Established players finally claiming maiden majors

By Ryan LavnerJune 17, 2013, 3:20 pm

ARDMORE, Pa. – The 2013 major season actually began in the Bahamas, of all places.

In early April, Adam Scott and Justin Rose tuned up for the Masters together in the warm sun. In two well-played matches there, Rose took money off his buddy, which didn’t seem quite fair a week later when Scott claimed a far bigger prize in Augusta.

Scott was (and remains) an immensely popular winner, and not just among women. For years he failed to live up to the outsized expectations heaped upon him as an uber-talented prospect. But now, finally, he was realizing his potential, and on the grandest stage in golf, no less.

Late that Masters Sunday, Rose tapped out a message to Scott, whom the Englishman describes as a close friend and a contemporary. And what Scott typed back that night was illuminating:

This is your time. This is OUR time to win these tournaments.

By the numbers: The ties that bind Rose and Scott

Make way for the new wave in golf, a generation of players who no longer feel suppressed by Tiger Woods’ dominance or Phil Mickelson’s brilliance.

The last 19 majors have been won by 18 different players. Meanwhile, Tiger hasn’t won a Big One since 2008, and Phil is an arthritic 43-year-old in the latter stages of his Hall of Fame career, and Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Vijay Singh are searching, stretching and suing, respectively. The Big 5 in golf? They’ve disbanded.

Last week in Philly – after Tiger drifted away on the weekend, after Phil was dealt Open heartbreak – the last man standing after 72 grueling holes was Rose. The breakthroughs continue.

Like Scott before him, Rose’s journey should serve as an inspiration to many players and a cautionary tale for the chosen few.

Admittedly, the Englishman suffered a “pretty traumatic” start to his career. At the 1998 Open Championship, Rose, then a 17-year-old amateur, pitched in on the final hole at Royal Birkdale to finish T-4, a moment, he said, that either feels like 25 years ago or yesterday, depending on which memory he recalls. The day after that Open, he turned pro and “announced myself on the golfing scene probably before I was ready to handle it.” He missed the cut in his first 21 pro starts.

“I was just trying to not fade away, really,” he says now. “I didn’t want to be known as a one-hit wonder, a flash in the pan.”

It wasn’t until 2010, during his two-win season on the PGA Tour, that Rose fully trusted himself to come through when it mattered, when the tournament was on the line, when legacies were forged.

He captured a FedEx Cup playoff title.

He added a World Golf Championship win.

And this season, he ascended as high as No. 3 in the world rankings.

More significant, legacy-wise: He finally became a consistent factor in the majors, finishing in the top 25 in five of the last six.  

“He’s got loads of talent, a great game, a great work ethic,” said Hunter Mahan, who like Rose is a pupil of swing coach Sean Foley.

“He’s just one of those guys that had to keep plugging along, and keep trusting himself, more than anything else – just trust his abilities, because his abilities are really second to none.”

Even before arriving on-site last week, Rose figured Merion might be the site of his major breakthrough. Last year he was first in greens hit on Tour, and he entered last week’s event No. 1 in total driving.

“I thought this one actually might have been my best chance,” said Rose, and he proved prescient, finishing T-2 in fairways hit (42 of 56), T-7 in greens in regulation (50 of 72) and T-16 in putting for the week. “For me to come into a U.S. Open and feel like this is one of my legitimate chances to win a major is a testament to my ball-striking.”

Scott won the Masters, for a major-deprived sporting nation and for himself, justifying all the hype and the expectations thrust upon him as a teen.

Rose won the U.S. Open, coming full circle from a disastrous start to his pro career to become the first Englishman in 43 years to win the year’s second major.

So if this is indeed the Year of the Breakthrough, then it’s only fitting to look ahead to who might be next.

Both Scott and Rose are 32, and so, too, is Brandt Snedeker, a proven winner, a FedEx Cup champion, a player whose resume lacks only a major.

At 34, Matt Kuchar is only a few years older, and he’s the world No. 5, the smiling assassin who has reinvented himself with that flat swing and mind-numbing consistency.

Or maybe it’s Luke Donald, 35, the former No. 1 in the world; or Dustin Johnson, 28, who could very well have had three majors on his resume by now; or maybe, just maybe, the stars will align for Sergio Garcia, 33, a ball-striking wizard who remains a tortured soul in majors. For guys like Jason Day, 25, Hunter Mahan, 31, and Jason Dufner, 36 – all of whom were in the mix at Merion – their time could be coming, too.

Moving forward, of course, they all will inevitably deal with Woods, who is back to winning consistently but for the past five years (and counting) has yet to bring that kind of game to the tournaments that matter most. And, of course,h they will deal with Rory McIlroy, who will regain his championship form at some point, though when, exactly, remains a mystery.

But another obstacle now is that players such as Scott and Rose – golf’s two newest major winners, this year’s late-blooming but nonetheless breakthrough stars – now view themselves differently when they stride to the first tee. Scott arrived at Merion knowing that he had won a major, that the burden was gone, that he could just swing freely and see how he stacked up. And now, his major victory not even an hour old, Rose already found himself looking ahead, too.

“Winning makes you hungry to do it again,” he said, “because it just feels so darn good.”

This is their time to win these tournaments, Scott had said.  

So who is ready to break through next?

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.