Spieth practices, thrives under pressure

By Rex HoggardApril 14, 2015, 10:00 pm

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – When Jordan Spieth began his final round Sunday at Augusta National with two birdies, many marveled at the 21-year-old’s fearlessness.

When he charged in a 20 footer for birdie at the 10th to move a half dozen clear of the field, the collective watched in awe at what could only be described as detached abandon.

And when Spieth rifled his 5-iron second shot at the par-5 13th over the tributary to Rae’s Creek to 14 feet, his competitive moxie appeared beyond reproach.

In just his second Masters, Spieth shifted the paradigm that winning a major championship is more often about dealing with nerves than it is a physical test of hitting golf shots, but then his apparent immunity to pressure is no accident.

Since Spieth was 12 years old, his swing coach Cameron McCormick has conditioned the would-be champion to the stress of competition. Put another way: “Combining the physical and physiological stress in training leads to quantum leaps in performance to bridge the step function of transfer.”

That was a tweet McCormick posted on March 3. On Monday, a day after Spieth won the Masters by four strokes, the Australian patiently obliged when he was asked to put that concept in layman’s terms.

“Essentially what that means is it’s really hard to expect a player who practices in a state of little stress that it’s going to be like that on the course,” McCormick told GolfChannel.com. “You want to simulate as much pressure as you can.”

In practical terms, that means making Spieth feel as uncomfortable as possible when the two are working together.

McCormick said he and Spieth always have “consequences” when they practice. Sometimes that involves your run-of-the-mill cash bets, but most of the time it features a symbolic gesture.

It started with McCormick offering Spieth a hat when he was a pre-teen and advanced to Spieth buying a nice dinner for his girlfriend if he fails a particular task.

According to McCormick, the key is to always make sure there are repercussions and that the duo maintains the delicate balance of challenging such a talented player.

“He’s very competitive. It’s always finding that point where he gets very uncomfortable,” said McCormick, who added that he tried to keep himself as busy as possible on Sunday to avoid the Masters telecast. “He’s the kind of guy who expects to do very well. I’ll push him to the point of frustration, and then I can dial it back.”

Through those drills and a stellar amateur career, Spieth forged a relative indifference to the pressures of competition. He still feels nerves, he’s just become extremely adept at dealing with them.

For McCormick, the transformation of Spieth from Masters runner-up last year to 2015 champion was a similar process.

Following last year’s Masters there was pressure, which was largely internal, to claim his second PGA Tour title and a desire to finish what he stated in 2014 when he took a share of the Masters lead into the final round.

Those pressures, however, manifested themselves in counterproductive ways.

“Last year, he put pressure on himself to validate that first win,” McCormick said. “He realized the pressure he was putting on himself was actually working in reverse.”

It was just before the Ryder Cup when Spieth began to square himself with that concept. He and McCormick made a few putting adjustments at the Australian Open in November, and Spieth dusted the field by six shots.

A week later, he cruised to a 10-stroke victory at the Hero World Challenge, and the die was cast for his Masters masterpiece.

“They learned so much about themselves and their teamwork in Australia was transcendent,” McCormick said of Spieth and his caddie Michael Greller.

Still, even those who have seen the ebb and flow of Spieth’s young career up close were equal parts impressed and surprised that he was able to control his emotions so well with so much on the line.

“Any time, no matter how good someone is or no matter how well you know them, if you told someone a 21-year-old would win the Masters by four strokes in record fashion, you’d have to be surprised,” said Justin Thomas, who first met Spieth when the two were 14 years old at a junior event in Texas.

But after nearly a decade of working with Spieth, McCormick has almost lost the ability to be surprised by anything he does.

Twelve months ago, McCormick talked to Spieth as he was making his way to Hilton Head after his Masters near miss. It was a much different phone call on Monday.

“Last year was more of a way to reflect and regroup as a team,” McCormick recalled. “[Monday’s] call is more looking back on what he’s accomplished. It will be hard to keep my tears back.”

Spieth may have mastered his emotions on the golf course, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy the moment away from the fairways.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.