Monday Scramble: Major competition at Erin Hills

By Ryan LavnerJune 12, 2017, 3:00 pm

U.S. Open week arrives, Phil Mickelson keeps an eye on the forecast, amateur Braden Thornberry shines in his PGA Tour debut, Ariya Jutanugarn makes a statement and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

It’s an important week for the USGA. The blue blazers need to get this U.S. Open right, after they had a few setup issues at Merion, after they destroyed the greens at Chambers Bay and after they interfered during Dustin Johnson’s final-round comeback at Oakmont.

Adam Scott has put the USGA on notice, and players on social media have already made reference to Erin Hills’ "unique" design, with severe slopes that will turn what should be 20-foot putts into 40-yard pitch shots, and the fact that there is knee-high fescue just five yards off each fairway.

“Why can’t we have a lot of the past U.S. Open winners get together and set up a major?” Kevin Na said Sunday. “I’d like to see that happen one day.”

Let's be clear: Regardless of what happens this week in Wisconsin, players will continue to show up for the year’s second major. But the past few years have significantly damaged the USGA’s credibility, and if this year isn’t any better, there’s a chance the players’ tone will only get more pointed. 

1. Why mess with what works?

Just like last year, Daniel Berger stayed in Room 44 at the Hyatt Place in Germantown but thought there was little chance that he’d be able to defend his title at the FedEx St. Jude Classic – especially after he cracked the face of his driver earlier in the week.

Then he shot back-to-back 66s on the weekend to win for the second time on Tour.

2. It’s been a mediocre year for Boog, who had only two top-10s in 12 starts. With this victory, however, he moved to No. 10 in the season-long standings, making him a virtual lock for the Tour Championship and freeing him up for the rest of the year. He also jumped to No. 5 in the Presidents Cup standings. 

“It means I can go out there and have a little more fun,” he said. “It’s been a battle.” 

3. At one point Sunday, it seemed as though half of the city’s population was tied for the lead. Absent among that massive group: The three 54-hole leaders.

Rafa Cabrera Bello, Stewart Cink and Ben Crane were a combined 7 over par in the final round on a day when the rest of the field averaged 70.6.  

4. Mickelson made two doubles and a triple bogey last week and still finished the week only three shots back. It added up to a ninth-place showing, his fifth consecutive top-11 finish at TPC Southwind.

On Sunday, Mickelson was cruising along, 4 under through 11 holes and tied for the lead, when he sent his tee shot on the par-4 12th hole miles right, out of bounds. Compounding the error, he rinsed his fourth shot and made a 10-footer for triple.

5. The 42-time Tour winner admitted that a leaderboard behind 11 green that showed he was tied for the lead “shook” him.

“It was as if I had never won before, as if I was a rookie,” he said. “I was not as mentally focused as I needed to be.”

And that right there explains why Mickelson, who has played some of the best golf in the world over the past 12 months, is still looking for his first title since July 2013.

“The physical game is as good as it’s been when I’ve won a bunch of tournaments,” he said. “But mentally I’m not as sharp. I’ve made some mistakes.”

6. Common sense eventually prevailed, and Mickelson said on the CBS telecast Sunday that he needs a four-hour delay Thursday in order to attend both his daughter's high school graduation and the first round of the U.S. Open.

Graduation begins at noon CT. His first-round tee time is 2:20 p.m. It’s a 3-hour, 20-minute trip. The numbers don’t add up, and, poor Phil, the forecast for Thursday is projected to be the best of the week: 87 and mostly sunny.

It might be for the best, anyway. Mickelson would arrive on the first tee without having seen the course and would be relying on caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay for every shot. 

“It’s not looking good,” he said, “and that’s totally fine.” 

7. If there was any doubt whether Braden Thornberry and his funky swing could translate to the pro game, his performance in Memphis answered that.

The rising junior at Ole Miss improved every round, going 71-69-67 and capping his week with a bogey-free 65 that briefly gave him a share of the clubhouse lead. He tied for fourth, which matched Justin Rose (1998) and Lee McCoy (2016) for the best finish by an amateur in a non-opposite-field event in the past 20 years.

“Amateur or pro, the ball doesn’t know,” Thornberry said, “so that was my philosophy coming in: just play as good as I could and see what happens.” 

8. Thornberry’s auspicious debut on the big tour was a reminder of the Tour’s shortsighted policy regarding amateurs.

Obviously, the 20-year-old could not receive prize money, so he forfeited $241,280 in earnings. But as an amateur, he also does not get into the next available field (next week’s Travelers) even with a top-10 finish, nor is he able to collect any non-member FedExCup points. That’s important, because he’d be able to stockpile those points and qualify for the season-ending Tour Finals.

The Tour's main purpose is to provide playing opportunities for its members, but this a rule that needs to be changed ASAP. Thornberry (and the others before him) have earned the chance to keep playing.

9. When will Thornberry turn pro? That's the question that many already are asking. He is exempt into The Greenbrier, by virtue of the Haskins Award, and he should get more looks from tournament directors this summer.

With nothing left to accomplish in college, there has been talk that he will join the play-for-pay ranks after the Walker Cup in September. 

10. Here are one man’s 10 favorites for this week’s U.S. Open:

1. Dustin Johnson: A course that rewards length and strong wedge play plays right into DJ’s strengths.

2. Rickie Fowler: Hasn’t played this major well in the past, but his game is better across the board than it’s ever been.  

3. Jon Rahm: Has a great game for the year’s second major – prolific driver, tidy short game, loves to grind.  

4. Jason Day: Been just a touch off all year, but his Open record is too good to ignore – five top-10s in six career starts.  

5. Jordan Spieth: Last week should have given him time to work on his putting, and if he can stay away from the big number, he should be in the mix for another Open title.

6. Sergio Garcia: Decent finishes since the Masters, but with three majors to go, he seems determined to build on that breakthrough and make it an epic year.

7. Justin Rose: One of the game’s best ball-strikers is surprisingly hit-or-miss at the Open (six made cuts, five missed), but when he plays the weekend he’s almost always in contention.

8. Thomas Pieters: Big, brawny player already has a top-5 this year at the Masters. The Illinois product should be comfortable up north, too.

9. Adam Scott: Four top-20s in his last five Open starts. Whether he can contend will come down to his shaky putter.  

10. Rory McIlroy: Gotta include him, because he's Rory, but he has played just two tournaments in the past 80 days, he's breaking in new clubs, a new ball and a new putter, and he hasn't had any range sessions because of his lingering rib injury. 

11. It could be another eventful major week for DJ.

He didn’t play the Masters after injuring his lower back when he slipped on a set of stairs.

This time, it’s the arrival of his second child – Paulina Gretzky was due to give birth to a baby boy on Monday. Johnson likely won't arrive at Erin Hills until Tuesday, at the earliest, but he already logged two rounds last week. 

12. Having covered the 2011 U.S. Amateur – found my Golfweek gamer in the archives here – your trusty correspondent probably has more experience at Erin Hills than most. Six years removed, here’s what I can tell you: I don’t remember much, other than the prevalence of mosquitos. The course itself was unmemorable. I even played it the day after, too.

Kelly Kraft won that Am. He stunned Patrick Cantlay, who in the summer of 2011 was the best amateur in the world. Alas, they both failed to qualify for this year’s Open.

In all, 18 players from that Am will be at Erin Hills, a group that includes Spieth, who reached the quarterfinals, and Justin Thomas, who lost in the Round of 32.  

13. It will be the rare U.S. Open that has the potential for fireworks, not implosions.


For starters, it’s a par 72, the first at an Open since 1992. The fairways are huge, by U.S. Open standards. And over the last five holes, there are two par 5s (14 and 18), a drivable par 4 (15), a par 3 that can be set up with a blind tee shot (16), and a beefy, 500-yard-plus par 4 (17).  

14. There was no need for the LPGA to issue a clarification this week: Jutanugarn is the clear No. 1 player in the world.

A week after she was supposed to move to the top spot before a projections error, the 21-year-old left little doubt with a playoff victory at the Manulife LPGA Classic. She buried a 25-footer on the first extra hole to beat Lexi Thompson and In Gee Chun (both of whom are in the top 5 in the world ranking) for her first victory after last season's five-win, Player of the Year campaign.

15. Even Jutanugarn admitted that it was a shocker to hoist the trophy, for two reasons:

At the beginning of the week, she was “scared” to hit her tee shot, a problem that has surfaced in the past and is a big reason why she doesn’t use a driver. “I feel a lot better now,” she said.

And then there was Thompson, who had a one-shot lead entering the final round and at one point on Sunday ballooned her advantage to four shots. Then she made four bogeys in her last seven holes, including short misses on the last three holes (and a 4-footer to win!), and chunked her approach after a 340-yard drive on the first playoff hole. 

16. Golf will get at least two more opportunities to show that it belongs as part of the Olympic schedule.

The IOC executive board’s decision means golf will be in the Olympics through at least the 2024 Games. (It was already guaranteed for 2020.) That’s good news, after all of the handwringing last summer over who would or wouldn’t make the trip to Rio. Big-name winners (Justin Rose and Inbee Park) undoubtedly helped confirm the sport’s participation, even if some stars opined that it had no business being part of the Olympics. It would have been interesting to see if this vote would have been different if, say, Marcus Fraser and Harukyo Nomura had gone on to win the gold medal in a dull final round ... 

Paul Azinger, who will appear on Fox’s U.S. Open coverage, got into the gossip game when he was asked about Tiger Woods on the Open pairings show. He said that pain medications have been a long-term “problem” for Woods.

“I know firsthand there are some players that think there’s a problem there with Tiger,” he said. “I haven’t been around him much the last few years. But there are some players out there that are saying this has been a problem for a while.”

Even if that’s true, it was wildly irresponsible for Zinger to pass along those secondhand comments.   

This week's award winners ...

Common Sense: USGA allowing alternates to play U.S. Open practice rounds. While good in theory – you don’t need any more congestion with a 156-player field – anyone who has attended an Open knows that the course is virtually empty on Monday, Tuesday and especially Wednesday afternoons, thus providing these alternates a chance to get in their hacks. 

Bound for the PGA Tour: Stephan Jaeger. He won his second event on Sunday, which secured his card for next season. Now it’s just a matter of whether, like Wesley Bryan a year ago, he can win title No. 3 and earn an instant promotion to the big tour before the season is over. 

When You Don’t Tee it Up Properly: Charl Schwartzel. Flipping off a divot, when you have the option to place your ball anywhere you like, is a new level of weird.

No Open Hangover: Travelers Championship. The Hartford-area stop will have its strongest field in years, with Spieth, McIlroy and Day all scheduled to tee it up, thanks to the Tour’s new strength-of-schedule rule. 

He is Human, After All: Bernhard Langer. Trying to become the first player in seven years to win three consecutive starts on the senior circuit, Langer coughed up a first-round lead and eventually finished fourth. 

Not Just a Good College Team: 2012 Texas. The team that won the NCAAs at Riviera has now produced 16 individual pro titles. That number is skewed by Spieth, of course, but Cody Gribble has won on Tour and now Dylan Frittelli, the player who clinched the national title, captured his first event on the European circuit.

Get Your Paper Up: All but 16 professional athletes. Tiger Woods ($37.1 million) landed at No. 17 on Forbes’ list of the highest-paid athletes … ahead of guys like Neymar and Usain Bolt and Conor McGregor and Clayton Kershaw … despite playing no official events in 2017 and being irrelevant on the course for the past couple of years. 

Not As Fun As They Used to Be: U.S. Open pairings. Unveiling the groupings on Skip Bayless’ show was just the latest insult to golf fans. With only a few marquee groups and little creativity, it’s clear these just haven’t been the same since the blue blazers got called out for the “fat guys” group in 2014.  

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Fowler. The Tour’s leader in strokes gained-total, coming off a tie for second at the Memorial, Rickie shot 74-70 to miss the cut. On the plus side, he was able to get in some extra prep at Erin Hills, where he should be a factor. 

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Teenager Im wins season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.