Fowler a major contender after switch to Harmon

By Rex HoggardAugust 5, 2014, 1:00 pm

The conversation lasted about five minutes, but Butch Harmon heard everything he needed to know in the first five seconds.

“He said, ‘I want to be known more for my golf than my clothes and my hat. I want to contend in majors,’” Harmon said of the fateful phone call he received from Rickie Fowler last December.

The clothes and flat-brimmed hat remain, but everything has changed.

Gone are the inconsistencies of a swing based on timing, and the days of showing up at major championships cautiously optimistic but invariably settling for another pedestrian performance.

When Fowler called the legendary swing coach late last year, the two had already started talking about what needed to be done. In fact, it started at the Open Championship in July following rounds of 78-76 at Muirfield.

It was Fowler’s metaphorical rock bottom.

“I was definitely ... at a confidence low as far as looking at my whole game,” Fowler recalled.

Harmon characterizes his work with Fowler as fine-tuning.

“You know me, I don’t really do major overhauls,” said Harmon, who at 70 continues to expand his staff of world-beaters, recently adding Brandt Snedeker to a stable that includes Phil Mickelson, Jimmy Walker and Dustin Johnson.

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But even to the casual observer the 25-year-old’s signature re-route in his downswing is a thing of the past. From those simplified mechanics have come great things.

In Fowler’s first 14 Grand Slam starts as a professional he had a single top-5 finish, at the 2011 Open Championship where he tied for fifth. In 2014 he is 3-for-3 at the game’s most important events, finishing runner-up - and heading out in Sunday’s final group, in both the U.S. Open and Open Championship - and tying for fifth place at Augusta National.

He is the only player to post top-5 showings in 2014’s first three majors, a statistical reality that makes Fowler an easy favorite for this week’s PGA Championship.

For all his accomplishments this season, however, Fowler is not blind to the elephant on his resume. The 2012 Wells Fargo Championship remains his only Tour victory and while the competitive landscape may be changing, fans are still drawn to his style more than his substance.

Which is where Harmon comes in and where potential intersects with performance.

“I wanted to start moving forward. I was kind of at a standstill and wasn't getting what I wanted out of my game,” Fowler said of the decision that led him to Harmon.

Where most observers see Fowler’s drastically improved play in the majors this year, those within his inner circle have clocked much more subtle changes.

He added 8 yards to his average drive this season, drastically refined his wedge play (he’s sixth on Tour in shots from 125 to 150 yards) and lopped nearly two strokes off his final-round scoring average (69.64).

The first glimpse of the new and improved Fowler occurred in April during his normal Tuesday match with Mickelson at the Masters. He and Lefty defeated Jason Dufner and Johnson thanks in large part to Fowler’s nine birdies and an eagle.

“That started it,” recalled Fowler’s longtime caddie Joe Skovron. “And then after (the Memorial Tournament) some of the things he worked on and he started moving the ball left-to-right, instead of right-to-left, and he went to a go-to shot. That’s the swing changes that allowed him to do that.”

The transition has also changed the way Fowler acts and reacts on the golf course. Always one of the Tour’s fastest players, the newfound confidence has allowed him to be more selective, more measured, when the pressure builds.

“It’s allowed his golf swing to be more consistent and our strategy has become more consistent,” Skovron said. “He can hit the proper shot more often. He’s made a concentrated effort on his process, and if you’ve noticed he’s slowed down before shots. You can see him every once in a while he will step back and take a better look at it.”

Perhaps predictably Fowler’s short game, one of the cornerstones of his play since turning professional in 2009, has suffered during the transition. His strokes gained-putting average has ballooned to the highest it’s ever been, and at both Pinehurst and Royal Liverpool he ranked outside the top 10 in putting for the week.

Nor has his play in non-major events matched his Grand Slam game. He has just two top-10 finishes (a sixth-place showing at the Shell Houston Open and T-8 at Firestone) in a non-major, stroke play event and has almost as many missed cuts (seven) as he does top-25 finishes nine.

But that too seems predictable considering his wholesale transition to Harmon’s theories, and his decision to forgo short-term success in exchange for relevance in the year’s biggest events.

“Right now I'm definitely able to come in the majors and go into each week believing in myself and believing in my game and believing in what I'm working on with Butch,” Fowler said.

“That gives me so much confidence knowing that I'm working, I believe, with the best coach there is in golf. To be in positions at majors this year, and to see it actually pay off, it just keeps building confidence for myself.”

Fowler will likely always be known for his bright clothes and flat-brimmed hats, but he now is becoming comfortable with a new look – major championship contender.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.