Grace's caddie played it perfectly with history on the line

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2017, 4:08 pm

SOUTHPORT, England – A good caddie knows what to say when the tension builds and the stakes are high. A great caddie knows when it’s best to not say anything.

Count Zack Rasego among the latter, as proven by his mum performance on Saturday while his man, Branden Grace, plodded his way into the history books.

When Grace, who completed his round before the leaders even teed off for Round 3 at The Open, turned in 29, Rasego said nothing. When the South African added birdies at Nos. 14, 16 and 17, the veteran looper remained aloof.

Even when his man airmailed the green at the last and needed to get up-and-down for par to shoot the lowest round in men’s major championship history, Rasego was reticent.

It wasn’t until Grace calmly rolled in his 3-footer for par for an 8-under 62 that Rasego finally came clean.

“Zack came up and said, ‘You're in the history books.” And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Grace laughed.

They’ve been playing major championship golf for 157 years and a 62 had remained the Grand Slam unicorn, with players repeatedly flirting with history, as recently as last month at the U.S. Open when Justin Thomas did it on Day 3, and yet somehow Grace was oblivious to the elephant in the Royal Birkdale room?

“Let's get this out of the way: I didn't know what was going on on [No.] 18. I promise you,” he assured.

Credit Rasego for keeping his man in the dark. Who knows how Grace would have handled that delicate par save at the last had he known the stakes, but if relative ignorance was bliss there’s still no ignoring the depth of his accomplishment.

Let the social handwringing begin. There will be those who will needlessly handicap Grace’s round because of Saturday’s benign conditions. Grace himself figured par on Day 3 at the 146th edition was about 67.

Thomas’ 63, a 9 under card at Erin Hills that set a new major record for relation to par, produced a similar devil’s advocate response.

“It looks like a PGA Tour event course setup,” Johnny Miller, who was the first to shoot 63 in a major at the 1973 U.S. Open, said of Erin Hills. “I’m not sure where the days of the 24- to 29-yard-wide fairways that we played every time went. It’s interesting to see where the USGA has gone with the U.S. Open, being a little more friendly than in years’ past.”

On Saturday, Miller, who is calling the action for NBC Sports, was a tad more enthusiastic, but only a tad.


The Open: Full-field scores | Live blog: Day 3 | Full coverage

Photos: Lowest rounds in major championship history


“Sweet, look at that number, that is sweet,” he said of Grace’s round before adding, “It was set up really, really easy today, folks.”

With respect to Miller or anyone else who wishes to rationalize the relative impressiveness of either Thomas’ or Grace’s rounds, records, by definition, need no generational footnotes.

Erin Hills’ fairways were undoubtedly wider than those at the ’73 U.S. Open, but then Miller likely didn’t have to negotiate greens that were rolling 13 on the Stimpmeter.

In Grace’s case, there’s also no denying that Saturday’s conditions along the Irish Sea were vastly better than those faced by the field on Friday afternoon, but in 145 Opens there’s been no shortage of fine days on the links that could have easily been the backdrop to a similarly historic round.

Nothing distracts from the gravity of a sporting accomplishment more than an asterisk, and nothing about Grace or Thomas’ rounds deserve such provisos.

Perhaps the game’s rule makers need to revisit the distance modern players hit the golf ball as more and more of golf’s treasured benchmarks are shattered, but that has nothing to do with Grace or Thomas.

It will be interesting the reaction Grace’s round will produce. Thomas’ 63 at Erin Hills, along with champion Brooks Koepka’s 16-under total, set off a chain reaction of complaints. No way Erin Hills should ever host another U.S. Open, was the consensus.

Whatever scoring accomplishments occur over the next round and a half at Royal Birkdale there will be no such outcry. Instead, fans, officials and players will concede that Mother Nature, so brutal on Friday, never arrived on Saturday – c’est la vie.

Erin Hills, however, was not afforded the same benefit of the doubt, just as there will those who will contend that Grace’s 62 is somehow less impressive because of the perfect conditions or the advantage of the modern power game.

Hogwash.

There’s no room in the history books for small print or footnotes, only facts, and the facts are rather clear on this – Branden Grace became the first player to ever shoot a 62 in a men’s major. Nothing more, nothing less.

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Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 1:00 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.

Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.

Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.

Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.

Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.


FALLING

Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.

Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.

Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.

Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.

Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.