Memorial stands as one of Jack's greatest accomplishments

By Rex HoggardMay 28, 2014, 7:21 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – In the spring of 1974 Richard Nixon was president, the nationwide speed limit was set to 55 mph, Cannonade won the Kentucky Derby and Jack Nicklaus opened Muirfield Village Golf Club.

Within weeks Nixon was impeached, the speed limit has long since changed and Cannonade failed to convert his next two Triple Crown starts. But Muirfield Village and Nicklaus’ vision for the club that would host his own Memorial tournament endure.

This is the 38th playing of the Memorial, and in 40 years Nicklaus freely admits the layout that the world’s best players will set out on Thursday bears little resemblance to the version that Roger Maltbie won on in 1976.

“It’s kind of amazing, 40 years, it seems like a long time. And, frankly, it is,” Nicklaus said on Wednesday during his annual State of the Golden Bear press conference.

Everything about Muirfield Village and the Memorial has evolved, from the purse – Maltbie won $40,000 in ’76 compared to the $1.116 million that this week’s champion will pocket – to the golf course, which will play 365 yards longer than it did during that inaugural tournament.

Even the patriarch’s role has changed.

“Back in those days I was pretty much chief cook and bottle washer,” Nicklaus laughed. “I sort of was involved in everything.”

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Nicklaus then broke into the kind of anecdote that makes his annual spring Q&A a can’t-miss stop for those who carry notebooks.

He recalled filling caddie Angelo Argea’s bib with assorted trash he would pick up as he played his rounds and pleading with the superintendent to be careful with green speeds “in case something happens.”

Something happened in 1979, when a breezy and hot afternoon turned Sunday’s final round into a competitive pile up when Nicklaus closed with a 79 and greens speeds exceeded 17 on the Stimpmeter.

“Everybody squawked bloody murder,” he recalled.

Officially, Nicklaus has five children and 22 grandchildren, but Muirfield Village has been every bit his progeny. Throughout the years, the Golden Bear has tinkered and tweaked the layout to improve and change with the times.

Nicklaus will, with very little prodding, walk through every change as well as every challenge. The chief culprit throughout the years has been the ever-increasing distance that the game’s top players hit the ball.

“I certainly didn't expect the golf ball to go 50 yards further,” he said. “We've adapted and adjusted to that the best we can with what piece of property we had.”

Even this year’s event will feature a few changes, including a new tee at the 18th hole that will play 40 yards longer than it did at last year’s Memorial, and he’s not done.

“I'll probably take about half a dozen bunkers out of the right of 18 because I don't need them anymore,” he said.

The one thing that hasn’t changed throughout the decades is Nicklaus’ vision for his tournament, which ranks just below the majors and World Golf Championships on the Tour dance card.

Much like he did throughout his legendary career, Nicklaus has always had a good handle on what he wanted his tournament, and his golf course, to be – nothing more, nothing less.

“We positioned ourselves to try to be a service to the game of golf, no different than what Augusta started out to do,” Nicklaus said. “That was sort of my guiding light to what I wanted to do.”

Much like Augusta National, there is a reverence for the Memorial that transcends your normal PGA Tour stop. Among the Legend Slam events – the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Byron Nelson Championship and Colonial – the Memorial is the clear front-runner.

Much of that has to do with the tournament’s history, some with the golf course, but most of that devotion is vested in the tournament host.

“It’s exciting to be able to play here and have the opportunity to win in front of Jack,” said Jason Day, who now lives in the area. “That would be a great honor.”

Even Tiger Woods, who has been on the DL since having back surgery on March 31, called Nicklaus Wednesday morning. “He was saying that he felt bad about not being able to be here,” Nicklaus said.

It will be Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships, which Woods is forever tied to, that will always define his him; but the Memorial and Muirfield Village rank as a solid second on that historic resume.

“I think we've done very well. I'm certainly not unhappy with anything that's happened I'm very happy with where we are,” he said in his signature understated style.

Those in this week’s field would say he’s done much better than that.

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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.