James Hahn breaks out of a slump, Rickie Fowler wobbles on the weekend, Rory McIlroy gets closer, Anthony Kim resurfaces and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:
The last time James Hahn played a final round, it was Super Bowl Sunday. He had missed eight consecutive cuts. He had gone 21 rounds without a score in the 60s.
“You just keep believing,” he said, and so that’s exactly what he did, waiting patiently for the one week when his ball-striking was solid and his putter got hot and his confidence flowed.
It all came together last week at Quail Hollow, one of the toughest courses on the PGA Tour schedule, when Hahn shot 9-under 279 and defeated Roberto Castro on the first playoff hole.
Failure is inevitable in a sport in which each week there is one winner and 155 losers, but Hahn showed the power of perseverance.
“Honestly, it’s the most difficult part of what we do for a living,” he said in a candid interview afterward. “You start questioning yourself: Are you good enough? Will it happen again? You start thinking into the future as far as selling shoes again for a living.”
It was a reference to Hahn’s past life as a women’s shoe salesman at Nordstrom, one of the many odd jobs he worked as he chased his Tour dreams. He finally broke through last year at Riviera.
In between those moments of bliss are days, weeks and, in Hahn’s case, even months of frustration, of wandering, of doubt. It’s what makes the victories even more special.
1. So how does this happen? How does a player who is so lost somehow find his way and win a tournament on a major-caliber course against many of the best players on the planet?
As usual, it came down to putting.
Entering last week, Hahn was, statistically, one of the worst putters on Tour, ranking 194th out of 208 qualifiers in strokes gained-putting.
Over four rounds at Quail Hollow, he ranked eighth, holing nearly 350 feet worth of putts and gaining about six shots on the field with his putting. In other words, he was almost seven shots better on the greens than he’s been this season. That’s the difference between finishing first and 17th.
No matter how you slice it, Hahn is now a two-time Tour winner. The validation, he said, "means everything."
"I’ve had that question asked to me before, winning on the PGA Tour and not winning again, would I consider that a fluke," he said. "You know, I say it was a slap in the face because everyone that competes on the PGA Tour is capable of winning and it’s really hard to win multiple times. I feel like I practiced hard and I deserved everything that came my way, even missed cuts.”
2. We've barely past the halfway point of this FedEx Cup season, so there is plenty of time for a narrative to take shape. But the story of the 2015-16 campaign has been the Tour’s depth.
That’s not the sexiest storyline, of course, but think about it: This calendar year, Fabian Gomez, Vaughn Taylor, Jim Herman, Brian Stuard and Hahn all have won a tournament.
Among those still searching for their first Tour title this season: McIlroy, Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson.
Will this still be the case in four months? Probably not. But at the halfway point, there’s no denying it’s been a bit of a bizarre year, with plenty of parity.
3. Parsons Xtreme Golf made a big splash earlier this year, with founder Bob Parsons sparing no expense to build top-of-the-line equipment in an attempt to lure some Tour players into his stable.
The biggest name to join was Zach Johnson, the reigning Open winner, with Billy Horschel and Chris Kirk also jumping aboard.
And yet it's Hahn who became the first PXG staffer to win on Tour.
4. Fowler was lauded for the way he’s closed out tournaments over the past year, whether it was his insane finish at The Players, his cold-blooded birdies to win in Scotland or the unflinching play down the stretch in Boston. Even this year, in Abu Dhabi, he holed a late bunker shot on his way to a big-time victory.
He’s looked like a different player of late, however. First there was the bad break and big miscue on 17 in Phoenix, where he lost in a playoff to Hideki Matsuyama; then there was the out-of-nowhere weekend at Honda after he’d grabbed the halfway lead; then he blew up with a first-round 80 at the Masters; and then there was the final-round 74 Sunday at Quail Hollow, where a one-stroke lead turned into a two-shot loss.
Add it all up, and it looks like a good season on paper – top-10s in half his starts – but a few weekend wobbles have dented Fowler's reputation as one of the game’s premier closers.
5. If not for a misadventure on the 18th hole – how many times have we said that in Lefty’s career? – then Mickelson might have picked up his first win in nearly three years on Sunday. Instead, he made a quadruple-bogey 8 on his 54th hole of the tournament, after finding the water with his approach and ping-ponging a few chip shots around the green. In 52 career rounds at Quail Hollow, he is now 21 over par on that hole.
A shame, too, because Mickelson’s putting on the lightning-fast greens was plenty good enough to win. In a final-round 66, he made all 18 of his attempts from inside 15 feet. For the week, he gained nearly eight and a half (8.4) strokes on the field with his putting, the fourth-best total of his career.
This was his seventh top-five in 13 starts at Quail, but he remains without a victory.
6. Before turning up in Charlotte, McIlroy had played only 18 holes since the Masters. The competitive rust showed, because the world No. 3 was alternately brilliant and sloppy during his tie for fourth at the Wells Fargo.
Oh, there were many good signs: On the 497-yard 16th Sunday, McIlroy bludgeoned a 388-yard drive that cut the corner, leaving only a lob wedge into the green. He stuck it to 3 feet for an easy birdie. His 22 birdies were the most of any player. But there also were stretches of indifferent play, mediocre putting and poor pitch shots around the green.
“There’s just some things that aren’t quite where I want them to be,” he said. “A little tweak here and there, and we’ll be able to go into this stretch of golf in really good form.”
7. Rose switched to the claw putting grip the week before the Masters, saying that it “just felt too good to deny it.”
It sure didn't look that way Sunday, because the putter was the only thing keeping him out of the winner's circle. In the final round, Rose didn’t make a putt longer than 6 feet, lost nearly four shots to the field on the greens and looked tentative with his stroke. He finished third, one shot out of the playoff.
After the round, Rose said that he felt his hands get behind the ball when striking his putts and now wasn’t sure whether he needed more time to get comfortable with the claw grip or if he should rethink his new method.
“Obviously I feel like I’ve been trying something new the last few weeks and maybe this is the first real test and I didn’t really pass with flying colors,” he said. “So I’ll just kind of assess that over the next couple of days.”
8. Hahn had barely smooched the trophy by the time construction began at Quail Hollow Club in preparation for next year’s PGA Championship.
It’ll be a massive renovation: Holes are being rebuilt, redesigned and lengthened, and the greens are being switched from MiniVerde Bermuda grass to Champion Bermuda.
The only issue? It all seems so unnecessary. Last week’s tournament was proof that Quail Hollow is already plenty tough and doesn’t need to be touched to become “major ready.”
“It’s a very difficult test, the greens are very challenging, and yet its greatness kind of comes out,” Mickelson said. “You see a great discrepancy in the scores. The guys that play well are able to take advantage of it, make birdies, and the guys that aren’t are getting penalized. I think that’s the sign of a really great golf course.”
9. Zac Blair had a Woody Austin moment last week at Quail Hollow, bashing his putter so hard against his head that he bent the shaft.
Trouble is, Blair putted out for par and was disqualified for using a non-conforming club. In 1997, Austin finished his infamous round en route to a missed cut.
Blair took his mistake in stride, and fortunately for him, no GIF exists of his self-abuse that would have been memorialized for all time.
10. Castro was in command at the Wells Fargo until back-to-back bogeys – and nervous iron shots, flailed out to the right – on the Green Mile dropped him into a playoff. He had little chance once he pulled his tee shot into the creek, which led to a drop from a loafer and a bogey. The playoff loss was his first top-25 since Pebble.
“Sure, it hurts to let this tournament specifically slip away,” he said, “but there are 154 guys that didn’t have a chance in that playoff and I feel grateful to have had a chance.”
11. John Daly has always had a penchant for big numbers. That much didn’t change in his senior debut.
Closing in on a top-10 finish, JD triple-bogeyed the 17th hole and finished in a tie for 17th, 10 shots back, at the Insperity Invitational.
12. Ariya Jutanugarn’s memories of her collapse at the ANA Inspiration were temporarily suspended Sunday with her first career victory at the Yokohama LPGA Classic.
Out front thanks to a back-nine 28 Saturday, Jutanugarn hung on down the stretch to win by one over Stacy Lewis, Morgan Pressel and Amy Yang.
Last month, the 20-year-old held a two-shot lead at the year’s first major but bogeyed the last three holes. It was a devastating collapse for the immensely talented Thai player, and it called to mind her other meltdown, when she tripled the last hole at an event in 2013.
This should be the first of many wins for Jutanugarn. She and Brooke Henderson are the players most likely to challenge Lydia Ko’s throne.
It’s kind of amazing, really, that in this social-media era Anthony Kim has been out of view for the better part of four years.
This picture still leaves many unanswered questions – chief among them: What are you doing with your life? – but at least we now know that he’s alive.
This week's award winners ...
Painful to Watch: Andrew Loupe. You know it’s bad when CBS Sports commentator Peter Kostis said that if he were teaching Loupe, he’d put him on a four-second shot clock to pull the trigger. Suffice to say, no such provision is currently in place, because Loupe takes an eternity to play.
Please Say There's Been a Mistake: Robert Rock. The Englishman with the most glorious head of hair wore a hat in the final round in Morocco. Hey, we all have bad hair days, but here we thought Rock was immune to them.
Comeback of the Week: Jason Gore. After a third-round 83, he somehow trimmed 18 shots off his score – yes, 18! – to match the low round of the week, a bogey-free 65. Your thoughts, please ...
Such a crazy game....— Jason Gore (@JasonGore59) May 8, 2016
In Need of Prayers: The Cink family. The 2009 Open champion announced that he was stepping away from the game after learning that his wife, Lisa, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sending all the best to the Cinks.
Future Stud Alert, Part 1: Madelene Sagstrom. It's only the beginning of May, and Sagstrom is $864 away from setting the single-season earnings record on the Symetra Tour. The former LSU standout is also just one win away from an instant promotion to the LPGA, after her six-shot win in South Carolina.
Future Stud Alert, Part 2: Aaron Wise. Oregon’s super sophomore medaled at Canadian Tour Q-School, which he will play once he finishes this college golf season. If Oregon can get through regionals – or if he can advance as an individual – he’ll be a big favorite on his home golf course at NCAAs.
Out of Commission: Peter Uihlein. The 2013 European Tour Rookie of the Year, who has played this season with a torn ligament in his wrist, finally decided to have surgery, after saying on Twitter that the pain “was too extreme.” He’ll be sidelined for a few months.
Wanted: Australian golfers. After Adam Scott and then Marc Leishman dropped out of the Olympics, all eyes are now on Marcus Fraser, with Matt Jones and Scott Hend on deck. Crikey.
Recovery of the Year: Jason Kokrak. Wow, this is epic, from the second story of a hospitality tent! This pitch shot rolled out to about 15 feet.