Moore throws kink into already-established pods

By Rex HoggardSeptember 26, 2016, 8:55 pm

ATLANTA – With the final piece of Davis Love III’s Ryder Cup team in place, it’s time to get to the important stuff.

As difficult as Sunday night’s final pick was for the American captain, the bigger challenge in the coming days will be to fit the U.S. puzzle together in a way that ends Europe’s dominance in the matches.

That heavy lifting has already started.

“We know who is going to be playing with who, when they’re going to be playing, what matches,” Mickelson said earlier this month.

The blueprint has been in place for weeks, if not months, and is based on a similar “pods” system to the one used by Paul Azinger in 2008, when the U.S. last won the Ryder Cup.

The reason behind the pods is to provide continuity for players and a clear plan long before Love’s dozen arrived at Hazeltine National. The groups will offer a glimpse into how the Americans plan to pair for the team portion of the competition.

Although players gave little insight into potential pairings as they left East Lake bound for Haziltine, based on various sources and historical pairings, one pod will likely include Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar.

Spieth and Reed were one of the few bright spots for the U.S. team in 2014 in Scotland, going 2-0-1 including a Day 1 four-ball victory over European stalwart Ian Poulter and Stephen Gallacher. Breaking up that duo would be unlikely.

“Maybe it's because we just want to beat each other. Maybe it's because we both feel like we're good match play players and we can feed off of each other's games,” Spieth said when asked why he and Reed played so well together.

“We both believe in each other on the greens, which is really important in a best-ball scenario and an alternate-shot scenario. If you feel like the pressure's off on getting proximity as close as you may feel for yourself, it relieves a lot of the tee to green pressure.”

The second pod will likely include Phil Mickelson, Brandt Snedeker, Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler.

Mickelson historically likes to pair with younger players, feeding off the energy his partner brings to the matches, and he would be a good fit with Fowler; although it seems more likely Love will send Walker and Fowler out early and leave Lefty, who will probably be limited to the four-ball sessions, to team with Snedeker.

Walker and Fowler went 0-1-3 together at Gleneagles and also played well together for two days at last year’s Presidents Cup, dropping a close Day 2 four-ball match on their way to a 1-1 record.

The most interesting and entertaining potential pod will be the game’s ultimate power threesome of Dustin Johnson, J.B. Holmes and Brooks Koepka, a group that ranks first, second and 19th, respectively, on the PGA Tour in driving distance.

Johnson and Koepka work with the same swing coach, Claude Harmon, and play similar games, but then the selection process suggests none of that matters.

Bubba Watson seemed to be the favorite to land Love’s final captain’s pick until Ryan Moore took Rory McIlroy to the wire at East Lake. While most agree Moore was the right pick, he’s probably not an ideal fit with the bombers and will require some late adjustments from Team USA.

Love has made no secret of his use of statistics to prepare for this week’s matches, but the science will probably stop when it comes to his team pairings.

Imagine the scene on Sunday night with Love and vice captains Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods huddled around a card table – a surreal image, indeed – mixing and matching index cards with players’ names on them in an attempt to produce the best possible teams and flexibility.

There are no statistics to quantify how one player will interact under Ryder Cup pressure with another.

“It’s all about chemistry of the two players, it doesn’t matter to me if one’s a long hitter and one’s a short hitter,” said Butch Harmon, the swing coach for roughly one-third of the U.S. team.

“It’s about how they get along because at one point in time something is going to go wrong out there and if you got a guy that you bond well with and you’re good with, you can hit it off the world and the other guy will just put his arm around him and say, ‘Who cares, we’re 1 down. Let’s go get them on the next hole.”

Perhaps the most telling forewarning of the mystical bond required to create a successful team came at the 2004 Ryder Cup when captain Hal Sutton sent Woods and Mickelson out in Friday’s first match. They lost, 2 and 1, to Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington. Sutton compounded the miscue in the next session with the same result, a loss to Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood.

“Look at Oakland Hills with Phil and Tiger, they weren’t even talking to each other,” Harmon said. “That was a disaster.”

But then even friends don’t always add up to much-needed points.

Dustin Johnson and Mickelson are regular Tuesday practice round partners and long-time friends, but in 2012 in Wales the duo was rolled over in the two opening team sessions, 3 and 2.

“I think I can partner well with pretty much anyone, except for Phil. Me and him don't partner well together. We play well against each other,” Johnson said. “I love Phil, and we're great friends, but we have a lot more fun when we're playing against each other, not as partners.”

Of course, all of the science and psychology can’t replace the most central element of any competition – good play.

“It’s as simple as a guy who plays good golf,” said Kuchar when asked what makes a good partner. “A good partner is a guy who hits it on the green, hits it on the fairway and makes putts.”

Love and his company of committed vice captains will leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of perfection, but ultimately it’s the play, not the pairings, that will decide the 41st Ryder Cup.

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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."

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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.