Bittersweet end for coach Seawell, Alabama seniors

By Ryan LavnerMay 29, 2014, 8:54 pm

HUTCHINSON, Kan. – Even national titles can feel bittersweet.

For players and coaches alike, there is joy – for winning a championship that was nine months in the making.

And there is sadness – for it marks the end of a golden era in their careers.

These conflicting emotions tugged at Alabama coach Jay Seawell this past week at the NCAA Championship, and it’s why he blinked back tears Wednesday following top-ranked Alabama’s 4-1 victory over No. 2 Oklahoma State.

“This is a long journey,” he said, “and I’m kind of sad to see it go. My day-to-day with them will end tonight, which kind of hurts me.

“I know they’re not going to miss workouts, and they’re not going to miss my Seawell-isms, but I love them, they’re winners, they’re champions and they’re men to me, and that’s all I care about.”

Winners and champions, indeed, after the Tide’s victory at Prairie Dunes capped one of the most successful four-year stretches in college golf history – a run that saw Alabama capture three SEC Championships, appear in three consecutive NCAA finals and win back-to-back national titles (the first two in school history). Prior to this senior class, Alabama had captured only one SEC title since 1980.

The Tide won at least five events during each of the past four seasons, including a school-record nine-win campaign in 2013-14. As a team, Alabama’s seniors – Cory Whitsett, Bobby Wyatt and Trey Mullinax – won 27 of their 47 tournaments, including 16 of their last 21. Apparently, the football team isn’t the school’s only dynasty.

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“They’ve put us in the spotlight and helped me realize my dreams,” Seawell said. “We’re now one of those programs where the logo comes on the screen. That wasn’t the case before.

“And it’s a whole new world for me. I now have a voice that supposedly means something, because of them. They’re the reason we’re great.”

Which is why all week here Seawell maintained that what he wanted most was “one more day with my guys.” On Wednesday morning, before a caravan of Oklahoma State fans descended on Prairie Dunes, Seawell called an impromptu team meeting. “It was some of the best 10 minutes of my life,” he said.

They discussed legacy and adversity and opportunity, but Seawell also wanted to make one thing abundantly clear:

“They’re bringing buses,” he said, “but there are not enough buses or people in the state of Oklahoma to break the bond of the people in this room.”

How fitting, then, that in the championship match, all three of Alabama’s seniors put a point on the board.

“I wanted to go out on top,” Whitsett said. “I felt like we were winners while we were here, and I wanted to be remembered for that.”

Said Wyatt: “I was way more nervous on the back nine than I’ve ever been. I just wanted it so much more.”

In this era of big-money deals and early defections, Alabama’s stars chose to return to school for their senior season. Both have been ranked as the No. 1 amateur in the world at some point and represented their country at the Walker Cup, but the prospect of finishing out their careers in style, with these teammates and coaches, meant more than potential riches.

“This is why we came to the University of Alabama,” Whitsett said. “To win championships.”

The other Alabama senior is Mullinax, who rebounded from a poor sophomore season to play a significant role in helping the Tide capture the school’s first national title in 2013.

Not as heavily recruited coming out of high school, it was a family friend who helped send Mullinax to Alabama’s camp as a 15-year-old. After a few days, Seawell’s father, Jackie, a legend in South Carolina golf circles, called his son and told him to hustle to the sixth tee.  

“I don’t know if you like them long and down the middle,” Jackie Seawell said, “but you should probably drive over here and see this kid.”

Afterward, Seawell told Mullinax that it was the first time that he’d ever been pleasantly surprised at camp. A few years later, Trey and his sister were driving home from Montgomery when Seawell called and offered him a spot on the team.

Fast-forward four years, and Mullinax was standing on the fringe on the par-5 17th, with a chance to earn the clinching point for the Tide.

Though he was attempting to cozy his putt down the hill, Mullinax instead snuck his eagle putt in the side of the cup. Seawell simply lost it, hollering “Roll Tide!” and pumping his fist and kicking his leg and leaping into the arms of his senior.

“That’s what you always dream about, that putt to win the national championship,” Mullinax said. “To share that with Coach Seawell, who has mentored me for four years and done so much for me in my golf career, I can’t tell him thank you enough. He means the world to me.”

The 17th green soon overflowed with revelers, but Seawell knew someone was missing from the celebration. He spun around wildly and screamed, “Where’s Cory?!” The coach finally spotted Whitsett in the middle of the fairway, so he sprinted down the hill, weaved around TV cameramen, wrapped his senior leader in hisarms and cried, “We did it – again!”

Later, Whitsett, cradling the NCAA trophy in his left arm, smiled and said, “I feel like we’ve solidified Alabama’s place as a national power.”

On Wednesday night, the Crimson Tide players and coaches packed away those trophies, boarded their charter flight and returned to a hero’s welcome in Tuscaloosa.

It was a bittersweet moment, their final celebration together.

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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.'"

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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.