Why Rahm can end Masters rookie drought

By Ryan LavnerApril 3, 2017, 9:20 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Don’t delude yourself into thinking that Jon Rahm, Masters rookie, is a sneaky pick this week at Augusta National.

Long shot, underdog, sleeper, darkhorse – Rahm won’t be any of those things for the next two decades.

He has rocketed to No. 12 in the world, and the only reason he’s that low is the Official World Ranking requires players to have a 40-event minimum divisor. A pro for only 10 months, he has played just 20 counting events. If you divide his total number of points (187.59) by the number of events he has played (20), his actual points average is 9.3795. That’d be ahead of every golfer in the world besides Dustin Johnson.

So let’s begin to view Rahm like that – as a favorite, even at a place that has traditionally been unkind to first-timers.

Often repeated is that Augusta National, more than any other course, requires institutional knowledge. It’s why only two players in Masters history have won in their first attempt, and not since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. You have to learn how to maneuver around the place.

But never has that streak appeared more in danger.

From 1987-2006, Masters winners averaged 8.25 years of experience before slipping into the green jacket.

Over the past decade, however, that number has been trimmed to 5 ½ years – and even that is inflated by the well trained Phil Mickelson (17 prior appearances) and Adam Scott (11). Charl Schwartzel, Jordan Spieth and Danny Willett needed only one start at Augusta before they broke through. Jason Day nearly won in his first appearance, in 2011. 

Masters Tournament: Full coverage

Whether it’s increased exposure to the course via featured-hole coverage or video games, players now come more equipped to tackle Augusta on their first try.

Before Jimmy Walker even arrived on-site, he knew exactly where to miss. How to play shots off certain slopes. What clubs to hit off the tee. By the time he finally played the Masters, in 2014, “I felt like I’d played it a hundred times just from watching on TV.” He tied for eighth.

Spieth is the best example of what’s possible in a Masters debut. Relying on tips from two-time champion Ben Crenshaw and Crenshaw’s longtime Augusta National caddie, Carl Jackson, Spieth shared the third-round lead in 2014 and, at age 20, became the youngest ever in a final group. He led by two with 11 holes to play, only to play the remainder of his round in 3 over par, ultimately finishing second, three shots behind. 

The next year, he led wire to wire and matched the 72-hole scoring record. No one has been better at Augusta faster, and Spieth has led at some point in each of his last 10 rounds; only Arnold Palmer, from 1959-1961, had a better run (11).

So what about Rahm?

We know he’s a superstar-in-the-making. We know he’s a burly 22-year-old capable of hitting both astoundingly long drives and dazzling touch shots around the green. We know his game is without weakness – he ranks fourth in the Tour’s strokes gained-total statistic. And we know Spaniards have enjoyed remarkable success here, with both Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal winning two Masters title apiece.

Rahm will join them someday, and perhaps as early as Sunday. He is steamrolling into Augusta, with four consecutive top-10s and no finish worse than 15th in his last six starts. Even more impressive: He’s seeing these courses for the very first time.

Augusta is new to him, too, of course. Prior to this week, Rahm had taken only one trip here since he qualified in late January, when he rolled in a long eagle putt on 18 at Torrey Pines to put away his first Tour title. Some suggested that he should have withdrawn from Houston and taken last week off, headed to Augusta early, and started picking the brains of veteran players and local caddies.

But Rahm didn’t see it that way. He’s still young, still figuring out what works best for him. But he knows that going against his usual routine and coming up early for extra practice would make the Masters more important in his mind. That’s not his style, so he approached it more pragmatically: He was playing well, so why wouldn’t he continue to do so? Sure enough, he closed with 67 Sunday to tie for 10th.

“I wanted to keep playing and keep the good momentum going,” he said.

Rahm never lacks for confidence and self-belief, and he said Monday that, Masters rookie drought or not, he likes his chances.

“I’m going to tee it up believing that I can win, competing to win,” he said. “I might do it. I might not. But that’s how I do it.”

It has worked so far during his ascendant career. Why not again?

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.