A ringing endorsement for golf in the Games

By Rex HoggardAugust 14, 2016, 9:10 pm

RIO DE JANEIRO – Those who figured golf was never suited for the Olympic podium, that the game’s majors made the Rio experiment a square hoop amid the Olympic rings, were given an alternative to consider on Sunday.

On a warm and sunny day in Rio the world watched golf. Really, the world, not just the avid core who have driven the game for decades.

The majors will always hold a place above and beyond anything else in golf - history wouldn’t allow any other ranking - and the Ryder Cup enjoys special status regardless of the lopsided nature of the last few matches.

But Olympic golf, a novelty concept for most until this week’s event, proved to be something different, something neither better nor worse than the game’s predetermined benchmarks but definitely apart from the norm.

What else could explain Matt Kuchar’s emotions after closing with a 63 to secure the bronze medal.

“This was a chance to medal and do something; my heart was pounding,” said Kuchar, who closed with an Olympic record-equaling 63. “I can assure you I’ve never been so excited to finish top 3 in my life. I’ve never felt this sort of pride just busting out of my chest before.”

It wasn’t an entirely perfect introduction for the game after a 112-year hiatus. The two biggest storylines heading into Sunday were Matthew McConaughey, the man of Oscar-winning fame who made a cameo at the event on Friday to watch Rickie Fowler, and capybaras, the oversized rats that call the Olympic Golf Course home.

Some of that languid start had to do with Marcus Fraser, an engaging Australian who set the early pace for two days. But the 90th-ranked player in the world did little to improve golf’s appeal considering he was the sixth-best Australian who received his Olympic start only after Jason Day, Adam Scott, Marc Leishman and Matt Jones declined to make the trip.

Olympic golf coverage: Articles, photos and videos

The four Americans in the field also added little to the buzz through three days, with the group a collective 5 over par in Round 1 and none of them inside the top 10 heading into the final round.

On Sunday, however, the game responded with Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson quickly separating themselves from the field and turned what was always going to be a marathon relative to most Olympic sports into a medal-deciding sprint.

The Swede took a share of the lead with a 35-foot birdie putt at the second, the Englishman answered to regain his advantage with a 4-footer at the third and so it went.

The two were tied after the 10th hole and Stenson knotted the proceedings again with a 4 -ooter for birdie at the 16th hole to set up the kind of dramatic exchange one expects at the game’s most important events.

History will show Rose won England’s first gold medal in golf by a cool two strokes, but that detail ignores Stenson’s three-putt at the last after his bold birdie attempt ran some 8 feet past the hole. Players had said all along they wouldn’t play any differently with medals on the line than they would if it were a major, and Stenson’s play proved the point.

Although silver may be an acquired consolation for golfers, Stenson acknowledged the surreal satisfaction of a trip to the Olympic podium, even if the shade of medal (silver) wasn’t exactly what he’d hope to go home with.

“I wanted to put myself in contention and fight it out for the medals and I did that,” said Stenson, who closed with a 68 for a 14-under total. “Of course I would have liked to sit there with the gold rather than a silver but all in all I'm pretty pleased with my performance.”

It’s a testament to Stenson’s resolve this year that his finish was somewhat tempered by what has been by any measure an eventful season after he began the year fresh off knee surgery and withdrew from the Qatar Masters and from the U.S. Open with neck and knee issues.

But he rebounded from those setbacks by winning his first major last month at Royal Troon and seemed to embrace the unique satisfaction of a silver medal on Sunday in Rio.

Even Kuchar’s bronze medal-winning performance was captivating when you consider on July 2, a week before the deadline to qualify for the Games, he was outside the top 15 in the world ranking.

The 38-year-old tied for third at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational to move to No. 15 in the world and when Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth declined their spots on the American team Kuchar found himself bound for Rio.

“I had a great last couple months of golf that crept me inside the top 15 in the world ranking,” said Kuchar, who spent exactly two weeks in the top 15 to earn his spot as an Olympian. “It took a couple guys not playing for me to get in and I thought this might just be fate.”

Not bad for a guy who just a week earlier was unclear on the format for this week’s competition.

But it was Rose’s victory, a ball-striking masterpiece that at least outwardly appeared effortless, that sealed golf’s transition from a curiosity to a competitive fit for the Olympics.

Throughout all the turmoil that seemed to consume golf’s return to the Games – from construction delays at the Rio golf course to concerns over the Zika virus that drove away a healthy portion of the game’s top players – Rose never wavered in his commitment to Olympic golf.

That dedication began with his decision to arrive in Rio early to march in the Opening Ceremony and his dogged focus to treat these Games as more than just a sightseeing adventure interrupted by the occasional round of golf.

While the American team basked in the glow of the Olympic flame, rubbing elbows with other athletes and making regular calls to other events, Rose approached the event with a singular focus.

On Saturday American Bubba Watson admitted, “This is a dream of a lifetime. I'm hanging with the athletes. I mean, golf just gets in my way. I want to go watch the other sports.”

While that approach is perfectly understandable, admirable even for those who had never even been given the opportunity to dream in Olympic terms, it wasn’t good enough for Rose.

Rose savored the experience, but never lost focus on why he was in Rio.

“I made a big deal of this all year,” said Rose, who finished his week with four rounds in the 60s (67-69-65-67) for a 16-under total. “I got in on Friday - that’s typical with what I would do for a major. I felt very inspired this week, very focused and motivated.”

There’s no accounting for what place Olympic golf will hold in the hierarchy of importance in coming years. The fact is the game is assured only one more start in 2020 at the Tokyo Games, but if Sunday’s finale holds any sway it certainly made a persuasive pitch to remain on the podium.

Asked how he would debate the benefits of golf remaining on the Olympic program, Rose went with an economy of words: “Anybody making the decision I’d ask, were you in Rio on Sunday?”

Getty Images

CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.) 

Getty Images

Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

Getty Images

Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

Getty Images

Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.