Wyatt's New Orleans finish opens doors

By Rex HoggardMay 3, 2016, 6:40 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Bobby Wyatt spent Tuesday morning at a local Apple store trying to coax his iPhone back to life.

He can’t say for certain his phone’s demise was the byproduct of overload, but admits “when I glanced at it right before it stopped working I had over 50 text messages.”

In the hurried moments after Wyatt’s fourth-place finish on Monday at the weather-delayed and drenched Zurich Classic, that’s about the only thing that didn’t go his way.

Playing on a sponsor exemption, the 23-year-old briefly took the lead on Monday at 14 under par before a pair of unlikely bogeys at Nos. 14 and 15 derailed the best-case scenario, but all things considered, Wyatt’s first PGA Tour start of 2016 will not be soon forgotten.

His final-round 64 left him one shot out of a playoff won by Brian Stuard, but gave Wyatt much more in return, including job security, increased opportunities and, perhaps most important, a renewed sense of confidence.

Like many young stars fresh out of college, Wyatt’s transition to the professional world was eye-opening – harsh even. For every Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler there are many more Bobby Wyatts, players who are dubbed “can’t miss” leaving college but quickly discover that things move much quicker in the play-for-pay ranks.

With the unflinching honesty that only comes with experience, Wyatt refers to those first few years since leaving the University of Alabama as his “failures.”

Playing on sponsor invite, Wyatt finishes fourth

In five Tour starts after leaving Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2014 he didn’t finish better than 60th, he failed to advance out of Web.com Tour Q-School last fall and began 2016 with nowhere to play.

“I had my chances and I didn’t do it, but I learned a lot from those experiences,” Wyatt said on Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Championship.

With no status in the United States the alternative was extreme. He traveled halfway around the world to ply his trade on the Southern Africa Tour, where he made three starts earlier this year.

The results were encouraging; he made two of three cuts and tied for ninth place at the Dimension Data Pro-Am in February, but the biggest benefit wasn’t so much the change of scenery as much as it was a changing narrative.

“Bobby’s biggest issue is dealing with the expectations of his past, of everything he’d accomplished and his talent," said Jeremy Elliott, Wyatt’s manager with Lagardere. "And we wanted to find any way possible for him to have status on Tour and if that meant him playing in South Africa, that’s what we were going to do. One of the advantages of that was he was able to get away from a lot of the noise.”

When Wyatt was 17 he shot 57 in the Alabama Boys State Junior and in 2013 he helped lead the Crimson Tide to the school’s first NCAA title. He went undefeated at the ’13 Walker Cup and was named a first-team All-American his senior year.

As so often happens, however, that success didn’t translate to the professional ranks. As he watched contemporaries and former teammates enjoy success at the next level, the pressure built.

After his Q-School miss last year, he turned to swing coach Scott Hamilton to straighten out a driver that was prone to a two-way miss.

“We flattened out his swing a little bit and got him more on plane,” Hamilton said. “We worked together [in February] and ever since then he’s been off to the races.”

With few playing options Wyatt turned to Monday qualifying and two weeks ago he missed earning a spot in the Texas Open by a stroke after making seven birdies.

The results were there but the starts were not, which prompted Elliott to make one final plea to officials at the Zurich Classic for a sponsor exemption, and Wyatt didn’t disappoint.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Wyatt’s week in New Orleans was his play despite the pressures of his vastly limited status.

“It was a big opportunity for me, I knew that. My ultimate goal is to make it out here and to do that I have to take advantage of these kinds of opportunities,” Wyatt said.

Wyatt’s finish at TPC Louisiana secured him a spot in this week’s field at the Wells Fargo Championship and enough FedEx Cup points to assure him status on the Web.com Tour next year.

With 136 FedEx Cup points, Wyatt also has a chance to play his way onto the PGA Tour by matching the amount (458) needed to finish inside the top 125 on last year’s list. But mostly Wyatt said it’s the confidence gained from last week’s finish that will help propel him to that coveted next stage of his career.

“I learned I can win out here,” he said. “Even after those bogeys [at Nos. 14 and 15], I knew how well I was playing and didn’t feel intimidated or scared.”

That his breakthrough may or may not have blown up his iPhone was an acceptable byproduct of his success. “I got a new [phone],” he smiled.

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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.