Hooks & Cuts: Long, winding road from '15 to '16

By Rich LernerDecember 28, 2015, 1:00 pm

Looking back on 2015 and ahead to 2016, let's take a long and winding trip, full of Hooks and Cuts:

• Tiger Woods was the most reliably brilliant, consistently mind-blowing performer I’ve ever seen.

• The two best young players, Lydia Ko and Jordan Spieth, have mastered the subtler arts of combat: strategy, position, readiness, clarity of mind and purpose, and relaxed discipline.

• Save for golf, hoops and some football, I quit watching TV. The news is too damn depressing. “I’m Wolf Blitzer. Stay tuned, ISIS is coming to your town. You’re in ‘The Situation Room.’” No, Wolf, I’m in depression.

• The United States will position itself as underdogs in 2016’s Ryder Cup. But they’ll likely face more pressure. Pressure to win at home. Pressure to validate the task force. Pressure to come through with what will likely be a far deeper lineup from Spieth to Rickie Fowler to Dustin Johnson to Bubba Watson to Patrick Reed to Zach Johnson.

• Tiger inspired a generation to hit the weights as hard as they hit balls. And yet, Tiger reaches 40 with a broken body. Charlie Epps, the sage instructor who helped Angel Cabrera win two majors, once said of a struggling Woods, “He’s a muscle car in a Formula One race.” Flexibility, not flexing in front of a mirror, should be the goal for a golfer.

• A friend noticed that Spieth, in that buddy commercial riding a bike with a fan, is as natural in front of the camera as Peyton Manning.

• If Padraig Harrington can climb out of a dark hole and win at 43, surely Tiger can.

• Most exciting tournament of the year: The Players. 

• Most significant tournament of the year: the Masters.

• Steph Curry is Tiger Woods circa 2000.

• Lou Holtz, absolutely killing it at our annual December Classic charity event, remembers playing golf with Arnold Palmer and struggling with his game. “I’m so sorry, Arnold,” he said. “I’ve never played that badly before.” Arnold’s reply? “Oh, you’ve played before?”

• Post-golf, Woods could be a good commentator. He was always most comfortable talking about the game he mastered, less so about himself. Would a network pony up, say, $10 million for Tiger to work 10 events? 

• For all but Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and maybe a few others in their 20s, the Olympics will represent a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Masters happens every year, the Olympics every four years. Embrace it.

• Olympic heroes from my youth included weightlifter Vasiliy Alekseyev, who clean and jerked sizable buildings over his massive shoulders; Lasse Viren, the distance runner from Finland; and Dick Fosbury, the high jumper who invented the Fosbury Flop, which my brothers and I used to do onto a piles of leaves when we were kids.

• Curry loving golf is really good for golf. LeBron James getting involved with golf through his foundation’s ties with a Web.com Tour event is really good for golf.

• Tiger, Kobe, Peyton. Prolific scorers, expert marksmen, ferocious competitors, all three. Meticulous, almost maniacal in their approach, nearing the end.

• I played recently with the talented young professional, Trey Mullinax, who made the winning eagle putt for Alabama at the 2014 NCAA’s. I asked him if he uses social media and he said he does, primarily to thank sponsors and tournaments after he’s played. “But,” he added, “I still prefer to send a hand written note. It’s easy to tap a few keys on your phone. It takes a little more effort to sit down and write a personal thank you.” It worked for Byron Nelson and Arnold Palmer.

• It could’ve ended better for Dustin Johnson at the U.S. Open, Sangmoon Bae at the Presidents Cup and Suzann Pettersen at the Solheim Cup.

• Look for Billy Horschel to bounce back in 2016. He’s added leg strength, has his swing grooved, and he plays better under the radar with a chip on his shoulder.

• Here’s a moment from 2015 I’ll never forget. On the eve of the final round of the Open Championship, with Spieth on the cusp of serious history, I ran into his mom and dad just outside Rusacks Hotel across from the 18th hole at the Old Course. We chatted briefly about the excitement. Within a minute of the encounter, his mom, Chris, asked me, “How’s your oldest boy doing?” She had remembered a conversation we’d had months earlier about my son playing basketball at Muhlenberg College, a rival of her alma mater, Moravian College in Pennsylvania. The point is, it wasn’t all about her son, great and famous as he is. It told me, right there, about the kind of household in which Jordan was raised, that he was taught to think about others. Jordan gets that. From his parents.

• It wouldn’t be a surprise if McIlroy unfurled a huge 2016, with say two majors and six wins. He’s at the right age, with the right amount of experience and the right amount of motivation to prove he’s better than Spieth and Day.  

• That wasn’t a run Day went on from Canada through the BMW Championship. That was a rampage. A running-of-the-bulls, Leonard Fournette- against-a-high-school-team-flatten-everything-in-sight rampage. Spectacular.

• Underrated tournaments of 2015: the Valspar and the John Deere. Spieth and Spieth.

• In an attempt to deflect attention from my deteriorating golf skills, I’m tuning into nature more on the course. “Isn’t it nice to be out here on such a pretty day?” That’s code for: I stink. “Hey, Rich, what’d you have on 11?” Me: “Look how nice that flower bed is.” Partner: “Rich had double.”

• My semi-bold prediction for 2016: Spieth, McIlroy and Day will all be in contention going to Sunday of at least two majors and likely three.

• You’ll hear us ask players on more than one occasion in 2016, “What’s your schedule look like?” And, “How excited are you about the Olympics?”

• Don’t sleep on Justin Rose.

• Spieth’s facing the most pressure in 2016. Anything less than one major and three wins and people will ask, “What’s wrong?” Anyone think he can’t handle the heat?

• My old Calcutta partner from 1988, Gary Jack Freedson, used to say over a crucial putt, “This is bigger than big.” Next year, with The Players, four majors, FedEx Cup and the Ryder Cup on the men’s side, plus five majors for the women AND the Olympics for both, is bigger than big.

• Thinking of Jim Nantz’s winning call on Phil Mickelson’s great unburdening at the 2004 Masters, “Is it his time? Yes! At long last, it is.” Is it Henrik Stenson’s time? Dustin Johnson’s? Sergio Garcia’s? Matt Kuchar’s? Lee Westwood’s?

• Paris in 2018, Rome in 2022. Who’s choosing Europe’s Ryder Cup venues, Conde Nast? I love the selections.

• If Spieth and McIlroy are headed to higher historical ground, they’ll have to climb over Day to get there. 

• A colleague who was there says Tiger at his Hero World Challenge was as friendly, huggable and relaxed as they can ever remember. Greatness and achievement can be a burden.

• Drives of the year: Fowler on the 72nd hole of The Players and Day on the 11th at Whistling Straits in the final round of the PGA Championship with a 382-yard tracer.

• Graeme McDowell’s return to form is good news for European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke. And Garcia, Westwood and Poulter won’t be able to skate to Minnesota on reputation alone. They’ll be pushed by new-wave Euros like Andy Sullivan, Tommy Fleetwood, Danny Willett and Bernd Wiesberger.

• Serena Williams is the SI Sportsperson of the Year. If they had a male Sportsperson of the Year – humans only (sorry, American Pharoah) – it’s a tossup between Curry and Spieth.

• Missed putts of the year: Dustin Johnson on the 72nd hole at the U.S. Open and Spieth on the 71st hole at the Open Championship.

• Made putts of the year: Spieth on the first hole of the Masters in the final round; Spieth on the 16th hole of the final round of the Open Championship; Zach Johnson on the 72nd hole of the Open Championship; Spieth on the 16th hole in the final round of the U.S. Open; Spieth on the 11th hole of the final round of the Tour Championship; Day all day in the final round of The Barclays; Gerina Piller at the Solheim Cup.

• In the local pharmacy and confused, looking at Crest Pro Health multi-protection, Pro Health Clinical, Pro Health Complete with Fluoride, Pro Health Tartar Protection, Pro Health Invigorating Clean, Sensi-Care, 3D White Luxe Arctic Fresh, and Diamond Strong. I asked the clerk, “Where do I get toothpaste?”

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 1, Justin Thomas

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 1:00 pm

He won a major, captured the FedExCup and was named the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year. It should come as no surprise that Justin Thomas holds the top spot on our Newsmakers list for 2017.

Thomas entered the year ranked outside the top 20, and few might have pegged him for a transcendent campaign. But he kicked off January with a win in Hawaii, added another before leaving the Aloha State and never looked back.

Thomas’ seminal moment came in August when he captured the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow for his breakthrough major title. One month after greeting Jordan Spieth behind the final green at Royal Birkdale, this time it was Thomas’ turn to have friends stick around to snap pictures with the trophy that signaled his arrival among golf’s upper echelon.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

In addition to racking up the hardware – five in total, including the inaugural CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in his first start of the new wraparound season – Thomas dazzled with style. His runaway win at the Sony Open included an opening-round 59, and his third-round 63 at Erin Hills marked the first time anyone had ever shot 9 under on a U.S. Open venue.

Thomas’ consistency was rewarded at East Lake, when a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship netted him the season-long title and $10 million prize. It was in the subsequent press conference where he shared the goals list he had written into his cell phone in February, having ticked off nearly every one. It showed a dedicated attention to detail as well the tactical approach with which Thomas had steered his rapid ascent.

Heading into a new year, he’s now very clearly entrenched as one of the world’s best. And as his career progresses, it’s likely we’ll look back at 2017 as the point where Thomas first transformed great potential into eye-popping results.

Win No. 1: Title defense at the CIMB Classic

Article: Thomas (64) rallies to defend CIMB title

Win Nos. 2 and 3: The Hawaiian double

Article: Thomas refuses to let disastrous hole derail TOC win

Article: Worst week ever ends with another title at Sony Open

Record Round No. 1: 59 at the Sony Open

Article: Thomas becomes youngest player to shoot 59

Take a look: Thomas’ scorecard from his amazing 59

Record Round No. 2: 63 at the U.S. Open

Article: Thomas sets U.S. Open record with 9-under 63

Temporary Slide: Open MC makes it three in a row

Watch: Thomas loses club, makes 9, misses Open cut

Mr. Major (and win No. 4): PGA champ at Quail Hollow

Article: Thomas joins the club – the major club

Win No. 5: Dell Technologies Championship

Article: Thomas wins the battle of buddies over Spieth

The $10 Million Man: FedExCup champ

Biggest Win of All? Player of the Year

And One to Grow On: Wins at CJ Cup in 2017-18 season

Article: Thomas caps torrid 12-month run with CJ Cup win

Photo Galleries: Best of ...

Best of: Justin Thomas and Jillian Wisniewski

Best of: Justin Thomas through the years

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 12:30 pm

Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.