A major, a marriage, and maybe a claret jug

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2017, 3:36 pm

SOUTHPORT, England – Cuanto más azúcar más dulce.

The literal translation from Sergio Garcia’s native Spanish is, “The more sugar, the sweeter,” but a more nuanced meaning was etched into the 37-year-old’s face when he bounded into the media center at Royal Birkdale to chat with scribes at The Open.

There is a notable spring in Garcia’s step these days that’s been missing at various points over his lengthy career, although when asked about his improved outlook he appeared to purposely gloss over the finer details.

“I don't think so. Do I seem like a different person?” was his response when asked if he has been magically transformed by his victory earlier this year at Augusta National.

For personal purposes it’s probably best Garcia doesn’t indulge in such an emotional deep dive at this junction in his career. Healthy, happy, hungry – nothing to see here.

This week is, after all, a big one for El Nino. The Open was always the one he envisioned winning growing up in Castellon, Spain.

“As a European, The Open is the one you relate to because I remember in Spain as a kid, we couldn't see the Masters on TV. The British Open, you could see it here and there, and also it was during the day,” he said. “You do kind of really relate to this one a little bit more.”

Garcia’s resume at the ancient gathering also feeds that narrative. It was at The Open where Padraig Harrington broke his heart a decade ago at Carnoustie and Rory McIlroy held him off in ’14 at Royal Liverpool for what are, by any measure, gutting near-misses.


The Open: Full-field tee times | Full coverage


Everything about links golf works in Garcia’ favor. His ball-striking, which has always been the standard others aspire to, was a perfect fit for the cold, wet wind that can make the game’s oldest championship such a test, and his sometimes-pedestrian putting is mitigated by what are normally the slowest greens on the Grand Slam dance card.

He played his first major in ’96 at Royal Lytham as a 16-year-old amateur, and began his Grand Slam career as a professional three years later at Carnoustie when he shot 89-83 and sobbed on his mother's shoulder on his way out of Scotland.

That he arrives on the English coast this week with such momentum, both on and off the course, only fuels the notion that his name is destined to be etched into the claret jug.

Breaking through the Grand Slam ceiling at Augusta National has undoubtedly helped, but there are limitations to the correlation.

“Winning the Masters was amazing and it does give you a little bit of extra confidence, and I've been having a very solid year. So all of those things are great,” Garcia said. “But every week is different, and you don't know how you're going to feel when you go out there on the course.”

Perhaps, but off the course Garcia’s fortunes have improved dramatically in recent years and there is an undeniable cause-and-effect relationship between his personal and professional outlook.

Earlier this year he announced his engagement to Angela Akins and the two are scheduled to marry next week, and his performance on the course has dovetailed with that milestone. He began the year with a victory at the Dubai Desert Classic, hasn’t missed a cut anywhere in the world in 2017 and finished runner-up in his last start (the BMW International Open).

By comparison, although it’s anecdotal following his high-profile split with then-girlfriend Morgan-Leigh Norman in ’09, Garcia’s game went to a similarly dark place.

After winning The Players in ’08, Garcia went four years without another victory on the PGA Tour, he failed to qualify for the Ryder Cup in ’10 – the only time he’s missed the matches in his career – and tumbled to outside the top 80 in the world ranking.

“I felt I had to stop playing the game for a while,” Garcia said at the time.

Although he’s understandably reluctant to revisit those difficult days, the juxtaposition between his demeanor then and now is dramatic, regardless of how the numbers add up on his scorecard.

Bad bounces no longer burrow into his psyche like they once did and even his pre-Masters major record no longer haunts him the way it once did as evidenced on Monday when he was asked if having a green jacket in his wardrobe somehow makes all of those bridesmaid finishes a little more palatable.

“They're still painful because they're chances that you wish you would have taken and unfortunately you didn't,” he said. “It definitely made the Masters more enjoyable, I would put it that way.”

For a player who has always worn his emotions on his Gore-Tex, there was no denying the smirk that creased across his face when asked if this Open, his 21st start at the championship, is somehow different.

“I am excited about it. I am confident about my possibilities, but I can't tell you if I'm going to be right up there on Sunday with a chance,” he shrugged. “I'm hoping that I will be but unfortunately it doesn't work like that every week.”

Pressure can be relative. Expectations had built for decades before Garcia finally broke through at Augusta National and that really hasn’t changed at the major that has always meant the most to him. The only difference now is that life is still sweet, with or without a trophy.

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 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%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

BORN IN 1912

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


BORN IN 1949

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


BORN IN 1955

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


EUROPE'S BIG 5

Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


BORN IN 1980

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.