Who's the best? Who knows? But Spieth gets it done

By Ryan LavnerJuly 24, 2017, 4:00 pm

SOUTHPORT, England – It’s the Great Barroom Debate of this era: Who would win if the top players in the world all were at their best?

For the past few years, the default answer has been Dustin Johnson or Rory McIlroy, who possess the usual hallmarks of dominance, but it’s time to reassess.

Because what good is all that firepower if they can’t access their potential as consistently as Jordan Spieth?

Since 2015, Spieth has led after 14 rounds in a major. That’s twice as many as Johnson, the world No. 1, and 13 more than McIlroy, whose four major titles (including two eight-shot romps) are the most in this generation.

And that’s only recent context. Through 70 career major rounds played, Spieth has spent more time atop the leaderboard than both Tiger Woods (seven) and Jack Nicklaus (four). Spieth becomes visibly uncomfortable when those comparisons are mentioned, because they’re premature, but they’re still facts. At 23, and now a three-time major champion, he is historically great.

“What those guys have done has transcended the sport,” Spieth said Sunday night at Royal Birkdale, “and in no way, shape or form do I think I’m anywhere near that, whatsoever. So it’s a good start, but there is a long way to go.”

Every player summoned to the media tent early last week was asked the same question, about the string of seven consecutive first-time major winners (the second-longest streak since 1934) and how so little now separates the game’s top tier, thanks to advancements in fitness, technology and coaching. The margins have never been smaller, and yet it is Spieth – the sublime iron player, the demoralizing putter, the on-course tactician – who continuously maximizes his potential, even without awe-inspiring physical gifts.

“Those four or five guys, they never cease to amaze me,” Zach Johnson said. “I’m not going to say they’re Tiger Woods, because they’re not – that’s the best athlete golfer I’ve ever witnessed. But they have some of those intangibles.

“You see it with Jordan. It’s not like Jordan is out there obliterating the golf course with power. But his short game is a joke.”

Unlike DJ or Rory, some aspects of Spieth’s brilliance are difficult to quantify – the clutch gene comes to mind – but his success is a credit to his preparation at home, his on-site homework with swing coach Cameron McCormick and caddie Michael Greller, and also his in-game instincts.

Again and again this shows up, the reason why Spieth has earned trophies anywhere and everywhere. He has won on Bermuda grass and fescue. He has won on the most perfectly manicured course in the world and a burned-out moonscape. He has won in Sydney and Silvis, in Cromwell and Kapalua, in Tampa and his home state of Texas.

Spieth has won shootouts and dogfights, by margins wide and small, from behind and as a frontrunner … and so there was no panic Sunday, no here-we-go-again dread when he twice lost a multiple-shot lead during a bizarre and thrilling final round at The Open.

“We’ve only been out here five years,” Greller said, “but he’s been in enough big-time situations with the greatest pressure to know to slow down.”

And if that meant taking 22 minutes to size up his third shot on the par-4 13th hole, so be it. Spieth apologized to his playing partner, the unfailingly polite Matt Kuchar, for the lengthy delay, then bulldozed him over the closing stretch, going birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie to steal the claret jug.

“The Jordan of usual,” Justin Thomas said.

Indeed, all Spieth does is grind, and score, and win – the first player with double-digit PGA Tour wins and three major titles before the age of 24. (His birthday is Thursday.) In an era of titanium-denting machines, Spieth has emerged as the best American player of the post-Tiger era, and it’s not particularly close.

Other players may have a higher ceiling, more swagger, more head-turning firepower.

But someday Spieth will have what they all desire.

The best résumé.

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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.