Fowler detours to Wyndham with Ryder Cup in doubt

By Will GrayAugust 17, 2016, 8:29 pm

GREENSBORO, N.C. – The annual bubble watch has taken on a different tone this year at the Wyndham Championship.

Sure, there will still be steadfast checking of projected FedEx Cup standings in the final week of the regular season, as players endure one last 72-hole crucible to determine playing privileges for next season.

But thanks to a malleable summer schedule, there’s another race nearing its conclusion that has brought some high-profile names to Greensboro.

The Ryder Cup is now just six weeks away, and while typically the teams are largely set by this stage, this year there are still two events remaining for players on both teams to earn automatic qualifying berths.

There are eight such spots available on the American side, and the 11th-hour competition to secure a roster spot is fierce.

Less than $50,000 separates No. 8 Patrick Reed from No. 9 Brandt Snedeker. Both are in the field this week, meaning a top-25 finish could be enough to flip the pecking order heading into The Barclays. It’s an incentive that has led No. 13 Scott Piercy to make a rare appearance at Sedgefield Country Club, and it resulted in No. 18 Jim Furyk choosing to return for the first time since 2011.

But the player likely under the most pressure to perform is Wyndham debutant Rickie Fowler – a scenario that seemed implausible a few months ago.

After all, Fowler was one of the hottest players in the world to start the year, backing up a three-win 2015 campaign with a convincing victory over a strong field in Abu Dhabi. That was followed by a playoff loss to Hideki Matsuyama in Phoenix, when Fowler surrendered a two-shot lead over the final two holes.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

A bittersweet result, sure. But it was also further evidence that Fowler was likely to cruise through the balance of a busy summer schedule that would end with him donning the stars and stripes at Hazeltine.

Needless to say, things haven’t exactly worked out that way.

Since the Masters, Fowler has posted more missed cuts (four) than top-25 finishes (three). His best result in that stretch, a T-4 finish at Quail Hollow, was tinged with disappointment after he failed to convert a 54-hole lead, closing with a 74.

Even last week’s performance at the Olympics was a microcosm for Fowler’s season: a third-round burst, just enough to reinforce his vast potential, but not enough to compensate for 54 other mediocre holes.

As a result, Fowler has gone from a virtual Ryder Cup lock to a very precarious position: 12th in points and perhaps competing with the likes of Snedeker, Furyk, Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson for one of captain Davis Love III’s four selections.

Keenly aware of the situation, Fowler decided to book a last-minute ticket from Rio to Greensboro in the hopes of turning things around with the deadline looming.

“With where I was on Ryder Cup points and knowing that the points, with Bethpage coming up, this was a good addition to the schedule,” Fowler said Wednesday. “It wasn’t something we planned on earlier in the year, but the Ryder Cup is something that means a lot to me. It’s something where I’ve been a part of two teams, and I don’t want to miss out on another one.”

Fowler is in danger of doing just that, and after a sluggish summer the culprit is clear. Fowler is sixth this season on Tour in strokes gained tee-to-green and seventh in total strokes gained, but he sits just 56th in strokes gained putting.

“It’s been a struggle ever since Abu Dhabi, not making any putts,” he said. “When putts don’t go in, you don’t have that complete confidence in the putter. It kind of can start bleeding into the rest of the game.”

Fowler’s putting woes contributed in part to missed cuts at Augusta National and Oakmont, and his bid for an Olympic medal was derailed on the very first green last week in Rio when he opened with a four-putt.

With the self-doubt continuing to mount, Fowler has started to tinker with his putting with increasing frequency. He has gone back and forth between conventional and cross-handed grips since the Quicken Loans National in June, including attempts with both grips last week in Brazil.

While he was putting cross-handed under the midday sun Wednesday on the Sedgefield putting green, Fowler admits his mechanics remain a work in progress.

“Just been something I’ve done every year or two. It’s almost like the cross-handed is a little, I guess, an aid in a way,” he said. “It actually puts me in a better position at setup. Sometimes I get a little off (with) conventional, and just a way of getting it back to where I want it to be.”

That last bit could also apply to Fowler’s overall game, which hasn’t been where he wants it to be for several months now.

While it’s hard to imagine a Ryder Cup team without him – especially at a domestic venue where his popularity with partisan crowds could have a tangible impact on the outcome – it is now a very plausible scenario.

Fowler could still earn a pick, even without a late burst of form. But while his play has remained stagnant, his competition has picked up significantly – first Furyk’s 58 at the Travelers Championship, then Kuchar’s bronze medal performance at the Olympics.

Fowler now has two more chances to nab an automatic bid, a high-stakes fortnight that begins this week with an unexpected detour to the Tar Heel State.

It’s a circumstance that few could have predicted earlier this year, but it’s one that means the FedEx Cup bubble boys won’t be the only ones sweating this week at Sedgefield.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm
Getty Images

Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

Well, this is a one new one.

According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.

PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

The statement reads:

The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.