Gregory on familiar path with SMU at NCAAs

By Ryan LavnerMay 27, 2014, 2:44 am

HUTCHINSON, Kan. – Josh Gregory has that familiar feeling.   

Twelve years ago, he took over as the head coach at Augusta State, a tiny school in the home of the Masters that is Division II in everything but golf. In 2010 and ’11, he stunned the college golf world by leading them to back-to-back NCAA Championships.

Remarkably, he has built another fast-rising program at SMU, his alma mater, recruiting and developing a roster that is all his. His players. His beliefs. His development.

“As a coach you always want to prove that you can do this,” he said late Monday night. “I have a hard time accepting and enjoying my past. To come here and start from scratch, to build a program, it’s just so gratifying.”

Of course, an hour earlier, Gregory admittedly was “as nervous and excited and scared as I’ve been.”

The final round of NCAA stroke-play qualifying tends to have that effect.

The Mustangs are the 28th-ranked team in the country, but evidently they’re peaking at just the right time. They won their conference championship, holding off top-10 programs UCF and Houston. Only then did they begin to believe how good they truly were.

“You could see the change in their attitude and how they approached it,” said Gregory, and at NCAA regionals they led until the final four holes of the tournament, eventually finishing fourth.

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At Prairie Dunes, SMU was safely inside the top-8 bubble until dropping three shots on its final hole. At 5-over 845, the Mustangs had to wait an hour, maybe more, to learn whether they would move on to match play.

First came Illinois.

Last year’s NCAA runner-up was led on the final day by Brian Campbell, a winner last week at regionals but a player whose putter went ice-cold over the first two rounds (70-74) here. Illini coach Mike Small said the turning point for his team was when Campbell poured in an 8-foot birdie putt on his first hole, No. 10.

“Floodgates,” Small said, smiling.

Campbell added birdies on 17, 18, 1, 2 and 6, then drained a 10-foot eagle on the short par-5 seventh – a nine-hole run in 7 under par – to single-handedly propel the Illini inside the top 8.

“He took over today,” Small said. “His heart is bigger than his body.”

When the Illini finished, however, it was still unclear whether they would finish inside the number or require a team playoff.

So next came UCLA and South Carolina, playing in the same group.

For the Bruins, Jonathan Garrick and Lorens Chan both came home in 33, with Chan getting up and down from behind the 18th green for a critical par. Even more critical was senior Anton Arboleda, who made a 10-foot eagle putt on 7, then two-putted from 50 feet on the last to seal the No. 6 seed for UCLA.   

And so completes a remarkable turnaround for a team that didn’t win this season, finished seventh at the Pac-12 Championship and was nine holes away from being outside the cut line at regionals.

Finishing fifth at regionals, though, “felt like a win,” Arboleda said. “We felt like we were on top of the world, and this week we’ve just had good vibes.”

It's safe to say that South Carolina’s Will Murphy felt otherwise coming down the stretch. Only one shot off the individual lead, he first made bogey on the eighth hole, his 17th of the day. Then his tee shot on the par-4 ninth went way left, into the knee-high rough, and he was forced to take an unplayable. His third shot came up short of the green, he chipped up and then missed the bogey putt for a deflating double.

The last hope for the Gamecocks was Caleb Sturgeon, who needed to hole a slippery 25-foot birdie putt on the last to force a three-team playoff. It missed on the high side. The team was eliminated.

“All year we haven’t closed out our rounds,” head coach Bill McDonald said, “and I think that’s ultimately what got us again.”

The original schedule called for a separate round Monday for the low 40 and ties to determine the individual champion. That was scrapped after more than 10 1/2 hours of weather delays.  

Yes, the new format would have boosted the prestige of the NCAA individual championship – 72 holes, of course, is the standard in competitive golf – but it also undersold the nonstop drama of team stroke play.

Every year it delivers – teams that rise to the occasion, and the others that, inevitably, falter under the pressure.  

When the final putt dropped, Gregory was standing on a sand hill left of the ninth green. He buried his head in his assistant’s shoulders, then bear-hugged each of his players.

Indeed, four years after shocking the college golf world, a Gregory-led team appears determined to do it again.

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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.