US Senior Open Pairings Unveiled
Last year Fleisher completed the largest comeback in U.S. Senior Open history when he rallied from four strokes down in the final round at Salem Country Club to earn his first win in a major. Also the winner of the U.S. Amateur in 1968, Fleisher joined Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win both the Amateur and the Senior Open.
Fleisher, 53, will start on the back nine Thursday at Caves Valley alongside Richardson, of Laguna Niguel, California, the reigning Senior Amateur champion making his fourth straight appearance at the U.S. Senior Open, and Stanley, a European Seniors Tour star who captured last year's Senior British Open at Northern Ireland's Royal County Down.
Fuzzy Zoeller, who made his first victory on the Senior Tour a big one when he captured the Senior PGA Championship on the South Course at Firestone Country Club earlier this month, will play with a pair of fellow major champions. Zoeller will be joined on the first tee Thursday by Tom Watson, the 1982 U.S. Open winner at Pebble Beach and the 2001 Senior PGA champion, and Jim Thorpe, who won the first major of the 2002 season at The Tradition in April.
Zoeller won the 1984 U.S. Open after beating Greg Norman in an 18-hole playoff at Winged Foot.
Nicklaus, whose United States Golf Association trophy case includes two U.S.Am Senior Opens (1991, '93), will share the fairways the first two rounds with Japan's Isao Aoki, the runner-up to Nicklaus in the '80 Open at Baltusrol, and David Graham of Australia, the 1981 U.S. Open winner at Merion.
Although Nicklaus, 62, made his 46th consecutive cut in a Senior major at the Senior PGA at Firestone, lingering back problems forced him to withdraw before the start of the third round.
Larry Nelson, a 16-time winner on the 50-and-over circuit, is still in search of his first major title as a senior. Nelson was a three-time major winner during his PGA Tour days, with two PGA Championship titles and a U.S. Open victory at Oakmont in 1983. He will be paired with Raymond Floyd, who has won four Senior majors but no U.S. Senior Opens, and Jay Sigel, who captured back- to-back U.S. Amateurs in 1982-83 and three Mid-Amateur titles in 1983, '85 and '87.
Among Floyd's four major wins on the regular tour was a 1986 U.S. Open victory at Shinnecock Hills when he was 43 years old.
Hale Irwin, who became the oldest U.S. Open champion when he won the 1990 title at Medinah at the age of 45, claimed two other U.S. Opens (1974, '79) and won Senior Opens in 1998 and 2000. He will play with 66-year-old Gary Player, who won the 1965 U.S. Open and Senior Opens in 1987 and '88, and Senior Tour rookie Ben Crenshaw, a two-time Masters champion.
Allen Doyle, named 2001 Senior Tour Player of the Year after posting two wins -- including his first major at the Senior Players Championship -- and 23 other top-10 finishes, is still seeking his first victory of the 2002 season. He will play the first two rounds with Don Pooley and 1992 U.S. Open champ Tom Kite.
Arnold Palmer, 72, the winner of three USGA titles (1954 U.S. Amateur, '60 U.S. Open, '81 U.S. Senior Open), will be paired with 1986 Senior Open winner Dale Douglass and '92 champion Larry Laoretti.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
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."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
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.'"
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."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
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."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
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.