Young studs looking for time in the spotlight

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2013, 11:37 pm

LA QUINTA, Calif. – As Russell Henley was storming to victory Sunday in his PGA Tour debut, some 5,000 miles away his buddies were camped out at a Charleston, S.C., bar, partaking in a drinking game. The basic rules of the game: Every time Henley made a clutch putt, they took a shot.

As a reminder, Henley, a rookie, won the Sony Open at 24 under par.

He closed with a final-round 63.

He carded a back-nine 29.

In short: Many clutch putts were holed. And, we can assume, many shots were taken.

Check out more news and video on the Humana Challenge

In his hometown of Macon, Ga., the students and teachers at his former high school, Stratford Academy, participated in “Russell Henley Day” on Tuesday. Everyone – even the headmaster – wore Hawaiian shirts and draped leis around their necks.

“It’s been like a dream,” Henley said Wednesday at the Humana Challenge.

On Sunday night, he flew from Honolulu to L.A. and couldn’t sleep. The following night, he caught himself waking up in the middle of the night, smiling, knowing that his job was safe for a few years and, better yet, in a few months, the blonde-haired kid from Macon would tee it up at The Masters, his lifelong dream.

Since he won in Hawaii, the 23-year-old has received a congratulatory tweet from Gary Player – “Congratulations @RussHenleyGolf on your fantastic first victory on the @PGATOUR in the @SonyOpen in Hawaii. My best throughout the season.' – and been flooded with text messages from family and friends, former classmates and fellow players. When he arrived at PGA West and walked down the range, he laughed his way through the attendant back slaps and atta-boys from Robert Garrigus and Davis Love III and, well, he can’t even remember the rest.

Henley’s run last week was fueled by supreme ball-striking and sublime putting, but it’s not unreasonable to suggest that there are several other talented 20somethings who are capable of authoring similarly inspiring performances. And soon.

Henley pointed to former Georgia teammate Harris English when asked which young player – besides Rory McIlroy, of course – impressed him most. “I think you’re going to be seeing a lot of him for a long time,” Henley said.

John Peterson, the 2011 NCAA champion from LSU, is no less impressive. Neither are Luke Guthrie and Ben Kohles, both two-time winners on the Tour last year. And neither is Scott Langley . . . Morgan Hoffmann . . . Patrick Reed . . . Patrick Cantlay . . . Jordan Spieth. See where this is going?

“I don’t know if they come up thinking they’re ready and that they can beat these guys,” said two-time U.S. Open winner Lee Janzen, now 48. “But they know what they can do, and when they’re in the hunt, they have the belief that there’s no reason they can’t keep it going.”

For Henley, that aggressive mentality was honed on the Tour, where he apprenticed in 2011 and won twice in his last four starts. (He also won on that circuit in 2010, as a senior at Georgia).

In September, he was locked in a taut duel with Brad Fritsch at the Chiquita Classic. After Saturday they sat at 20 under (66-65-65), five clear of the field. But then Henley played a bit more conservatively during that final round, began trying to just get it in the house instead of making a score, and on a day when the weather was perfect and the greens were smooth, a Sunday 70 nearly wasn’t enough. Henley dropped into a playoff, but eventually prevailed in Charlotte.

“I definitely look back on that thinking and remembering that you have to attack all four days,” he said. “Just keep attacking.”

At the 2011 U.S. Open – better known, perhaps, as the dawning of the Rory Era – Henley advanced through qualifying and made the cut, finishing T-42. That week, though, he remembered McIlroy saying that on the final day, staked to a big lead, he simply wanted to pick good targets and make aggressive swings.

Simple, isn’t it? That little pre-shot reminder is comforting until you make a few bogeys, and your swing doesn’t feel quite right, and somebody in the penultimate group just caught fire, and you start considering different scenarios, and then, suddenly, it’s a little bit harder to pick good targets and make aggressive swings.

At the Sony, Henley’s lead was trimmed to two at the turn, but he powered toward the finish with a back-nine 29 that included birdies on the final five holes. He thought back to Tiger Woods at the ’97 Masters, and how Woods’ father would always say, You have to run through the finish line. Just because you get a little ahead doesn’t mean you start jogging in a race.

“You start to hear that mentality,” Henley said, “and I think you begin to feed off of it.”

Which was unfortunate for Tim Clark, of course. At Waialae, the diminutive South African birdied seven of his last 11 holes, shot 63, and still finished three shots behind Henley. Afterward, Clark marveled, “It just seems like there’s nothing he can do wrong.”

Henley and the rest of his pals will endure lean times, no doubt. But then there will also be weeks when their talent overwhelms the field, new stars thrust onto the biggest stage, and they leave in their wake nothing but faded Hawaiian shirts and empty shot glasses.

Getty Images

What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

Getty Images

Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

Getty Images

Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.