Day latest player to throw caddie for a loop

By Will GraySeptember 13, 2017, 9:28 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Two years ago, Jason Day showed up to the BMW Championship at Conway Farms Golf Club at the height of his powers.

The Aussie was fresh off his breakthrough major victory at the PGA Championship, and he had already bagged a playoff event. By the time the week was over, Day had waxed another elite field and left Chicago with the world No. 1 ranking for the first time in his career.

Times, they are a changin’.

With the top ranking long gone, Day turned heads and raised eyebrows Wednesday when he announced that he had parted with caddie Col Swatton, becoming just the latest top-tier pro to look for a spark with a fresh – and familiar – face on the bag.

As far as player-caddie relationships go, the bond between Day and Swatton seemed borderline inseparable. Swatton’s role was multi-dimensional; he was part caddie, part coach and part father figure after taking Day under his wing as a youth. One need only reflect on the embrace the two men shared on the final green at Whistling Straits to know how close they have grown.

Indeed, the Aussie confirmed that Swatton will continue to serve as his swing coach despite the split. But when it came to life inside the ropes, he felt the need for change.

“The chemistry between me and Col just slowly (changed) over time,” Day said Wednesday. “It’s more my fault really because he’s out there trying to do the best job he can and, unfortunately, sometimes it just doesn’t work out no matter how hard he works.”

Day explained that he made the decision to change course during the bye last week. In any other year it might go down as the biggest player-caddie news of the season, but 2017 has become a year marked by looper transition.


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After all, it was only three months ago that Phil Mickelson took on his brother, Tim, as a caddie after he and Jim “Bones” Mackay mutually agreed to end their 25-year partnership, while last month Rory McIlroy swapped out longtime caddie J.P. Fitzgerald for friend Harry Diamond, who remains on the bag after initially being afforded a two-event trial run.

While McIlroy eschewed the notion that he had “sacked” Fitzgerald, Day was candid about the one-way nature of his decision. According to Day, Swatton was “a little bit shocked and disappointed” upon hearing the news, an understandable reaction given the depth of their partnership.

But the caddie has always been an easily-accessed avenue for change, and Day was certainly in need of a course correction. Only eight months ago, he started the year ranked No. 1 and spoke at the SBS Tournament of Champions of his desire to remain there for the foreseeable future.

“It’s great to see that you finished No. 1 at the end of the year. But I’d like to go a full year, not just go half a year, and get finish at No. 1,” Day said at Kapalua. “Obviously the goals are to win majors and win as much as I can, but win majors and try and stay No. 1 for the whole year.”

Both parts of that equation have eluded the 29-year-old. He has not won anywhere in the world since the 2016 Players Championship, and he returns to Conway Farms ranked No. 9 in the world – his lowest ranking since June 2015.

Day appeared to have a shot to turn his season around at last month’s PGA Championship, but a catastrophic blunder on the final hole of the third round abruptly ended his title hopes.

It was an instance where he tried to play the hero shot, opting against a chip-out and going instead for what he described as a “rope hook” off pine straw with a tree obstructing his follow-through. The shot bounded off a branch, bounced backwards and led to a quadruple bogey.

It was a questionable decision in the heat of the moment, one that seemed even more surprising given the stakes. While Day denied that it had any connection to his decision to split with Swatton, the sequence will now go down in hindsight alongside the mis-club that cost McIlroy during the third round of The Open in his final event with Fitzgerald.

“People are going to blow it out more than it really is,” Day said. “He’s still my coach and there’s nothing between the PGA or anything that comes to mind that anyone thinks.”

While the root cause remains nebulous, the decision left no doubt that Day is ready to turn the page in search of a return to form. He has tapped his former roommate, Luke Reardon, for this week and next should he advance to the Tour Championship. But his long-range caddie plans remain up in the air.

“I’m going to kind of just see how the rest of the year goes with whoever is on the bag, see if I can actually get something going,” Day said. “If that doesn’t work out, if I don’t like the way I work with these guys, then maybe a bag shift for next year.”

Stripped to its core, golf remains a uniquely individual sport. There are no teammates upon which to rely, no opponent whose performance can alter a given outcome. It is a battle waged with the hands and between the ears, largely without outside influence.

Those stakes make the role of the caddie all the more important, serving as the lone outside perspective and sounding board for a player’s decision-making and mental approach. Never has that importance been more evident than this year, as one top player after the next has pinpointed it as a possible agent of change.

Now Day has added his name to the list, another world No. 1 with hopes of finding a spark with a familiar face by his side. The decision wasn’t entirely a shock in the wake of similar moves from Mickelson and McIlroy, but it showed once again that no bond between player and caddie is indispensable – even those whose depths reach far beyond the golf course.

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

BORN IN 1912

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


BORN IN 1949

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


BORN IN 1955

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


EUROPE'S BIG 5

Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


BORN IN 1980

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.