Monday Scramble: Ko, Hahn's stories deserve attention

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 23, 2015, 4:00 pm

Unlike the Oscars, the Northern Trust Open was a Hollywood production that viewers didn’t mind spilling into an extra hour. More on James Hahn’s unlikely breakthrough, Lydia Ko's brilliance, the PGA of America’s “Meet the Press” moment and everything else in this LA edition of the Monday Scramble:

The drama has been drained out of the PGA of America’s Tuesday news conference regarding the future of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. All that remains now are the catchphrases – about foundations and committees and starting something special.

Forget Medinah redemption. That was so 2014. On Tuesday the PGA will push the narrative that this is merely the beginning of a bigger plan – a 20-year Ryder Cup plan! – that will be powered by the overhyped task force. Continuity will be stressed, players will be more heavily involved, assistants will be selected as part of the grooming process – it’s all about changing the culture of losing for what has become a sad-sack U.S. Ryder Cup team. (Never mind that in choosing Davis Love III the PGA returned to one of the captains who lost.) We tolerate this big-picture talk on Feb. 24, but what happens if the Americans drop another Ryder Cup in fall 2016? That "foundation" would surely crumble. Indeed, the PGA will not only have a hard time staying the course amid increased public pressure, but also convincing players, sponsors and fans that Team USA is headed in the right direction.

1. Few things in golf have been as frustrating as TV’s insistence on showing James Hahn’s "Gangnam Style" dance in Phoenix every time his name appears on a leaderboard. Spend a little time with the 33-year-old, and it’s clear that his is actually one of the best stories going on the PGA Tour: 

  • Every now and then Hahn will search YouTube for swing tips, because he wants his swing to look "pretty."
  • Frustrated with his role and game, Hahn quit Cal his senior year, in ’03. The next year, the Golden Bears won the NCAA title. 
  • In 2006, he sold women’s shoes at Nordstrom, partly because it helped him pick up girls. He also traded stocks, got his real-estate license, drove a bus, worked in marketing and advertising agencies, and served as an assistant pro.
  • In 2008, his career was on life support with only $288 in his bank account. On Sunday, he deposited $1.2 million.
  • At the 2009 Q-School, Hahn four-putted the final green to miss earning his Tour card by a shot.
  • Hahn’s wife has been driving a 2005 Volkswagen Jetta with 130,000 miles. If he finished top five at the Riv, he promised to buy her a new ride. With a baby due soon, the hot new ride will probably be a souped-up minivan. 

So, please, enough with the silly dance clip. James Hahn is SO much more than that.

2. What a brutally honest – and refreshing – interview by Sergio Garcia in the wake of his bogey-bogey finish that left him one shot out of the NTO playoff. It seemed like another crushing defeat in a career full of them, only he didn’t take it that way. Not at all. As he told CBS only minutes after signing his card, “I’ve always been truthful to myself and I didn’t deserve to win this week. It’s as simple as that. … I can’t really be disappointed, because I didn’t play well enough.” 

Many have accused Garcia of being a mentally soft (or worse) during his career, but it’s clear that he’s mellowing as he approaches his late-30s. As he showed at the Open and Firestone, Garcia has been gracious in defeat while also looking inward. A few years ago, who could have anticipated that he’d become a lovable loser? 

Look: He is even brushing off the Twitter trolls!

3. Jordan Spieth is the rare 20-something who cares more about trophies than prize money. His bold attempt to chip in on the 72nd hole may have cost him a spot in the playoff, but his go-for-broke style is appreciated here.  

4. Lydia Ko cemented her place at world No. 1 with a stout victory at Royal Melbourne, her sixth career LPGA title. The 17-year-old is already among the most impressive teens in the game’s long history, but it’s apparent that her ascendance has not yet registered with the mainstream sports audience. It’s not a perfect example, of course, but not once was Ko’s victory mentioned on a three-hour SportsCenter. Why?

  • Is it because she’s not an American? (Likely a factor, as it is with Rory.)
  • Is it because women’s golf is a niche of a niche? (Yes.)
  • Is it because Ko’s style of play is not very flashy? (It doesn’t help.)
  • Is it because ESPN is heavily influenced by the sports with which it owns the TV rights, and to that end it carries very little women’s golf? (Certainly.)

A shame, because we’re likely witnessing the second coming of Annika. 

5. By the way: Has anybody else noticed that the 17-year-old is tatted up?

The new ink on her right wrist is Roman numbers IV-XXVII-XIV. Translation: April 27, 2014, or the day she captured her first title as a LPGA member, at the Swinging Skirts, when her parents were in attendance.

6. So, if you are keeping score at home, Lydia Ko now has nine pro titles. That’s more than Lexi Thompson (4) and Michelle Wie (4) ... COMBINED. 

7. Six degrees of separation, Ko edition: Bohyun Park earned medalist honors at Monday’s New Zealand Women’s Open qualifier. At 12 years old, she will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Ko, who was that age when she made her first appearance in the event. But the similarities don’t stop there: Park plays with a set of Ko’s old golf clubs and is taught by her former instructor, Guy Wilson. 

8. Indeed, we’re not just experiencing a youth movement in golf. At this stage it’s a hostile takeover. So it was Sunday that 16-year-old Hannah O’Sullivan won a Symetra Tour event by four shots. This was interesting for several reasons, but mostly because 1.) O’Sullivan couldn’t even win an AJGA event in two tries at Longbow Golf Club, and 2.) She is the TWENTY-FIRST ranked junior golfer in the country, which means there are even more talented youngsters in the pipeline. Sorry, USC, but it seems unlikely that she’ll ever play an event for the Trojans beginning in fall 2016. 

9. To the surprise of no one, Tiger Woods is skipping this week’s Honda Classic because he isn’t yet ready for the spotlight of tournament play. (If he doesn’t return in three weeks at Bay Hill, his troubles are even deeper than they’d appear.) Compounding the issue now is that any start he’d make pre-Masters isn’t exactly a soft landing spot – unless he breaks from tradition.

Think about it:

  • Claustrophobic Innisbrook is a ball-striker’s paradise, and, well, that hasn’t exactly been his specialty of late
  • It’d be a surprise if he didn’t play Bay Hill, given his history there (eight wins), but it too can be punishing in setup
  • TPC San Antonio is one of the toughest courses on Tour, yielding a double-digit winner just once since 2011

Which leads to this question: Why doesn’t Tiger add Houston?

He has never teed it up the week before the Masters, but let's face it, this indefinite break is already uncharted territory. If Woods’ issues are truly between the ears (as suggested here and here), then he needs to make birdies and develop some positive mojo. What better way to get ready for Augusta than to warm up on a course that is set up to resemble the Masters host, with little rough, closely mown chipping areas (shield your eyes!), speedy greens and fairways that are cut from green to tee?

10. Three months ago, Anirban Lahiri was on the verge of missing out on his European Tour card. Straddling the cut line at 7 under par, he needed to birdie two of the last five holes just to move safely inside the cut line. 

Fast forward to Sunday, where the 27-year-old Indian … deep breath … erased a seven-shot deficit to win his home Open, earn his second European Tour title in the past three weeks (and fourth overall since last May), move inside the top 35 in the world rankings, secure a spot in the upcoming Masters and rise to No. 2 in the season-long Race to Dubai. “It feels like I’ve skipped a couple of steps to get to where I am right now,” he said Sunday. Maybe so, but Lahiri is now only a few more rungs from golf’s highest altitude. 

11. Many watched Ryan Moore’s tee shot lip-out and bellowed that Riviera’s 10th is unfair. In truth, the ball carried too much pace, and it rode the slope to the left of the green. Cruel, yes, but not entirely unfair. 

No, a better example of how badly the green needs to be redone is Scott Piercy’s pinballing around the green.

This is what happens when one of the best par 4s in the world becomes a tricked-up gimmick. 

Everybody has an idea about how to curb slow play – fine the pros, give more power to the rangers, send a little friendly fire into the group ahead, load up on beer when the cart girl swings by. Seems Michael Jordan is so ticked off by the pace of play at the Bear’s Club that he’s thinking about doing something even more drastic: build his own South Florida course, as reported. (Take that, lollygaggers!) This is a ridiculous solution, of course, but he certainly has the cash supply to do it. Forbes reports that MJ rakes in about $90 million annually and has a net worth of more than $1 billion. Hey, if nothing else, he’ll probably have more success owning a golf course than an NBA franchise ... 

One man’s top-three most memorable moments of the West Coast swing: 1.) The Riviera playoff, especially the unbelievable flop shots on 10; 2.) Dash Day running wildly through a greenside bunker on 18 after Daddy won; and 3.) Another parking-lot interview with Tiger. … PSA: Golf now heads east to Florida. Which means the Masters is only 44 days away. … With nine consecutive top-25 finishes worldwide, including the stirring victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions, Bubba Watson has ascended to No. 2 in the world for the first time in his career. He finished T-14 at Riviera. … And so ends a year of top-tier winners. Entering the L.A. Open James Hahn was ranked No. 297 in the world. The combined rank of the other 2015 winners (Reed, Walker, Haas, Koepka, Day, Sneds): 185. … Amazing stat: Brandt Snedeker has ZERO career top 10s in his first start following a victory. A week after his macho win at Pebble, Sneds was 74th among the 75 players who played the weekend at Riviera. ... No Ws so far, but consider how sneaky-good Hideki Matsuyama’s 2014-15 season has been: T-3, T-3, T-2, T-4. ... Eventual playoff loser Paul Casey hit a cold shank on the 13th hole Sunday. Um, someone probably should have told these people on 18. 

Because, right now, DJ is the far better player. Upon returning from his six-month leave of absence, Johnson has a pair of top-5 finishes, further validating why I predicted he’d have a two-win 2015. He finally seems prepared to unlock all of his immense potential, which is bad news for the rest of the Tour, because at times he can make the game appear frighteningly easy. Tiger’s issues are more widespread, from the physical (technique) to the mental (yips) to the psychological (shame and embarrassment). It’s possible that not even an indefinite break is long enough to sort through all of that mess.  

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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.