Spieth puts Augusta disaster behind him

By Rex HoggardJanuary 4, 2017, 10:15 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – However unfair and shortsighted it may seem, for many, Jordan Spieth’s 2016 season came down to a single swing.

Of the 25 worldwide turns he took at the till, his two victories on the PGA Tour and heroics at the Ryder Cup, his near miss at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and late-season run at the FedEx Cup, it was a single 9-iron from 150 yards on a postcard-perfect Sunday in April that defined his fourth year as a big leaguer.

It’s not fair, but he knows that’s the way stardom works. He knows that’s the way of the sports world, which is why last month when he stepped to the 12th tee at Augusta National with a group of members and friends he politely requested a moment of silence.

“I was vocally expressing that, guys, we have some demons to get rid of here, I'd appreciate if y'all stood to the side of the tee box while I do my work here,” Speith laughed on Wednesday at Kapalua.

Spieth hit 8-iron to 18 feet and made birdie. He followed that the next day with a 9-iron, of all clubs, that nearly spun into the hole. Another birdie.

“Last two times I played the hole, I made birdie,” he smiled.

It was Spieth’s way of acknowledging the 800-pound gorilla in the room that has lingered since last year’s Masters, where he turned a 5-stroke lead with nine holes to play into a runner-up finish after making a quadruple bogey-7 at the 12th on Sunday.

Charles Dickens pretty much summed up Spieth’s 2016: best of times, worst of times.

SBS Tournament of Champions: Articles, photos and videos

At 23, Spieth continues to impress by taking the long view when it comes to 2016 – thinking more about a career than what may or may not be around the next corner.

“Overall, recognizing that if last year is a down year for us, we're in really good shape long term when you start compiling those numbers,” he reasoned. “It makes me think a lot more positive about last season and my career going forward, just looking at it from a more elongated perspective.”

It’s a healthy outlook that’s defined Spieth in his young career, but that doesn’t mean he’s entirely immune to the inevitable peaks and valleys of golf. “I was happy when the [New Year’s] ball touched down and 2017 started,” he admitted.

As tough as the media may have been on Spieth’s season, it was probably the internal dialog that led to a few fitful nights for the eight-time Tour winner. He’d been virtually unstoppable in 2015, winning five times including the Masters and U.S. Open, and was a regular on leaderboards at the season’s final two Grand Slam events.

Winning the ’16 lid-lifter in Maui by eight strokes only fueled those expectations going into the meat of last year’s schedule and he began his week at the year’s first major with three solid rounds for a one-stroke lead heading into Sunday at Augusta National.

“The first major of the year after starting strong, I thought the last five majors I had a chance to win, why won't this continue,” he said. “But it's unrealistic for that to continue every single major consecutively.”

His misplayed 9-iron may have marred his play through Amen Corner and nixed his title chances, but he suggested it was his play at the U.S. Open, where he finished tied for 37th, that was truly frustrating. That he wasn’t a factor at The Open or PGA Championship only compounded that frustration, but throughout it all Spieth clung to the notion that by the time he ambles into the sunset of his career 2016 will be a distant footnote.

He closed last year with a playoff victory at the Australian Open in November and returned this week to Kapalua, where he’s finished first (’16) and second (’14) in two starts to begin anew.

Although he talked of the Plantation Course being a bomber’s paradise, it’s been his putting that has made Spieth the king of Kapalua in recent years.

Last year he led the field in putts, putts per GIR and putts made distance. That he spent his abbreviated offseason working almost exclusively on his putting should give the rest of the Tournament of Champions field plenty to think about.

But mostly, Spieth said he’s put 2016 behind him, a mental housekeeping he probably didn’t have much interest in when he arrived in Maui last January.

Earlier this week a jokester among his Tour frat brothers turned the sign marking Spieth’s parking spot at Kapaula around and scribbled a familiar moniker –  “Golden Child.”

That wayward 9-iron that found Rae's Creek last April has done nothing to dull the golden one’s shine, or his confidence that something special is just one start away.

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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.