Ultimate gesture players can make is living like Arnie

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2016, 9:15 pm

What comes next is a week and a year of tributes.

At this week’s Ryder Cup, flags will fly at half-mast. There will be a ceremony on the first tee. There will be talk of competing with his inimitable “spirit,” and some of the contentiousness will subside, and maybe the players will even wear umbrella pins or cardigans.

At his tournament next March, a star-studded field will assemble.

At the Masters, Augusta National will recognize the missing member of the Big 3.

At the Memorial Tournament, Jack Nicklaus will pay homage to his dear friend and rival.

And then …

Well, and then it will be up to today’s players to honor Arnold Palmer’s legacy. They should do so simply – by trying to emulate Arnie.

Palmer, after all, was many things to many people. A swashbuckling champion. Showman. Pioneer. Businessman. Philanthropist. But to this observer, at least, he was also an ideal.

It wasn’t just the simple, genuine, personal gestures, the thumbs-ups and hand-written letters and eye contact. Even though he became a king himself, he still had an innate ability to connect on a basic human level with everyone he met. This was true of all of his interactions, no matter if they were with his peers, the public, the press, even presidents. He was the down-to-earth superstar, the larger-than-life figure who actually cared about yours.

That’s why these days, weeks and months ahead are an important period of reflection for the current pros.

There is an ever-widening divide between fans and the stars of our game, the mega-millionaires who are safe in their cocoon, protected by managers and publicists and image specialists. The money has never been greater – Rory McIlroy deposited $11.44 million Sunday; Palmer made $1.86 million in his career – and the lifestyles never more different. Each year, it seems, they only drift further away, the connection becoming more tenuous.

And so, moving forward, will our stars use their fame, their fortune and their status to shield themselves from the public, from the fans that enriched their fabulous lives? Or will they stay grounded and humble and relatable – will they stay connected – the way Palmer did?

Though Tiger Woods might be most responsible for padding players’ wallets, the game’s growth and popularity is all Arnie. With his charisma, go-for-broke style and everyman appeal, he brought an elite, country-club sport to the masses at the dawn of the TV era, then paved the way for athletes in all sports to earn millions in endorsements.

Even now, more than 40 years after his last victory, his influence is still visible on Tour. Phil Mickelson practically modeled his Hall of Fame career after Palmer, not just with his swing-from-the-heels game but also the relationship with his adoring fans, looking each in the eye as he signs autographs for an hour after his rounds. Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler have all made concerted efforts to engage with fans, to bring them closer to the game they love, even when they’re pulled in new directions that complicate that very connection.

“We all try,” Mickelson said Monday, “but we never live up to his standard. He made the difficult look easy.”  

Already there have been hundreds of remembrances, hundreds of moments, large and small, that players and fans have shared about their time with Arnie. There will be plenty more this week, at the Ryder Cup. There will be more still next year, at the majors. And then the onus will be on the players to decide for themselves how to honor his legacy.

The most obvious is to plan their schedules around his tournament, to reconfigure their lives, to make sure they’re at Bay Hill March 16-19. But even more significantly, they can pay tribute to the single-most important figure in the game’s history by by engaging, by letting us in, by connecting with the game and the people who made it all possible. By striving for the ideal.

No, there won’t be – can’t be – another Arnold Palmer. But what if they all tried?  

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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.