Ryder Cup asst. captain picks become interesting

By Rex HoggardFebruary 25, 2015, 7:57 pm

For the American sideline, picking an assistant Ryder Cup captain has been akin to piecing together a seating chart for a wedding.

Your Uncle Sal may be a cherished member of the family, but do you really want to spend two hours trying to make small talk with the guy?

So while there’s never been a shortage of available players with the institutional moxie to make a real difference as an assistant, more times than not the coveted cart keys went to friends. The kind of guys you’d want to spend a few days with in a team room.

That’s not to say the recent crop of assistants weren’t deserving, accomplished players in their own right, but were they right for the job? Were they right for the team?

In 2012, for example, Davis Love III named Fred Couples, Jeff Sluman, Scott Verplank and Mike Hulbert his assistants.

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Freddie is, well, Freddie, always the coolest guy in the room who just happens to be a three-time winning Presidents Cup captain; Verplank is one of the few Americans with at least two starts in the biennial matches with a winning record (4-1-0).

But consider Sluman: a former PGA champion, good guy, but he’s never played on a Ryder Cup team. Ditto for Hulbert.

In 2010, Corey Pavin went with Tom Lehman, Love and Paul Goydos – who, again, is one of the most interesting people who ever played the game at the highest level, but he’s also never played a match for Team USA.

This disconnect was atop the Ryder Cup task force’s “to do” list when they went to work in December. As part of America’s extreme makeover, teams will now feature four assistants: two former captains – like Lehman, who was named Love’s assistant for the 2016 matches on Tuesday – and two former Ryder Cup players who will be groomed for a future captaincy.

“I would expect Davis to be an assistant captain in 2018 because he is going to have invaluable information from this year’s cup that he has to pass on and share,” said task force member Phil Mickelson. “That’s going to be a requirement.”

In practical terms, the next logical move for the six-member Ryder Cup committee, a scaled-down version of the task force that will be calling the shots going forward, would be to name Paul Azinger Love’s second “past captain” assistant.

Azinger told GolfChannel.com last week that he withdrew his name from consideration to captain next year’s team “for many reasons, personal and business,” but he did not rule out a turn as an assistant in 2016. “I’m not going there at this point,” he said via text message.

The more interesting selections, at least with an eye toward the future, would be Love’s two “player” assistants, the captains-in-waiting.

Couples, who was an early front-runner for the ’16 job but faded quickly according to various sources, could be an interesting choice. Love and Couples are long-time friends and a spot on the sidelines at Hazeltine National next year could indicate Freddie’s chances of ever captaining a team are still alive.

The other options would likely depend on player performance. Stricker, Jim Furyk, Mickelson and David Toms would all fit the formula and would be popular choices as captains-in-waiting but are likely more interested in playing next year.

As a measure of the commitment the task force members have to the new system, Lefty was asked if he’d embrace a role as one of Love’s “plus ones” if he failed to make the team. “Undoubtedly, I would love to do that,” he said.

Of all the changes the PGA of America unveiled Tuesday in South Florida, this legacy program may be the most sweeping and have the most long-term impact. While the task force gave players the voice they’d been wanting, the captain’s apprenticeship program creates the continuity that has been missing from the matches for the last decade.

It’s worth noting, in light of Tuesday’s overhaul, that Tom Watson had his own version of a legacy formula.

Old Tom went old school with his assistants last year, tabbing Raymond Floyd, Andy North and Steve Stricker, a savvy past captain in Floyd and a likely future captain in Stricker.

It’s interesting that Watson will be remembered in some circles as the face of the new Ryder Cup system for all the wrong reasons after last year’s Contentious Cup. Without Watson the PGA of America likely never turns to a task force for answers.

It’s just as telling that a central part of the new deal will be a legacy for captains past, present and future. Maybe Watson wasn’t as bad as advertised.

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x