Finally, DJ shakes the monkey off his back

By Ryan LavnerJune 20, 2016, 4:08 am

OAKMONT, Pa. – Of the many ways Dustin Johnson has lost a major championship – poor decisions, untimely swings, rotten luck, even head-scratching negligence – this U.S. Open had the potential to be the most soul-crushing.

Yes, there was the self-immolation at Pebble Beach.

And the inadvertent grounding of his club in a Whistling Straits bunker.

And the shank out of bounds at Royal St. George’s.

And the three-putt on the bumpy 18th green at Chambers Bay.

But for golf’s most gifted and cursed star, none of those blunders compared with what transpired Sunday at Oakmont during one of the most bizarre final rounds in major-championship history.

After all of Johnson's stumbles, now there was a disputed ruling that left players wondering where they stood on the back nine of a major?

“Just one more thing to add to the list, right?” he said with a smile late Sunday. “It’s nothing new at this point. It’s happened so many times, I’ve kind of come to expect it now.”

Yet this time, the outcome was different. This time, a four-shot deficit, an on-the-edge setup and a controversial decision by the USGA didn’t stop Johnson in his ill-fated pursuit of that elusive major. This time, the very attribute for which he is most often criticized – a lack of mental fortitude – was the reason why he closed out this 116th U.S. Open amid the most unusual circumstances.

“To finally get it done on Sunday in a major, it’s a huge monkey off my back,” he said. “I’ve put myself in this position many times, and to get it done is definitely sweet.”

After the recent near misses, and after the rules snafu Sunday, it’s hard to imagine a more popular or satisfying major winner than Johnson.

The initial confusion began on the fifth green, where Johnson lined up a 5-foot par putt. He made a few small practice strokes next to his ball, lifted his putter, and noticed that his ball moved slightly. He called over the USGA rules official to discuss the situation, and he, fellow playing competitor Lee Westwood and the official all agreed that because Johnson didn’t ground his putter, he couldn’t have caused the ball to move. They played on.

But nearly two hours later, after Johnson had moved two shots clear of a floundering Shane Lowry, he was informed on the 12th tee that the rules issue was still under review.

“Is there anything you could have done that caused the ball to move?” the USGA’s Jeff Hall asked Johnson.

“No, I don’t think so,” he replied.

And so the matter, Hall said, would be resolved following the round. That uncertainty didn’t sit well with Westwood, who voiced his displeasure with the three rules officials in the group.

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“I’m his playing partner, I’m his fellow competitor, and I’m not going to come down on his side and be biased if something happened that shouldn’t have happened,” Westwood told as he walked to his courtesy car late Sunday night. “But he didn’t cause it to move. It’s a shame it got revised.”

Naturally, social media exploded, with tweets from Rory McIlroy to Jordan Spieth to Rickie Fowler blasting the USGA’s actions. Their issue was two-fold: It was obvious that the severely sloping greens pushing 15 on the Stimpmeter, not Johnson, had caused the ball to move; and the USGA decided to inform Johnson and the walking scorers that there was only a possibility that he’d be docked a stroke at the end of the round under Rule 18-2/0.5, creating confusion for the rest of the field.

“Golf is a game of honor,” Jack Nicklaus said afterward behind the 18th green. “When you have a situation where an official is there and said, 'Did you cause it to move?' He says, 'No.' That should be the end of the story.”

Johnson has already become a sympathetic figure after his many major crackups, but as word of the potential pencil-whipping spread across Oakmont, the sun-burned spectators were even more boisterous in their support as they tried to push him across the finish line.

After the official interference, Johnson responded with five pars and a bogey to take what appeared to be a three-shot lead over Lowry and Scott Piercy. Despite his tortured history with 72nd holes, Johnson piped a 302-yard drive down the center on 18, then stuffed his 192-yard approach to 5 feet, sending fans in the packed grandstands into a tizzy. He would play his last seven holes in even par to shoot 69.

“The ability to shake off stuff like that, I still haven’t figured it out,” said his brother/caddie, Austin. “I’ve been trying to do that for 29 years now and I can’t figure it out. He’s unique when it comes to that. Nothing fazes him.”

With his approach in tight, Johnson slinked to the 18th green like a jungle cat. Fans rose to their feet and chanted, “Dee-Jay! Dee-Jay!” When his short birdie putt dropped, when his victory was secure no matter the penalty, he hugged Austin, scooped son Tatum into his arms, and smooched fiancée Paulina, prompting a slew of catcalls from the crowd.

Waiting behind the green was USGA executive director Mike Davis, who delivered the buzzkill that Johnson was still needed in the clubhouse for the rules review. After a 15-minute meeting with the four-person committee, Johnson was assessed the one-shot penalty, but it mattered little. He won by three, not four, and so he sauntered back toward the 18th green, hand in hand with Paulina, his trophy awaiting.

“I thought it was great,” Westwood said. “He held himself together and didn’t let it get to him.”

The trophy presentation was awkward at best.

Before Fox’s Joe Buck could even finish his question about how Johnson overcame the rules controversy, fans surrounding the green unloaded a chorus of boos so loud that it drowned out the inquiry. In the background, Davis wore a pained smile; USGA president Diana Murphy stood stone-faced behind the podium, her eyes begging Buck to change his line of questioning.

“This means absolutely everything,” said Johnson’s manager, David Winkle. “It’s validation for all of the work he’s done.”

That Johnson captured his first major a year after his most crushing loss was even more remarkable.

Perseverance never has been Johnson’s problem; his ability to put himself in position to get his heart broken over and over again was admirable, if not a bit depressing. But since Chambers Bay, he’s looked particularly vulnerable down the stretch, coughing up leads, exposing his flaws and offering even more ammunition for a growing legion of critics.

In the past year alone, there was a 75-75 finish at St. Andrews after holding the 36-hole lead. And there were weekend wobbles at Firestone … and Torrey Pines … and Doral. Even last week, at a mid-level PGA Tour event in Memphis, he threw up a 73 while in contention. His final-round scoring average (70.67) was more than two shots higher than Round 1 (68.33). Not one for introspection, Johnson shrugged off his Sunday woes as simply part of the game.

“It’s hard to win,” Nicklaus said, “particularly when you’ve been there a lot and don’t win. We’ve all been through it. You learn from that. If you don’t take it and learn from it and use it for your benefit, then it becomes a problem. If it continues to happen, then all of a sudden it gets in your head and you can’t really get it out.”

Oh, it's out now. Johnson's reputation as the best player not to win a major, as golf’s immensely talented but star-crossed sensation? It's gone, forever, after this unforgettable Sunday.

“I always knew this would happen, and I think it’ll happen multiple times,” Winkle said. “But it doesn’t matter who you are: You have to get the first one before you can get the second one. This was a huge hurdle.

“He’s always processed all this stuff differently than everybody else. But the clock is ticking, the questions grow and grow, and now he’ll have a little bit of relief from people wondering if he’ll ever get it done. A lot of people might have lost faith as to whether he was going to close one of these out, but he never did.”

Hensby takes full responsibility for violation

By Rex HoggardDecember 13, 2017, 5:28 pm

The PGA Tour’s Anti-Doping Program manual covers 48 pages of details, from the pressing to the mundane, but for Mark Hensby the key section of the policy could be found on Page 5.

“The collector may allow you to delay reporting to the testing area for unavoidable obligations; however, you will be monitored from the time of notification until completion of the sample collection process,” the policy reads. “A failure to report to the testing area by the required time is the same as a doping violation under the program.”

Hensby, a 46-year-old former Tour winner from Australia, didn’t read that section, or any other part of the manual. In fact, he said he hasn’t received the circuit’s anti-doping manual in years. Not that he uses that as an excuse.

To be clear, Hensby doesn’t blame his anti-doping plight on anyone else.

“At the end of the day it’s my responsibility. I take full responsibility,” he told

Like Doug Barron, Scott Stallings and even Vijay Singh before him, Hensby ran afoul of the Tour’s anti-doping policy because, essentially, of a clerical error. There were no failed tests, no in-depth investigations, no seedy entourages who sent Hensby down a dark road of performance-enhancing drug use.

Just a simple misunderstanding combined with bad timing.

Hensby, who last played a full season on Tour in 2003, had just completed the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship when he was approached by a member of the Tour’s anti-doping testing staff. He was angry about his play and had just used the restroom on the 17th hole and, he admits, was in no mood to wait around to take the urine test.

“Once I said, ‘Can I take it in the morning,’ [the Tour’s anti-doping official] said, ‘We can’t hold you here,’” Hensby recalled. “I just left.”

Not one but two officials called Hensby that night to ask why he’d declined to take the test, and he said he was even advised to return to the Country Club of Jackson (Miss.) to take the test, which is curious because the policy doesn’t allow for such gaps between notification of a test and the actual testing.

According to the policy, a player is considered in violation of the program if he leaves the presence of the doping control officers without providing the required sample.

A Tour official declined to comment on the matter citing the circuit’s policy not to comment on doping violations beyond the initial disclosure.

A week later, Hensby was informed he was in violation of the Tour’s policy and although he submitted a letter to the commissioner explaining the reasons for his failure to take the test he was told he would be suspended from playing in any Tour-sanctioned events (including events on the Tour) for a year.

“I understand now what the consequences are, but you know I’ve been banned for a performance-enhancing drug violation, and I don’t take performance-enhancing drugs,” Hensby said.

Hensby isn’t challenging his suspension nor did he have any interest in criticizing the Tour’s policy, instead his message two days after the circuit announced the suspension was focused on his fellow Tour members.

“I think the players need to read that manual really, really well. There are things I wasn’t aware of and I think other players weren’t aware of either,” he said. “You have to read the manual.”

It was a similar message Stallings offered following his 90-day suspension in 2015 after he turned himself in for using DHEA, an anabolic agent that is the precursor to testosterone production and banned by the Tour.

“This whole thing was a unique situation that could have been dealt with differently, but I made a mistake and I owned up to it,” Stallings said at the time.

Barron’s 2009 suspension, which was for a year, also could have been avoided after he tested positive for supplemental testosterone and a beta-blocker, both of which were prescribed by a doctor for what were by many accounts legitimate health issues.

And Singh’s case, well that chapter is still pending in the New York Supreme Court, but the essential element of the Fijian’s violation was based on his admitted use of deer-antler spray, which contained a compound called IGF-1. Although IGF-1 is a banned substance, the World Anti-Doping Agency has ruled that the use of deer-antler spray is not a violation if an athlete doesn’t fail a drug test. Singh never failed a test.

The Tour’s anti-doping history is littered with cases that could have been avoided, cases that should have been avoided. Despite the circuit’s best educational efforts, it’s been these relatively innocent violations that have defined the program.

In retrospect, Hensby knows he should have taken the test. He said he had nothing to hide, but anger got the best of him.

“To be honest, it would have been hard, the way I was feeling that day, I know I’m a hothead at times, but I would have probably stayed [had he known the consequences],” he admitted. “You’ve got to understand that if you have too much water you can’t get a test either and then you have to stay even longer.”

Hensby said before his run in with the anti-doping small print he wasn’t sure what his professional future would be, but his suspension has given him perspective and a unique motivation.

“I was talking to my wife last night, I have a little boy, it’s been a long month,” said Hensby after dropping his son, Caden, off at school. “I think I have a little more drive now and when I come back. I wasn’t going to play anymore, but when I do come back I am going to be motivated.”

He’s also going to be informed when it comes to the Tour’s anti-doping policy, and he hopes his follow professionals take a similar interest.

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Lesson with Woods fetches $210K for Harvey relief

By Will GrayDecember 13, 2017, 2:51 pm

A charity event featuring more than two dozen pro golfers raised more than $1 million for Hurricane Harvey relief, thanks in large part to a hefty price paid for a private lesson with Tiger Woods.

The pro-am fundraiser was organized by Chris Stroud, winner of the Barracuda Championship this summer, and fellow pro and Houston resident Bobby Gates. It was held at Bluejack National in Montgomery, Texas, about an hour outside Houston and the first Woods-designed course to open in the U.S.

The big-ticket item on the auction block was a private, two-person lesson with Woods at Bluejack National that sold for a whopping $210,000.

Other participants included local residents like Stacy Lewis, Patrick Reed and Steve Elkington as well as local celebrities like NBA All-Star Clyde Drexler, Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates and Houston Astros owner Jim Crane.

Stroud was vocal in his efforts to help Houston rebuild in the immediate aftermath of the storm that ravaged the city in August, and he told the Houston Chronicle that he plans to continue fundraising efforts even after eclipsing the event's $1 million goal.

"This is the best event I have ever been a part of, and this is just a start," Stroud said. "We have a long way to go for recovery to this city, and we want to keep going with this and raise as much as we can and help as many victims as we can."

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LPGA schedule features 34 events, record purse

By Randall MellDecember 13, 2017, 2:02 pm

The LPGA schedule will once again feature 34 events next year with a record $68.75 million in total purses, the tour announced on Wednesday.

While three events are gone from the 2018 schedule, three new events have been added, with two of those on the West Coast and one in mainland China.

The season will again start with the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic on Paradise Island (Jan. 25-28) and end with the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla., (Nov. 15-18).

The LPGA played for $65 million in total prize money in 2017.

An expanded West Coast swing in the front half of the schedule will now include the HUGEL-JTBC Championship in the Los Angeles area April 19-22. The site will be announced at a later date.

The tour will then make a return to San Francisco’s Lake Merced Golf Club the following week, in a new event sponsored by L&P Cosmetics, a Korean skincare company. Both new West Coast tournaments will be full-field events.

The tour’s third new event will be played in Shanghai Oct. 18-21 as part of the fall Asian swing. The title sponsor and golf course will be announced at a later date.

“Perhaps the most important aspect of our schedule is the consistency — continuing to deliver strong playing opportunities both in North America and around the world, while growing overall purse levels every year,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement. “There is simply no better [women’s] tour opportunity in the world, when it comes to purses, global TV coverage or strength of field. It’s an exciting time in women’s golf, with the best players from every corner of the globe competing against each other in virtually every event.”

While the Evian Championship will again be played in September next year, the tour confirmed its plans to move its fifth major to the summer in 2019, to be part of a European swing, with the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

The Manulife LPGA Classic and the Lorena Ochoa Invitational are not returning to the schedule next year. Also, the McKayson New Zealand Women’s Open will not be played next year as it prepares to move to the front of the 2019 schedule, to be paired with the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.

The U.S. Women’s Open will make its new place earlier in the summer, a permanent move in the tour’s scheduling. It will be played May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek Golf Club outside Birmingham, Ala. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (June 28-July 1) will be played at Kemper Lakes Golf Club on the north side of Chicago and the Ricoh Women’s British Open (Aug. 2-5) will be played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England.

For the first time since its inception in 2014, the UL International Crown team event is going overseas, with the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea, scheduled to host the event Oct. 4-7. The KEB Hana Bank Championship will be played in South Korean the following week.

Here is the LPGA's schedule for 2018:

Jan. 25-28: Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic; Paradise Island, Bahamas; Purse: $1.4 million

Feb. 15-18: ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open; Adelaide, Australia; Purse: $1.3 million

Feb. 21-24: Honda LPGA Thailand; Chonburi, Thailand; Purse: $1.6 million

March 1-4: HSBC Women's World Championship; Singapore; Purse: $1.5 million

March 15-18: Bank of Hope Founders Cup; Phoenix, Arizona; Purse: $1.5 million

March 22-25: Kia Classic; Carlsbad, California; Purse: $1.8 million

March 29 - April 1: ANA Inspiration; Rancho Mirage, California; Purse: $2.8 million

April 11-14: LOTTE Championship; Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii; Purse: $2 million

April 19-22: HUGEL-JTBC Championship; Greater Los Angeles, California; Purse: $1.5 million

April 26-29: Name to be Announced; San Francisco, California; Purse: $1.5 million

May 3-6: Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic; The Colony, Texas; Purse: $1.3 million

May 17-20: Kingsmill Championship; Williamsburg, Virginia; Purse: $1.3 million

May 24-27: LPGA Volvik Championship; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Purse: $1.3 million

May 31 - June 3: U.S. Women's Open Championship; Shoal Creek, Alabama; Purse: $5 million

June 8-10: ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer; Galloway, New Jersey; Purse: $1.75 million

June 14-17: Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Purse: $2 million

June 22-24: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G; Rogers, Arkansas; Purse: $2 million

June 28 - July 1: KPMG Women's PGA Championship; Kildeer, Illinois; Purse: $3.65 million

July 5-8: Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic; Oneida, Wisconsin; Purse: $2 million

July 12-15: Marathon Classic presented by Owens-Corning and O-I; Sylvania, Ohio; Purse: $1.6 million

July 26-29: Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open; East Lothian, Scotland; Purse: $1.5 million

Aug. 2-5: Ricoh Women's British Open; Lancashire, England; Purse: $3.25 million

Aug. 16-19: Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim; Indianapolis, Indiana; Purse: $2 million

Aug. 23-26: CP Women's Open; Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; Purse: $2.25 million

Aug. 30 - Sept. 2: Cambia Portland Classic; Portland, Oregon; Purse: $1.3 million

Sept. 13-16: The Evian Championship; Evian-les-Bains, France; Purse: $3.85 million

Sept. 27-30: Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Purse: $1.8 million

Oct. 4-7: UL International Crown; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $1.6 million

Oct. 11-14: LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $2 million

Oct. 18-21: Name to be Announced; Shanghai, China; Purse: $2.1 million

Oct. 25-28: Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship; New Taipei City, Chinese Taipei; Purse: $2.2 million

Nov. 2-4: TOTO Japan Classic; Shiga, Japan; Purse: $1.5 million

Nov. 7-10: Blue Bay LPGA; Hainan Island, China; Purse: $2.1 million

Nov. 15-18: CME Group Tour Championship; Naples, Florida; Purse: $2.5 million

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 4, Jordan Spieth

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 13, 2017, 1:00 pm

Dismissed because he’s supposedly too short off the tee, or not accurate enough with his irons, or just a streaky putter, Jordan Spieth is almost never the answer to the question of which top player, when he’s at his best, would win in a head-to-head match.

And yet here he is, at the age of 24, with 11 career wins and three majors, on a pace that compares favorably with the giants of the game. He might not possess the firepower of Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, but since he burst onto the PGA Tour in 2013 he has all that matters – a better résumé.

Spieth took the next step in his development this year by becoming the Tour’s best iron player – and its most mentally tough.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

Just a great putter? Oh, puhleeze: He won three times despite putting statistics (42nd) that were his worst since his rookie year. Instead, he led the Tour in strokes gained-approach the green and this summer showed the discipline, golf IQ and bounce-back ability that makes him such a unique talent. 

Even with his putter misbehaving, Spieth closed out the Travelers Championship by holing a bunker shot in the playoff, then, in perhaps an even bigger surprise, perfectly executed the player-caddie celebration, chest-bumping caddie Michael Greller. A few weeks later, sublime iron play carried him into the lead at Royal Birkdale, his first in a major since his epic collapse at the 2016 Masters.

Once again his trusty putter betrayed him, and by the time he arrived on the 13th tee, he was tied with Matt Kuchar. What happened next was the stuff of legend – a lengthy ruling, gutsy up-and-down, stuffed tee shot and go-get-that putt – that lifted Spieth to his third major title.

Though he couldn’t complete the career Grand Slam at the PGA, he’ll likely have, oh, another two decades to join golf’s most exclusive club.

In the barroom debate of best vs. best, you can take the guys with the flair, with the booming tee shots and the sky-high irons. Spieth will just take the trophies.


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Photos: Jordan Spieth and Annie Verret


Photos: Jordan Spieth through the years