Monday Scramble: Peaks and valleys

By Ryan LavnerJuly 10, 2017, 3:00 pm

Jon Rahm soars to win No. 2, another rules controversy emerges, Xander Schauffele comes up clutch, the anchoring ban returns to the spotlight and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

And here we thought Rahm’s biggest statement of the week was dusting world No. 4 and tournament host Rory McIlroy by 13 shots over two days.

Not even close.

Displaying all of the tools in his considerable skill set, and showing decidedly more patience on the course, Rahm lapped a good field at the Irish Open en route to his second pro title.

Some observers were ready to give up on the 22-year-old after his petulant display over the past month, but his tour de force at Portstewart was a reminder that Rahm has generational talent – and even more room to grow.

Rahm is thrilling to watch – capable of meltdowns, sure, but even more likely to produce stunning golf that will, someday soon, challenge Dustin Johnson for the No. 1 world ranking.

1. All year Rahm has been building toward a performance like we saw at Portstewart.

There was the back-nine 30 at Torrey Pines to steal his first PGA Tour title in January. Since then, he posted seven other top-10s, took DJ to the final hole at the Match Play, contended at another WGC event and the Masters, and now stormed to victory at the $7 million Irish Open. You have to look long and hard to find a weakness in this kid’s physical game. He has power and accuracy. He hits nuclear, sky-high irons. And he has incredible imagination around the greens and a rock-solid putting stroke.

At 22, his only concern is on-course maturity, and how he handles adversity. Fortunately for him, he hasn’t encountered much in the past 13 months. 

2. Rahm’s 24-under 264 total was a tournament record and the lowest 72-hole score this season on the European Tour. And that was with two careless bogeys in his last three holes. 

3. While sound in theory, the new reasonable judgment standard failed its first big test Sunday at the Irish Open.

In April, the USGA and R&A announced that they were implementing two new decisions to the Rules of Golf that would rely less on video replay and more on a player’s integrity. On the sixth hole, replays appeared to show that Rahm marked and replaced his 1-foot putt from a slightly different location.

The new rule states that a player won’t be assessed a penalty “if it is determined that the player did all that can be reasonably expected under the circumstances to make an accurate estimation of measurement … even if later shown to be wrong by other means (such as video technology).”

And so Rahm wasn’t penalized, keeping his lead at five shots, not three.

“Do I think he’s got the ball back in exactly the right place?” said Andy McFee, chief referre for the European Tour. “No, but we’re talking about maybe a couple of millimeters here or there. Has the player made a reasonable judgment? I believe he has.”

Except now every player and fan watching the coverage now knows that Rahm made a careless mistake and wasn’t penalized for it. A cloud was cast over his victory, and that's a shame.

It's why this rule is grossly unfair for the players – officials might clear the player of any wrongdoing, but obvious infractions can overshadow a result. 

4. The Irish Open not only was one of the Rolex Series events, which will figure largely into the season-ending Race to Dubai, but it also offered three spots to next week’s Open.

Grabbing those invitations were Richie Ramsay, who went 67-65 on the weekend; David Drysdale, who posted a 10-shot improvement with a Sunday 63; and New Zealander Ryan Fox. Just missing out was Daniel Im, who played in the final group and hovered near the lead all week before a few short misses early rattled his confidence. He bogeyed the 72nd hole to miss the spot by one. 

5. It’s almost crisis time for McIlroy and his shaky short game. He missed his second consecutive cut last week at the Irish Open, and he has only this week’s tuneup in Scotland before the year’s third major.

At the Travelers he used three putters in four rounds, and the model that he settled on didn’t cooperate over two days at Portstewart. “Just silly mistakes,” he said, but it appears to be a more significant issue than that. He appears lost on the greens, uncomfortable over the ball. McIlroy’s long game is usually so good that he only needs to putt decent to have a chance to win. Alas, right now, he’s not even doing that.

6. It was easy to see this one coming. Xander Schauffele hung tough all week at the U.S. Open, finishing fifth and flashing a complete game.

He won less than a month later.

Schauffele stuffed a 161-yard pitching wedge for a birdie on the final hole to edge Robert Streb by one shot and take The Greenbrier Classic for his first title.

The 24-year-old has an interesting backstory. His father, Stefan, was a decathlete in Germany who was hit by a drunk driver at 23. The accident altered his career, and he turned to golf, eventually teaching his second son, Alexander, how to play. Schauffele blossomed into a top-tier amateur player, reaching the finals of the Western Amateur and owning the lowest career scoring average at San Diego State.

Schauffele finished 26th on the money list to miss his card by less than $100. He punched his ticket to the PGA Tour, anyway, after finishing 15th on the Finals money list. 

7. Alas, it was also easy to see this one coming ... 

Sebastian Munoz was riding a heater that was destined to run out. Through three rounds he gained 9.2 strokes on the field and holed a remarkable 396 feet worth of putts – or 100 feet more than Streb, also in the final group.

In the final round, he sank only 32 feet worth of putts. No one was worse on the greens Sunday – he lost nearly five strokes to the field.

Cruel game. 

8. Small consolation, perhaps, but Munoz was one of four qualifiers for The Open, along with Schauffele, Streb and Jamie Lovemark. 

9. Jim “Bones” Mackay won’t land with another big-time player, after all. In a move that, selfishly, we were hoping for, the longtime caddie has signed a multiyear deal with NBC/Golf Channel to work as an on-course reporter. He will make his official debut next week at Royal Birkdale.

More was written about this move here, if you missed it, but in short: If he’s unafraid to discuss (and criticize) the players and caddies with whom he has become friends over the past 25 years, Bones should become a hit on TV, offering a unique and fresh perspective on the game. Welcome to the team. 

10. Heading into this week’s U.S. Women’s Open, there are two big questions:

1.) Will there be a Trump sighting?

2.) Which of golf’s young stars will step up at the toughest women’s major?

A third question mark was answered Sunday, when Ariya Jutanugarn’s agent said that the right-shoulder injury that caused the world No. 2 to withdraw from last week’s LPGA event would not affect her participation in the Open. That’s good news, of course, but she clearly won’t be 100 percent healthy. It’s the same shoulder that needed surgery a few years ago … 

11. The 2014 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year is headed back to the big leagues after spending some time this year in the minors. After a close call earlier this season, Chesson Hadley had to shoot 15 under on the weekend to take the Tour’s Lecom Health Challenge and secure his Tour card for 2017-18.

Pushing him to the finish line was Beau Hossler, the 2016 NCAA Player of the Year who began the year with no status anywhere, following shoulder surgery last June that cost him six months. He earned his second runner-up finish in the past few weeks and now is inside the top 25 on the money list, in position to earn his Tour card for next season. 

In a peculiar move, the USGA, Bernhard Langer and Scott McCarron all issued statements last week defending the two PGA Tour Champions players’ putting strokes, which have come under scrutiny recently after slow-motion replays showed that their long putters, if not anchored to their bodies, were at least close enough to create suspicion.

But by even acknowledging this controversy, Langer and McCarron – Nos. 1 and 4 on the money list, respectively – will be under even more of a microscope. You don’t think everybody now will be watching for a possible anchoring infraction?

Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said that the anchoring rule needs to be rewritten, immediately, because there is a loophole that players can use – that their “intent” was not to anchor. Chamblee argues that the rule should state that there must be a clear separation between the anchoring hand and the body, to ensure that no competitive advantage is gained.

Hard to disagree. 

This week's award winners ... 

Weird Stat of the Week: Leaders at The Greenbrier. How about this one? A first-, second- or third-round leader has never gone on to win at the Old White TPC. Like, ever. 

When The Tinkering Has Gone Too Far: Padraig Harrington. The anniversary of his victory at Birkdale is coming up, and it appears that he will return there having gone Full Happy Gilmore.

Keep An Eye On: Joaquin Niemann. The No. 1-ranked amateur in the world carded a 65 in the final round at The Greenbrier, jumping all the way into a tie for 29th. He is set to start at South Florida in the spring. 

Not Too Late?: Chambers Bay’s U.S. Open chances. The Seattle-area venue, still smarting from the greens debacle in 2015, recently converted all of its putting surfaces to poa annua in hopes of attracting another major. The USGA is essentially booked for another decade. 

A Bit More Cumbersome Than a Trophy: Michael Greller’s rake. Not sure if he’ll hang this in his den or his outdoor shed, but it’s a cool memento from the best golf celebration in years. 

Remember When Tiger Comparisons Were Flattering?: Novak Djokovic. The former No. 1-ranked tennis player was asked repeatedly last week at Wimbledon about comments made by analyst John McEnroe, who compared Djokovic’s off-court troubles to Woods, whose personal life imploded amid revelations of infidelity in 2009. Sigh.  

Youth Is Served: Atthaya Thitikul. At 14 years, 4 months and 19 days, she became the youngest winner on the Ladies European Tour.

Boss: Sergio Garcia. The Royal Box at Wimbledon has never looked better.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Kevin Kisner. Solid across the board in almost every statistical category, the Colonial winner had a pair of other second-place finishes as he rolled into West Virginia. Then he shot rounds of 72-70 and missed the cut. Sigh. 

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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.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.