Schwab, Pierce back from injury in a big way

By Ryan LavnerMay 30, 2015, 9:18 pm

BRADENTON, Fla. – The week after he accepted the head coaching job at Vanderbilt, Scott Limbaugh cut short his family’s annual summer vacation in Highlands, N.C., and hopped on a plane bound for Austria.

The team’s prized recruit had just lost in the finals of the British Amateur, and Limbaugh desperately needed a face-to-face meeting, to make sure the verbal commitment was still solid.

Limbaugh’s wife, Kate, a former college basketball player, knew the drill, so Scott left behind a dozen relatives, jumped in the car and drove from Cashiers to Atlanta. From there he flew to Amsterdam and then on to Vienna, where he went straight to the course to watch the recruit play in the Austrian Open.

Yep, Matthias Schwab was that important to this emerging program.

“I knew he was a program changer,” Limbaugh said Saturday. “He immediately changes the program the moment he walks on campus.”

But it hasn’t exactly worked out that way, both for Schwab and Vandy. 

Schwab’s impact has come only in spurts – he won his first college tournament in the fall of 2013 and had a few other top 10s, but then his back began to ache. And then it got worse. And then, finally, it got serious, as Limbaugh and Schwab’s parents decided it was in his best interest to shut it down for the rest of the spring season.

“I could have ruined my career,” he said.  

Full coverage: NCAA Division I National Championships

Turns out Schwab, 20, had two stress fractures in his back (L-4 and L-5 vertebrae), and he wouldn’t play again for the Commodores for another 12 months.

Vanderbilt sorely missed him in the lineup, and without its No. 2 man the ’Dores stumbled on the final day of stroke play at Prairie Dunes and missed the match-play cut.

“You can’t replace guys like that,” Limbaugh said. “He has run the race so many times.”

There were days when Schwab wondered whether his career was over. He didn’t touch a club last fall, and it wasn’t until Brandt Snedeker and Ben Crane recommended a physical therapist named Tom Boers that Schwab felt optimistic.   

He played his first nine holes in December, went home to Austria for the winter break, and returned with a more positive outlook.  

Schwab’s injury necessitated a few changes – standing taller and closer to the ball, to take the strain off his back – but by mid-February he was confident enough to rejoin the lineup. Within six weeks, he’d posted three consecutive top-5s, including a win at the Mason Rudolph. At NCAA regionals earlier this month, he tied for second.

“He’s always solid,” senior Hunter Stewart said. “It’s hard to play poorly when you hit it as solidly as he does.” 

“He believes he belongs,” Limbaugh said. “He gives everybody a sense of confidence because I’ve never seen somebody so in control of their emotions and in control of their golf ball.”

Schwab’s absence helped shape this Vanderbilt team that entered this week’s NCAA Championship as the No. 5 team in the country.

Without their second-best player, the Commodores have relied heavily on Stewart, and the All-American has delivered in a big way. This has been by far the best year of his career – he has top-11s in all 11 starts (including three wins), and he’s a finalist for every national award.

Put them together, and Stewart and Schwab are one of the most feared 1-2 punches in college golf.

Here in the second round of NCAAs, Schwab and Stewart combined to shoot 4 under Saturday to help Vandy rise 14 spots in the standings, to sixth overall.

“You know what you’re getting from those guys,” Limbaugh said.

A stress fracture is a common sports injury, especially for guys who have been going at it as long and hard as some of these elite college players, but nothing was ordinary about how LSU sophomore Brandon Pierce handled the adversity.

Pierce battled all last spring just to crack the Tigers’ lineup, but his season came undone after an event in mid-March.

He doesn’t know what specifically caused his stress fracture – the strain of weightlifting in the fall, or maybe the jolt of hitting a root a few days earlier – but Pierce collapsed to the ground after making a practice swing. He played the last two holes, but knew something was wrong.

Pierce ended up sitting out seven months, until last November.

The 20-year-old is a die-hard Tigers fan, following both his dad and grandfather to Baton Rouge, so he did all he could to help while he was out of action.

“I was like a cheerleader,” he said.

Every day he watched his teammates practice, zipping around in a cart to offer words of encouragement.

Before the team left for an event, he would type out a one-page note to each starter, drive to the university course and stick it in their lockers. He’d be there every time the Tigers returned home too, whether it was 11 p.m. Tuesday or 3 p.m. Sunday.  

On a roster of eight to 10 players, it’s easy for those outside the traveling five to not feel like part of the team. As much as a coach might try to make it inclusive, they are inherently separate, the starters and the bench players.

“Most young men 18-22, they probably don’t have the maturity to handle it and be genuinely pulling for those other guys,” LSU coach Chuck Winstead said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Pierce is back helping his team on the course, and he’s a major reason why the Tigers are even at this week’s NCAAs.

After a runner-up finish during a winter amateur event told him that his body was ready, Pierce has been one of the steadiest contributors for No. 9 LSU, finishing in the top 30 in all seven spring starts. It was his closing 65 at the New Haven regional that helped the Tigers erase an 11-shot, final-round deficit and move inside the top-5 bubble.

And here at Concession, he has continued to roll, sitting only a few shots off the individual lead after back-to-back rounds of 71. As a team, LSU is second among the early starters Saturday, at 5-over 581.

“I’m just really happy to be back with my team,” he said.

With the way Schwab and Pierce are playing, their teammates are happy they’re back, too.

Getty Images

Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

Getty Images

The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

Getty Images

Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

Getty Images

Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.