Why do players help each other at Augusta?

By Ryan LavnerApril 6, 2016, 4:30 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Masters practice rounds are now group efforts.

On any given day here, players young and old, grizzled and green, technical and instinctive, will join forces to tour Augusta National. The three- or four-man groups are essentially a meeting of the minds, with players and caddies exchanging tidbits of information about where to miss, how putts break and why different wind directions affect club selection.

Each player’s preparation is different, but most agree that it’s crucial to log plenty of practice rounds and to pick the brains of Masters veterans.

That’s why Matt Fitzpatrick, 21, practiced with Bernhard Langer, 58.

And why Jin Cheng, 18, took a spin with Tom Watson, 66.

And why Derek Bard, 20, hooked up with Larry Mize, 57.

At Augusta, sharing is caring.

Which is a bit unusual, of course, because in no other sport would world-class athletes help their competition succeed.

Can you imagine Steph Curry giving LeBron James tips on how to defend him?

Or Clayton Kershaw showing Bryce Harper exactly how and when he throws his filthy curveball?

Or Novak Djokovic telling Roger Federer how to return his lethal forehand?

Of course not.

Yet it is commonplace at the Masters for players to help each other on the most demanding course in the world – a venue that, Jordan Spieth’s recent success notwithstanding, typically requires a tremendous amount of course knowledge.

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It makes sense that Watson would assist the younger and less experienced players, because they’re not really competing against each other. (His stated goal is to make the cut.) But why would Zach Johnson give tips to Kevin Kisner, and why would Rory McIlroy advise Andy Sullivan, and why would Phil Mickelson guide Bryson DeChambeau around Augusta?

Pressed about the unselfish culture that exists here, Watson bristled.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said.

After all, it’s how Watson learned the course back in the mid-1970s, when he relied on advice from Ken Venturi and Byron Nelson. Now, Watson is paying it forward, inviting Robert Streb, first-timer Troy Merritt and Cheng, the Asia-Pacific Amateur champion, for a Tuesday practice round.

As an amateur, Tiger Woods practiced with Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Raymond Floyd, Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman, Fred Couples and Jose Maria Olazabal. They went through all of the necessary checkpoints – the proper places to miss, the different chip shots, the subtle breaks on the notoriously difficult greens. Woods, of course, went on to claim four green jackets.

Even Spieth, who at 21 became the youngest Masters champion since Woods, needed some help along the way. Last year, he played nine holes with two-time champion Ben Crenshaw and Woods. Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller, spent 45 minutes with legendary looper Carl Jackson (who was on the bag for both of Crenshaw’s titles) before the weekend rounds, talking about every hole. Greller compared it to meeting Michael Jordan and breaking down the NBA Finals.

“Certainly picked his brain a little then,” Spieth said of his time with Crenshaw. “As you could imagine, with any of us when we’re out there playing with someone else, you don’t want to just get questioned about every single hole and this and that. So it was kind of light, just here and there.”

This year, it is the whiz kid, DeChambeau, who is peppering Crenshaw with questions. The 22-year-old might be most prepared amateur ever at the Masters, after leaving school last fall and playing 12 rounds at Augusta. More than that, he has quizzed everyone from local caddies to CBS Sports announcer Jim Nantz to Phil Mickelson about what he can expect this week. On Sunday, DeChambeau played nine holes with Crenshaw.

“We’re in a completely different place now than we were before I played with Mr. Crenshaw and had the chance to walk around with Carl,” DeChambeau said. “His knowledge and wisdom is immense.

“Like Jordan did last year, he gained a lot of knowledge from him, as well, and I hope to do the same and go down the same tracks as Jordan did last year.”

Over the past few years, Mickelson has embraced his role as a generous mentor to some of the Tour’s most promising up-and-comers. His experience is even more vast, and invaluable, at a place like Augusta, where he has won three times, all since 2004. Mickelson keeps a thick pad of notes – detailing everything from wind direction to club selection to breaks on the green – that he has accumulated over his 23 appearances here. On Tuesday, he started a game with frequent practice partners Keegan Bradley and Dustin Johnson, and also brought DeChambeau into the mix.

“I think that it’s a great history here,” Mickelson said, “but I also think that the course goes through so many changes that it’s fun to reminisce and look back and talk about the way putts used to break and the way they break now and things to look for. It’s just fun. It’s the only place, the only major that we play the same venue every year ...

“You get to relive those memories every year at Augusta. So for guys that have won it before, it’s fun to reminisce and talk about it, and then for the guys that haven’t played here before or are new to the Masters, it’s fun to hear those stories because it’s helpful.”

Early on, Zach Johnson, the 2007 champion, had his own go-to Masters veterans, whether it was Corey Pavin, Jeff Sluman, Tom Lehman or Davis Love III. “The guys that paved the way for me,” he said. And so on Monday, Johnson practiced with Kisner, a 32-year-old Masters rookie, and showed him the traditional hole locations and proper angles to attack.

“It’s great,” Johnson said. “It’s not like I knew everything. So you want to help him out. They are good kids. They are good guys for the game. I mean, why not?”

Well, mostly because Augusta National is arguably the most nuanced course on the planet, and because any small advantage – whether it’s knowing when to use a wedge or a putter from the closely mown areas, or reading the wild undulations on the greens, or understanding how the swirling wind on the 12th tee affects club choice – could mean the difference between a legacy-defining victory and a near-miss.

So why not keep that information close to the vest? Why share those precious insights honed over two decades of play? Why would you possibly help a fellow competitor?

“Everything out there, it’s pretty much in front of you,” McIlroy said. “I don’t feel like there’s any secrets out there, so I don’t feel like I’m giving anything away. I’m just passing on a little bit of knowledge that I’ve built up over the years and I really don’t mind doing it.”

And besides, any player can learn where to hit it at Augusta National.

He still has to execute the shot.

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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.