Internationals look to restore parity in the Prez Cup

By Rex HoggardOctober 2, 2013, 4:29 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – There is no more authoritative voice in golf than Jack Nicklaus, 18 major championships being the ultimate benchmark and all. But even the Golden Bear sensed the urgency that has beset the Presidents Cup.

“The International team is a lot better than you think it is,” said Nicklaus, although this week’s host sounded like he was making his pitch for parity more so than stating fact.

Or maybe Nicklaus was just lowering expectations, because the Internationals can’t be any worse than the record indicates.

With apologies to this week’s dozen, you are what your record says you are.

The Rest of the World hasn’t hoisted the cup since 1998. Truth is they haven’t made it a game since 2003, when darkness and some loose interpretations of the rules led to the match’s only tie.

The average margin of defeat for the Internationals has been 4 ¼ points the last four outings. More importantly they haven’t won a foursomes session since Day 1 in 2003, and have only taken a lead into the Sunday singles session twice.

International captain Nick Price, along with former captain Greg Norman and future captain Ernie Els, pitched a format change that would have reduced the number of team matches to four from six for each session, allowing, the thinking goes, the Internationals to hide some of the weak links in the lineup. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem rejected that idea.

If the U.S. side cruises to its fifth consecutive victory this week, as many predict, maybe the commish should consider letting Price & Co. annex Florida – the Sunshine State is, after all, home to the same number of International members as U.S. players (two).

For the blue-and-gold crowd, their best hope may rest with a shockingly inexperienced team (the International side includes seven rookies) and Price’s fresh perspective.

Based on Tuesday’s practice pairings, it seems Price is utilizing a version of 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger’s pods system to take advantage of the natural pairings of six South Africans and three Australians.

Price also seems to have plucked a page from U.S. captain Fred Couples’ book, a hands-free, laidback approach to what is always an intense week, particularly off the golf course.

“Two years ago (in Australia), we had a lot of dinners and it was very exhausting, especially after matches,” said Jason Day, who is a member at Muirfield Village. “Because when you go out with the team, you're going out for two to three hours at most and you're sitting there talking to people. ... So we are having maybe two dinners and that's about it. We are not really doing too much (this week). We're having dinners inside the hotel and that's it.”

That, however, will do little to solve the International’s woeful foursomes play. The margin of victory two years ago at Royal Melbourne was four points and the U.S. dominated the alternate-shot portion of the competition to the tune of 8-3.You do the math.

But then the foursomes problem is nothing new. Two years ago, then-captain Greg Norman tried to have his team arrive as early as possible in Australia to build familiarity, which is crucial to the alternate-shot format.

“If you look at the European side, talking to Colin Montgomerie a few years ago, he was told he was playing with (Nick) Faldo and he was sent a version of Faldo’s golf ball well before. Tiger is going to play with (Jason) Dufner and (Matt) Kuchar, so they only need to worry about two or three different kinds of golf balls,” said Frank Noblio, Norman’s assistant captain the last two cups.

“On the International side a lot of the guys don’t know each other and they don’t play a lot of golf together. Foursomes are an awkward one. You try to get the team to gel together. They don’t have a lot of experience in it.”

It was the elephant in the International team room when players arrived on Monday and Price set the tone early. When he sent his players out on Tuesday he had them compete in a modified alternate-shot format for their own money.

If there is any reason for International optimism it is a schedule adjustment for this year’s matches. For the first time since 1996, Thursday’s opening session will be fourball play. Think of it as a soft opening that should, in theory, allow the rookies to ease their way into the arena.

But that will mean little if the International side digs itself an early hole, like it has done every match since 1998. Nor does it help that, at least on paper, the Americans are an overwhelming favorite, with seven of the top 11 players in the world ranking sporting red, white and blue this week.

Even the potential American weaknesses seem mitigated by competitive reality. Jordan Spieth, a captain’s pick at 20 years old, has been the most consistent player regardless of nationality the last two months; and Steve Stricker, who failed to earn a point at last year’s Ryder Cup and played a limited schedule in 2013, sounded like he was ready to play another decade of team competitions on Tuesday.

“I would still like to think I've got a shot at making the Ryder Cup next year, especially the way I'm playing, and if I can continue to play the way I've been playing. And I would like to be a part of that again,” he said. “The way we left Medinah (site of last year’s Ryder Cup) was not a great feeling. So it would be nice to get one more crack at that.”

But if the Internationals are in need of a motivational tale they could find it at this year’s Solheim Cup. With a mixture of rookies and scarred veterans, the European team has won the last two matches after going 2-8-0 to start the series.

Sound familiar?

“We are the clear underdogs,” Day said. “It would mean a whole lot, not just to myself, but just to the whole team and to the rest of the world that follow the Presidents Cup. We are winning it for the rest of the world.”

Compared to Nicklaus’ take, Day’s optimism is downright effusive. Whether it is misplaced or not remains to be seen.

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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.