Mid-am verdict: Gotta earn your Walker Cup spot

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 9, 2013, 4:35 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – How appropriate that this Walker Cup was held in the Hamptons, the ultimate beach getaway.

Because Sunday’s closing ceremony at spectacular National Golf Links unofficially marked the end of summer. Now, it’s back to reality.

It’s back to campus for Alabama teammates Cory Whitsett and Bobby Wyatt, Cal’s Michael Weaver and Michael Kim, Stanford’s Patrick Rodgers and Oklahoma State’s Jordan Niebrugge.

It’s back to the classroom for Todd White, a 45-year-old high-school history teacher in South Carolina, and to the business world for Nathan Smith, a 35-year-old financial adviser in Pittsburgh.

And it’s off to the pro ranks for Justin Thomas and Max Homa, accomplished amateurs who will test the play-for-pay ranks and compete not only for paychecks but precious few exemptions on the big stage.

As the 10 U.S. team members leave Long Island and head their separate ways, so, too, will Jim Holtgrieve, who went 1-1 as U.S. Walker Cup captain and who on Sunday experienced “one of my more gratifying days in my 65-year golfing career.” Now, he’ll make way for Spider Miller, 63, who has already been appointed as the skipper for the 2015 squad.

It’s a significant transition, for it was Holtgrieve who personally lobbied the USGA to enact a controversial mid-amateur rule that dominated much of the pre-Walker Cup discussion. Whether in two years Miller, a two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur winner himself, has the same vision for the mid-ams remains to be seen.

“Selfishly, I would love to see (the rule) stay in place,” White said. “If not, I’m still going to work my tail off to try and earn a spot on the team, whether it’s as a mid-am or regular.”

Was the new rule effective? Well, a single two-day event is too small of a sample size to render a verdict. Of course, many will remember the exemplary Sunday singles play of White and Smith, who earned the 13th and 14th points, respectively, to clinch the cup for the Americans. But in a 17-9 rout – the U.S. team’s largest margin of victory in 16 years – it was merely coincidental (and, yes, a bit ironic) that those two players secured the winning points.  It’s also worth noting that they combined to go 0-3 in foursomes play, a format in which their experience and leadership was supposed to shine.

“The barometer for me was not if we won or lost,” Holtgrieve said late Sunday night. “I think the barometer was going to be how was it received or accepted.”

In that respect, then, many remain divided. Holtgrieve raised a few eyebrows when he told reporters before the competition even began that “building relationships,” not winning, was the most important aspect of these Walker Cup matches. But then again, that’s the same philosophy he has held for two years.

Still, that stance was in sharp contrast to what came from Camp GB&I, and particularly captain Nigel Edwards, who repeated on several occasions that he and his 10 players were there to win, nothing less. Team GB&I had no such mid-am mandate in place, nor does it seem keen to add one.

“We’re all here to win,” Edwards said Sunday. “Let’s not pretend that we’re not, because kids like competing.”

Were the Americans at a disadvantage at National? Perhaps on paper, where matches are debated, not played. In the end, GB&I holed too few putts, displayed sloppy course management and wedge play, and finished the weekend with only two players boasting a won-lost record above.500. In singles, it lost 13 1/2 of the possible 18 points.

Holtgrieve said the difference between this congregation of players, and the immensely talented squad he brought to Royal Aberdeen in 2011, was camaraderie. “I probably did a bad job of not putting them together as a team,” he said of the group that two years ago lost, 14-12. “There became some individuals. I didn’t have that situation here.”

Much of that can be attributed to the six players (three apiece) who were from Alabama and Cal, but also to the influence of the mid-ams, who not only bring sporty games but also a broader perspective, a bigger-than-me mentality that often helps unify in team competitions.  

“What I wanted to accomplish was for them to be able to contribute to winning the Walker Cup,” Holtgrieve said, “and they did it.”

The curious choice, then, was not having two mid-ams on the team, but rather requiring that they were on the team. College players delayed turning pro – spending money, not making it – in order to try and make the 10-man roster, but the USGA designated two of the available spots to mid-ams in January, before the heart of the season. And it was obvious which two players would eventually be selected – Smith and White, the only two mid-ams who were among the 16 players at the Walker Cup practice session last December.

Why not wait until later in the summer to evaluate the mid-ams – whether there’s one, two, three or none selected – just like the rest of the team? After all, White played eight amateur events this season, oftentimes against his future Walker Cup teammates, and twice finished inside the top 10. Don’t bother comparing that résumé to those of, say, alternates Brandon Hagy and Sean Dale.

Ideally, the selection committee would begin filling out the entire 10-man team around the U.S. Amateur, no sooner, and if there were a few spots left for Smith and White, or any other deserving mid-ams – men who could bring a different dimension to the squad, who could help team chemistry – then add to them to the roster. Essentially, captain’s picks.

In the wake of this past weekend’s thumping, Holtgrieve anticipates that more mid-ams than ever before will try and make the 2015 squad, and he’s probably right. But just like any other player, they should have to secure their spot on the team based on merit, not mandate.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.