New year, same mission for Spieth

By Rex HoggardJanuary 6, 2016, 1:37 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – It’s been less than a month since Jordan Spieth put the finishing touches on 2015 - a historic season by any measure - and began the process of reloading.

Five wins, two major championships and a shot at the single-season Grand Slam through 71 holes at the Open Championship all speaks to Spieth’s dominance last year. Now he faces the daunting task of following up what would be a once-in-a-career year for most players.

At 22 years old, Spieth knows he will be judged by 2015. It’s the way of sports.

“It just seems that you're judging from the previous year in my mind,” he said on Tuesday at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. “That's the general public, so I give you my perspective as being in the general public.”

But the demands of a “now” public aside, Spieth also realizes that the realities of the modern Tour and a split-schedule create a blurred line between seasons that can be exploited.

For Spieth, there has been little distinction between the 2015 season, which ended with his victory at the Tour Championship in September, and the start of a new campaign.

He’s already posted a top-10 finish this season, a tie for seventh at the WGC-HSBC Champions in November, and admittedly didn’t have a lot of time to dwell on what he achieved in ’15.

“I'm not even thinking of it as a new year. I'm just thinking of we had a three-week break and we're just continuing to hopefully stay at the same level,” Spieth said.

There was time to assess his game and focus on the areas he felt were needing, like his wedge play, which he called “average” in 2015, from 60 to 140 yards.

He and swing coach Cameron McCormick spent the abbreviated offseason devising a plan to improve his wedge game, which will be put to the test this week in Maui.

As for how he plans to improve on that 2015 campaign, which would not exactly qualify as low-hanging fruit, he does have goals for the new year, but is reluctant to give details.

Hyundai Tournament of Champions: Articles, photos and videos

Getting in contention at the year’s major championships is the most obvious area of interest after giving himself a chance at all four Grand Slam stops last season.

“If I can get there at least a couple times this year again, that means that our plan building up to the majors is working, continuing to work, and then it comes down to each individual event, being able to close them out,” he said.

Although it’s a small sample size, he also has room for improvement over the next two months.

Spieth, who turned pro in 2012, has never won before March as the Tour makes its way through the West Coast swing.

To be fair, it’s not as though Spieth is winless on the West Coast. Last year at Chambers Bay in Washington he won his second consecutive major, which would suggest it’s more about time than place.

His best finish to start the year on the West Coast is a runner-up showing the only other time he’s played in Maui, when he finished a stroke behind Zach Johnson.

On Tuesday at Kapalua, he explained that he “loves the grainy Bermuda” greens on the Plantation Course, which are largely considered some of the circuit’s most challenging putting surfaces.

It’s a nod to growing up in Texas on Bermuda greens, and he admitted that poa annua greens at other West Coast stops are more difficult for him.

“Poa annua throws me off with my speed a little bit. It takes breaks a bit different,” he said. “I've struggled a little in San Diego putting. Here and there I have good putting rounds, but I would say that makes a difference being on comfortable grass versus the normal California tournaments.”

But then getting off the West Coast swing schneid would only heighten the anticipation going into the major championship season, and he seemed to acknowledge the inevitable realities of unrealistic expectations born from 2015.

At such heights, only Tiger Woods in the modern era was able to maintain a level of profound consistency from year to year. Even Rory McIlroy, whose career now includes four majors, has proven himself vulnerable to the occasional swoon when he failed to add to his Grand Slam total in 2013 and '15.

Instead, Spieth has embraced the long view as evidenced by his answer on Tuesday when he was asked how he plans to pull off an encore in 2016.

“Doesn't an encore mean that the show is then over?” he smiled. “I hope I've got like 40 years out here . . . To be honest, I'm not thinking of this as anything different. When you write the date, that's about it in my mind. I think we've just had a little bit of a break.”

It may be a new calendar for the Tour, but for Spieth the mission remains the same.

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Top-ranked amateur wins LAAC, earns Masters invite

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 23, 2018, 5:38 pm

Joaquin Niemann walked Augusta National Golf Club as a patron last year. He’ll be a competitor in 2018.

Niemann, the top-ranked amateur in the world, shot 8-under 63 Tuesday at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Santiago, Chile, to win the Latin America Amateur Championship.

And with the title, both redemption and an invitation to the Masters Tournament.

Full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Niemann finished runner-up in last year’s LAAC to fellow Chilean Toto Gana. He followed Gana around Augusta grounds, watching as his best friend played two rounds before missing the cut.

Niemann, who was going to turn professional had he not won this week, started the final round one back of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz. Niemann was sluggish from the start on Tuesday, but then drove the 313-yard, par-4 eighth and made the eagle putt. That sparked a run of five birdies over his next six holes.

Niemann was bogey-free in the final round and finished five shots clear of Ortiz, at 11 under.

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Judges Panel, Host Announced for Wilson Golf's "Driver vs. Driver 2," Premiering This Fall on Golf Channel

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJanuary 23, 2018, 4:15 pm

‘Driver vs. Driver 2 Presented by Wilson Currently in Production; Sports Broadcaster Melanie Collins Returns to Host

Morning Drive: Driver vs. Driver 2 Judges Announced

Golf Channel and Wilson Golf announced today the panel of judges and host for the second season of Driver vs. Driver, the innovative television series that follows aspiring golf equipment designers as they compete for the opportunity to have their driver idea or concept transformed into the next great golf driver from Wilson. The show is currently in production and will premiere this fall.

Joining judge Tim Clarke, President of Wilson Golf, are two newcomers to the series: 9-time National Hockey League (NHL) All-Star and current NHL on NBC hockey analyst Jeremy Roenick – an avid golfer with a single digit handicap and a self-described golf equipment junkie; and PGA Professional, golf coach, equipment reviewer and social media influencer Rick Shiels.

“Golf is a big passion of mine, and personally I enjoy learning about new equipment and concepts,” said Roenick. “To be able to see this side of the business in how equipment is developed first-hand is fascinating. Being a part of the process in reviewing driver concepts and narrowing them down to an ultimate winning driver that will be sold across the country is a tremendous honor.” 

“Jeremy, as an avid golfer, and Rick, as a coach, equipment reviewer and golf professional, bring incredible, real world insights and different perspectives to the show and this process,” said Clarke. “I’m excited to work alongside these two judges to push the boundaries of innovation and bring a next-generation driver to golfers around the world.”

Sports broadcaster Melanie Collins returns as the host of Driver vs. Driver 2. Currently a sideline reporter for CBS Sports’ college football and basketball coverage, Collins hosted the inaugural season in 2016 and formerly co-hosted Golf Channel’s competition series, Big Break.

Production for Driver vs. Driver 2 began in the fall of 2017 and will continue through the summer, including this week at the PGA Merchandise Show. The series is being produced by Golf Channel, whose portfolio of original productions include interview series Feherty hosted by Emmy-nominated sports personality David Feherty, high-quality instruction shows School of Golf, Golf Channel Academy and Playing Lessons and a slate of award-winning films.

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Tiger Tracker: Farmers Insurance Open

By Tiger TrackerJanuary 23, 2018, 4:00 pm

Tiger Woods is competing in a full-field event for the first time in nearly a year. We're tracking him at this week's Farmers Insurance Open. (Note: Tweets read, in order, left to right)

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Wie's goal to reach goals: Just. Stay. Healthy.

By Randall MellJanuary 23, 2018, 3:30 pm

Michelle Wie’s player bio should come with medical charts.

Her caddie would be well served if he could read X-rays as well as he reads greens.

Remarkably, Wie will begin her 13th full season as a pro when she tees it up Thursday in the LPGA’s season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic.

Wie is only 28, but on some days, she must feel like she’s going on 40.

It isn’t the years, it’s the mileage. Her body has too often been like an exotic sports car, a sleek and powerful machine capable of thrilling rides ... when it isn’t sitting it in the shop for weeks for repairs. There’s been one breakdown after another, spoiling her rides.

That’s why one burning desire trumps all others for Wie as she begins this new year.

“Being healthy, staying healthy, it’s my No. 1 priority,” Wie told “I hired private physios at the end of last year, to work on my body. I’ve been working with my doctors in New York, and they’ve been doing a great job of getting me to a place where I’m pain free.

“For the most part, I’m feeling pretty good and pretty healthy. I’ve got little aches and pains from hitting so many balls over the years, but I’m really excited about starting this year. I feel really driven this year. I just want to be healthy so I can build some momentum and be able to play at 100 percent.”

Wie would love to see what she can do in an injury-free, illness-free year after all the promising work she put into rebuilding her game last year. She seemed on the brink of something special again.

“We worked last week, and Michelle looked really, really good,” said David Leadbetter, her swing coach. “It’s quite impressive the way she’s hitting the ball. She is hitting it long and feeling good about her game. So, the main goal really is to see if she can go injury free.”

After winning twice in 2014, including the U.S. Women’s Open, Wie battled through a troublesome finger injury in the second half of that year. Hip, knee and ankle injuries followed the next year. She didn’t just lose all her good momentum. She lost the swing she grooved.

Wie rebuilt it all last year, turning her draw into a dependable fade that allowed her to play more aggressively again. She loved being able to go hard at the ball again, without fearing where it might go. The confidence from that filtered into every part of her game. She started hitting more drivers again.

And Wie found yet another eccentric but effective putting method, abandoning her table-top putting stance for a rotating trio of grips (conventional, left-hand low and claw). She would use them all in a single round. It was weird science, but it worked as she moved to a more classic, upright stance.

“It’s not pretty, but it’s working,” Stacy Lewis said after playing with Wie at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship last summer.

Wie said she’s going back and forth between conventional and left-hand low now.

“I can’t promise I’ll stay the same way all year,” Wie said. “But even with different grips, I stayed with the same putting philosophy all year. I want to keep doing that.”

Leadbetter calls Wie a rebel in her approach to the game. She’s a power player, but she carried a 9-wood and 11-wood last year. She says the 11-wood will be back in her bag this week. Her unorthodox ways go beyond technique, strategy and equipment. She’ll be sporting pink hair come Thursday.

“She has never been orthodox,” Leadbetter said. “She doesn’t like to conform. She’s always liked to buck the system in some way.”

Wie looked as if she were poised to make a run at her fifth career title last season. She logged six finishes of fourth place or better the first half of the year. She contended at the ANA Inspiration, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

And then a neck spasm knocked her out of the U.S. Women’s Open.

And then emergency appendectomy surgery knocked her out for six weeks at summer’s end. It kept her from playing the year’s final major, the Evian Championship.

“I can’t list all the injuries Michelle has had in her career,” Leadbetter said. “I don’t think there is one joint or bone in her body that hasn’t had some sort of injury or issue.”

Over the last three seasons alone, Wie has played through bursitis in her left hip, a bone spur in her left foot and inflammation in her left knee. She has battled neck spasms and back spasms. There have been platelet rich plasma injections to aid healing, and there have been too many cortisone injections for her liking.

There also have been ongoing issues in both wrists.

In fact, Wie, who broke two bones in her left wrist early in her career, is dealing with arthritic issues in both wrists of late. She underwent collagen injections this off season to try to be more pain free.

“I’ve had to pull back the last couple years, restrict the number of balls I hit, not practice as much as I would like, but I was able to put in a lot of work this offseason,” Wie said. “I’m excited about this year, but I’ve been smart about things.”

Leadbetter says he has been focusing on injury prevention when working with Wie. He worries about the stress that all the torque she creates can have on her body, with her powerful coil and the way she sometimes likes to hold off shots with her finish. His work, sometimes, is pulling her back from the tinkering she loves to do.

“Everything we do with her swing now is to help prevent injury,” he said.

Leadbetter relishes seeing what’s possible in 2018 if there are no setbacks.

“Michelle would be the first to admit she hasn’t reached anywhere near her potential,” Leadbetter said. “We all know what she is capable of. We’ve had fleeting glimpses. Now, it’s a matter of, ‘OK, let’s see if we can really fulfill the potential she’s had from a very young age.’

“She’s really enthusiastic about this year. She can’t wait to get back in the mix.”