2015-16 College Preview: LSU enjoys view from the top

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 9, 2015, 2:00 pm

The celebration was short-lived.

When LSU coach Chuck Winstead gathered his team at the school’s practice facility for their first meeting on Aug. 24, he briefly reflected on what happened three months ago and then focused on the task ahead. 

There was no gloating. No apathy, either. 

The meeting lasted all of 30 minutes, and then they went straight out to the course. It was time to get back to work.

“The happiest I’ve been since June 3,” Winstead said. 

That was the day LSU players and coaches celebrated a long-awaited national title with hugs, cheers and beads on the 18th green at Concession, after a commanding victory over Southern Cal in the NCAA match-play final.  

It was the Tigers’ first NCAA title in 55 years, but if you wondered whether that newfound success would change this group, or Winstead, think again.

“It’s like I explained to the guys when we first got back: It’s great that we had the success last spring, but if they stacked up 100 of those trophies it wouldn’t change me,” Winstead said. “I genuinely enjoy the work. I enjoy the everyday aspect of being around the guys and trying to help them improve.”

2015-16 College Preview: Top 10 men's teams | Men's players | Women's teams

LSU is once again one of the top teams to beat this season, ranked No. 3 on Golf Channel’s preseason list. 

The Tigers welcome one of the nation’s best recruiting classes and also return three All-Americans from last year’s NCAA title-winning squad, including their most consistent player, senior Zach Wright, who bombed his way to a perfect record (3-0) in the match-play portion of the championship.

Before NCAAs, Wright had enjoyed a solid but unspectacular junior season. He finished outside the top 20 only twice, but one poor round each tournament kept him out of contention for individual titles and, thus, out of the national spotlight.   

“There’s no shot clock on how guys develop in golf,” Winstead said. “Some guys are quicker than others, but I’m happy with where things are with Zach. Now our goal is to refine his game and get him ready for life after college (on the PGA Tour).” 

Sure, another year of seasoning for Wright and junior Eric Ricard will help, but the Tigers still absorbed a few key losses during the offseason – most notably a pair of graduating seniors, Stewart Jolly and Ben Taylor, who were instrumental in helping shape LSU into a perennial top-10 program. Also out for at least a portion of this fall season is junior Brandon Pierce, who broke a vertebra in his neck when he dove into a shallow pond the day after returning home from NCAAs. Pierce underwent surgery, but he was fortunate to avoid a career-ending injury. He has resumed hitting short-game shots and could play in practice or tournaments as early as this fall.

It is yet another unfortunate setback for the snakebitten star. Two years ago, Pierce suffered a stress fracture in his back and was sidelined eight months. When he returned to the lineup last spring, he was one of the team’s top performers, finishing in the top-30 in all eight starts, tying for 11th at NCAAs and posting a 2-0-1 record in match play.

“It’s frustrating,” Winstead said, “but he’s got a smile on his face every day and he’s working hard on his game. We’re very glass-half-full on this.” 

With Pierce out of action for at least a few months, there is no shortage of suitable replacements.

Not surprisingly, the player getting the most buzz is 19-year-old freshman Sam Burns, who entered college as the country’s No. 1-ranked junior player.

Burns was an All-Everything on the AJGA circuit, but he arrives on campus now simply trying to earn a starting spot. In fact, his toughest competition might come from his own classmates – fellow freshmen Luis Gagne and Nathan Jeansonne, both of whom were ranked inside the top 15 nationally as juniors.

“The negative of not having Brandon right away is also a positive in that someone is going to need to step up and play,” Winstead said. “That’s the culture of our program, that we develop all of our players.” 

And that program has never had a higher profile. 

Now entering his 11th season at the helm, Winstead didn’t realize the magnitude of what his team had accomplished last June until he returned home to Baton Rouge and was overwhelmed by the support. With the NCAAs now on television, he said fans in town “became a part of the team” and were more invested instead of just scanning an agate page in the newspaper or clicking through another emotionless post on a website.  

“The coolest part,” he said, “was seeing how many people it genuinely made happy.”

With success comes expectation, but Winstead isn’t putting any extra pressure on himself or his players to sustain this level of excellence and live up to the lofty ranking. 

“My internal desire to improve each day is enough for me,” he said. “Nothing else could trump that.”

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.