2014 Newsmaker No. 2: The Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardDecember 19, 2014, 1:00 pm

At its core the 2014 Ryder Cup was a case study in contrasting styles.

For Europe, Paul McGinley’s detail-oriented leadership was familiar, a legacy passed from captain to captain, while U.S. front-man Tom Watson represented a break from tradition.

The 65-year-old, two-time captain was supposed to be the game-changer, the variable that would allow the Americans to end a slide of five losses in the last six matches, but the juxtaposition between the two team rooms was vivid from the outset.

For the Europeans, the decision to choose McGinley was political and public and very much player driven. But for the American side, the decision to name Watson captain was made behind closed doors by a frighteningly small group of PGA of America executives.

“I know I speak for a lot of people when I say, we are just really tired of losing the Ryder Cup, and the decision to name this gentleman as our next captain, a lot of that was just about our weariness of what's happened in the past few Ryder Cups and we certainly hope that trend can change,” said then PGA president Ted Bishop in December 2012.

In the run up to this year’s matches, McGinley played 28 times around the globe to endear and introduce himself to potential players. Watson, on the other hand, played just 10 times over the last two years in non-Champions Tour events and struggled to keep current with the changing face of American golf.

Although he would specifically reference Brooks Koepka, the young American who forged his way onto the PGA Tour via the European circuit, as a player he considered for one of his three captain’s picks, just a month earlier during a brief exchange at the PGA Championship Watson would ask Koepka what golf course he worked at, confusing him for one of the PGA club professionals at the event.

Watson appeared to waffle with his captain’s picks, going with Webb Simpson over Bill Haas in an 11th hour decision, while McGinley, who likely had a more difficult decision considering the depth of his potential picks, went with experience and consistency in Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood.

2014 Newsmakers: 3. Tiger4. Social Media | 5. Bishop | 6. Wie7. Reed8. R&A9. Bubba | 10. DJ | Honorable mentions

But it was when the teams arrived at Gleneagles that the contrasting styles became so glaring.

McGinley kept his team loose and on point.

“Complacency . . . concentration,” smiled Rory McIlroy when asked on Sunday night to relay McGinley’s message for the week.

“Wave after wave,” followed Graeme McDowell.

“When the storm comes, we’ll be the rock,” added Justin Rose.

“Have fun,” McGinley smiled.

Watson, meanwhile, seemed to send mixed messages with many players unsure of who they would be paired with until the night before the matches, and his no-nonsense style failed to resonate with modern players.

That disconnect seemed to come to a boil during a team-bonding meeting Saturday night in Scotland. According to various reports, Watson scoffed at a gift given to him by his players, criticized many of the team members and took no responsibility for the American's four-point deficit heading into Sunday singles following a particularly dismal performance in foursomes play.

“The obvious answer is that our team has to play better,” said Watson after the U.S. team’s 16 1/2 to 11 1/2 point loss. “That's the obvious answer. I think they recognize that fact, that somehow, collectively, 12 players have to play better.”

From there things continued to unravel.

Where McGinley’s players focused on their captain’s message and the passion he brought to his team, Watson’s 12 appeared disinterested and, at least in the case of Phil Mickelson, disenfranchised.

“Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best,” Mickelson said, adding, “No. No, nobody here was in any decision.”

There were rare bright spots for the U.S. side, including the solid play of rookies Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth, an inspired pairing that went undefeated in team play.

From the failed Watson experiment also came a newfound willingness by the PGA to be inclusive in its search for answers. The Ryder Cup task force, an 11-member panel that consists mostly of former captains and current players, met for the first time this month and there seems to be no rush to name the next captain.

The consensus among some observers, including Watson, suggests there’s nothing wrong with the U.S. Ryder Cup system that better play, particularly better putting, can’t fix. But that analysis ignores the fact the Europeans were five points better at Gleneagles.

This wasn’t a near miss like the one-point losses at Medinah in 2012 and Celtic Manor in ’10; this was a boat race that began at the top for each team.

Never before in the modern history of the matches have each team’s contrasting styles been so stark, and never before has it been so clear that a captain can make a difference, for better or worse.

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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.'"

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."

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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.