Shelton's shocking miss sends Crocker to quarters

By Ryan LavnerAugust 21, 2015, 1:47 am

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – After sinking the biggest putt of his life, Sean Crocker was so certain that his match would head to a third extra hole that he darted under the rope line and made a beeline for the next tee, a clever bit of gamesmanship.

All he heard was silence.

A few moments earlier, Crocker had raced his uphill birdie putt about 12 feet past. He let out a little groan, then ripped off his hat and covered his face.

“I don’t even know what the hell I did after that first putt,” he said.

His opponent, Alabama star Robby Shelton, missed his 20-footer to win. He had only a little work left, maybe 2 feet, so Crocker faced a do-or-die putt for par. When it dropped, he screamed and punched the air, and then kept on moving – under the ropes, across the cart path and down the hill, leaving Shelton to clean up his par and move on.

Except that he shoved it.

Match over.

“I never, ever would have expected him to miss that,” Crocker said later. “I couldn’t even believe it.”

It was a shocking end to the best match of the first two days here at the U.S. Amateur. Crocker’s win in 20 holes at Olympia Fields punched his ticket to the quarterfinals, where he will face Austin James of Canada.

Crocker, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year out of Southern Cal, is quickly becoming a player to know in the amateur ranks. Out on the course, he is hard to miss – he’s the kid with plenty of swagger, with struts and club twirls and fist pumps.


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What made his Round of 16 match against Shelton so interesting was that their styles couldn’t be any more dissimilar: Crocker is aggressive, confident, expressive; Shelton, meanwhile, is steady, stoic, quiet.

About the only thing they have in common? They’re both really, really good.

The pyrotechnics began on the par-3 15th, where they both executed sick flop shots from right of the green to save par.

Clinging to a 1-up lead, Crocker airmailed his approach on the into-the-wind 16th. Sensing an opportunity, Shelton then stuffed a 7-iron from 180 yards to 6 feet. His birdie squared the match.

“Just stupid good,” said Alabama coach Jay Seawell, who was on Shelton’s bag this week.

There was a long wait on the par-3 17th. Shelton stood alone in the shade, hands on his hips, head down, expressionless. Crocker passed the time by bouncing and balancing a ball on the face of his wedge, tongue out, bopping his head as if listening to hip-hop music.

When the green finally cleared, Shelton hit his tee shot safely on the right side, but Crocker stepped up and drilled a 6-iron under the breeze. His tee ball hadn’t even finished its ascent when he stomped off the tee, staring it down, loving it. When his ball landed a foot next to the cup – prompting a gasp from the hundred spectators gathered around the green – and settled about 6 feet away, he spun his club and roared, “Come on!”

“The more amped up he gets,” said Crocker’s caddie/USC assistant coach Tyler Goulding, “the more he wants to lean on it and hit less club and hit it harder. I think his divots got deeper and deeper and deeper as the day went on.”

The birdie putt dropped to go 1 up with one to play. Crocker, naturally, unleashed a huge fist pump.

The home hole belonged to Shelton. After a perfect drive split the center, his approach shot found the right side of the green, about 20 feet away. Crocker’s third shot from the bunker was almost close enough for a conceded par, so Shelton knew he had to make it to force extras. Dead center.

“How about that?” Seawell said, spinning around to the crowd. Crocker was so shocked that he flipped his coin into the air and held it aloft as he walked off the green.

After halving the first extra hole with par, both faced birdie putts of about 25 feet on the par-4 second. Then came the bad lag, the bold comebacker, the shocking miss.

Shelton, ranked eighth in the world, said the exact scenario played out in his morning match against Will Grimmer – a 20-foot birdie try, a 2-footer down the hill and no concession – but he sank the return putt. This time, he shoved it.

Seawell blinked away tears in the parking lot afterward.

“I haven’t really had a chance to get to walk alongside him that much, and to do this for the past seven days, I really got a great look at him and his character,” he said. “I knew his game is good. But I learned how he thinks, and it sure was a beautiful thing.”

Said Shelton: “I’m really not too upset. It definitely hurts, but I played hard. He just played harder.”

That’s usually not an issue with Crocker, the son of a professional Zimbabwean cricket player who didn’t begin playing golf until age 13, which is ancient by today’s standards.

Back then, his father, Gary, entered him in junior tournaments just so he could learn how to win. He did so, prolifically.

“We’re talking dozens of titles,” Gary Crocker said.

With all of those wins came a certain level of confidence – maybe even arrogance – and it showed in the way he approached the game. Crocker will let his opponent know when he hits a good shot. Maybe it’ll get in his head. Maybe it won’t.

“My dad always taught me to keep quiet and everything, but I see people like Tiger [Woods] and Rory [McIlroy] and the way they walk and you say, ‘Wow, that guy looks like he’s pretty good.’” Crocker told me earlier this year. “I’ve always tried to base myself off them – not necessarily cocky, but to act like I want to be here and win.”

A natural athlete, a fiery competitor, he needed only six years to rise from a novice to a U.S. Amateur quarterfinalist.

“That’s why we recruited him,” Goulding said, “for the attitude and belief in himself and the ability to do it when it matters. Now I think his physical tools are catching up with the attitude that he’s had forever.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.

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Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

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“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.

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“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.