WD's - and Twitter - have Van Zyl on cusp of Olympics

By Rex HoggardApril 27, 2016, 3:41 pm

“Yes, I am. I’m definitely playing. It’s a great honor and great privilege to represent your country in the Olympics,” laughed Jaco Van Zyl.

Reached Tuesday afternoon at his home in South Africa, the 37-year-old was still processing how his world had changed in the last 10 hours, but he certainly understood why he needed to be asked if he planned to play this year’s Olympics.

Van Zyl is likely headed to Brazil to represent South Africa at this year’s Games, an option he had never even considered before the eventful last few days.

“I really didn’t think I would [qualify for the Olympics],” Van Zyl admitted. “I was third on the [alternate] list, even if one player withdraws or doesn’t make it, the other two would go, right?”

Van Zyl’s unexpected Olympic climb began last Thursday when Louis Oosthuizen, who was a lock to represent South Africa at this year’s Games, announced he would not be making the trip to Rio later this year.

“I have always represented South Africa with pride so I didn’t make my decision without a great deal of thought,” Oosthuizen said in a statement.

On Monday, Charl Schwartzel, who would have replaced Oosthuizen in the Games, followed his fellow South African’s lead to the Olympic sidelines, citing a “tight schedule” this year.

The South African exodus left Branden Grace, who is 11th in the Official World Golf Ranking, and Van Zyl, at least that’s what his girlfriend told him early Tuesday.

“My girlfriend saw it on Twitter,” he laughed. “It shows you that social media has become more powerful than the regular media.”

Olympic golf news and rankings

At 59th in the world ranking Van Zyl will need to continue his solid play to secure his spot on the South African team – and at 85th in the world George Coetzee could certainly make things interesting – but just the idea of competing in Rio had created a mild state of shock for Van Zyl.

“I had no hope, to be honest,” said Van Zyl when asked if he’d considered the possibility of playing in the Olympics before Tuesday. “I had kind of been lingering around the last couple of years and after the start of this season where I managed to get into the top 50 in the world it had become an outside possibility.”

You see for Van Zyl this goes well beyond the rarest of chances to compete for medals, beyond an opportunity to play golf at the highest levels, beyond even his desire to play a game he loves for a living.

Two years ago this month as he lay in a recovery room following double knee surgery to replace both of his anterior cruciate ligaments, a procedure that involved removing ligaments from his hands for use in his knees, he came to terms with the fact that his golf career may be over.

Van Zyl didn’t hit a golf ball for almost a year, and when he did return to play in the WGC-HSBC Champions event in China his comeback was quickly cut short when he, “snapped a screw in my left knee,” he said.

That setback took another surgery and as his mind wandered during the recovery process he reached a personal and professional epiphany.

“The whole year I reflected on what life is really about and how fortunate you are to do what we do for a living. It’s a great privilege,” said Van Zyl, who added that he lost more than 40 pounds during his recovery. “It’s really made a difference.”

Whether it was his new perspective or his weight loss, 2015 turned out to be his best year on the European Tour with three top-3 finishes.

His breakthrough came earlier this year when he won the Eye of Africa PGA Championship and moved into the top 50 in the world ranking (No. 49) to secure a spot in the WGC-Dell Match Play.

Still, even with his improved fortunes on the course he never imagined there would be an Olympic bid afoot. Coming from a country with an embarrassment of golf riches he’s always been in the relative shadows of players like Oosthuizen, Schwartzel, Els and Grace.

He represented South Africa once in the Commonwealth Games, but that was years ago during his amateur days, and he’s never been anywhere close to Rio.

“But I’ve watched the animated movie,” he laughed before quickly adding, “I really do think it’s for the greater good and the chance to represent my country is really special.”

Oosthuizen and Schwartzel’s decision to skip the Games has drawn plenty of criticism. Selwyn Nathan, the executive director of the South Africa-based Sunshine Tour, said the duo would “regret” not playing, and South African icon Gary Player didn’t hide his disappointment in a statement: “I would have given anything to play in the Olympics. South Africa had a great team, but now obviously, it will not be as good. Players withdrawing hurt the game of golf.”

Van Zyl, however, was more understanding when asked about his fellow countryman’s decisions to skip the Olympics.

 “I’m sure they’ve got their reasons,” Van Zyl said. “It’s a long process to go through to get there, they are both family people and from what I understand it’s basically an athletes’ camp for the week. And I’m sure that had a big impact.”

Of course, Van Zyl’s is not exactly an unbiased voice in the debate, because if Twitter and his girlfriend are correct, he’s going to the Olympics.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.