Texas' Scheffler on another big stage at NCAAs

By Ryan LavnerMay 29, 2017, 12:46 am

SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – This big stage doesn’t faze Scottie Scheffler, and why should it?

He has contended (early) at a U.S. Open. He has played in a PGA Tour event. He has captured a U.S. Junior and won three consecutive Texas high school championships and gone 3-1 in NCAA match play.

“He certainly has a belief in himself that he can compete at a really high level,” Texas coach John Fields said.

And so now Scheffler has found himself in another position with all of the attention and the TV cameras. On Monday, the junior will take a two-shot lead into the final round of the NCAA Championship.

The Longhorns are currently four shots back of the top 8, but their best chance for a title this year might ride on the occasionally problematic back of Scheffler.

The 20-year-old was one of the most-hyped junior players of the past decade, a can’t-miss kid who seemed destined to follow Jordan Spieth and lead Texas to another national title. But his past three years have been filled with both promise and patience.

It’s hard to imagine it now, looking at his 6-foot-4-inch, 210-pound frame, but just seven years ago he was 5-foot-2 and 100 pounds. He grew at an alarming rate – not just his overall height, but his arm length and hands and shoulders – and all of that growth put an immense strain on his body. He suffered a back injury two years ago and has since needed a maintenance program to keep him upright and in the lineup.

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“Growing as much as I did, you’re not going to feel awesome every single day,” Scheffler said. “Just some growing pains.”

Fields credited Scheffler’s longtime swing coach, Randy Smith, for keeping him competitive through all of the tweaks that his growing body necessitated.

“He never lost any confidence in me,” Scheffler said of Smith, with whom he has worked since he was 7 or 8.

Scheffler’s game has been trending heading into nationals, with top-3 finishes in each of his past three starts. Here at Rich Harvest Farms, he has recorded three consecutive rounds of 68 to take the lead heading into the final round of stroke play.

“I’m riding a little bit of confidence right now,” he said.

Chasing Scheffler is an eclectic cast of characters who rank among the best in college golf.

USC’s Rico Hoey (runner-up in 2016) and Vanderbilt’s Matthias Schwab (T-3) each are in position to avenge last year’s disappointment, when they came up a few shots shy of Oregon’s Aaron Wise for the individual title.

Also three shots back is Illinois junior Dylan Meyer, who has had a whirlwind few weeks. At last month’s Big Ten Championship, he thought he had a stomach virus but was later diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which required a three-day stay in the hospital. Not the most patient 21-year-old anyway, Meyer was “climbing up the walls” of his room while watching re-runs of “Law and Order.”

Meyer was released from the hospital the day before the Illini left for regionals, and he played early the next day to show coach Mike Small that he could handle one of the most important tournaments of the year.

“The time of year inspired him to be ready,” Small said.

Meyer had joined the player-of-the-year discussion after posting three wins in a row, but he had played only once between Big Tens and regionals, and he lost 10 pounds and 10 yards of distance after his illness.

Illinois was six shots off the top-5 cut line with seven holes to play, but the team played the finishing stretch in 2 under to finish third. Meyer tied for 28th individually, his worst showing of the season.

“Not exactly what I wanted,” he said, “but adversity hits everywhere and you just have to deal with it.”

Even though he takes medication three times a day, Meyer is still figuring out what he can and cannot eat, and will require an infusion every eight weeks for the rest of his life. Meyer says he is competing this week at “100 percent.” He looks like it, too, shooting weekend rounds of 67-69 to sit in a tie for second heading into the final round.

To win, he’ll have to overcome a slew of other seasoned players, but mostly Scheffler, who has a two-shot head start.

Scheffler arrived on campus and immediately drew comparisons to some of the Texas legends – Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, Justin Leonard and Spieth. With a victory Monday, he’d vault into a new stratosphere as one of the world’s best amateurs.

“The greatest thing that everyone involved with Scottie has done is just be patient with what had to transpire over the past three years to get him to this moment right now,” Fields said.

Another big stage? Don’t expect him to shy away from it.

Thomas vs. Rose could be Ryder Cup highlight

By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 11:40 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – For those still digesting the end of 2017 – the European Tour did, after all, just wrap up its season in Dubai on Sunday – consider that the PGA Tour is already nearly one-fifth of the way into a new edition.

The Tour has already crowned eight champions as the game banks into the winter break, and there are some interesting trends that have emerged from the fall.

Dueling Justins: While Justin Thomas picked up where he left off last season, winning the inaugural CJ Cup in October just three weeks after claiming the FedExCup and wrapping up Player of the Year honors; Justin Rose seems poised to challenge for next year’s low Justin honors.

The Englishman hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since August and won back-to-back starts (WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open) before closing his year with a tie for fourth place in Dubai.

Note to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk: Justin v. Justin next September in Paris could be fun.

Youth served. Just in case anyone was thinking the pendulum might be swinging back in the direction of experience over youthful exuberance – 41-year-old Pat Perez did put the veterans on the board this season with his victory at the CIMB Classic – Patrick Cantlay solidified his spot as genuine phenom.

Following an injury-plagued start to his career, Cantlay got back on track this year, needing just a dozen starts to qualify for the Tour Championship. He went next level earlier this month with his playoff victory at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

They say these trends come and go in professional golf, but as the average age of winners continues to trend lower and lower it’s safe to say 25 is the new 35 on Tour.

A feel for it. For all the science that has become such a big part of the game – from TrackMan analysis to ShotLink statistics – it was refreshing to hear that Patton Kizzire’s breakthrough victory at the OHL Classic came down to a hunch.

With the tournament on the line and Rickie Fowler poised just a stroke back, Kizzire’s tee shot at the 72nd hole came to rest in an awkward spot that forced him to stand close to his approach shot to keep his feet out of the sand. His 8-iron approach shot sailed to 25 feet and he two-putted for par.

And how far did he have for that pivotal approach?

“I have no idea,” he laughed.

Fall facelift. Although the moving parts of the 2018-19 schedule appear to be still in flux, how the changes will impact the fall schedule is coming into focus.

The Tour’s goal is to end the season on Labor Day, which means the fall portion of the schedule will begin a month earlier than it does now. While many see that as a chance for the circuit to embrace a true offseason, it’s becoming increasingly clear that won’t be the case.

The more likely scenario is an earlier finish followed by a possible team competition, either the Ryder or Presidents cup, before the Tour kicks off a new season in mid-September, which means events currently played before the Tour Championship will slide to the fall schedule.

“So if you slide it back, somebody has to jump ahead. The mechanics of it,” said Davis Love III, host of the RSM Classic and a member of the Tour’s policy board. “I’m still going to go complain and beg for my day, but I also understand when they say, this is your date, make it work, then we'll make it work.”

While 2019 promises to bring plenty of change to the Tour, know that the wraparound season and fall golf are here to stay.

Product protection. Speaking of the fall schedule and the likely plan to expand the post-Tour Championship landscape, officials should also use the platform to embrace some protections for these events.

Consider that the RSM Classic featured the third-strongest field last week according to the Official World Golf Ranking, behind the season-ending tournament in Dubai on the European Tour and the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour.

The winner in Dubai received 50 World Ranking points, a marquee event that has historically been deeper than that week’s Tour stop, while the Dunlop Phoenix winner, Brooks Koepka, won 32 points. Austin Cook collected 30 points for his victory at Sea Island Resort.

All told, the Japan event had four players in the field from the top 50 in the world, including world No. 4 Hideki Matsuyama; while the highest-ranked player at the RSM Classic was Matt Kuchar at 15th and there were seven players from the top 50 at Sea Island Resort.

Under Tour rules, Koepka, as well as any other Tour members who competed either in Japan or Dubai, had to be granted conflicting-event releases by the circuit.

Although keeping players from participating in tournaments overseas is not an option, it may be time for the circuit to reconsider the conflicting-event policy if the result is a scenario like last week that relegates a Tour event to third on the international dance card.

After Further Review: Whan deserves major credit

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 11:18 pm

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Mike Whan's really, really good idea ...

If LPGA commissioner Mike Whan hasn’t earned a gold star yet for creating the Race to the CME Globe four years ago, he deserves one now. The race’s finish at the CME Group Tour Championship has become a spectacular fireworks show. Stacy Lewis said it best on Saturday. She said the pressure the top players feel at CME is the “worst” those players feel all year, and by that she meant the “most intense,” the kind that makes for the best weeks.

You can argue there’s more pressure on the top women at the CME than there is in a major. The Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring, the Rolex world No. 1 ranking and the money-winning title all seem to come down to this final week, when there’s also the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot up for grabs. You have to think the weight of all that might have had something to do with Lexi Thompson missing that 2-footer at Sunday’s end. She came away with the Vare Trophy and $1 million jackpot as nice consolation prizes. We all came away thrilled by Ariya Jutanugarn’s birdie-birdie finish amid the gut-wrenching drama. - Randall Mell

On Austin Cook's improbable winner's journey ...

Despite becoming a Monday qualifying sensation on the PGA Tour in 2015, Austin Cook still had to head to Web.com Tour Q-School that winter. There he collapsed over his final four holes to blow a chance at full status, and one year later the cancellation of the Web.com Tour Championship because of Hurricane Matthew left him $425 short of a PGA Tour card.

But Cook put to rest all of his recent near-misses with four days of nearly flawless golf at Sea Island. Now he’s headed to Augusta National in April and exempt through 2020, afforded ample time to look back at how tough breaks in the past helped to shape his unique journey to the winner’s circle. - Will Gray

On what Cook's win says about PGA Tour depth ...

Players talk regularly about the depth of talent on the PGA Tour, claiming that anyone in a particular field can come away with a trophy on any given week.

To prove the point, Austin Cook, No. 306 in the Official World Golf Ranking, rolled over the field at the RSM Classic with rounds of 66-62-66-67 for a four-stroke victory. Before Sunday at Sea Island Resort, Cook’s only triumph in a professional event was at a mini-tour winter series tournament. That payday was $5,000.

His victory at the RSM Classic was worth considerably more and proved, yet again, the depth of the modern game. - Rex Hoggard

Snedeker feels close to 100 percent after RSM week

By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 11:09 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Even if the result – a tie for 29th place – wasn't exactly what Brandt Snedeker is accustomed to, given his journey back from injury he’ll consider his final regular-season start of 2017 a success.

Snedeker had been sidelined with a sternum injury since June and overhauled his swing with the help of his coach John Tillery in an attempt to alleviate future injury. Needless to say, his expectations at the RSM Classic were low.

After starting the week with back-to-back rounds of 67 to move into contention, Snedeker wasn’t as sharp on the weekend, but he was still pleased with his week.

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

“It was great to see how my swing held up and the golf course toughen up today and the changes we made. Inevitably you kind of revert back to what’s comfortable and natural,” he said. “But now my body feels good. I was shocked. I thought I’d be close to 75 percent this week and felt closer to 100 [percent]. Hopefully it continues to stay that way.”

Snedeker said he has a busy schedule planned for early next season on the West Coast and also plans to play next month’s QBE Shootout.

“Every time I’ve come back from injury I’ve been kind of like, well I’m close but not quite there,” said Snedeker, who added that he was pain-free for the entire week. “This is the first time I’ve come back and been like it’s there.”

Cook hopes RSM win starts a ROY campaign

By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 10:43 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook cruised to his first PGA Tour victory on Sunday at the RSM Classic, a nearly flawless performance that included just two bogeys for the week and a 21-under total.

Earlier in the week, Cook’s caddie Kip Henley said Cook was playing the most effortless golf he’d ever witnessed. But as is so often the case, it can be tough to tell what is really going on inside a player's mind.

“A lot of stuff going on, especially up here,” Cook laughed pointing at his head. “A little tenseness. This week my ball-striking was great, and for the most part my putting was great as well. All around my game was just incredible this week.”

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Following a bogey at the second hole on Sunday that cut his lead to two shots, the rookie responded with a birdie at the seventh hole and added three more over his final four holes to beat J.J. Spaun by four strokes.

It was a timely victory for a player who has set rather lofty goals for himself.

“My goal coming into the year was to win Rookie of the Year and I’ve gotten off to a good start. Now my goal is to make a long deep run into the FedExCup playoffs,” he said.

Cook became the second consecutive rookie winner of the RSM Classic following Mac Hughes’ victory last year.