Smith secures winning point and more for U.S. Walker Cup team

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 8, 2013, 10:27 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Seven holes early. That’s when Nathan Smith began to wonder what it would feel like to earn the clinching point for the U.S. Walker Cup team.

Hey, forgive the man’s mind for wandering.

After all, he was thinking about 2011. Smith was the lone mid-amateur on that stacked team at Royal Aberdeen, the squad with uber-prospects Spieth, Uihlein, Henley, English and Cantlay, the group that was stunned, 14-12.

He was thinking about his own disappointing career record in this event: 2-4-1, including 0-2-1 in singles.

And he was thinking about the way his foursomes match ended Saturday, when he left a putt short on 18 that cost the Americans a point.

So, after pouring in a 15-foot birdie putt on the eighth green to build a 2-up lead in his singles match against GB&I’s Nathan Kimsey on Sunday, well, yeah, Smith got a little misty.

“You just want it so much,” he said later. “It’s almost overwhelming.”

Unlike his teammates – many of whom are All-Americans with glitzy resumes, swing coaches and seven-digit futures – Smith is a financial adviser in Pittsburgh. He is married, 35 years old, getting older, finding it harder and harder to find the necessary time to practice and play, to duplicate the form that netted him four U.S. Mid-Am titles.

There was doubt that he would be able to even make this team. At least that’s what he told Jim Holtgrieve in 2011, and it left the U.S. captain unsettled, especially since Holtgrieve himself was 35 years old when he played in the Walker Cup.

So Holtgrieve began the process of lobbying the USGA to require that two mid-ams be named to the team. He hoped the rule would go into effect in 2015, but the bluecoats liked the idea so much, they instituted it for this year’s competition.

Did Smith think he would have made the team without the new rule?

“I didn’t think there was any way,” he admitted. “The college guys are too good now.”

Which is why Smith decided to take a backseat, even before this two-day event began. During a practice round at National Golf Links he told Holtgrieve, and then later his teammates, that he wanted to compete in only two sessions – Saturday foursomes and Sunday singles – despite playing some of the best golf of his life.

“That’ll let the other college guys loose,” he said, before adding, “I felt like it was the right thing to do.”

Said Justin Thomas, 20: “That’s a huge reason why he’s been so successful for us. It’s because there’s an age and maturity that a college kid doesn’t have.”

Smith’s absence opened the door for the other mid-am, Todd White, a 45-year-old high-school teacher in South Carolina, to prove that he was worthy of a spot on the team, too.

Though he dropped both foursomes matches with Cal’s Michael Weaver, White led for all but four holes of a 4-and-3 singles win over GB&I’s Rhys Pugh, a talented 19-year-old who went 3-0 in the 2011 Walker Cup, played in this year’s British Open and won the 2012 European Amateur.

Earlier Sunday, U.S. leadoff man Bobby Wyatt improved to 3-0-1 (and 9-0-3 in ’13, including the NCAA and Palmer Cup) with an opening victory, further cementing his standing as the Man of the Match, if only the event bestowed such an honor.

Right behind Wyatt was Thomas, playing in his final amateur event and dealing with an ailing back, who pummeled his opponent, 6 and 4, and left little doubt that the cup was heading back to the States.

And then it was Smith’s turn in the spotlight, finally.

All that the U.S. needed was a half point to reclaim the cup, and Smith’s par-4 on the 15th hole was good enough. His teammates spilled on the green to celebrate, the crowd chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A!”, and Smith smiled and tipped his cap. A hole later, he defeated Kimsey, 4 and 3, capping the feel-good story of a Walker Cup rout.

“This ranks right at the top of my list,” Smith said. “I’ve never wanted a point so much in my life.”

Apparently neither did the rest of the Americans, who won seven of the 10 singles matches Sunday – and earned 13 1/2 of the possible 18 in both weekend sessions – for a final score of 17-9. It was their most lopsided victory in 16 years, their fourth win in the past five matches, and undoubtedly the most satisfying moment of Smith’s career.

“It’s the best feeling in the world right now,” he said.

As the 10 matches got underway Sunday afternoon, Smith’s father, Larry, retreated to the National clubhouse, too anxious to watch. He didn’t return to the top of the hill until about an hour after Smith scored the clinching point, when the celebration was winding down.

Father and son finally reconnected in front of the famous windmill behind 17 tee, and they hugged for a few seconds. Then Smith stepped back, smiled, and put his father’s face in his hands.

“Can you believe it?” he asked, beaming. “This is almost too good.”

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.