

The “golf tournament” Gneiser was referring to was the 2001 PGA Championship which Toms won on the 72nd hole with a driver, two wedge shots and a 12-footer for par – maybe the gutsiest finish to any major championship in recent history (non-2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines division).

At the time Toms had a similar decision, a 5-wood from 220 yards from a hanging lie in the rough to a baked-out green that was never designed for such a shot; or a wedge to a comfortable yardage (88 yards) and a clutch one-putt for victory.

“I might still be playing that hole if I would have gone for the green,” Toms said at the time. “There was nothing good that could happen.”

Therein lies the fine line between a good decision that is hailed as brilliant and a bad choice that is immediately labeled a bone-headed move.

The same guy that bounced his U.S. Open chances off a tree, garbage can and corporate tent at the 2006 U.S. Open made Masters magic with a 6-iron off the pine straw adjacent the 13th fairway last year. Those who wish to distinguish between the Winged Foot version of Phil Mickelson and last year’s Masters edition do so at their own risk. The DNA is the same, only the outcome is different.

In this, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the difference between a sound and a silly shot is more often than not dictated by the outcome.

In retrospect, it’s not entirely inaccurate to say that Jean Van de Velde was simply unlucky, not sloppy, at the 1999 Open Championship when his shot at the claret jug was washed away by the rising tide in a Carnoustie’s burn.

The bounce, bad or otherwise, is certainly a crucial element at any event, and of everything that transpired on that surreal summer day in ’99 the only thing the Frenchman seems guilty of is hitting driver off Carnoustie’s 18th tee. Yet Sergio Garica tried to play it safe off the same 18th tee in his duel with Padraig Harrington at the ’07 Open Championship and we all know how that turned out.

“I got ahead of myself on 16 in regulation,” said Toms, who three-putted the first playoff hole on Sunday at TPC Sawgrass. “Seeing K.J. had to lay up already I probably should have laid up and hit a wedge up there and made par at the worst, but I felt like I could get it on the green and take maybe a two-shot lead there and put a lot of pressure on him. So that was the mindset, and I just hit a bad shot.”

Hindsight can be a dangerous judge and jury. A week earlier Lucas Glover spoke about the dangers of trying to protect a lead on a PGA Tour Sunday. In short, neither Glover nor his “beard” thought it was a good idea to play prevent defense coming down the stretch and Toms’ idea that a two-shot lead with the Staduim’s demanding 17th and 18th holes looming certainly passes the sniff test.

Maybe the only thing Toms was ultimately guilty of is forgetting who he was – a fairways-and-greens guy who wears down his opponents – not a bomb-and-gorge sort who overpowers the field.

As a subject to dissection and second-guess, however, Toms’ bold decision at the 16th hole is simply a non-story, with all respect to Gneiser. Ultimately, Toms’ choice was above reproach, just not his execution.
Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggard
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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.