Monday Scramble: Golf's future is now

By Ryan LavnerMarch 16, 2015, 3:00 pm

Jordan Spieth exacts his Wyndham revenge, the 54-hole leader bungles another opportunity and Tiger Woods remains MIA for another big tournament.

All that and more in a Monday Scramble that is sheer and utter madness: 

It’s only March, and already this year our sport has been dominated by talk of police reports and task forces, lawsuits and suspensions, indefinite leaves and deactivated glutes. Those topics are a drama queen’s dream – and, yes, pageview boosters – but it’s a shame that it has potentially overshadowed some exquisite play on Tour.

For the better part of three months we have been witness to nonstop, highlight-reel performances: From Patrick Reed’s rally at Kapalua, to Jason Day’s hard-fought title at Torrey, to Brandt Snedeker's near-flawless run at Pebble, to Dustin Johnson’s power display at Doral, some of the best players in the world have produced some of their best golf at crunch time. Looking back, though, do you remember those moments? Or do you most easily recall the stories of Robert Allenby having a night out that he can’t remember, and Reed being accused of cheating during qualifying rounds in college, and a little-known journeyman pro blabbing that Tiger flunked a drug test?

Alas, it’s probably the latter, which is why the star-making performance of Jordan Spieth on Sunday was such a welcome reprieve, a much-needed bump for a sport that has seen more than its share of unflattering headlines of late. The Valspar was the tournament of the year so far, played on arguably the most underrated track on Tour. What a delight.

Viewership is down overall, and that’s to be expected in a post-Tiger world, but you could make the case that the golf has never been stronger. Hopefully, that's what is remembered at the end of the year.

1. Golf crosses the mainstream when a dominant, transcendent, once-in-a-generation superstar leads the way, a charismatic player who can draw in even the most casual viewer. No current player, not even Rory McIlroy, has the ability to lift the game to Tiger-like heights, and that’s OK. Just as appealing is a compelling rivalry, especially with the Tiger-vs.-Phil subplot all but gone. Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed have established the foundation for a long-lasting rivalry, for they are the cornerstones of American golf for the next decade. They are the rare athletes who care more about trophies than cash, even though they are piling up both at a staggering rate. 

With his second PGA Tour title, Spieth now joins an exclusive list of men who won multiple times before the age of 22, but instead of forecasting what this might mean for the Masters, or for his season, or for his career, simply bask in the current golf climate: A youth movement that is not just arriving, but here, with eight of the top 20 in the world age 27 or younger, and a budding rivalry, Spieth vs. Reed, with two guys trying to climb over each other to reach Rory’s throne. We can all get excited about that. 

2. As mentioned above, prior to Sunday, there were only three players since 1940 who had multiple PGA Tour wins before the age of 22:

  • Tiger Woods (6)
  • Sergio Garcia (3)
  • And, OF COURSE, Robert Gamez (2)

A reminder: Jordan Spieth doesn’t turn 22 until July 27. 

3. Since Spieth joined the Tour in 2013, he has been inside the top five nine times heading into the final round. (Only Matt Kuchar, with 12, has more.) Spieth hadn’t converted any of those previous nine opportunities into a victory, which prompted a predictable chorus of he-can’t-close! comments. His play down the stretch at Innisbrook should silence those skeptics: The bold tee shot on 13; the bomb for birdie on 14; the gutsy sand save on 16; the world-class flop shot from right of the green on 17; the cold-blooded 12-foot par putt on 18; and the 30-foot walk-off on the third extra hole. Dude is a gamer.

4. Ryan Moore led by three shots with six holes to play. Following a recent trend, that still wasn’t enough. 

The 54-hole leader or co-leaders have failed to win the last eight events on the PGA Tour. What’s worse, the last TEN leaders or co-leaders have failed to break par on the final day. Add Moore’s name to that list. Pumping his grip with Sergio-like frequency, Moore closed with a 1-over 72 Sunday that included bogeys on three of his last six holes, including two of the last three. This has become something of a habit for Moore, who has now played his last three final rounds 9 over par. Oy. 

5. Patrick Reed must thrive on chaos. How else to explain it? After deciding to reopen old wounds by challenging publicized allegations that he cheated and stole from teammates in college, Reed got better every day in Tampa before closing with 66, including the macho 30-footer on 18 in regulation. All of the turmoil and doubt and whispers only make him better, apparently as they also did at Augusta State, where despite a contentious relationship with his teammates he helped lead the squad to back-to-back NCAA titles. Can you imagine playing elite-level golf with all of this mess swirling around? Reed can. He looks like he embraces it.    

6. With apologies to James Hahn and Padraig Harrington, Sean O’Hair nearly became the most unlikely winner of the past … well … month. Still only 32 (!), the former junior prodigy has fallen on hard times, losing his game, his relationship with his overbearing father and his playing privileges on the PGA Tour. He played Tampa on a sponsor exemption, a reminder of his win there in 2008. Instead of playing tentatively – or what you’d expect from a father of four who needed the big check and who hadn’t been in this position in years – he came home in 31, played the second playoff hole flawlessly and nearly stole the title against two players ranked inside the top 15 in the world. His story offers hope for any golfer who has reached the abyss. 

7. Interesting that Woods waited until about 150 minutes before the 5 p.m. Friday deadline to announce that he’s not ready to play this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. It’s the biggest news yet in an indefinite break that is now entering its sixth week, and the no-go can be viewed two ways:

  • a.) Tiger is so lost that he doesn’t think he can contend at a place where he’s won eight times and enjoys a vast amount of institutional knowledge even after five weeks of work
  • b.) Woods waiting so long is a promising sign, an indication that he was seriously considering playing and decided that he just wasn’t ready at the moment

OK, or maybe he simply enjoys prolonging the drama.

8. The belief here is that the truth is closest to option B. That’s why, as I wrote in this space Feb. 23, Tiger should seriously consider adding the Houston Open, if he’s ready. It makes a lot of sense: 1.) The Golf Club of Houston is set up to simulate the conditions players will face the following week at Augusta National; 2.) If he happens to play well, he could carry that momentum into the next week's major; and 3.) He might already be in the area, with a media preview for his first U.S. golf-course design, Bluejack National, set for Wednesday of SHO tournament week. The invitation did not indicate whether Woods would appear, and the Houston Open tournament director told that he has not had any communication with Woods’ camp as of March 13, but the scheduling is intriguing nonetheless.

9. Notah Begay III, who knows Woods better than just about anyone on the planet, said that the former world No. 1 was “improving” but that he just wasn’t 100 percent yet. And therein lies the rub: By taking an indefinite break and declaring that he won’t return until his game is up to his standards, Woods has backed himself into a corner. What happens if he puts in all this time and energy, fully believes that he’s ready to win and makes a triumphant return … and then still chops it up? At that point, you can’t help but wonder: Is it over? 

10. Because think about it: Most players in Woods’ predicament would prefer to play their way back into tournament shape – and they could, because they wouldn’t have to deal with the intense media scrutiny and spotlight. Alas, Woods hasn’t been able to play with any semblance of anonymity since he was a middle-schooler, which is what makes his potential return even more problematic. If he tries to play his way back into tournament shape in front of the entire sports world, and then struggles, it’ll only lead to more doubt and pressure and tension. Rarely in sports is there a 39-year-old comeback story. 

11. Adam Scott’s switch to the conventional putter was deemed a rousing success after two rounds at Doral; he’d shot rounds of 70-68 and was squarely in the hunt at the World Golf Championships event. Even better, he’d missed only twice inside 10 feet and seemed to vanquish questions about whether he’d still be competitive without the broomhandle putter. 

Yet his putter held him back over the weekend at Trump’s Place, and then it was even more uncooperative in Tampa, the biggest reason why he snapped a streak of 45 consecutive cuts made. Since that auspicious start in Miami, Scott has missed 17 times inside 10 feet and is only five of 13 from the 4-to-8-foot range. Over his last four rounds, he has lost an eye-opening 7.9 strokes to the field on the greens.

12. There’s been some chatter that Scott should go back to his old putter, at least through the Masters, but it’s not like he was lighting it up from that range with the long wand, either; from 2011-13, he was outside the top 100 on Tour from inside 10 feet. With the Jan. 1 ban looming, he has no other alternatives. He needs to remain committed to one method and hope that his exemplary ball-striking masks whatever weaknesses exist.  

Normally, this section is reserved for John Daly’s various on-course exploits, but his riff on the not-so-random PGA Tour drug-testing policy struck a chord. Long John called testing a “big joke” and “bulls---”, and publicly challenged PGA Tour chief of operations Andy Pazder and commissioner Tim Finchem to “get off your a-- and get it right,” which will undoubtedly lead to another fine in a career full of them.

Not surprisingly, word of Daly’s remarks spread quickly last week. A few players, including former colleague Steve Flesch, shared personal tales of how they’d get tested after the same event every year or after returning from injury – which doesn’t exactly sound random. Of Daly’s many rants over the years, this one actually seemed spot-on. 

This week's award winners ... 

Woah! Out of Nowhere: Derek Ernst. Despite a Sunday 75 he still managed to record only the second top-25 of his career. (The first was his stunning win two years ago in Charlotte.) He entered last week without a top-50 finish this season and a putting rank that was outside the top 200. Let's face it: Even his loved ones were surprised by this.

Blown Fantasy Pick(s) of the Week: Man, just about everyone! Adam Scott. Jim Furyk. Luke Donald. MC, T-40 and T-53, respectively. Bummer. 

Oh, What Could Have Been … : The University of Texas. The Longhorns have a very good men's golf team. They're ranked fourth nationally, but they’re probably the second-best team in the country, if not the outright No. 1. And it's crazy to think they could be even stronger: That Spieth fella would be a senior this year. 

Home-Country Advantage: South Africans. Apparently there’s no place like home? Of the last 19 European Tour events played in South Africa, 13 have been won by the South Africans, including the most recent champion, George Coetzee at the Tshwane Open. 

Most Unlikely Friends: NBA player J.R. Smith and Bubba Watson. Seriously. Check it out. (And another.)

Mr. Point-Misser: Ian Poulter. As Spieth crossed the $10 million mark in career earnings, and matched Poulter's number of career PGA Tour victories, one of the most abrasive personalities in all of sports tweeted this: 

Gee, can't imagine why he was heckled by fans in Tampa.

Until I change my mind tomorrow, take these to the bank: 

1. Bubba Watson

2. Jason Day

3. Rory McIlroy

4. Jordan Spieth

5. Adam Scott

6. Patrick Reed

7. Jimmy Walker

8. Dustin Johnson

9. Henrik Stenson

10. Matt Kuchar

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm