Foursomes the answer to slow play?

By Rex HoggardNovember 12, 2014, 9:25 pm

Consider it Gleneagles’ silver lining, the unintended consequence of another boat race and another baffling loss.

No, not the PGA of America’s Ryder Cup task force; the relative impact of the vaunted “Group of 11” won’t be known for years. But the byproduct of another U.S. loss at September’s matches may be a realignment of America’s golf priorities.

Consider that this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team failed to win a full point in foursomes, or alternate-shot, play, and the swoon was hardly a statistical abnormality.

The Continent has owned the U.S. side in foursome play the last two decades, outscoring the red, white and bruised, 46-24-10 over the last 10 matches.

By comparison, over roughly the same period the U.S. Presidents Cup team has outscored the International side, 59 1/2 to 33 1/2.

For PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who behind the blue blazer is a pragmatist at his core, the sliding scale of American team play defies definition.

“It’s funny how these things are. The U.S. in recent years has been winning the Presidents Cup because of their strength in foursomes and yet they’ve been getting killed in the Ryder Cup in foursomes,” Finchem said late last month at the McGladrey Classic. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

For Finchem, who said he was not asked to be a member of the PGA’s task force and that he didn’t expect to be included in the proceedings, the scrutiny that has followed the U.S. team’s loss and inevitable microanalysis misses the 400-pound foursome elephant in the American team room.

“You can’t play foursomes down 7-1 and think you are going to win the cup,” he said. “It’s like climbing a mountain.”

Yet where others see a glaring liability with few, if any solutions, Finchem views America’s foursome misfortunes as a unique opportunity.

Not only has the post-Gleneagles handwringing provided an open format to address the U.S. team’s glaring blind spot in team play, but perhaps a chance to address arguably the game’s greatest obstacle – slow play.

“Maybe practice more foursomes. We don’t play enough foursomes golf,” Finchem said. “One of the byproducts of this is if foursome golf could develop some traction in the U.S.”

Finchem points out a foursome round can take half as much time as a stroke-play round and although it is a staple throughout the United Kingdom it is rarely played on this side of the transatlantic divide.

This week at the USGA’s Pace of Play Symposium the association will unveil a flagstick-mounted device to help golf courses measure pace of play, and the Tour strengthened its own pace-of-play policy for this season.

To Finchem, however, the endless quest to make the game faster – even at the highest levels where it took more than five hours last week to play a round at the WGC-HSBC Champions … in threesomes – is akin to making molehills out of mountains.

“If you go to Augusta or Pine Valley or Cypress Point and you’re playing with some single-digit handicaps how long does it take you to play? Four hours,” he answered. “If it’s 4:15 (hours) or 4:20, you’re going to worry about shaving 10 minutes off [a round]? It’s not a driving factor. Everybody talks about playing faster; that doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Instead of picking apart the problem, which many observers say is public enemy No. 1 when it comes to growing the game, in piecemeal fashion Finchem sees a broader, more profound, option in the form of increased foursomes play.

The commish seemed open to the idea of adding some sort of foursomes component to select Tour stops, or perhaps even an event that was played entirely using an alternate-shot format.

“Maybe. We’re strapped for weeks, but maybe an exhibition-type thing we could do tournament weeks with a side thing that would include foursomes,” he said. “A special Monday pro-am or something like that. There are things you can do and I think that should be an area where we can focus.”

For Finchem, the pragmatist, the wrath of the 2014 Ryder Cup goes well beyond the use of “pods” and how future captains or teams may be picked. The loss presents an opportunity to address one of the U.S. team’s glaring weaknesses, and if along the way American golf’s greatest challenge is impacted all the better.

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


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The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

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Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."

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Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 10:33 pm

After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.

La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.

"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."

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Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.

The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.

"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."