Validation for DeChambeau: Did it my way

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2017, 4:20 pm

SOUTHPORT, England – Watching at home in Dallas, Josh Gregory couldn’t help but smile as his former recruit stole the John Deere Classic with a back-nine 30 on Sunday.

Afterward, he sent Bryson DeChambeau a text: “It’s no longer a dream.”

A game-changing PGA Tour title - and with it, a trip to The Open - was what they’d always talked about ever since they first met, in the summer of 2011. After guiding Augusta State to back-to-back NCAA titles, Gregory left to become the head coach at his alma mater, SMU. That summer, he called an intriguing high school prospect out of Fresno, Calif., offered him a scholarship, sight unseen, and vowed not to change him. DeChambeau eventually signed with upstart SMU over other powerhouse programs, and the reason he gave Gregory was simple: “You were the only coach that was going to let me be me.”

Indeed, other coaches were convinced that DeChambeau would flame out, that his theories were wacky, that he was too much of an iconoclast for the team-first ethos of college golf. At the airport after signing DeChambeau, Gregory was told by one of his peers: “Good luck dealing with that kid.”

Three years later, using single-length irons and a putter that looked like a chalkboard eraser, DeChambeau won the NCAA title.

The Open: Full-field tee times | Full coverage

“I knew deep down it would work,” Gregory said by phone Monday. “When you have that much belief in something, it almost has to. It proves there’s more than one way to do it.”

Because of his unorthodox swing, and his unconventional approach, and his visibility on TV, DeChambeau has become an easy target. He’s only partly responsible. For the past three years, the brainy 23-year-old has fascinated local and national reporters, and so each time they ask him what he believes, and why he plays the game this way, he answers openly and honestly and authoritatively, speaking in the language – science – that is most comfortable.

Unlike many of his contemporaries who are just trying to find their footing in pro golf, DeChambeau isn’t afraid to dream big – “There’s an easier way out there, and people just haven’t figured it out yet” – and the attention he garners can lead to both skepticism and jealousy.

Every week, there’s another insult, another slight, another jab at his quirky methods. Just last week at the John Deere, someone in the crowd mocked him: “Go back and get your old clubs.” He says it doesn’t bother him. He says he’ll just remind himself that this is the road he has chosen, that it’s going to be the right move in the end. But almost no one on Tour endures this type of weekly abuse.

“He’s under a lot of pressure,” said Padraig Harrington, who has long bucked convention himself. “There’s no doubt when you do something different, everybody’s watching. I won’t say they’re hoping you fail, but they’re certainly watching and putting pressure and expectation on somebody who’s out there changing things or changing the game. So clearly he’s dealt with that for a long period of time, and it must make you very self-confident. That’s the biggest key to being a good player.”

Even DeChambeau had his doubts. Of course he did. That’s the downside of a trial-and-error approach – not every swing thought or putting stroke works. This spring, while experimenting with a longer backswing to hit the ball farther, DeChambeau missed seven consecutive cuts. “I was trying to understand my swing a little more,” he said, “and was messing around with some things.” But there were consequences to all of that tinkering. Just a month ago, he sat at No. 141 in the FedExCup standings, in danger of being sent back to the minors.

“It would have been easy to say, Do I belong? Can I make it out here?” Gregory said. “But he has the ultimate conviction in his game.”

Once DeChambeau went back to the swing that performed so well in college, the one that propelled him to become just the fifth player to sweep the NCAA and U.S. Amateur titles in the same year, he has been on an upward trajectory, with three consecutive top-20s. Even when DeChambeau’s straight-armed, one-plane swing gets off-kilter, he believes that he has one of the most repeatable actions on Tour. “There aren’t many moving parts,” he said. Last week, he hit every fairway in Round 1. He hit all but one green with his 7-iron-length irons in the final round. But his ball-striking isn’t the biggest difference-maker.

“Your technique makes very little difference to how you play golf,” Harrington said. “Your technique defines what your potential is. Your mental game defines what use you make of it. I don’t see anything better about his technique or worse than anybody else. But I’m saying that because he’s different technically, he must be strong mentally. And that’s the biggest bonus of being different.”

In the summer of 2015, when DeChambeau was at the height of his powers, a prominent college coach told me: “In five years, Bryson will either be No. 1 in the world or in a straitjacket.” The former scenario is probably unlikely, considering the depth at the top of the rankings. But the latter won’t happen either, not after he proved that His Way is good enough to win in just his 35th pro start on Tour.

“I think this will give him that inner peace,” Gregory said, “and I think this will do a lot for his reputation as a player and as a person. It will give him the confidence that he belongs, but I’ve always told my players that I want them to be inwardly cocky and outwardly humble. Sometimes it’s been the opposite with him. He wants so badly to prove somebody wrong and validate that this can work that it eats at him. It can rub people the wrong way, but he just wants to win so badly.”

And now he has, in spectacular fashion. It’s time to dream even bigger.

Rahm, Koepka both jump in OWGR after wins

By Will GrayNovember 20, 2017, 1:19 pm

Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka both made moves inside the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings following wins in Dubai and Japan, respectively.

Rahm captured the European Tour season finale, winning the DP World Tour Championship by a shot. It was his third worldwide victory of 2017 and it allowed the Spaniard to overtake Hideki Matsuyama at world No. 4. It also establishes a new career high in the rankings for Rahm, who started the year ranked No. 137.

Koepka cruised to a nine-shot victory while successfully defending his title at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix. The victory was his first since winning the U.S. Open and it helped Koepka jump three spots to No. 7 in the latest rankings. Reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele, who finished second behind Koepka in Japan, went from 30th to 24th.

After earning his maiden PGA Tour victory at the RSM Classic, Austin Cook vaulted from No. 302 to No. 144 in the world. Runner-up J.J. Spaun jumped 48 spots to No. 116, while a hole-out with his final approach helped Brian Gay rise 73 spots to No. 191 after finishing alone in third at Sea Island.

Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas with Rahm and Matsuyama now rounding out the top five. Justin Rose remains at No. 6, followed by Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson. Rory McIlroy slid two spots to No. 10 and is now in danger of falling out of the top 10 for the first time since May 2014.

With his return to competition now less than two weeks away, Tiger Woods fell four more spots to No. 1193 in the latest rankings.

Love to undergo hip replacement surgery

By Rex HoggardNovember 20, 2017, 1:08 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Two days removed from arguably the most hectic week of his year, Davis Love III will undergo replacement surgery on his left hip.

Love, who hosted and played in last week’s RSM Classic, said he tried to avoid the surgery, but the pain became too much and he will undergo the procedure on Tuesday at the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala.

“I had a hip problem the last few years, and I had a hip resurfacing trying to avoid hip surgery because I’m a chicken, but after playing [the CIMB Classic and Sanderson Farms Championship] I realized it was an uphill battle,” Love said.

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Love said doctors have told him recovery from the procedure will take between three to four months, but he should be able to start work on his chipping and putting within a few weeks.

Love, who missed the cut at the RSM Classic, said earlier in the week that his goal is to become the oldest PGA Tour winner and that the only way to achieve that was by having the surgery.

“Now I’m excited that I’ve crossed that bridge,” said Love, who will turn 54 next April. “Once I get over that I can go right back to the Tour. I won after a spine fusion [2015 Wyndham Championship] and now I’d like to win with a new hip. That’s the reason I’m doing it so I can get back to golf and keep up.”

LPGA awards: Ryu, S.H. Park tie for POY

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:56 am

NAPLES, Fla. – In the end, the CME Group Tour Championship played out a lot like the entire 2017 season did.

Parity reigned.

Nobody dominated the game’s big season-ending awards, though Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park came close.

Thompson walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. If she had made that last 2-foot putt at the 72nd hole Sunday, she might also have walked away with the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Park shared the Rolex Player of the Year Award with So Yeon Ryu. By doing so, Park joined Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year titles in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park also won the LPGA money-winning title.

Here’s a summary of the big prizes:

Rolex Player of the Year
Ryu and Park both ended up with 162 points in the points-based competition. Park started the week five points behind Ryu but made the up the difference with the five points she won for tying for sixth.

It marks the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Ryu and Park join Inbee Park as the only South Koreans to win the award. Park won it in 2013.

Vare Trophy
Thompson won the award with a scoring average of 69.114. Sung Hyun Park finished second at 69.247. Park needed to finish at least nine shots ahead of Thompson at the CME Group Tour Championship to win the trophy.

There were a record 12 players with scoring averages under 70.0 this year, besting the previous record of five, set last year.

CME Globe $1 million prize
Thompson entered the week first in the CME points reset, but it played out as a two-woman race on the final day. Park needed to finish ahead of Thompson in the CME Group Tour Championship to overtake her for the big money haul. Thompson tied for second in the tournament while Park tied for sixth.

By winning the CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn had a shot at the $1 million, but she needed Park to finish the tournament eighth or worse and Thompson to finish ninth or worse.

LPGA money-winning title
Park claimed the title with $2,335,883 in earnings. Ryu was second, with $1,981,593 in earnings.

The tour saw a tour-record 17 players win $1 million or more this season, two more than did so last year.

Ryu came into the week as the only player who could pass Park for the title, but Ryu needed to win to do so.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking
The top ranking was up for grabs at CME, with No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park and No. 3 So Yeon Ryu all within three hundredths of a ranking point. Even No. 4 Lexi Thompson had a chance to grab the top spot if she won, but in the end nobody could overtake Feng. Her reign will extend to a second straight week.

Rolex Rookie of the Year
Park ran away with the award with her U.S. Women’s Open and Canadian Pacific Women’s Open victories among her 11 top-10 finishes. She had the award locked up long before she arrived for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Ko ends first winless season with T-16 at CME

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:07 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko carved a hybrid 3-iron to 15 feet and ended the most intensely scrutinized year of her young career with a birdie Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

“Nice to finish the season on a high note,” Ko said after posting a 3-under-par 69, good for a tie for 16th. “Obviously, not a top-10 finish, but I played really solid. I feel like I finished the season off pretty strong.”

Ko posted two second-place finishes, a third-place finish and a tie for fifth in her last eight starts.

“Ever since Indy [in early September], I played really good and put myself in good positions,” Ko said. “I felt like the confidence factor was definitely higher than during the middle of the year. I had some opportunities, looks for wins.”

Sunday marked the end of Ko’s first winless season since she began playing LPGA events at 15 years old.

Let the record show, she left with a smile, eager to travel to South Korea to spend the next month with family after playing a charity event in Bradenton, Fla., on Monday.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Much was made of Ko beginning the year with sweeping changes, with new equipment (PXG), a new coach (Gary Gilchrist) and a new caddie (Peter Godfrey).

In the final summary, it wasn’t a Ko-like year, not by the crazy high standards she has set.

She saw her run of 85 consecutive weeks at No. 1 end in June. She arrived in Naples holding on to the No. 8 ranking. She ends the year 13th on the LPGA money list with $1,177,450 in earnings. It’s the first time she hasn’t finished among the top three in money in her four full years on tour. She did log 11 top-10 finishes overall, three second-place finishes.

How did she evaluate her season?

“I feel like it was a better year than everyone else thinks, like `Lydia is in a slump,’” Ko said. “I feel like I played solid.

“It's a season that, obviously, I learned a lot from ... the mental aspect of saying, `Hey, get over the bads and kind of move on.’”

Ko said she learned a lot watching Stacy Lewis deal with her run of second-place finishes after winning so much.

“Winning a championship is a huge deal, but, sometimes, it's overrated when you haven't won,” Ko said. “Like, you're still playing well, but just haven't won. I kind of feel like it's been that kind of year.

“I think everybody has little ups and downs.”