Finau ready to test game in major championship

By Will GrayJune 9, 2015, 3:20 am

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio – A rain delay at a U.S. Open sectional qualifier is a curious scene.

Phones chargers fill every outlet, with countless players scrolling through scoring pages for updates. Some veterans reach for a beer, eager to erase the sins of bogeys past, while those not yet of age compare course loads for the fall.

Shortly after the horn blew at Springfield Country Club to signal an hour-long weather delay, the club’s ballroom was filled with a variety of characters, each eager for the storm to pass.

Amidst them sat Tony Finau, coolly chatting with his back to a window that overlooked the course, a rare PGA Tour regular among a sea of unfamiliar faces.

Finau knew he was on the verge of punching his ticket to Chambers Bay, already in the fairway of his 35th hole of the day. Shortly after play resumed, he closed out rounds of 66-67 to put a notable name among the quartet of qualifiers from the 67-player field.

Finau made things look easy Monday, carding only one bogey across 36 holes to finish second. It extends a strong run of good play for the PGA Tour rookie, whose T-8 finish at the Memorial was his fourth straight top-20 result.

Finau now sits inside the top 50 in the FedEx Cup standings, but the 25-year-old has never played in a major. That drought ends next week.

“That’s one of my goals, is just to get in a major,” said Finau, who ranks No. 134 in the world. “Just to get that taste. I’ve never had that taste of the highest level of golf, and that’s playing in a major. It means everything to me at this point in my career.”

Scores: U.S. Open sectional qualifying results

Finau is second on Tour in driving distance, averaging 307 yards per poke, so at first glance his game wouldn’t appear well-suited for Springfield, a claustrophobic Donald Ross layout that barely measures 6,700 yards. But Finau got placed here last year, and while he failed to qualify he at least knew the course – which is more than he could say for his other nearby sectional option.

“I don’t know that it’s a golf course that I really like, but it’s one that I’ve seen at least,” he said. “The one in Columbus, there’s two courses that I haven’t seen, that I’m sure a lot of guys have. So I feel like I’m losing shots already.”

Finau’s gamble paid off, and he will play a course next week that would appear conducive to his long-ball approach. He’ll also bring with him some local knowledge in the form of caddie Greg Bodine, who grew up 10 minutes from Chambers Bay in nearby Lakewood and estimated that he has played the course 15-20 times.

“I got the Pierce County (Wash.) rate when I was in high school,” said Bodine, whose cousin Michael Putnam qualified in the Columbus sectional. “I hit it long and crooked, so I liked it.”

Of course Finau wasn’t the only player to leave Springfield with a smile, as the other three qualifiers proved the U.S. Open’s status as golf’s ultimate meritocracy. While PGA Tour veterans like Troy Merritt and Brian Stuard came up short, medalist honors went to Michael Davan – a 26-year-old with no status on any major circuit.

The third spot went to 19-year-old amateur Nick Hardy, who just wrapped up his freshman year at the University of Illinois. Hardy’s Illini team was eliminated from the NCAA Championships last Tuesday in Florida, and he equated the undulating greens at Springfield to those he had just seen at Concession Golf Club. The rest of the course, though, was reminiscent to the Ross designs he has grown up playing around Chicago.

“This is my home kind of turf,” Hardy said.

The day’s longest wait belonged to 26-year-old Stephan Jaeger, who may have worn a new path around the putting green with his post-round pacing.

Jaeger was among the first players to finish, carding rounds of 66-68, and then quickly began refreshing scores on his phone. It was a familiar situation after he sweated out a spot last month at local qualifying, but it was hardly a welcome position.

“I do not enjoy this,” he muttered to himself as the projections and scenarios began to pour in. Jaeger moved to Chattanooga, Tenn., from Germany at age 17, and was a teammate of former U.S. Amateur champion Steven Fox at UT-Chattanooga. A random room assignment at a college event created a connection with a host family, who just happen to be members and residents at Springfield.

Three years after their paths had last crossed, he contacted the host family about this week’s qualifier. They offered him a place to stay, and a little home cooking did the trick.

“Something like this can turn a season around real quick,” said Jaeger, who has made only three of 11 cuts this year on the Tour. “That’s what I’m hoping to do.”

Season assessments can wait, at least for a night – especially for guys like Hardy, Davan and Jaeger who have one prior PGA Tour start between them. Monday was about realizing a dream and punching tickets to a national championship. In a week they will be on equal footing with the best in the game.

The wait is now over. The fun will soon begin.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

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."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

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.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

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."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

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.