Finally, Compton a Masters participant not a viewer

By Rex HoggardApril 6, 2015, 6:27 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Chris Haack’s interest in the Masters goes well beyond that of a normal fan of azaleas, pimento cheese and Sunday roars.

Haack is the head golf coach at the University of Georgia and could field a team with the number of former Bulldogs in this week’s field.

“Six,” Haack laughed on Monday when asked about the number of former players with tee times at Augusta National. “I’ve got a reserve.”

But of all the former Georgia players – a list that includes defending champion Bubba Watson, Brian Harman, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk and Brendon Todd – Haack’s professional impartiality gives way to heartstrings when it comes to picking a favorite.

Erik Compton was on the 2000 and ’01 Georgia teams that won consecutive Southeastern Conference titles, and at 35 years old is among the 18 Masters rookies at this week’s tournament.

He’s also, after Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, the most compelling story.

Although his play this season, five missed cuts and just a single top-10 finish in 12 starts, leaves Compton well short of contender status, the fact that he even earned a ride down Magnolia Lane is a reason to appreciate his accomplishment.

Anyone who tuned in during last year’s U.S. Open can recite Compton’s tale – as a 12-year-old he suffered from viral cardiomyopathy and underwent heart transplant surgery; he had his second heart transplant in 2008.

That first procedure came four years after Compton watched the Masters for the first time. He’s never missed a telecast since, but that streak has been harder and harder to maintain in recent years.

After a lifetime spent trying to earn a start at the Masters, Compton began coming to grips with the reality that it may never happen following his second heart surgery.

“It’s kind of hard to believe that my first Masters is at 35 and everything that I've gone through; and there's times where I never thought I would ever play in the Masters,” he said. “There were times where it was tough to watch it on TV, as a player but not as a fan.”

His breakthrough came last June when he battled Martin Kaymer on Sunday at the U.S. Open to finish tied for second place and end his Masters wait.

It’s a measure of Augusta National’s relevance to Compton that he was the third group off on Monday morning. That’s after playing four out of the last five weeks on legs that don’t recover the way they once did.

Conserving energy, almost as much as converting 4- footers, is a part of every week’s game plan for Compton, particularly at a place that is as draining as it is mesmerizing. But Compton doesn’t figure that will be a problem by the time Thursday’s opening tee time rolls around.

“Sometimes in a regular Tour event, I've been known to lose focus and fall asleep,” conceded Compton, who made a scouting trip to Augusta National earlier this season. “Here, I think I'm happy with my form. I was a little concerned about the length of this golf course and how hard it is to walk, but when you have adrenaline and you have people rooting you on, it makes the week easy.”

Motivation, or maybe it’s energy, won’t be a problem, not here. Not at a place he’s been fixated on since he had his original heart. Not at a place he first experienced as a freshman when Haack and the team made the annual trip over from Athens, Ga., to play the iconic layout.

“I remember taking every one of those guys because when they are a freshman I want to see the reaction,” Haack said when asked about Compton’s first trip to Augusta National. “It’s the same with everyone, their jaws are dropping and they are just in such disbelief with everything. They are afraid to take a divot.”

More than most, Haack understands that Compton’s maiden trip to the Masters goes beyond the normal first-timer’s honeymoon.

Even as a freshman at Georgia it was a well-established reality that Compton’s career, which held tremendous potential following a stellar amateur career, would always be held hostage by his precarious medical history.

When he was forced back onto the heart donor list in 2008 many, including Compton, thought his career, as well as his window to play the Masters, had closed.

It’s what makes this first trip to the former fruit nursery so special.

“With Erik, because of his situation and what he has been through, he appreciates every opportunity he gets,” Haack said. “The U.S. Open was special but the Masters will probably be more special. No matter what happens I’m sure it will be a very a special week.”

It will certainly be a different week. After 26 years, Compton’s streak comes to an end. “It’s going to be weird not watching the Masters,” he smiled.

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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.