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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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?''

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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.

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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. 

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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

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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.