Monday Scramble: Celeb-rate good times

By Ryan LavnerJuly 3, 2017, 4:00 pm

Danielle Kang wins a thriller, Kyle Stanley holds off Charles Howell III, Tommy Fleetwood sprints toward Birkdale, Kenny Perry sets records and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

Kang saw this breakthrough coming, even if few others did.

She wasn’t on fire heading into the KPMG Women’s PGA – she had only three top-10s in the past few months. And she wasn’t used to major pressure – her previous best finish was a tie for 17th.

Yet the 24-year-old former world-beater got help from those around her, and even up above, as she snapped a 143-event winless drought in capturing her first LPGA title (and major).

In a daily journal that she has written to her late father ever since he passed in 2013, Kang scribbled on the eve of the final round: “Just keep watching. I got this.”

And indeed she did.  


1. It’s fair to say Kang’s victory was one of the most popular on the LPGA in years. Texts from all over the golf and pop-culture world poured in, as everyone from Dustin Johnson to Wayne Gretzky to Caitlyn Jenner to Marcus Allen wrote Kang to offer support, encouragement and then congratulations. They're all connections from Sherwood Country Club in LA, where she used to play and practice.

DJ’s congratulatory text on Sunday: “That’s how you’re supposed to play.” 

2. Yeah, you could say bestie Michelle Wie and Kang are pretty tight:


3. Kang, a two-time U.S. Women's Amateur champion, also ended an American drought in one of the year’s biggest events. The San Francisco native is just the second U.S.-born winner in the past 17 editions of the Women’s PGA. 

4. So much for that slump. Young Canadian star Brooke Henderson admitted to feeling the heat earlier this season when she failed to record a top-10 in her first 12 starts of the year. That all changed at the Meijer LPGA Classic, where she won at 21 under par, and then she closed with a 66 on Sunday at the Women’s PGA to scare Kang and finished second in her major title defense.

Moving into the heart of the season, she’s clearly playing better than both of her primary rivals, Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn. 



5. It’s been a long, difficult road back to relevance for Stanley, who broke down in tears in his winner’s news conference afterward.

A can’t-miss kid out of Clemson, he had a standout rookie season in 2011 and won a year later. Almost nothing has gone right since.

He has been one of the Tour's worst putters. He went 42 consecutive starts without a top 10. He even split time on the PGA and Web.com tours. 

But he showed that he was moving in the right direction with a tie for fourth at The Players, where he shared the 54-hole lead, and then he closed with 66 on Sunday, making a gutsy par on the first playoff hole to defeat Howell.

“There was some doubt there for a little bit,” Stanley said. “It’s no fun. You certainly question if you’ll get back and have a moment like this. It’s what makes this pretty special.” 

6. Golf at the highest level has shifted away from drive-for-show, putt-for-dough mantra for a number of years now, and Stanley reminded us Sunday that for the elite ball-strikers, simply putting average will be good enough some weeks to get a W.

Stanley joined Jason Dufner (Memorial) as the only players to win on the PGA Tour this season with negative strokes gained-putting for the week. Stanley lost 0.28 strokes to the field on the greens (ranked 52nd) but was exceptional off the tee and approaching the green, ranking first and fourth, respectively.

7. There were many fans rooting for Howell on Sunday, and for good reason.

Though he has won only twice in his career – and not since 2007 – he has a whopping 16 second-place finishes. It looked like he was destined to get off the schneid on Sunday, until his 18-footer on the last green crawled over the left edge of the cup.

“I was really shocked that missed low,” he said. “I thought I made that.” 

A win last week – after missing the previous nine weeks with a rib injury, and only nine days after he first hit balls – would have been a fitting result for his head-scratching career. 

His runner-up finish (and $767,000 paycheck) pushed him over $33 million in career earnings. That ranks 21st all time.

8. Sung Kang called it bad timing. It was bad luck, too.

The forecast Sunday at the Quicken Loans National called for a 0 percent chance of rain. Instead, there was a five-minute squall late on the back nine, and it seemed to doom Kang's chances

First he missed a 4-foot birdie putt on 16. And then, still soaked from the previous hole, he rinsed his tee shot on 17, leading to a double bogey.

Hard to blame the caddie in this situation. Blame the meteorologist!


9. Neither Howell nor Kang earned the victory, but they did receive a consolation prize: A spot in this month’s Open Championship.

Seemingly always on the bubble for the Masters, Howell’s appearance at Birkdale will be his first at The Open since 2012, and just his second major overall since 2014.

The other qualifiers were Stanley and Martin Laird.



10. As our focus narrows to the year’s third major, let’s set the over/under on the number of pre-tournament Open stories on Tommy Fleetwood at, say, 87.5.

The winner of the French Open grew up about five minutes from Royal Birkdale, host of this year’s Open, and he used to sneak onto the course as a youngster. There’s no way he’ll go under the radar now – he should be on everyone’s list of the top 10 contenders.

11. Fleetwood’s rise to No. 15 in the world still somehow feels underappreciated.

The Englishman won in Dubai and France, placed second in the WGC event in Mexico, posted another top-10 in the European Tour’s flagship event and finished fourth in the U.S. Open. He looks more like a grunge rocker than a primetime player, but he’s shown all year that he has the goods and should be taken seriously. 

12. Low scores were all the rage once again at a USGA Open. What in the name of Mike Davis is going on here?

Just like at Erin Hills, where Brooks Koepka overpowered the longest course in U.S. Open history and shot 16 under to win, Kenny Perry went low to win Sunday.

Overnight rain before the first three rounds took all of the fire out of an already short Salem Country Club, and Perry’s 16-under 264 total was the lowest in tournament history – by three strokes. Kirk Triplett and Brandt Jobe also shot 62s, which tied the mark for the lowest scores ever in a senior major. 

This was Perry's second U.S. Open title and ninth overall on the senior circuit. 

13. Call off the Grand Slam watch. Bernhard Langer shot a final-round 74 and tied for 18th in his bid to capture a third consecutive senior major. Even worse is that slow-motion replay again showed that his left hand was a liiiiiittle too close to his sternum not to be considered anchoring. He met with USGA officials over the weekend to discuss the questions about the legality of his stroke, and he was eventually cleared.

“They brought it to my attention, but they said it was totally within the rules,” Langer said. “For people to be complaining, they often don’t know what they are talking about.” 


People on social media lost their minds last week when it was announced that NBA star Steph Curry would receive a sponsor exemption into the Web.com Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic next month.

Look, I can see both sides here.

The timing is not ideal. The tournament is played in August, as the Web.com is wrapping up its season, and playing opportunities that time of year could mean the difference in status for 2017-18. Totally get that.

But Curry is receiving one of the unrestricted sponsor exemptions, which means – you guessed it! – there are no restrictions on how it can be used. Most times, these are favors to tournament officials, feel-good stories, local heroes, whatever. This just so happened to go to one of the most famous athletes in the world, a 2 handicap who is still, according to some people, “taking a spot away from someone else.”

That’s just not true.

In all likelihood, that spot wasn’t going to a player who missed Monday qualifying by one shot, or a fresh college graduate in need of a spot start, or a guy on a money-list bubble. Curry will bring some much-needed attention to the Web.com – who knows, it could draw the attention of another sponsor – and when he shoots in the upper-70s and misses the cut, it’ll reinforce the massive divide between great everyday amateurs and the pros.

This week's award winners ... 

Cuteness Overload: Spieth-Greller wannabes. See, this is what can happen when golf actually has a cool celebration for once.


Just Not Your Year: Michael Buttacavoli. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he was the guy who had to withdraw from U.S. Open qualifying because an airline lost his clubs. Well, it happened again, this time as he prepared for British Open qualifying. Fortunately, his sticks eventually arrived in London, after another lengthy delay. If he doesn’t earn a major spot, he at least should get 100,000 airline points.  

Very Good … and Very Bad: Rickie Fowler. He made a career-high nine birdies in the final round at TPC Potomac, but he also squandered a chance to win with a crushing double bogey on the drivable 14th hole, the easiest on the course. He tied for third, two shots back. 

Tweet of the Week: Zac Blair. Indeed, two doubles in a three-hole span on the back nine proved costly, as he dropped into a tie for 29th


Sorry, Mom: Haotong Li. His mom waded into a muddy hazard at the French Open to retrieve her son’s discarded putter. Except it was snapped into two pieces. Thomas Pieters' reaction is glorious.


Finally Got In His Dig: Justin Thomas. It had been a few weeks since Johnny Miller undercut JT’s 63 with a line about how the U.S. Open was more like the Tour’s old Milwaukee event. Thomas was asked if he’d studied the list of the players who shot 63 in the U.S. Open. “I haven’t looked at who did it,” he said. “I know Johnny Miller has, because he reminds us of that quite a bit.” 

When the Shanks Strike: Doug Garwood. He was cruising along in the U.S. Senior Open until he hit a vicious shank on the 54th hole. (All credit to him for laughing it off.) He wound up with double, his fourth dropped shot in the last four holes, and he eventually tied for 10th after a closing 71. 


Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Si Woo Kim. With Kim, we’ve officially reached the point where we’re guessing how he’s going to play. Always a risk to withdrawal, he instead shot 79 in the first round – this, after tying for 13th in the U.S. Open – and missed the cut by a mile. Sigh. 

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

BORN IN 1912

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


BORN IN 1949

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


BORN IN 1955

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


EUROPE'S BIG 5

Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


BORN IN 1980

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.