'Built for long haul,' Haas wins second Humana title

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 26, 2015, 2:08 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – With his ball waist-high, his feet in the bunker and his stance like he was ready to turn on an inside fastball, Bill Haas’ second shot at PGA West’s 18th hole had five possible outcomes:

Snap hook. Shank. Chunk. Whiff.

Oh, and the fifth option, the one that Haas executed: a deft bunt down the fairway, 82 yards, setting up a closing par and a one-shot victory Sunday at the Humana Challenge.

For a player best known for an improvisational par out of the lake at East Lake, this shot hardly rattled him.

“I think of myself as more of a painter and not a mechanic,” he said, smiling. “I don’t have the perfect swing – I wish I could swing like Adam Scott, but I just don’t have that ability. I do think I have the ability to make do with what I have.”

And that was more than enough to secure the most surprising victory on Haas’ increasingly impressive résumé.

Haas fractured a small bone in his left wrist when he fell down stairs last April. Though he had a chance to win in Greensboro, and he didn’t miss a cut all season, he went through 2014 without a win – his first winless year since ’09. He made only two starts after the Tour Championship, and he was so bad in Shanghai, hitting only 11 total greens on the weekend, that he decided to shut it down for six weeks.

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Haas has never been a ball-beater, but this offseason was particularly light, playing only a few corporate outings and ditching the range. When Haas and his team (father Jay and longtime coach Billy Harmon) convened in the desert last Wednesday, “you probably wouldn’t have thought that he’d be standing there right now,” Harmon said.

Haas was impatient. Frustrated. More concerned than he’d ever been heading into a tournament.

Two swing thoughts changed his outlook:

1.) Haas’ clubface was swinging open at the top of his swing, so Harmon worked with him to feel like the club was more square going back. Said Harmon: “That’s a tip my dad told me: Imagine the club has an eyeball on it, and it’s always looking at the back of the ball.”

2.) With his putting, Haas tried to imitate Jack Nicklaus’ relaxed right arm at address. In 1995, when Jay Haas made the Ryder Cup team, Harmon had suggested the same tip to his pupil, because he had looked most comfortable that way. Doing so puts the putter grip more in the crease of Haas’ hand, not his fingers, and lowers his right shoulder to the proper angle when setting up to the ball. Haas finished seventh this week in strokes gained-putting.

“Both he and his dad are the total, quintessential, natural feel players,” Harmon said. “Bill couldn’t even spell TrackMan, let alone know what it was saying.”

Besides, this area has become like a second home to Haas, and his peers might be happy this tournament is moving away from PGA West’s Palmer Private. Since 2010, he has two wins, a playoff loss and another top 10 here. On Sunday, he became the eighth player to win this event multiple times, joining the likes of Arnold Palmer, Johnny Miller and Phil Mickelson.

“It’s a great feeling to be that unsure going into a week,” Haas said, “but have it all work out and play like this.”

For much of the final round, it was anyone’s tournament to win. Late on the back nine there were six players tied for the lead, with more than a dozen within two shots. With such a logjam at the top, Haas knew he was one blunder away from slipping out of the lead and into 10th place.

A slippery 20-footer on 16 moved him to 22 under par, and then came the drama on the home hole.

With water looming on the left, Haas took the conservative route and went right with his drive on the par-5 finisher. His ball took an unlucky bounce near the bunker and settled on a mound just outside the sand. He rehearsed the shot left-handed, but that brought both the out-of-bounds stakes and water into play.

“It felt like a train wreck all coming together there, something bad was about to happen,” but instead Haas choked down on an 8-iron and poked it down the fairway.

Much like his splash out of the muck on the 70th hole at the Tour Championship, Haas described his creative play as an “educated guess.”

“You couldn’t teach that,” Harmon said. “That’s talent, figuring that out.”

Haas then used the same club from 169 yards for his third shot, safely finding the middle of the green to set up a two-putt par.

Haas isn’t often discussed as one of the best players in the game, mostly because he doesn’t have a top 10 in a major. But consider this: Since the beginning of the 2010 season, only Rory McIlroy (nine) and Tiger Woods (eight) have more Tour victories than Haas’ six.

Haas’ father wasn’t fully appreciated until recently, either. Jay was a nine-time PGA Tour winner, capturing events over a 15-year span, and he’s still competitive on the Champions Tour into his early 60s.

“Bill is kind of like his dad – they’re not going to be the best players in the world, but they’re built for the long term,” Harmon said. “They’re built to last.”

Haas conceded that he doesn’t think he’s quite as good as the Rorys and Tigers of the PGA Tour, and that’s OK. He knows that he can play with them, that it only takes one week.

“If I can only win one a year for the rest of my career, I would be completely happy,” he said. “Maybe that’s just it; maybe I’m easily satisfied. But if I could play until I’m 50, that’s the ultimate. I hope I am built for the long haul.”

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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.