Hero leader Spieth mature beyond his years

By Rex HoggardDecember 4, 2014, 10:55 pm

WINDERMERE, Fla. – Consider Jordan Spieth a player of a certain age.

At 21 years young there has been no apprenticeship, no soft opening, no easing into the world of professional golf. Instead, since he played his way onto the PGA Tour in 2013 he has blown through more stop signs than a driver’s-ed student.

Considering that at this point two years ago he was a student-athlete at the University of Texas with a solid amateur resume and wishful thoughts, Thursday’s opening round at the Hero World Challenge was nothing short of veteran-like.

Spieth birdied the first hole, played Nos. 6 through 10 in 5 under and scrambled for par at the last for his 6-under 66 and the early lead at Isleworth. In short, he played like a guy who has been doing this for decades while Tiger Woods, who has been doing this for decades, was 11 strokes back.

It would all be a reason to question the balance of things if it hadn’t become such a normal occurrence.

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For all of Spieth’s attributes – a nuclear driver, solid ball-striking, steady putter – it may be his ability to channel his inner thirty-something that separates him from the other up-and-comers.

For a player who has admitted in the past that he has a tendency to run hot on the golf course at times, Spieth’s recent run is reason to start piling expectations onto his young head.

Spieth said his goal starting out this season was to win twice. In the waning moments of 2014 that benchmark has been adjusted to two wins in two weeks following his victory last week at the Australian Open and his start at Isleworth.

Fittingly, it was last week in Australia that Greg Norman seemed to unintentionally define Spieth’s calling card. “Norman said, ‘You learn a lot more from your failures than you do from winning,” Spieth recalled this week.

From his disappointing runner-up showing at Augusta National in April to his near miss at The Players (T-4), Spieth learned lessons it takes most players years to absorb.

“Each time I just lacked a little bit of patience,” he said. “I just want to jump too quickly out of the gate. I always thought of it as a sprint. Each time I learned and learned.”

From his Masters meltdown he learned that it’s better to remain patient, particularly on Sunday like he did last week when he roared home in 63 strokes.

And he gleaned from his finish at TPC Sawgrass, where he opened with a 67, that regardless of how well he starts a tournament it’s the finish that counts.

“It was a good Thursday,” Spieth figured when asked about his 6-under card on Thursday. “I missed it in the right spots today.”

By sidestepping golf’s normal learning curve Spieth has elevated himself to a new level. Just ask Patrick Reed, who like Spieth is unapologetically mature.

“We grew up watching Tiger and his mental strength and don’t really care what anyone thinks,” said Reed, who was paired with Spieth on Thursday at the World Challenge and teamed with the young American at September’s Ryder Cup to go 2-0-1. “I grew up playing with him so none of this really surprises me.”

Nothing Spieth does at this point should surprise the golf public.

In many ways 21 is the new 31, just consider Rory McIlroy’s four major championship titles by the age of 25 or Reed’s three Tour tilts by 24.

To put Spieth’s fast track approach in context, consider that his plans next week include moving into a new house  . . . his first house.

For Spieth and Co., they’ve come by their Rosetta Stone learning curve honestly, not subscribing to the idea that to be a great player one must pay their dues vis-a-vis time on the job.

Competitively Spieth has grown up before our eyes, transformed in real time from a player who earlier in his career – way back in 2013 – would have been rattled when a player like Adam Scott got off to a fast start like he did last Sunday in Australia.

“I didn’t care,” Spieth said of Scott’s early birdie. “That’s different from what would’ve happened earlier in the year.”

 Spoken like a true veteran.

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.