Heavy playing schedule begins this week

By Will GrayJuly 30, 2014, 9:25 pm

AKRON, Ohio – As independent contractors, PGA Tour players value the ability to set their own schedules.

Some will play nearly every event, while others will sit out for weeks at a time. It’s a perk of the job, especially among the top-tier players who can map a schedule around the elite tournaments.

Once the calendar flips to August, though, attendance becomes more important.

This week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational marks the start of a hectic finish to the season on the PGA Tour, one that will cause many players to tee it up six of the next seven weeks. It’s a stretch that includes next week’s PGA Championship and all four of the FedEx Cup playoff events, culminating with the Tour Championship.

Adding to the crunch is the fact that the Tour’s two bye weeks – which last year separated the Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship, as well as the Tour Championship and Presidents Cup – will this year fall on either side of the Ryder Cup staged in Scotland.

That means four weeks, four playoff events. Buckle up.

Since the back-loaded nature of the schedule was known months ago, players have had plenty of time to adapt accordingly. As you might imagine, the plans of attack vary among the Tour’s best.

WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: Articles, videos and photos

World No. 1 Adam Scott usually plays a light schedule, and this season has teed it up on the PGA Tour just 11 times. He’ll make start No. 12 this week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and plans to play in each of the four playoff events.

“Part of my scheduling, the way I do it, is with the anticipation of playing a very heavy end-of-season schedule, like we’re about to hit,” Scott said Wednesday. “I think I’m pretty fresh, and I should be absolutely fine to push through and play six of the next seven weeks, no problem.

“There’s majors galore, and World Golf Championships, and a FedEx Cup to win. That’s when you want to be feeling good and excited to go out to the golf course.”

Jimmy Walker has topped the FedEx Cup standings for nearly the entire season, thanks in large part to a busy playing schedule – this week marks his 22nd start of the season, nearly double the workload of Scott. Like the Aussie, though, Walker has begun to dial it back in recent weeks to prepare for the taxing events on the horizon.

“I’ve definitely had a little bit of a lighter summer,” said Walker, who has played in just three of nine events since the Crowne Plaza Invitational in May. “Certainly you want to do whatever you can to stay fresh, and use the off days as best you can heading into a big stretch.”

Rickie Fowler has made 20 starts this season. At 22nd in the latest FedEx Cup standings, he plans to skip only the Wyndham Championship in two weeks as he looks to secure one of 30 spots at East Lake, a field he has made only once.

“Four in a row, you can definitely run yourself into the ground by the Tour Championship,” Fowler said. “I plan to make sure there’s a rest day in between each event, use some of the Mondays during the playoffs to kind of relax and recharge a little bit.” 

Not every player subscribes to the notion that the upcoming events are mandatory starts. Tiger Woods notably has skipped playoff events before when high in the standings, as has Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard opted out of the Deutsche Bank Championship in 2012, and last year played in all four tournaments only because a skipped event could have jeopardized his ability to meet the minimum start requirements to keep his PGA Tour card.

This time, Garcia’s focus is not on the FedEx Cup that will conclude in Atlanta, but on the Ryder Cup that will be contested in Scotland two weeks later.

“I want to make sure that I feel nice and as fresh as possible for the Ryder Cup,” said Garcia, who plans to skip one playoff event.

“I don’t want to be playing six out of seven weeks going into the Ryder Cup, or six out of eight weeks,” he said. “It’s quite a lot of playing. So we’ll see how it goes.”

Over the next two weeks, the PGA Tour will hand out several trophies and nearly $60 million in prize money. As players strategize about the best way to earn their share of the bounty available, one truth remains: Fans are about to see the game’s best play a ton of golf in a very short period of time.

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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.