A year later, Tosti knocking on LAAC door again

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 15, 2016, 9:52 pm

LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic – Alejandro Tosti’s story can come full circle this week at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The winner here at Caso de Campo receives a spot in the Masters – a tournament Tosti has been itching to play ever since he was 5 years old, when he watched the telecast on TV, grabbed a barbecue stick and smacked a deodorant ball around his family’s home in Rosario, Argentina.

“I was hitting the ball all over and breaking glasses,” he recalled Friday. “My mom would scream, ‘Stop doing that!’ And I said, ‘I’m sorry, but I want to go play golf.’”

Tosti’s parents didn’t play, and his mother, Patricia, asked why he didn’t want to try soccer or tennis or rugby – the popular sports in their home country. He still wouldn’t budge. His parents flipped through the Yellow Pages to find a spot to practice.

The nearest course was in Perez, about 10 miles away. Tosti started playing there on the weekends, but with his parents’ busy work schedule – his father, Juan Carlos, was an electronic engineer and his mother a secretary – the 8-year-old often walked seven blocks to the bus station and took the one-hour ride to the club, alone.

“I was loving the sport and nobody was telling me to go practice,” he said. “I went because I wanted to.”

Echavarria takes 3-shot lead

Tosti won his first national junior title when he was 8, on a short course with 120-yard par 3s, 200-yard par 4s and 250-yard par 5s, and with seven mismatched clubs gifted from his first swing coach, Lincho Romero.

A few years later, Tosti joined the Argentina Golf Association and attended a high-performance institute in Buenos Aires. At age 15, he took his first trip to the U.S., but his English was so limited that he couldn’t even ask for a Coke. Several college golf coaches still extended scholarship offers, even though Tosti hadn’t even considered the possibility of playing in the States.

“But then I started looking at all the guys in my country who were playing really good amateur golf and turning pro at 18, after high school,” he said. “They really struggled, because it’s a profession. You have to work and know the world, know how to speak English. Those guys had a problem at the age of 22 without a plan B in their life.”

With a year off between high school and college, Tosti spent every afternoon with a tutor to learn the language. He passed the SAT exam and chose to play at the University of Florida, largely because of his relationship with Gators assistant coach John Handrigan.

In June 2014, J.C. Deacon was one day into his tenure as Florida’s head coach when he reached out to Tosti to gauge whether he was still interested in coming to Gainesville after the coaching change. Tosti never answered the call, instead sending back a text: “I don’t speak English.”

Not surprisingly, then, it was a turbulent freshman year. He struggled with the language barrier and expressing himself with his teammates and coaches, with the balance of golf and coursework, with his parents being a 16-hour flight away.

“It was really difficult to keep up with everything,” he said.

Yet his fortunes appeared to improve at last year’s Latin America Amateur, in his home country of Argentina. One shot off the lead with two holes to play, with a Masters berth on the line, he missed a 4-foot par putt on the 71st hole and failed to birdie the last even after eventual winner Matias Dominguez made bogey to open the door.

Tosti was devastated, but he found solace in his college coach. In the 2005 U.S. Amateur semifinals, with a Masters berth on the line, Deacon held a 1-up lead with two to play against Dillon Dougherty. He dropped the last two holes and lost the match.

“I’ve felt those feelings, of getting the Masters snatched away from you, and it was fun in a way to tell him that story,” Deacon said by phone Friday. “He understood. But I told him: ‘It’s what you make of it now.’”

Tosti’s game was trending upward after the LAAC, but a tooth infection that went untreated sent him to the hospital during the NCAA postseason. Suffering from severe headaches, vomiting and fatigue, Tosti’s doctors determined that he had encephalitis – essentially, swelling of the brain – which required nine days in a hospital bed with a catheter, and 20 more days at home where he administered the IV himself.

When his health finally improved, his game wasn’t nearly sharp enough to contend for any of the major titles over the summer. In fact, Deacon said, “it wasn’t until the last three events this fall [which included a win at FGCU Classic] that we started seeing the Tosti that we all know.”

Now he has returned to the Latin America Amateur, where the memories of last year’s near miss are still fresh. After a rocky opening-round 75, Tosti improved 10 shots on Friday, making nine birdies during a 7-under 65 that moved him into a share of second place, three behind leader Nicolas Echavarria of Colombia.

“I feel the other guys are going to ask themselves how he did that with a double bogey,” Tosti said. “It is the round at the right moment for this tournament.”

“None of his coaches or teammates are surprised by any of this,” Deacon said. “He has no fear on the golf course. He thinks he can hit every shot and, honestly, he can. He’s so explosive. He’s very powerful and has a great touch. He’s really the whole package, and when he gets in a rhythm there’s almost no one that can hang with him.”

Tosti has one of the most natural swings Deacon has ever seen – a powerful, efficient action that was groomed by watching the Masters, by whacking around a deodorant ball with a barbecue stick, and now has improved with the help of Hernan Rey, a member of the Argentina Golf Association who teaches at the Gary Gilchrist Academy in central Florida.

“What he can do with the golf ball and the technique and kind of form he’s learned somehow, some way, it was like he was touched by the golf gods,” Deacon said. “He has the talent and ability with the short game that no one else can do. I’ll ask him how he hit a shot, and he’ll say: “Coach, I just do it.’ He puts that picture in his mind and his body creates it. It’s truly a gift that he has.”

The next step – the only step left – in his progression is to win a major amateur title, to gain more exposure on the global stage.

Perhaps after learning the hard way last year, Tosti has expressed little interest in talking about what a spot in the Masters would mean until he holes out on the 72nd hole, until he lifts the trophy.

“But trust me, it would mean everything to him,” Deacon said. “Every time he practices or plays, it’s with that Masters logo in the back of his mind.”

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry