#AskLav: Tiger, Rory ... and the Red Solo Cup

By Ryan LavnerDecember 18, 2014, 10:00 pm

Have a question that you want answered? Tweet me at @RyanLavnerGC.


So we’ve finally made it to the last week of the golf calendar.

Surprisingly, not many of you are clamoring for up-to-the-second results from the Asian Tour’s Dubai Open, so in the absence of any notable tournament, here’s a recap from the most significant event in our little Golf Channel digital world: the third annual Red Solo Cup, which was held last week in beautif  … well, let’s just say it was held last week in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla.

The RSC is a spirited one-day competition that pits 16 GolfChannel.com writers, editors and video wizards in a battle for a makeshift, alcohol-stained trophy. The format for our little shindig at Mission Inn Resort was nine holes best ball, nine holes singles, and each of the past two years the matches have gone down to either the last pairing or a sudden-death playoff. Indeed, the winner is usually decided by which team wants it less or chokes the least, and our 18th-hole chop-fest serves as an annual reminder that we should always think twice before criticizing a professional athlete for crumbling under the pressure of playing for a $1 million payday.

Anyway, the Red Solo Cup once again proved to be golf’s fifth (or fiftieth) major. Several players pumped their opening tee balls into the wilderness. Others gagged over 3-footers. A nagging hangover crippled at least two team members. And when it was mercifully over, Team Coffin held on for a 6 ½ to 5 ½ victory. Managing editor Mercer Baggs, who went 2-0, was named Most Valuable Player – or the one who stunk the least when it mattered most.

Saddled with a slumping partner, I lost the team portion of the matches, then rallied to take down the previously undefeated Bailey Mosier – or, as she was briefly known on Twitter, “Bogey Bailey” – in afternoon singles, 3 and 2.

Alas, it still wasn’t enough to lead my side to victory, and Team Coffin celebrated in the clubhouse by snapping 46 blurry photos and drinking Guinness out of the trophy. Except the joke was on them – two days later, their captain revealed he had pneumonia.

The Red Solo Cup was the final leg of our two-day off-site retreat during which we discussed our successes/failures, talked smack about each other’s golf games and, eventually, developed a plan of attack for next year. So thank you, loyal reader, for pushing us to new heights in 2014. We’re excited about what lies ahead.

Without further ado, here are your questions for the year-ending edition of the #AskLav mailbag:

To my semi-trained eye, his swing looked markedly improved. He had a weaker grip, a wider base at setup, and more speed and power through the ball. That’s something that had been lacking over the past few years, when his clubhead speed dipped to 115 mph while dealing with his back injury. (By comparison, in 2008, the last year he won a major, he topped out at 124.6 mph.) I have no idea whether this new-look swing will lead to lower scores, or if his brittle body will even be able to withstand the wear and tear of a full season, but the early returns at the World Challenge were promising. His full swing looked great. His short game, not so much.


 

Well, let’s break this down into two questions. Though the PGA Tour has never been deeper or more competitive, Tiger still has more than enough firepower to win at least one event next year. And yes, while swing changes take time, Woods should still be full steam ahead by summertime, given that he’s reverting to old motor patterns and not starting from scratch. As for the major question: It would be a surprise if he won No. 15 in '15. The first three majors of the season set up particularly well for Rory and his power draw, and Whistling Straits isn’t a venue on which Tiger has traditionally fared well (no top 20s in two tries). A successful 2015 season would include a win and a few chances in the majors.


 

Well, you must not have been listening very closely. Actually, what I said was that I was fading the idea of Tiger Era Expectations – or the assumption that Woods can still four or five times a year, including a major. Those days are over. He’s entering his age-39 season, he’s coming off major back surgery, he’s on his third swing coach since 2010 and now he’s dealing with the chipping yips. He couldn’t afford that lost year in 2014, not at his age and not with that ideal slate of major venues. Embrace the new reality that there are better, younger players on Tour, and that Tiger’s best might not always be good enough. I’d argue that his race against Father Time and history – not to mention the Rorys, Rickies and Jordans of the PGA Tour – is the most compelling battle in all of sports.


 

Easy: Rory McIlroy. The kid has shown what he can do there, throwing down an opening 63 in 2010 en route to a T-3 finish. Plus, he didn’t look too shabby while shooting rounds of 64-68 on the Old Course during the Dunhill Links in October. If the weather is decent next July, McIlroy will be a monster favorite at St. Andrews. His driving ability gives him a massive advantage, and the huge, flat greens place an emphasis on lag putting, one of his strengths. After spending the past few years unable to solve the riddle that is links golf, Rory is now positioned to go back-to-back.   


 

Wait, we aren’t there already? That’s not to suggest that Rory is as popular among the mainstream sports audience as Tiger, but in our little golf media world there’s both a want and a need to document each and every one of his rounds across the globe – whether that’s a 64 or a 74. Adding to the intrigue for McIlroy next year is his impending court case against his former management company, slated for February, in which unflattering details are likely to emerge. As the new No. 1 in the men’s game, Rory is being thrust under the same microscope that Tiger has spent his past 20 years. That won't change anytime soon.


 

Bradley, but only because, quite frankly, he is the better player. Keegan switched to the 40-inch putter two weeks ago at Isleworth and said it was one of the most important tournaments of his career, because he was trying to convince not only fans but also himself that he could handle the move away from the belly putter. (It certainly helped that he finished in a tie for third.) Granted, Bradley made a similar switch at the Memorial, and he spoke just as confidently, but his comments at the World Challenge seemed to indicate that he’s converted for good.


Who wins a major first: Spieth or Fowler? – @mattieb1976, via Instagram

Right now, I think Rickie is better equipped to win a major. Spieth is arguably the hottest player in the game, and he’ll continue to roll in 2015 if his driver and putter cooperate. But with top 5s in all four majors this season, Rickie has experienced what it’s like to be a factor on major Sundays, and the sharpness of his tee-to-green game gives him an opportunity to factor more often. Obviously, both players are more than talented enough to win one in 2015, but Rickie’s big-game experience gives him an edge, however slight.

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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.'"


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


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.