For Mexicans in LAAC, team comes first

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 14, 2016, 10:08 pm

LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic – Santiago Casado was all smiles Thursday as he huddled with his team behind the ninth green at Casa de Campo’s Teeth of the Dog course.

And why not? This Latin America Amateur Championship couldn’t have started much better.

Four of the Mexican players in the field were inside the top seven on the leaderboard, including Alvaro Ortiz, the brother of PGA Tour player Carlos Ortiz, whose opening 4-under 68 shared the early lead with Jose Andres Miranda of Ecuador.

“The players did an extraordinary job,” Casado said. “We’re in position and the players are prepared to contend.”

That means Casado, the national team manager for the Mexican Golf Federation, has done his job.

Golf in Mexico is more of a team effort than an individual pursuit. Juniors begin by playing in regional tournaments all across the country, then graduate to national events when their game is ready. A decade ago, the Mexican Junior Golf Association partnered with the AJGA, the premier junior golf organization in the U.S., after voicing concerns that its players were at a disadvantage in trying to gain exposure for college golf scholarships. As part of that arrangement, some of the top Mexican juniors earned exemptions into AJGA tournaments – which are heavily attended by college golf coaches – based on high finishes in select local events.

“If you want to become one of the best players in the world and want to play on the PGA Tour, you have to go to the U.S. to play college golf,” Casado said. “It’s where you want to be to compete in amateur events – that’s the best opportunity to compete every single week with the best in the world.”

Casado’s main role with the Mexican Golf Federation is to recruit, train and prepare his eight-man roster for college and, later, a professional career. He is concerned less about his players’ technique and more about infusing them with confidence and self-belief.

That cerebral approach doesn’t change once they arrive on a college campus, either. Rather than point to any technical changes with their swing, the players said that they’ve most improved their course management while in college. 

“Ten years ago, we thought that coming to America was having a lesson with top-100 coaches in the world,” Casado said. “They’re proving themselves that it’s part of the process: Respect where you come from. Never lose track of your family and friends. Believe in your country and culture. Those are the aspects that we are following, and then just enjoy the ride.”

Seven of his eight players are currently in college, playing on scholarship at Arkansas, Tennessee, New Mexico State, Jacksonville and Louisiana-Lafayette; the eighth player, Roberto Ruiz Gonzalez, recently exhausted his eligibility at the University of Texas-El Paso. Naturally, that creates a friendly rivalry among the players as they keep track of their teammates’ high finishes and world ranking.

“Once we come here, though, we feel like a family,” said Raul Pereda de la Huerta, a sophomore at Jacksonville. “We’re like brothers.”

The most heralded Mexican amateur is Ortiz, a sophomore at Arkansas.

After all, it was his brother, Carlos, 24, who gave the Mexican Golf Federation a boost after a four-year career at North Texas and a breakout year on the Tour, when he won three times in 2014 and earned Player of the Year honors.

Said Casado: “He has proven to all of these young talented players that if you stick to the process and trust the work every single day, you can make the dream of playing on the PGA Tour.”

Having a Tour-caliber sibling may ratchet up expectations, but Ortiz views it more as an opportunity to measure his own game.

“Being able to say that when I beat him, I beat a PGA Tour player, it’s a good feeling,” he said. “But it’s a healthy competition. It’s more about pride than anything.”

Ortiz, who finished fourth in this event last year after a closing 67, is looking to become the first Mexican amateur in more than a half-century to play in the Masters. Huerta (69), Fernando Cruz Valle (70) and Arkansas commit Luis Garza (70) are all in strong position after Day 1, too.

A victory here wouldn’t just be an incredible individual accomplishment. It’d also be a testament to Casado’s process, to the team-first attitude that permeates this group.

“We realize the impact of winning this event,” Casado said. “The most important thing for our players, and part of our problem, is the pride of representing your country. You can see it in the way they dress, and all of their families are here. It’s not only a big individual event, but it’s a big feeling of playing for your country.”

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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?''

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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.

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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. 

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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.