Gainey, Ernst struggling to follow up breakthrough wins

By Will GrayFebruary 27, 2014, 8:54 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Congratulations. You’ve made it.

Fans have applauded your final putt. Fellow pros have offered congratulations. Trophy engravers have confirmed the spelling of your name, and your playing schedule just got an immediate makeover.

You’ve won a tournament on the PGA Tour. Take a minute to soak it all in.

Once the dust settles, though, a thought may creep into your mind.

Now what?

For Tommy Gainey and Derek Ernst, who both carded rounds of 4-under 66 Thursday at the Honda Classic, following up a breakthrough victory has proven difficult.

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At the conclusion of the 2012 season, Gainey elevated his status beyond that of a “Big Break” alumnus, or a player known for wearing two gloves. He captured the McGladrey Classic that November, and did so in impressive fashion – firing a final-round 60 to erase a seven-shot deficit.

The victory earned him a trip to Kapalua two months later for the 2013 Hyundai Tournament of Champions, where he promptly tied for sixth. That result, though, still serves as the only top-10 finish for Gainey in 39 starts since his triumph at Sea Island.

The 38-year-old journeyman is the first to admit that much of his struggles emanated from within.

“I put more pressure on myself after McGladrey,” Gainey said. “That final round, when I shot what I shot ... you feel like you can win any tournament.”

Imbued with confidence, Gainey believed that his maiden title would serve as a stepping stone toward the next stage in his career.

“I felt like getting the first one would be tough, because it took me 105 tournaments to get the first one. I felt like it shouldn’t take me that long to get the second one.”

Instead, Gainey has spent much of the past 15 months simply trying to make the weekend. He missed the cut in half of his 28 starts last season, and his slump continues. Gainey has made the cut only twice in 10 starts during the 2013-14 season, including early exits at five straight events during the West Coast swing.

“When you put too much pressure on yourself, things like that can happen.”

A return to the Sunshine State couldn’t have come sooner. A native of South Carolina, Gainey grew up playing on Bermuda grass, which could be a reason why he struggled with poa annua greens in California. This week, he says, the pressure is off as he looks to return to the form that earned him his breakthrough win.

“I learned a lesson,” he said. “Now I’m just trying to have more fun, because it could be worse. I’ve got the best job in the world, so I’m just trying to enjoy it.”

Ernst was only months removed from earning his PGA Tour card at Q-School when he burst onto the scene last May, capturing the Wells Fargo Championship in a rainy playoff over David Lynn at Quail Hollow.

The win netted the 23-year-old a spot in The Players Championship the following week, where Ernst admits his perception among his peers received a quick overhaul.

“That’s where it was like, ‘Bam.’ People actually know who I am,” said Ernst, who made four birdies and an eagle Thursday at PGA National.

Ernst struggled in the wake of his triumph, though. In 23 subsequent starts, he has missed the cut 15 times, and his lone top-40 finish comes with an asterisk – Ernst finished 30th among a 30-man field last month during the winners-only event at Kapalua.

Like Gainey, he expected things to be easier following his victory.

“I felt like, hey, I won, so I should be able to do it every time now. Or at least every once in a while,” he said.

Ernst began to practice even harder last summer, regularly logging sessions that lasted 10 hours, sometimes longer. Those efforts failed to end his slump, though, and he made sweeping changes this past offseason.

“I changed agent, changed caddie, changed swing coach and I got a trainer,” he said. “Other than that, it’s pretty much the same.”

Unable to translate his efforts into better finishes, Ernst has worked in recent weeks to focus less on the leaderboard.

“I have a goal every week of what I want to do, and it’s not a results goal, it’s just a process goal. If I do that, then I’m fine. I don’t care about what the result is. If I did what I can do, then that’s all that I can control.”

Winning remains the goal for every player in the field this week, and Ernst and Gainey can take heart in knowing they have already reached a pinnacle to which many can only aspire.

As each can attest, though, the second chapter in a career is sometimes the most difficult to write.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.