India's Ashok, 18, could have massive impact with Olympic medal

By Rex HoggardAugust 18, 2016, 5:53 pm

RIO DE JANEIRO – It was a family breakfast at the Royal Orchid, a quiet eatery wedged between Intermediate Ring Road and Karnatada Golf Association in eastern Bangalore, when then 5-year-old Aditi Ashok fell for golf.

Ashok Gudlamani, Aditi’s father, was enjoying a family meal when his daughter gazed across the lawn to the Karnatada driving range.

“We looked at the driving range where people were hitting balls and we got intrigued and went in,” Gudlamani said. “She settled into the putting green.”

Aditi hasn’t since left the green.

Less than eight months later she played her first round of golf at Bangalore Golf Club – an older layout of 6,200 yards – because, Gudlamani sheepishly admits, Karnatada is a private club and memberships are hard to come by.

“After her first round she had two rosy cheeks, she was so happy. She wanted to go right back out again,” Gudlamani said.

There was a similar smile on Thursday at the Olympic Golf Club where Aditi carded her second-consecutive 68 for a spot near the top of the leaderboard through two rounds of the women’s competition.

The novelty of an 18-year-old in contention for a medal at this week’s Games was not entirely unpredictable – world No. 1 Lydia Ko is 19, after all – but Aditi’s journey from a family meal at Royal Orchid to Rio is hard to exaggerate, even by Olympic standards.

VIDEO: Ashok on father and mother's influence

Olympic golf coverage: Articles, photos and videos

Gudlamani explains that his daughter immediately took to golf, taking the unique approach of learning how to play from the green to the tee with a focus on her short game.

When she was 10 years old, Aditi won a national handicap tournament in India against women who were four-times her age. She was the nation’s junior champion for three consecutive years (2012-14) and a two-time India Amateur winner.

She turned pro in January, promptly winning the Ladies European Tour’s Q-School and last month earned a trip to the Women’s British Open by winning a qualifying tournament.

All along, through Q-School and qualifying for her first major and her start at Woburn last month, she proceeded with the singular purpose of preparing for this week’s Rio Games.

Let the debate continue as to the importance of golf returning to the Games for the first time in over a century (116 years for the women); all one needs to understand the potential impact that golf’s Olympic fortnight could have on growing the game was etched into Thursday’s leaderboard.

“I think it would be big in India, and also being a golfer, a woman golfer, it will definitely boost the popularity of the sport. That's what I'm hoping to do,” said Aditi, who was tied for the lead before a closing bogey dropped her into a tie for fourth place.

A medal on Saturday for Aditi, any medal will do, would resonate back home in Bangalore and beyond. Consider that there are 206 golf courses in India, but only one that would be considered “public” by western standards.

According to the Indian Golf Union, the country of 1.25 billion has between125,000 and 150,000 golfers, but even that number is exaggerated and based on whether someone played a single round of golf in a year. A more realistic estimate is between 70,000 and 80,000 Indians play golf regularly, according to Dilip Thomas, an Indian Golf Union council member.

When golf’s organizers made their pitch to the International Olympic Committee, in 2009, to bring the game back to the Olympics, just five years after Aditi played her first round, it was always motivated by the notion that the Games resonate well beyond traditional sports fans.

That’s a potential growth pool of 1.25 billion if a player, like Aditi, was somehow able to turn the Olympic spotlight on a game that largely exists in the sporting shadows in India.

“I have a theory that Indians excel at sports of mind and touch, and golf is a game of mind and touch,” Thomas said. “We are at a stage that is about 15 to 20 years behind other countries in terms of golf. The top 10 sports in India are cricket, cricket, cricket and cricket ...”

Putting the expectations of an entire sport, if not an entire nation, on any athlete is unfair, particularly when that player is just a few months removed from her high school graduation. But as impressive as Aditi has been for two days on the golf course it might be her ability to effortlessly carry that burden that is really awe-inspiring.

With an ease that belies her age, Aditi has embraced her role as the game’s ultimate ambassador and the potential impact her play this week could have back home.

“Hopefully, she will make the sport popular and golf becomes a big sport in India,” Gudlamani said. “We are getting a lot of messages from India. If she can get to the podium that would be great.”

Not that Gudlamani and Aditi are spending much time this week plotting a bigger picture plan for golf in India. In fact, Gudlamani admits that he’s not saying much at all.

“There’s only one rule when I’m caddying: shut up,” he laughed.

Aditi’s journey in golf will continue after this week, with a flight waiting on Saturday after she finishes her final round to wing her to the first stage of LPGA Tour Q-School that begins next week in California.

But whatever the rest of her career holds, it may not ever compare to what she’s poised to accomplish in Rio.

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.