College players marvel at Spieth's meteoric rise

By Ryan LavnerOctober 21, 2013, 10:49 pm

WINDERMERE, Fla. – A year ago this week, before the fame and the records and the money games with Phil, Jordan Spieth was here, at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational, as just another student-athlete on the University of Texas golf team.

Funny thing, too: Spieth didn’t even win the event last year. (He finished fifth.) It was his final start before bombing out at Q-School’s second stage, which became the unlikely starting point for arguably the best rookie campaign since the ’90s.

Now, a year later, his former college and amateur opponents marvel at the ascent of an American golf superstar but also believe that they, too, can produce similarly eye-opening freshman campaigns.

“It’s crazy to think that somebody, basically a peer of mine, is out there doing that,” said Texas freshman Beau Hossler, 18, who was nipped by Spieth for low-amateur honors at the 2012 U.S. Open. “I think it motivates everybody in the field. I think it provides a good steppingstone to try and achieve.”

This fall, the Longhorns Spieth left behind gathered in the lounge at the University of Texas Golf Club and watched his tournaments on TV – they watched as he birdied his way into contention again, and cashed another big check, and let his legend grow.

Ask just about anyone in college circles about Spieth, and they’ll say they’re surprised not by his rise – it was coming somehow, some way, and at some point – but rather the velocity with which he rose. Mind-bogglingly meteoric.

Granted, all the signs of a superstar-in-waiting were already there.

In 2008, Cory Whitsett and Spieth, then 15, were vying for one of the most prestigious AJGA titles at the Ping Invitational. Whitsett had a four-shot lead to start the final round at Karsten Creek, but Spieth stormed out of the gates early, burying four putts of 30-plus feet during a front-nine 31 on his way to a final-round 68 – easily the best score of the day – and a two-shot victory. Never mind, of course, that it was chilly, and it was breezy, and the course was already one of the most difficult venues a junior can play.

Spieth went on to win multiple U.S. Junior titles, and he was the youngest member of the 2011 U.S. Walker Cup team. He didn’t lose a match at Royal Aberdeen, thanks largely to one of the most spectacular shots that Texas coach John Fields had seen in years. Paired with Patrick Rodgers, Spieth sank a slippery, left-to-right, 18-footer on the 18th hole to halve the match.

“That guy loves that moment,” Fields said. “For some reason he’s able to achieve in those kinds of situations and rise to the occasion.”

That’s what happened at Texas’ home tournament, the Morris Williams Invitational, in spring 2012. Down by one shot to teammates Julio Vegas and Dylan Frittelli, and with only the 517-yard, into-the-wind, par-4 18th to play, Spieth had a 4-iron left into a tucked pin that was surrounded by water.

“The area to land it,” said Texas’ Toni Hakula, raising his hands about shoulder-width apart, “was about this big.”

Spieth airmailed the green, his ball rolled into a grassy patch in the hazard, and his chances for victory seemed slim. Only he calmly assessed his situation – downhill chip, with about 15 feet to work with – and then knocked in his third shot to share medalist honors.

“It was just like, this guy,” Hakula said. “We should have seen that coming. In his head, he knew that he was going to make that.”

That’s what happened at the 2010 Azalea Invitational, where Spieth flagged a long iron into the final green to post a top-5 finish against players who were four, five and sometimes six years older.

And that’s what happened at the 2012 NCAA Championship, where on the 15th hole of a hotly contested match against eventual Player of the Year Justin Thomas, Spieth holed his second shot into the long par 4 and helped propel Texas to its first national title in more than 40 years.

“I’ve seen it so many times, nothing really surprises me,” Fields said. “He has that intangible to hit an amazing shot at the right time.”

The latest, and most memorable, highlight-reel shot, of course, came at the John Deere Classic, where Spieth holed a bunker shot on the 72nd hole to force a playoff.

That day, Hakula flew back home to Finland and went to bed early. At the time, Spieth was down three with three holes to play. Hakula figured it’d be just another good finish in a year full of them, but when he woke up and saw his mother downstairs, she screamed, “Jordan won!”

“I was kinda pissed I missed that,” Hakula said, “but obviously I’ve seen the highlights a million times.”

There’s no simple way to explain how a player, in one year, can go from finishing fifth at a college event to winning a PGA Tour event, banking nearly $4 million in earnings, representing his country at the Presidents Cup and becoming the biggest teen sensation since Tiger. But if nothing else, it gives these players hope that they’re not too far removed from the PGA Tour’s biggest stages.

Said Hossler, “If you know him really well, you could see exactly how this rise happened. He’s probably the most confident guy I’ve ever met. He believes in himself and makes confident and risky decisions, and it always seems to work out for him.

“What separates him is when he gets it going, he fires on all cylinders and really gets it going; he goes low. It’s hard to go low like that. But he makes a lot of bold decisions when he’s playing well, and they always seem to pay off.”

“He’s just been great at any level he’s ever been,” said Whitsett, now a senior at Alabama. “I didn’t see it coming this fast, and I figured he’d get there eventually. But he possesses more confidence than any person I’ve ever seen. His self-belief. It’s a toned-down cockiness. I think that’s his biggest attribute and what got him to where he is. He’s had it forever.”

Indeed, the peers he raced by remember it vividly. 

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.