Good weather, great putting give Snedeker Open lead

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2012, 5:22 pm

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – Make no mistake, this slice of links land has the proper pedigree – ubiquitous pot bunkers, a sniff of sea salt off the Irish Sea and a “royal” in the title to round out the ensemble.

How is it then that for two relatively benign, if not soggy, days all Brandt Snedeker can see is TPC Lytham, a lush point-A-to-point-B track where balls spin back and greens run true and fast, at least by Open Championship standards?

The short-form answer is the English summer, a steady march of showers that have pelted the ancient links for days and transformed many of Lytham’s 205 bunkers into wading pools.

Standard springy turf has been replaced by standing water, the bump and run preempted by smash and split, and a lead for Snedeker that two days ago felt unlikely.

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Like 150-to-1 unlikely. Those were the odds placed on the American to begin the week, which may have been a tad low given his pedestrian performance on the game’s original pitches.

In 2001 while still in college, Snedeker failed to advance to the match-play portion of the British Amateur at Prestwick, the quirkiest of links that hosted the first Open in 1869, and he was 0-for-3 in cuts made at the Open.

When one English reporter delicately asked Snedeker to describe himself for United Kingdom fans who may have never heard of him, the Tennessee native shot back, “I’m sure there’s lots of Americans saying (who is this guy?).”

If the weather and Snedeker’s putter holds, that anonymity may be nearing an end.

When Snedeker holed his 10-footer for par at the last just as the first-round leaders were heading out, he stood at 10 under and five strokes clear of the field following a 64 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Adam Scott cut that lead to one stroke before the end of the day, but that did little to dull Snedeker’s stellar start.

Thursday’s 66 was Snedeker’s first sub-70 round in seven attempts at the game’s oldest championship and his 10-under total of 130 matched the 36-hole record set by Nick Faldo in 1992.

“Boring golf,” he figured. “I put it 25 feet away and tried to make some putts.”

Or in short, very much un-Snedeker-like golf, which brings us to the par-4 16th hole, which Snedeker double-eagled during Wednesday’s practice round. From the middle of the fairway on Friday, Snedeker’s wedge dropped into the middle of the green, checked quickly and left him with a 30-footer for birdie. Perfect.

Standing just a few yards away, Snedeker’s Sea Island (Ga.) based swing coach smiled widely.

“When he’s putting this good he’s usually firing at every pin,” Todd Anderson said. “It’s good to see him this patient. That’s what wins majors.”

His subdued play has been part of a plan that materialized late Wednesday afternoon in England when Snedeker met with Anderson, his caddie Scott Vail and an English statistician, who suggested that considering Snedeker’s prowess with the putter it may be worth firing away from Lytham’s pins.

“He figured it would give Sneds two more birdie looks a round,” Anderson said.

As plans go, this one has stayed to script with Snedeker playing his first two rounds bogey free, hitting 15 of 18 greens in regulation on Day 2 despite a sometimes wayward driver (9 of 14 fairways). But the key stats have been on the greens – with Snedeker needing just 28 putts and not recording a single three-putt in 36 holes – and in the sand. For two rounds he has not hit into one of Lytham’s 205 bunkers.

“I don’t expect that stat to hold through the weekend,” he said. “I fully expect to hit it in a few bunkers before the week is over.”

At his first Open in 2008 at Royal Birkdale, Snedeker played a practice round with five-time champion Tom Watson . At the time the round had a Links Golf 101 feel and the lessons from that day resonated with Snedeker.

“It helped a bunch playing with him,” Snedeker said. “He told me the first time over here he wasn’t a big fan of links golf. The second time he played he loved it. You’ve got to embrace it, realize that you’re going to get good bounces, bad bounces, but you expect the worst and hope for the best.”

For three previous championships, Snedeker’s affection for links golf has been vastly unrequited. That he would find liquid Lytham to his liking, however, is not entirely unexpected.

Heavy rain has softened the course and provided lush greens that are closer to PGA Tour standards then the Open, a transformation one observer called the Americanization of Lytham. But when pressed on the concept, Snedeker’s answer was distinctly British.

“You can call it the Americanization of this golf course, the softness that’s played a factor for sure. I’ve never seen balls spin at a British Open,” Snedeker said. “But I wouldn’t expect that to hold true for the whole weekend. I’m sure it’s probably going to show some teeth this weekend.”

Spoken like a man who is fully prepared to trade his signature visor for a tam-o-shanter and his relative obscurity for a claret jug. Old Tom would be proud.

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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.