Ten years after pro debut, McIlroy at crossroads

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 18, 2017, 4:12 pm

It was 10 years ago Monday that Rory McIlroy turned professional, and all he’s done since is win four majors, hold the No. 1 world ranking for 95 weeks and become the most electrifying player of the post-Tiger Woods era.

But perhaps it’s fitting that this landmark falls today, with McIlroy at a professional crossroads.

It’s been a transitional year, both on and off the course, and Sunday marked the end of a disappointing PGA Tour season in which he couldn’t even qualify for the Tour Championship a year after he captured the season-long title.

He battled an injury all year, leading to a stop-start schedule and compensations with his swing.

He dumped his longtime caddie and now heads into a long offseason in need of a full-time looper.

He got married in April.

And he plummeted to No. 8 in the world – interesting because it’s not only his worst position since spring 2014 (and figures to get worse, with an extended layoff), but four of the players ranked ahead of him are younger.


Photos: Rory McIlroy through the years


How McIlroy responds will dominate the run-up to next year’s Masters, but this is more a time for reflection than projection.

His evolution has been remarkable to watch.

After all, he arrived on the scene as a pudgy, mop-haired kid from Holywood. Now, save for an injured rib, he is arguably the most physically fit player on Tour.

Both of his parents, Gerry and Rosie, worked extra jobs to help fund Rory’s dream of becoming a professional golfer. Now, he is rich beyond his wildest dreams, raking in $50 million last year alone.

After signing his professional papers in ’07, McIlroy has won four majors (most of any player in that time frame), captured the PGA and European tours’ season-long title a combined four times, and starred on three victorious Ryder Cup teams.

Perhaps most interestingly, though, McIlroy is known now for more than just his sterling playing record.

In an era of aggressive over-management by p.r. reps, the 28-year-old has become one of the sport’s most refreshing voices, unafraid to sound off on a variety of topics – from the Olympics to drug testing, from a club’s exclusive membership practices to course setups, from Tiger to Trump.

His news conferences at majors often are appointment viewing, and McIlroy, like so many of today’s young stars, remains engaging, interesting and thoughtful.

Indeed, it’s a testament to McIlroy’s candor and likability that he’s been able to emerge relatively unscathed from a series of controversies over the past decade. The high-profile equipment changes. The nasty split with his management team. The wedding-invitation breakup.

His gaps between victories might vary, but rarely does he go weeks without a headline.

McIlroy plans to go dark this fall, however, after teeing it up at the British Masters and the Dunhill Links – his last chance to continue his streak of at least one win since 2008 – and there is much to consider.

Steve Elkington memorably questioned McIlroy’s motivation earlier this year, and there’s little doubt that the former Boy Wonder is at a different place in his life: happily married, in the process of renovating the couple’s new home in South Florida, and thinking about starting a family in the next few years. His health is now the top priority; the past few months he has played away from pain, relying mostly on draws to avoid discomfort. His wedge game and putting also need work if he’s to regain his rightful place as golf’s alpha dog.

Still, the landscape has changed dramatically since he won the most recent of his four majors, in August 2014. Jordan Spieth has won three majors; at times, Dustin Johnson has looked unbeatable; Jason Day, Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka all have broken through, and players like Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama and Jon Rahm don’t appear far behind. The attributes that made McIlroy so dominant – the outrageous length, the red-hot putting, the swagger – now are shared by much of the game’s elite.

Only McIlroy knows what can give him an edge again. But here’s hoping that he finds that spark, that he makes his second decade as a pro as fruitful and entertaining as his first.

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.


Masters victory


Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative


Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ


Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket


Man of the people


Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief


Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together


Ace at 17th at Sawgrass


Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018


Departure from TaylorMade


Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade


Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'


Victory at Valderrama


Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

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