Alabama football not the school's only dynasty

By Ryan LavnerOctober 23, 2013, 7:50 pm

The powerhouse football team apparently isn’t the only dynasty at the University of Alabama.

The Crimson Tide also have a stranglehold on the No. 1 ranking in men’s golf – and no BCS computer was required.

Actually, those two worlds will collide this Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, in front of more than 100,000 fans. The golf team will be presented its 2013 NCAA Championship rings during the Alabama-Tennessee game, and it seems poised to add to its collection of jewels this season.

The Tide’s standing as the No. 1 team in the country was solidified further this week at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational, where they went wire-to-wire to sweep the team and individual titles against the second-best field of the season.

Two years ago, they lost the NCAA Championship to Texas on the final green.

Last year, they dominated the match-play bracket en route to the first team title in school history.

Now, they’ve won all three of their fall starts, and nine consecutive overall (dating to the spring), and 10 of their last 11.

They’re winning this fall by an average of 15.3 strokes. During this nine-event win streak (the NCAA Championship is a match-play final), they have won by an average of more than 12 shots. Individually, an Alabama player has finished first or second in all eight stroke-play wins over that span.

“We all know this window will come and go,” Alabama coach Jay Seawell said this week, “but we want to enjoy it.”

And why not? For the first time since 2006, the Tide are enjoying a fruitful fall campaign.

Entering this season, Alabama had won just four of its last 16 fall starts. This time, the Tide won their season opener by 18 shots, their second event by 16, and now Isleworth by a dozen. Their last fall start is the Nov. 4-5 Gifford Collegiate at Pelican Hill in California.

 Experience matters: Cal's depth key to Golden Bears' success

“I don’t know if it’s some of the younger guys’ excitement, their first foray into college, or what,” senior All-American Cory Whitsett said. “But the quality of golf, there’s really been no change (since the spring). That’s a good thing.”

Last year, Alabama relied on Scott Strohmeyer to provide the senior leadership. Seawell had to say very little to inspire or galvanize the team, and that’s what he prefers – after all, he says, it’s a player-driven game. This season, that onus falls on the Tide’s trio of seniors, Whitsett, fellow Walker Cupper Bobby Wyatt and Trey Mullinax.

“After winning NCAAs,” Seawell said, “you wondered if Bobby, Cory and Trey were just going to cruise and try and get ready for the spring. But in August, before the Walker Cup, they had a meeting and said they wanted this fall to mean something. They were tired of the fall being average. Their determination, their desire to compete, that’s really been what’s fun to watch.”

Of course, it also helps to have a freshman like Robby Shelton in the lineup.

The No. 1 overall recruit in the 2013 class, Shelton began his college career with a victory at the season-opening event at Olympia Fields. He’s followed that triumph with a pair of top 15s. “And all of a sudden,” Seawell said, “everyone on the team went dang. We’ve got another good player, a guy that can get it done for us. I think that gave some energy to the older guys.”

In fact, the Tide are so deep this season, they only once have put freshman Gavin Moynihan, a 2013 Walker Cupper for Great Britain and Ireland, in the starting five.

Yes, Shelton certainly has played his part in helping fill the void left by 2012 Player of the Year Justin Thomas, who turned pro after his sophomore season. But the biggest difference-maker thus far has been Mullinax, a late-blooming senior who earned his second individual title this week at Isleworth, tying the tournament record at 11-under 205.

In four months, Mullinax has gone from being the No. 5 man on last year’s NCAA-winning team to the top-ranked player in the country. For that, credit his move to swing coach Todd Anderson this summer. After working mostly on his wedge game and putting, Mullinax has put together the best fall résumé of any player in the country, with no finish worse than fourth.

“He’s always been a great talent,” Seawell said. “He’s learning how to line up the dots, each day how to prepare properly. That win (at Isleworth) puts him in the conversation of some of the best players in the country. I wanted to see how he would handle the last round, with all of the pressure and being on Golf Channel, and to play the way he did, he’s really established himself as one of the elite players.”

Walking alongside Mullinax during each round this fall has been the most well-known assistant coach in college golf, Mike McGraw, who led Oklahoma State’s men’s program for eight years (and won the NCAA title in 2006) before he was surprisingly relieved of his duties in June.

“Mike brings a presence,” Seawell said, “and our players recognize that. He brings a champion’s attitude. He’s hungry, and they’re feeding off his hunger.”

Bringing in McGraw may prove to be one of Seawell’s best roster moves, better, perhaps, than landing any big-name recruit. Like Seawell, McGraw commands respect and knows how to win. He knows how to draw the best out of his players. He knows how to build a sustainable, successful program.

Sound like any other ’Bama coach you know?

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “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.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”