Spieth finds putting magic with function over form

By Rex HoggardJune 22, 2017, 11:35 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Despite the occasional internal pep talk, like on the 12th hole Thursday at the Travelers Championship when he sent his approach over the green, Jordan Spieth is among the most cerebral players in the game.

For all the talk of rediscovering that magical feel with his putter in recent weeks, he’s arrived at this competitive crossroads only after extensive study and plenty of science.

For a part of the game that’s so often based on such nuanced elements, Spieth can tell you with a great amount of certainty what needs to happen to putt his best. He can tell you because his swing coach Cameron McCormick told him.

“[McCormick] has got all the logs, videos and SAM Putting Lab System information from my best to my worst weeks and everywhere in between,” Spieth said at TPC River Highlands. “We've charted it down.”

Spieth knows, for example, that regardless of the path of the stroke or the rotation of the putter head, he’s at his best when his action is more consistent, 95 percent or better consistency to be exact.

He can tell you his conversion rate from 10 feet is 55.5 percent, which is 10th on the PGA Tour, and his putting average (1.716) ranks third – which are both telling statistics considering how much of the narrative in recent weeks has focused on Spieth’s perceived putting woes.

He’s thought all this through and is comfortable with the plan he and McCormick have devised. And he will tell you that none of that matters, or at least it shouldn’t matter, right now.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

For Spieth, the time for science is over.

“I've been trying to make my stroke perfect with the perfect consistency, and there is really no point,” he said. “If you're looking at a spot and you set up and you know you're set up there and you can consistently hit it there, then it doesn't really matter what the stroke looked like.”

On Thursday at TPC River Highlands, Spieth seemed fully vested in function over form.

Spieth began his day by rolling in birdie putts of 15, 2 and 6 feet at Nos. 1, 2 and 4. He charged in a 22-footer for birdie at the seventh, a 9-footer at the eighth and closed his day with a sliding 4-footer at the last for a 7-under 63 and a one-stroke lead.

All total, Spieth converted 105 feet of putts on Day 1 and gained 1.83 shots on the field according to the strokes-gained putting statistic, which is a full shot and a half better than his season average.

On Wednesday, Spieth mused that “it only takes one or two events in a row before we're right back on track,” and Thursday’s commanding performance looked very much like a sea change, right?

“I'd call it halfway [to where he wants to be],” said Spieth following his lowest opening round of the season. “There's still a level of discomfort, but it's certainly moving in the right direction.”

If Spieth’s cautious optimism seemed a bit conservative, he’s come by it honestly. On Wednesday, he said he’s only had what he would consider two “solid” putting rounds this season and he’s only five weeks removed from what may well turn out to be rock bottom in this quest to regain his putting prowess.

At last month’s AT&T Byron Nelson, he surprised the golf world when he benched his trusty Scotty Cameron putter for a new model. That experiment only lasted a week following back-to-back missed cuts, and he returned to his old putter on his way to a runner-up finish at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational. He followed that with a tie for 13th at the Memorial, but the turning point may well have been a relatively meaningless Sunday at last week’s U.S. Open.

Sixteen strokes off the pace to begin the final round at Erin Hills, Spieth played in the worse of Sunday’s winds on his way to a 69 that he said felt like a 65.

“It really didn't matter much, and I thought that was a round just like today,” said Spieth, who tied for 35th last week. “I thought I played as well or even better in that round than I did today, and that kind of showed me that things are where I think they are.”

For all the science and studies, the most contemplative of competitors realized there also needs to be some magic in his method, an unquantifiable element that can’t be forced or manufactured.

“If I hit 15 greens, I have to make a couple of them,” Spieth reasoned. “You roll the ball near the hole that many times, if it's luck, one of them is going to bounce in. Or you just believe that's a good stroke, and the hole starts to look bigger.”

For his last 36 holes Spieth has found that magic, not some measured matrix, that had been missing from his game. It’s a good start, but he would be the first to realize that it’s just the start.

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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.'"

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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.