#AskLav: Future U.S. Ryder Cup captain a hot topic

By Ryan LavnerOctober 2, 2014, 3:30 pm

Have a question or comment for Ryan? Tweet him @RyanLavnerGC.

Ahhh, finally, a return to normalcy: Team Europe is taking a victory lap around St. Andrews, Phil Mickelson is reading and re-reading Paul Azinger’s book, and Tom Watson is back home, shooing those darn kids off his lawn again.

This question is seemingly asked every two years: Did Europe win the Ryder Cup, or did the Americans lose it?

The home team put on a remarkable display, from Paul McGinley’s near-flawless decisions to Justin Rose’s 3-0-2 record to Graeme McDowell and Victor Dubuisson’s new partnership to Rory McIlroy’s smash-mouth singles win. But it’s also clear that the U.S. team was dysfunctional, and for that there is plenty of blame to go around.  

Watson made virtually no effort to engage in any team-bonding exercises and believed his tough-dad act would fly with multimillionaires.

Ted Bishop wanted Watson to fill the role of Captain America, though not even the outgoing PGA president could have envisioned Watson keeping everyone – even his players – at a club’s length. 

Bubba Watson, the No. 1 player in qualifying, went 0-3 and was the only U.S. player who failed to earn a point. The beleaguered captain’s picks went 2-5-2. And Phil, after being benched for two of the four partner sessions, saved his best shots for after the matches were over.  

So, in the end, the week’s biggest winner – besides Callaway Golf, which quickly came up with these (and these!) genius P-Reed-inspired accessories – was Azinger, who, like all iconic leaders, spent Ryder Cup Sunday in a Harley Davidson bar. (FDR probably did the same.)    

The 2008 captain would seem the no-brainer choice for the PGA of America, but the question is whether he would jeopardize his legacy by agreeing to a second (or third) term. He looks smarter with each and every U.S. failure.



Donaldson hit the clinching shot for the Europeans, and he went 2-1 in his debut, and he was probably the most drunk on Monday morning … but he wasn’t the best player. That honor belongs to Justin Rose, who teamed with Henrik Stenson to produce arguably the greatest fourball performance of all time on Saturday, then won the 18th hole in the afternoon to deny the Americans a crucial full point and give Europe a (normally) insurmountable four-shot cushion. G-Mac was great, too, going 3-0, including a momentum-boosting singles victory over Jordan Spieth in the leadoff spot, but Rose was the man of the match. 



The hype last year was outrageous, and deservedly so. In not even a full year on Tour Spieth recorded nine top-10s (including a historic win) as he went from not having status on any major tour to a T-2 at the Tour Championship. In the months that followed there were some silly comparisons to Tiger Woods, though even a cursory glance at Spieth’s statistics revealed that he needed to show significant improvement in his ball-striking because he wouldn’t always be able to will the ball into the hole. In ’14, Spieth admittedly wore down at the end of a long season, mostly because of an erratic driver and the expectations that he put on himself after that breakout year. A winner at every level – junior, college, early in his pro career – this was one of the few times that the 21-year-old had faced adversity on the course, and his game suffered as he tried to claw his way out of a mini-slump. He may have had a quiet summer, but his Ryder Cup performance was encouraging (until the back-nine meltdown in singles) and I fully expect him to add to his win total in 2014-15. He’s incredibly motivated to fulfill that awesome potential. 



You’re right – it does seem obvious. But the PGA Tour and PGA of America are rivals in the search for captains, and Couples took the Presidents Cup gig first. A bummer, too, because he’s the rare U.S. captain who actually, you know, wins. Players say Freddie’s laid-back demeanor is a big reason for their success during his tenure as Presidents Cup captain (3-0), but the Ryder Cup is serious business with more appearances, more decisions, more public scrutiny. Typically, the PGA requires a two-year commitment from its captains, and Couples has already agreed to serve as an assistant for the 2015 Presidents Cup. Call it recon for Hazeltine. Couples should, and will, warrant serious consideration for the gig. 



Tiger’s health remains the biggest unknown, but we’ll likely know more on that front when he returns to competition in December. Once fully healthy (or as close as he can get), Woods can turn his attention to his swing, which was a mess last summer. Though he has always had an extra set of eyes on the range, Tiger said that he might go it alone after the failed Foley project. That process will take time. Sure, eventually, he could return to his “winning ways,” like winning 2-3 times per season, but it would seem his days of dominance are over. He’s 39 at the end of the year, with a brittle body and, now, a history-making world No. 1 to contend with. 



Justin Thomas. The 21-year-old would fit in seamlessly with the Patrick Reeds and Jordan Spieths of the U.S. squad, having grown up competing against them in amateur golf. He’s also a strong match-play performer – Thomas helped lead Alabama to the NCAA title in 2012 and represented the U.S. at the Walker Cup in ’13. Throw in Billy Horschel, and the Americans need more fearless birdie machines like those four players – guys who aren’t chronic losers in the cup, who don’t have years of scar tissue. Tiger, Phil and Furyk have combined for 56 losses. More than anything else, the influx of new blood will help make the Ryder Cup competitive once again.



This upcoming season might be his best chance, because the anchoring ban looms on Jan. 1, 2016. By his lofty standards it was a disappointing season for Scott, who won only once in the States, at the Colonial. Still, he finished in the top 15 in all four majors and was No. 1 in the Tour’s all-around statistic. He’s a rock-solid ball-striker – the most important attribute in getting into contention at majors – but it’s all about whether he can make enough putts. If he can shake in a few on major weekends, he’ll be a particularly strong bet to capture major No. 2 at Augusta, Chambers Bay or St. Andrews;



The first part of your question: With so much public support it’d be a surprise now if Azinger didn’t get the job, assuming he wants to risk his legacy and return for 2016. As for the second part, our Rex Hoggard reported that the PGA is already in the preliminary stages of changing its selection process, which is a positive step. On the European side, the last three captains, a player from the tournament committee and the circuit’s chief executive determine the next skipper. The PGA’s process is somewhat similar, but it needs to be a more collaborative effort with input from former captains and the players. That was Watson’s biggest mistake – the players on the team weren’t invested in the process. 

The second change would be to push back the deadline for the captain’s picks announcement. Yes, brochures have to be made, uniforms tailored and private-jet tickets booked, but this is 2014. Those last-minute details shouldn’t need three weeks of planning. If the PGA wants the hottest players on the team, and thus the best chance to win, then it needs to make the picks after the Tour Championship.



Good question. Ultimately, the players are the ones hitting the shots, although I’d argue that the captain has the responsibility to put the team in the best position to succeed. Watson clearly didn’t do that.

The benefits of the pod system are obvious, but let’s not also forget that Azinger’s 2008 squad also went up against European captain Nick Faldo, one of the worst captains in recent memory. That mismatch certainly helped. At this point, after three losses in a row and eight defeats in the last 10 cups, why not send out Azinger again? What’s there to lose? If he wins, great. Give him the job in ’18, too. If he fails, well, so has everyone else in the 2000s. If Phil said Azinger’s system helped bring out the best in the U.S. players, then that alone makes it worth another shot. 



That’s neither a question nor an option, but it’s worth remembering that these things are cyclical. Not too long ago the Europeans were considered a big underdog and the perceived slights helped fuel their success. That’s not the case anymore, with Team Europe boasting four of the top 5 players in the world. The U.S. will even the score and get its share of victories once the old wave is pushed out. That time is coming, soon. Mark it down: The Americans will win in 2016.  

Getty Images

LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by The Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in The Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

Getty Images

Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

Getty Images

Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.