Eason scores redemption, takes on haters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 25, 2017, 6:22 pm

Greg Eason: Name sound familiar?

He’s the Web.com Tour player who failed to break 90 in his first three rounds of the year.

91-95-90.

Good speeds for a major-league pitcher. Bad scores for a professional golfer.   

Someone on social media suggested that the 24-year-old Englishman take up another sport, like tennis.   

Another asked if he was actually playing in a Golf Channel Am Tour event.

One even asked for his phone number, to see if he could play in their Saturday game at the club.

Eason was one step from the PGA Tour, but he never felt further away.

“It was horrible,” he said by phone Wednesday from the Bahamas. “It was genuinely worrying. I was thinking about not coming out here to play these events. It’s a horrible feeling when you’re teeing it up and playing against some of the guys who are going to be in great form, but you know it’s going to be difficult for yourself to make the cut.

“That was the hardest bit about it. You’re not playing well, you hadn’t seen good shots in a while, and you’re waiting for it to click. It’s madness, really.”

There was little to suggest he was capable of these blowup rounds.

A former top-10 amateur in the world, Eason has been a steady presence on the developmental circuit. Last year he had one top-10, three top-25s and missed only seven cuts in 24 starts. With more than $64,000 in earnings, he finished 74th on the money list.

Even more telling: His worst score, in 82 rounds played, was an 81. 

But there were warning signs entering the year. He couldn’t keep his driver on the planet, missing both ways. Then Mother Nature intervened, and Web.com players were greeted by 45-mph winds in the season opener. It resulted in the tour’s highest cut ever, 11 over par.

Eason was 42 over.

“I had no chance, to be honest,” he said. “It was petrifying to stand on the tee and not know where it’s going.”

After a week of practice at home in Orlando with his swing coach (and former coach at UCF) Bryce Wallor, Eason returned to the Bahamas eager for a redemptive performance. All he got were a few more layers of scar tissue.

Eason was already 8 over for the day when he came to the 18th, a 572-yard par 5 that played as the third-easiest hole Monday. He hit five drives, none of them good. He found his third provisional, which was unfortunate. From the hazard he took a few hacks, and a few more drops, and his score piled up.

Live scoring has been unreliable, so initially there was some doubt as to his score on the hole. But then it was confirmed: Two weeks after losing 32 balls in two days, Eason had carded a decuple-bogey 15.

“An absolute nightmare,” he said. “I can’t even remember making a 10 before.”

Rather than withdraw – “I really never saw myself quitting” – Eason had a range session late Monday with fellow competitor Rhein Gibson that turned around his game. Gibson noticed that Eason’s downswing was too steep, creating spinny shots that were blown off-line by the gusty winds. “It was a pretty simple fix,” Eason said, and for an hour he felt as though he was playing a push draw. He smoked a few drives down the center. 

“On the tee Tuesday, I felt better than I’ve felt in months,” he said. 

Eason was solid. Sharp, even. Starting on the back nine, he made six consecutive pars before a birdie on the par-4 16th.

Then came 18, the source of his latest embarrassment, the hole where he recorded the worst score in the history of the Web.com Tour. He made 4. Birdie.

He added a pair of birdies on the inward nine for the bogey-free, 4-under round – 22 shots better than Monday.

That, too, is a record. For the largest turnaround in a Tour-sanctioned event.

“It was one of the most pleasing rounds of golf I’ve had in a while,” he said.

Reenergized, he spent the rest of the afternoon with friends, kayaking to a nearby island with a cooler full of beers. “A lovely way to celebrate, really,” he said.

Eason isn’t active on social media, but he felt compelled to tap out a tweet Tuesday night:

It was retweeted more than a thousand times. Anyone who has played bad golf knew the feeling.

“To be honest, I thought the criticism was a little unfair,” he said. “I played three rounds of bad golf on some pretty tough courses in bad conditions. It’s amazing how small people will make you feel for shooting a couple of scores in the 90s. Like, you really feel belittled. And so it’s a whole other challenge of getting yourself out of that hole that you’re in.

“I tried as hard in that round as any round I’ve played. I really wanted to prove to everybody jumping on the bandwagon that I’m absolutely fine.”

Eason has a week off before the Web.com Tour season resumes, in Colombia. He’s more hopeful than he’s been in months.

“That round really has changed my mindset,” he said. “This was a massive step in the right direction, to be able to cure and get over something that was personal and a deep-rooted problem. It’s just enlightening to me that you can get through adversity on the golf course.

“Now, I feel fantastic. I feel like I could take on the world at the minute.”

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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.