Monday Scramble: Something old, something new

By Will GrayApril 24, 2017, 2:15 pm

Tiger Woods heads back to the disabled list, Kevin Chappell sheds the monkey, Rory gets hitched, Lydia finds her (latest) looper and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

With all due respect to the fine folks in San Antonio, the biggest golf news of the week came on Thursday and it did not involve Kevin Chappell.

Tiger Woods has once again gone under the knife, this time for what seems like a much more significant procedure than his previous three surgeries since 2014. An Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion brings with it plenty of medical jargon, but it prompts a single question: What now?

By lying down on the operating table, Woods basically chalked up 2017 as his second straight lost season. When he next hits the course, he'll either be 42 years old or close to it, and essentially two-plus years removed from being competitive on the PGA Tour.

That assumes, of course, that there will be a next time. Woods' news release was somber enough, but the consistent harping by him and his agent that the procedure addressed "quality of life" concerns indicates that playing competitive golf probably isn't his top priority right now.

It's another sad chapter in a book that hasn't had many highlights since the summer of 2013.

1. News of Woods' surgery made his appearance earlier in the week in Missouri to announce a new course he's building - and his participation in a two-swing PR stunt - all the more surprising.

Woods sat next to Johnny Morris, owner of Bass Pro Shops, for nearly an hour answering questions about his latest project, Payne's Valley, which is expected to open in 2019. He then popped out of his chair and hit a pair of wedges in a "contest" with one of Morris' young relatives.

The stunt was lighthearted, but it did evoke awkward flashbacks to last year's Quicken Loans National media day once Woods rinsed his first shot. The second one, though, safely found the green.

But given the fact that Woods knew at the time that he was going under the knife the following day, it's amazing he even picked up a club.

2. While Woods' surgery got the brunt of the attention by week's end, his plans for a new course in Missouri show promise.

Woods spoke at length about his vision as an architect, and it's a well-crafted one even with only a handful of courses under his belt. He favors playability, creativity around the greens, manageable rough and a layout that keeps lost ball searches to a minimum.

Woods has hit on all those notes in a big way at Bluejack National outside Houston, which I can attest is a treat. If his first public project turns out anything close to that, folks will be flocking to the Ozarks in a few short years.

3. Unfortunately for Woods, his fashion sense hasn't come along quite as quickly as his design acumen, as evidenced by Tuesday's ensemble:

Granted, I am far from a fashionista. But the Twittersphere let Woods have it for his...questionable pants selection. But after news of his surgery surfaced later in the week, those same social media accounts were suddenly left to wonder when we'll even see Woods again.

4. Hats off to Chappell, who finally managed to work his way into the winner's circle at the Valero Texas Open.

Chappell's stock has been on the rise for quite some time, as he notably racked up four runner-up finishes last season, including a playoff loss at the Tour Championship. But the titles proved elusive until Sunday, when he won just as all players envision it: by sinking a putt on the 72nd hole. He also added a nice, primal scream for good measure.

"Did you see that?" Chappell wrote on Instagram. "The monkey jumping off my back."

Chappell played his way onto the Ryder Cup bubble last year, a considerable feat given his lack of hardware. But you should expect that he'll make his red, white and blue debut this fall on Steve Stricker's Presidents Cup squad.

5. One of the best aspects Chappell's breakthrough win? His crunch-time interactions with caddie Joe Greiner.

The two had lengthy consultations over club choice and strategy throughout the final round, many of which were captured by the CBS audio team. It provided welcome insight into the mind of a player trying to close out his first win, as well as that of the man hoping to guide him to victory.

The discussion went all the way up until the final hole, when Greiner was vocal about how to plot Chappell's par-5 layup options and offered some last-minute swing thoughts. Watching them celebrate the win a few minutes later, it was clearly a team victory.

6. With Chappell's victory, the highest-ranked American without a PGA Tour win is now ... Daniel Summerhays.

Summerhays is ranked No. 88 in the world and has been playing the Tour regularly since 2011. During that time he has compiled a pair of runner-ups and a solo third at last year's PGA Championship that got him into the Masters.

Next on the list would be No. 92 Roberto Castro and No. 97 Jamie Lovemark, who lost playoffs last year at the Wells Fargo Championship and Zurich Classic, respectively.

7. Brooks Koepka may not have gotten the win in San Antonio, but he's clearly on the rise.

Koepka struggled out of the gates in 2017, missing four out of his first six cuts without registering a top-40 result. But he won his group at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, finished T-11 at the Masters and nearly chased down Chappell in Texas.

Koepka is coming off a banner season that included his Ryder Cup debut, and he has one of the highest ceilings on Tour. He also has an understandable attitude about this week's Zurich Classic, where he'll pair with his brother Chase, who will make his PGA Tour debut.

"It could be interesting," Koepka said Sunday. "We could kill each other on the second hole, or it could be awesome."

8. Speaking of Zurich, the NOLA event gets a makeover this year with a new team format that has attracted an unusually strong field to TPC Louisiana. While the big names will get the early attention, here are a few under-the-radar duos worth the price of admission:

  • Daniel Berger/Thomas Pieters
  • Patrick Reed/Patrick Cantlay
  • Branden Grace/Louis Oosthuizen
  • Kevin Kisner/Scott Brown
  • Justin Thomas/Bud Cauley

Conversely, here are a few head-scratching combinations - one of which surely will wind up on the leaderboard come Sunday:

  • Spencer Levin/Rocco Mediate
  • Bryson DeChambeau/Rory Sabbatini
  • Jamie Lovemark/Luke Donald
  • Kyle Reifers/Andrew Johnston
  • Whee Kim/Greg Owen

9. Ian Poulter lost his full-time PGA Tour status when he missed the cut at Valero in the last start of his medical extension. But that doesn't mean the Englishman is heading for the unemployment line.

Poulter has become a polarizing figure in recent years, leading some to bask in the schadenfreude of a former Ryder Cup assassin losing his card by 30 grand. But Poulter still has conditional status, both based on his previous tournament wins and his FedEx Cup standing, and he's eligible to accept sponsor invites.

Poulter will likely be able to get several starts this summer off those bona fides, beginning this week at Zurich when he teams up with Geoff Ogilvy.

The real test will come in September, when he may have to head to Tour Finals to regain his card. It's a scenario he can avoid only by turning his tepid game around in a hurry.

10. Jimmy Walker finally has a cause for the severe fatigue he has felt for months, but unfortunately it's no easy fix.

The PGA champ revealed this week that he has been diagnosed with Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that comes from tick bites and can have chronic symptoms that are often hard to treat. Walker originally thought he had mono, but received his Lyme test results on the eve of the Masters.

While he refused to chalk up any bad play to his diagnosis, the news does shed some light on Walker's sluggish performance in the wake of his triumph at Baltusrol. But he has turned things around recently, with five top-25s in his last seven starts, and hopefully is now on the road to recovery.

Get well, Jimmy.

It's never good when you have to dodge golf balls at the breakfast table.

News broke over the weekend that McCain Foods had started a massive voluntary recall for frozen hash browns that "may be contaminated with extraneous golf ball materials."

At this point no one has been hurt, which is always good. But we might need to get a Grill Room correspondent on the case to figure out how golf balls end up mixed with breakfast potatoes.

Is the farm next door to a driving range? Did the workers fine-tune their short games while on break? How big was the first "golf ball material" that sparked the recall? Questions abound.

This week's award winners ... 

Happy Birthday, We Got You A Caddie: Lydia Ko turned 20 Monday, putting a cap on her teen years that included 14 LPGA wins and two majors. She also announced the hiring of Pete Godfrey as her caddie, the 10th looper she has used since turning pro. They'll debut together this week in Texas, where a little consistency on the bag could go a long way for the birthday girl.

Rocky Start: Curtis Luck. The top-ranked amateur turned pro last week and signed with Callaway, only to bogey his first three holes and ultimately miss the cut by a shot. No one said it'd be easy, but Luck will have plenty more opportunities - starting with the Dean & DeLuca Invitational next month.

Still Rolling: Bernd Wiesberger. The Austrian has played some great golf with little fanfare in recent months, but he finally broke through to win the Shenzhen International in a playoff over Tommy Fleetwood. Wiesberger now has eight (!) top-5 finishes since his last worldwide missed cut at the PGA Championship in July.

Still Searching: Bubba Watson. Watson made his annual pilgrimage to China for the Shenzhen event, and while he held the early lead, he couldn't string four rounds together and ultimately tied for 26th. It continues to be a struggle for the two-time Masters champ, who hasn't registered a top-10 finish in a full-field, stroke-play event in over a year.

Off The Market: Rory McIlroy, who tied the knot with Erica Stoll over the weekend in Ireland. The ceremony was spread across multiple days, held at an Irish castle and reportedly featured performances from Stevie Wonder and Ed Sheeran. Proof, once again, that it's good to be Rory.

Job Well Done: McIlroy's team. It's hard in this day and age to keep anything truly private, but Team McIlroy managed to keep the wedding at Ashford Castle entirely under wraps, with strict security and few information leaks. Even celebrities are entitled to a little privacy on their big day should they so choose, and it's nice to see that McIlroy got it.

El Campeon: Sergio Garcia, who put his green jacket on display Sunday when he kicked off the soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona. As a Madrid fan, Garcia likely wasn't pleased by Lionel Messi's last-second goal to give Barca the win.

It's the Arrow, Not the Indian: Patrick Reed. On the eve of his opener in San Antonio, Reed attributed his recent struggles to the lies and lofts being off in his irons. He declared the issue largely resolved, then missed his third straight cut after a second-round 77.

Game Matching the Hair: Ollie Schniederjans. After contending at Harbour Town, the rookie put up a solid T-18 finish at Valero to crack the OWGR top 100 for the first time in his career. A breakthrough like Chappell and Wesley Bryan had in consecutive weeks may not be far behind.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Charley Hoffman. After seven straight years as the Can't-Miss Kid in San Antonio, Hoffman put up a pedestrian T-40 finish with no score lower than his opening-round 71.

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.