NCAA quarters: Illinois still alive; Texas sent packing

By Ryan LavnerJune 2, 2015, 7:05 pm

BRADENTON, Fla. – After top seed Illinois set its lineup for Tuesday’s quarterfinal match, assistant coach Zach Barlow sent heralded freshman Nick Hardy a text message.

“Be ready for that 4-5 slot all 3 matches bro,” Barlow wrote. “No one’s putter we trust more than yours! When it’s on the line, we want you putting for it.”

Fourteen hours later, Hardy was putting with everything on the line.

To the surprise of no one around this Illinois program, Hardy buried the 6-foot par putt, the finishing blow that sent the Illini to the semifinals of the NCAA Championship.

Recalling this story in the clubhouse later Tuesday, Barlow could only laugh.

“I’d let him putt for my life,” he said.

Despite trailing in all five matches early, Illinois kept its title hopes alive with a 3-2 victory over UCLA.

That was supposed to set up a blockbuster against Texas, two teams with 15 combined wins this season, but only the Illini stayed alive. 

Southern Cal rolled Texas, 3-0-2, in one of the other quarterfinal matches, a victory more decisive than even the final score indicated.

“It’s a stinger,” Longhorns coach John Fields said.

With the afternoon semifinals underway at Concession, Georgia is facing SEC foe LSU, while Illinois takes on USC.

The Bulldogs, the lowest-ranked team to advance to match play, continued their surprising run with a thorough 4-1 victory over host South Florida.

LSU, which needed an incredible final-day run just to advance through regionals, won the first three matches against Vanderbilt to end the drama early.

But all eyes were on Texas, and for good reason. The Longhorns were the hottest team in the country, with six wins in their last seven events entering nationals. But this was an unusual week from the outset. 

The Longhorns got off to a rocky start, and their spot in match play was only secured after playing the last two days in 12 under.

In the quarterfinals, USC’s Bobby Gojuangco led off with a 4-and-2 win, and Rico Hoey never faltered during a 2-and-1 decision over Texas’ Doug Ghim.

Sean Crocker delivered the clinching point for the Trojans, but not without some help.

Crocker won the last two holes of regulation after opponent Gavin Hall went bogey-double bogey, and Hall then blocked his tee shot into the jungle left of the 10th fairway. Over by the television set, Hall slashed around in the bushes while Crocker stuffed his approach to 10 feet. Ballgame.

“I don’t like losing,” Crocker said. “I hate losing, no matter what it is.”

Said Texas’ Beau Hossler: “The one goal at the beginning of the season was to win the national championship, so yeah, it’s disappointing, because we didn’t reach that goal. We expect to win tournaments, and obviously coming up short of that is not a good feeling.”

Four of the top five teams in the country have now left the property: No. 1 Florida State and No. 3 Arizona State didn’t even advance to match play, and No. 2 Texas and No. 5 Vanderbilt bowed out in the quarters.

“You almost have to overcome your success a little bit here,” Fields said. “It’s hard, because you’re stinging because it’s over. When you see kids go home and they’re emotional at the end, it’s because you recognize that it’s over. So many great things happen that go into this moment, it’s hard to accept.”

Illinois hopes it got its scare out of the way early.

All five players trailed in their match as the team made the turn, but they flipped the outcome with a spirited rally.

Most impressive was junior Charlie Danielson, who, starting at the eighth hole, won seven holes in a row en route to a 4-and-3 victory.

After such a dramatic swing, Small said it is his job to “spread the love, spread that momentum.”

It seemed to work for Thomas Detry, as the sweet-swinging Belgium, who was in contention for the NCAA individual title, pulled away from UCLA’s Manav Shah after making three consecutive birdies late in his round.

And it seemed to work for Hardy, who could “feel the energy” as the crowd swelled, the pressure built and it became apparent that his match would be the decider.

Small chose Hardy for the anchor spot for two reasons: He was playing well, having shared medalist honors at the Big Ten Championship a few weeks ago; and he had match play experience, having reached the semifinals of the Western Amateur as an incoming freshman.

Small has already started calling his two newcomers “sophomores,” because if they’ve come this far they’re not playing like freshmen anymore. 

“Win or lose today, I want them to learn for the next two or three years," Small said. "We want to win, but I’ve got a future here, too. Might as well throw them in there. Why sit there and pamper them and baby them? Put them in there and let ’em go.”

His faith was rewarded as Hardy knocked his approach safely on the 18th green, about 40 feet from the cup. He raced his first try past the hole, but kept his composure and drained the comebacker.

They celebrated for a few minutes, and Hardy was the hero, just as Barlow suspected the night before.

A few minutes after receiving that text Monday night, the one that told him to be ready for all of the pressure and the big spot, the 19-year-old tapped out his reply.

“I want it too,” he wrote. “Thank you.”

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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.