Crazy to think Spieth could win Grand Slam this year?

By Ryan LavnerJune 24, 2015, 2:39 pm

Historians and mathematicians agree: Jordan Spieth will not win the Grand Slam this year.

Too many good players. Too many variables. Too much pressure.

Sorry, but I’m still not convinced.

Spieth didn’t just become the fourth player in the past 60 years to win the first two majors of the year. He also showed a primetime television audience of more than 11 million that he’s good enough to become the first Grand Slam winner of the modern era.

Since it’s officially halftime of major season, let’s recap what we know:

Spieth, who turns 22 on July 27, is the youngest player to win both the Masters and U.S. Open. He’s the youngest two-time major winner since Gene Sarazen in 1922. He’s the youngest U.S. Open winner since Bobby Jones in 1923.

“That’s a piece of golf history,” he said Sunday night, “and as a golf historian, that’s very special and it gives me goosebumps.”

It gives me reason to believe he’s not done yet.

Everything clicked when Spieth won at Augusta – he pured his shots, made every putt he looked at and strolled around like he owned the place. Nothing came easily at the Open. It was a battle. It was imperfect. He rolled in a clutch putt on 16 and hit two perfect shots at 18, but mostly it was guts and guile.

Both major titles are special; the latter was more revealing.  

Spieth proved that he can win different ways, with his A-game and then something much less. He proved that he can win on a linksy design, which is useful, because the next two majors are played on the most famous links in the world (Old Course) and a neo-links that certainly looks the part (Whistling Straits). And he proved that luck is now squarely on his side, as it was for Tiger in the early 2000s.

Think about everything that went Spieth's way down the stretch at Chambers Bay: Branden Grace, one of the game’s straightest drivers, blocked a tee shot near the railroad tracks when he was tied for the lead; Louis Oosthuizen’s drive on 18 caught the fairway bunker; Spieth's final drive took a soft bounce on the baked-out fairways and came up short of the bunker; and Dustin Johnson’s approach into the last hung on the back slope instead of funneling back toward the hole. Change any of those outcomes, and it’s a different story.

But that’s not how it all unfolded. Spieth won the Open not by playing perfect golf, but by playing well enough and then waiting for others to make mistakes. Somewhere, Jack and Tiger must’ve been smiling.

Spieth isn’t like those legends, at least not yet. He doesn’t dominate and intimidate. You don’t watch him play and marvel at his raw talent. He simply has an uncanny ability to get the ball in the hole; this season he leads the Tour in putting average, putts per round and lag putting. Hey, good golf isn’t always sexy. 

Augusta National and Chambers Bay have little in common, other than they are big ballparks that favor big hitters. Spieth isn’t a bomber – his 291-yard average ranks 69th on Tour – which means he must capitalize on his opportunities, limit his mistakes and lean on his trusty short game.

The scary thing about his U.S. Open performance? “We really grinded,” he said. “I didn’t have my best stuff.”

And yet it was still good enough, the mark of a rare talent.

Now, the sports world’s attention turns to the Old Course at St. Andrews, another course that favors the thumpers who can confidently shape their shots from right-to-left.

Spieth has played there only once, in 2011. Then a freshman at Texas, he and the rest of the U.S. Walker Cuppers stopped by the home of golf on their way to Royal Aberdeen. Because they already have reiterated their commitment to play the week before the Open at the John Deere Classic, Spieth and caddie Michael Greller will have only two-and-a-half days to design a game plan for the biggest tournament of their lives.

It’s also the most unpredictable, with the draw, the bounces and the weather.

Woods won the first two majors of 2002, but he was blown off the course during a wet-and-wild Saturday 81 at Muirfield. Palmer (1960) and Nicklaus (1972) each had a chance to win the third leg of the Slam, but they finished second at the Open, one shot back.

Spieth should receive plenty of resistance from Rory McIlroy, Johnson and the rest of the world’s best, of course, but St. Andrews has a history of crowning golf royalty; Jones, Nicklaus (twice), Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Woods (twice) are among those who have won the Open there. The Golden Child may be next in line. 

Spieth says his greatest obstacle to the claret jug will be blocking out the noise, managing the hype, staying focused.

His entourage consists of his family, his caddie, his girlfriend, his manager and a few high school friends. Together, they weathered the uncomfortable storm of leading the Masters in wire-to-wire fashion. Two months later, most of the clan went through a similar experience at the U.S. Open; Spieth then overcame the late-round adversity with Greller pumping positive thoughts into his ear.

Spieth’s team supports him, but also keeps him grounded. They won’t let him get sidetracked. Not with this much history at stake.

“Of course the expectations will continue to grow,” said Spieth’s father, Shawn, after the Open. “Most important for me, for us, is to keep it in perspective. He’s still 21. He’s got a lot of golf to play ahead of him. As long as he keeps it in perspective, enjoys it and has fun, he should have fun for a long time.”

The math wizards at give Spieth about a 1 percent chance of completing the Grand Slam, and that’s probably true.

Only Ben Hogan, in 1953, won the first two majors and then picked off the Open. There’s too many good players. Too many variables. Too much pressure.

Jack and Tiger couldn’t do it. So there’s no way a 21-year-old could win the first four majors of his career in a four-month span …


Getty Images

Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

Getty Images

The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

Getty Images

Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

Getty Images

Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.