New-era stars thriving with friends-first mentality

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2017, 10:00 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Last month, Justin Thomas stood behind the 18th green at Royal Birkdale, waiting to congratulate one of his pals on another major victory.

Wearing basketball shorts and a sweatshirt, Thomas, who had missed the cut two days earlier, politely answered questions about Jordan Spieth’s wild back nine, his remarkable ability to rebound from calamity, and what type of debauchery would ensue on their plane ride home.

This spot was nothing new for Thomas, of course. Once the mainstream sports media learned that Spieth and Thomas had competed against each other since they were 14, they became a package deal. But now Spieth had won again, resuming a historic major pace, and Thomas couldn’t help but feel as though he was losing ground.

“He’s not mad because Jordan wins,” said Mike Thomas, Justin’s father and swing coach. “He’s happy for Jordan. But he’s like, I’ve beaten Jordan before, and Jordan is winning [majors], so why can’t I do this, too?”

Sometimes, that’s all the motivation a player needs. A month after The Open, Thomas won his own major, surviving Quail Hollow’s notoriously difficult closing stretch to capture the PGA Championship.

This time, it was Spieth who waited behind the green to welcome his buddy into the major club.

“So awesome, dude,” he said.

The youth movement on the PGA Tour is here to stay, and these fun, rich, congenial, ambitious, social-media savvy and fiercely competitive 20-somethings seem to be propelling each other to new heights.

Gone is the edginess, the animosity, the simmering tension of other eras.

Jack and Arnie.

Faldo and Norman.

Tiger and Phil.

Today’s young stars forged these friendships a decade ago, when they were battling on the AJGA circuit. But now, instead of needling each other during practice rounds or heated games of Ping-Pong, they’re vying for a piece of history and the biggest titles in golf, all while raking in millions, flying in private jets and socializing with other famous athletes.


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The meteoric spike in prize and endorsement money may have dulled the motivation for the Tour’s middle class, but the elite, overflowing with swagger and ego, remain locked in an arms race, and no one wants to get left behind or forfeit bragging rights.

Do television viewers prefer bitter rivals over best buds? We’ll find out definitively over the next few years. But there’s little doubt this chummy dynamic has raised the quality of play, if not the intensity.

“It’s cool because you can learn so much from watching your friends play well and get the job done,” Rickie Fowler said. “It’s fun to see because it also motivates you to go out and push yourself to another level.

“It’s fun to see them play well and win, but at the same time it’s even more satisfying when you get to go out and beat all your buddies.”

On Sunday, it was Fowler who once again had a front-row seat. Make no mistake, he was thrilled for one of his closest friends, documenting Thomas’ speech, signing duties and plane ride home with the Wanamaker Trophy for his millions of Snapchat followers. But to hear Fowler on the 18th green, the moment clearly was bittersweet.  

“It’s a good kind of rivalry between all the young guys,” he said. “We’re all good friends. We all travel together. We all play practice rounds together. JT and I live right down the street from each other. It’s only going to push me even harder to want to get back and go beat him up the next time we tee it up.”

Members of the popular spring-break crew aren’t the only beneficiaries of the new fratty vibe on Tour.  

After winning the U.S. Open, Brooks Koepka credited his friendship with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. After all, they work out together. Practice together. Play together. Wherever they are – in the gym, on the range, on the course – the bash brothers are competing. Partly through osmosis, then, Koepka became a major champion.

“Whenever you’re really good friends with somebody, that’s what happens, isn’t it?” said Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott. “If you can do it, I can do it.”

And that’s what makes this new breed so appealing. Sure, there’s respect and admiration among the young stars, but there also is a serious case of trophy envy.

“That kind of shows where the game is right now, where all of us are,” Thomas said. “Obviously we all want to win. We want to beat the other person. But if we can’t win, then we at least want to enjoy it with our friends.

“I know it’s going to make them even more hungry, just like it did for me, seeing Jordan at the British.”

And just like it likely will for Fowler, who, during a five-minute interview Sunday, alternated between praising his pal and lamenting his own mistakes that cost him the title.

Unprompted, he said: “My time is coming. It’s not long.”

His friends will be waiting.

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Rose leads halted Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs

By Associated PressDecember 15, 2017, 2:04 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters when bad weather stopped play Friday during the second round.

The Englishman, who shot a 10-under 62 on Thursday, had completed 13 holes and was 5 under on the day at the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat (64) was in second place.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew wit on the 11th hole at 2 under for the day after shooting an opening 72.

There was no reason given for his withdrawal, but the American has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 1:00 pm

Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.

Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.

An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.


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Finances


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Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 12:30 pm

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.