Fowler likes chances of winning first major at Oakmont

By Rex HoggardJune 14, 2016, 8:35 pm

OAKMONT, Pa. – “A major will come.”

It wasn’t the first time Rickie Fowler has uttered those words, or something of the like. He’s come close, had his chances, bided his time and considers Oakmont, site of this week’s 116th U.S. Open, as good a place as any to join the Grand Slam gang.

“If I put the last two years together, that would equal a major this year, but they don't come that easy,” he said on Tuesday. “We've got some work to do, and I’m looking forward to chasing those guys down.”

The relaxed millennial has never lacked for confidence or cachet. A star long before he won his first PGA Tour title in 2012, the poster child for the next generation has taken a decidedly long view when it comes to his climb to the top of golf’s marquee.

At fifth in the Official World Golf Ranking, he’d fit neatly into what’s turning into the U.S. Wide Open, yet some savvy observers have dismissed Fowler’s chances this week based largely on recent form.

2016 began as a typical Rickie Fowler year – fifth at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, a Sunday duel with Hideki Matsuyama at TPC Scottsdale where he lost in a playoff and a victory against a sneaky deep field in Abu Dhabi that included Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.

Things started to go decidedly the other way as spring slowly turned to summer. In his last seven starts he has just a single top-10 finish and missed his last two cuts coming into the U.S. Open.

“The only reason that I've struggled a little bit here and there is just because I've been a little bit frustrated with the putting, and that can sometimes leak over into driving the ball and then hitting a good shot into the green,” Fowler said.

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The slide seems even more curious to Butch Harmon, Fowler’s swing coach.

“If you look at his stats this year they are the best they’ve ever been, for greens in regulation and driving it in play. He’s just putted poorly, which is unusual for him,” Harmon said.

Fowler has improved in every major ball-striking category since last year when he won three times around the world, including a jump from 106th in greens in regulation to third this season.

But those clutch putts that lifted him to top-5 finishes in every major in 2014 have largely been missing. It was most glaring last month at the Wells Fargo Championship when he began the final round with a one-stroke lead but closed with a 74 to finish tied for fourth place.

Despite his recent play, it should be no surprise that both Fowler and Harmon remained optimistic about Fowler’s chances this week.

“This type of course plays into Rickie’s type of playing because he is creative,” Harmon said. “He likes the course. He’s ready but this is a funny course. You have to play the angles, know where to drive it and how it slopes. It takes a lot of learning how to play it.”

Harmon said Oakmont reminds him of Augusta National in the sense that good shots often need to be played away from pins and you’re much better off being 20 feet below the hole than you are being 10 feet above it.

There is also some solace for Fowler this week that great putters don’t necessarily have an overwhelming advantage on the brutish golf course. In short, Oakmont is the great equalizer for average putters because birdie attempts will be few and lag putting is a much more realistic goal.

Instead, whoever finds themselves in contention on Sunday will have to do so based on their ability to avoid the lush rough and oddly fluffy bunkers.

“If you don’t put the ball in the fairway you not only won’t have a chance to contend, you won’t be here on the weekend,” said Harmon in his signature blunt style.

It’s a lesson Fowler has taken to heart this week, with player and swing coach plotting a course around Oakmont that is as detailed as it is exacting.

Playing below the hole and focusing on the proper angles to approach the relatively large, at least by U.S. Open standards, green complexes is the plan ever since Fowler saw the course a few weeks ago during a scouting trip.

He arrived early for this week’s championship and, according to Harmon, believes Oakmont to be a perfect fit for his game.

“This golf course tee to green is really where you can put yourself in good and safe positions where you're not struggling to make pars,” said Fowler before adding, “I don't think you can play enough rounds here to really know it.”

Fowler is keenly aware of the hole in his resume and the combination of patience and precision that will be required to make Oakmont the site of his breakthrough. He’s also aware, more than anyone else, of his own skill set and his dedication to his craft.

It might not be this week, but Fowler has no doubt that his major will come.

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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.