Monday Scramble: Fireworks at the finish

By Will GrayAugust 21, 2017, 3:45 pm

Iowa shines in the Solheim spotlight, the Americans easily keep the cup, the season's final event on the PGA Tour provides plenty of drama and the U.S. Amateur goes down to the wire with an all-time finish. All that and more in this edition of Monday Scramble:


If birdies and hole-outs by the truckload are your thing, this was a week to remember.

From the antics of "the Brittanys" at the Solheim Cup to the card-saving theatrics of the Wyndham Championship and Doc Redman's memorable rally to capture the U.S. Amateur, this was an instance where tournaments and status were not lost. They were actively won, gains taken by players who boldly attacked and were rewarded accordingly.

It's not going to be the case everytime. Just last week at Quail Hollow we saw a course where par was a good score, and often times trophies are decided by untimely three-putts rather than makes from across the green.

Part of the allure of golf is that the delineation between dreamer and achiever can often seem faint. Amateurs can sit at home watching pros struggle with certain situations and nudge their buddy with a hint of "been there, done that."

But Sunday, across the country, some of the best men and women in professional and amateur golf reminded all of us just how good they can be when the stakes are at their highest. And they did so by pulling off shots the rest of us know little about.


1. There was no concession drama, no epic Sunday comeback. But the Solheim Cup was still the best spectacle in golf this week, and by a pretty wide margin.

Lofty expectations were assigned well before the two teams set foot on Des Moines Country Club, and the course - and area - lived up to the hype. From first-tee antics to dancing captains, fans in costumes to players walking in putts, the scene was electric.

Iowa doesn't have a pro sports team, and the Hawkeye football team isn't expected to turn heads this fall. But Des Moines had this one circled for a while, and they delivered in a big way. It's another storied chapter in the history of an event whose scope on the global golf landscape continues to grow.

2. Juli Inkster had a Hall of Fame playing career, but she somehow seems even more comfortable patrolling the fairways as a captain.

Two years after rescuing her team from a third straight loss in Germany, Inkster pressed all the right buttons. She ably deflected any pressure her team may have faced as favorites defending the trophy on home turf. She was fierce when she needed to be fierce, and loose when the moment called for it.

Management of the pod system went off without a hitch, as did her handling of rookies Angel Yin and Austin Ernst and the scrutinized inclusion of Paula Creamer.

After a dominating performance and a second straight win, Inkster should be afforded the captaincy for as long as she wants it.

3. The final margin was five points, but this year's Solheim should be remembered for two matches.

The Saturday fourball between Brittany Lang-Brittany Lincicome and Carlota Ciganda-Mel Reid was the stuff they write movies about. Six straight birdies from Lincicome, a hole-out eagle from Lang, and a dogged Euro pair who still pushed the match to the last hole.

The two teams combined to shoot 22 under, which seemed impressive until Lexi Thompson and Anna Nordqvist met in Sunday's singles. Nordqvist was the MVP for Annika Sorenstam's shorthanded squad, and she played like it early on until Thompson caught fire. In a seven-hole span, she made four birdies and two eagles to flip the match on its head.

It ended in a draw, a fitting conclusion to the best match of the day that recalled memories of the duel between Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson last year at Hazeltine.



4. Henrik Stenson went to the Wyndham Championship on a whim, and he left with his first win in the U.S. in nearly four years.

Stenson added the Greensboro stop to make sure he'd play at least 15 events in order to keep his PGA Tour status and avoid a pitfall that has cost Martin Kaymer some time and will put Danny Willett into a penalty box next season. What the Swede found was an old-school layout where he could leave driver at home and still thrive.

The first win after a major can sometimes prove to be an interesting hurdle. Stenson has played plenty of good golf since lifting the claret jug at Royal Troon, but he he was still without a victory until Sunday. With four tied for the lead down the stretch, Stenson turned on the heat with three birdies in a four-hole stretch, including a 27-footer on the penultimate hole to (nearly) put things on ice.

Miles from Sedgefield, Phil Mickelson probably cracked a knowing grin.

5. The only man that appeared able to go toe-to-toe with Stenson was Ollie Schniederjans, yet another member of the storied Class of 2011 who undoubtedly will win soon on the PGA Tour.

Schniederjans sticks out as the only guy in most tournament fields without a hat, but his game got plenty of attention in the final round - especially when he hit a torpedo of a driving iron off the 18th tee that seemingly never left the ground but still trundled 341 yards downhill.

The former Georgia Tech standout now has five top-10 finishes this season and enters the playoffs with a great chance to reach the Tour Championship. Don't be surprised if he picks up a trophy on his way to East Lake.

6. The annual bubble watch at Wyndham certainly didn't lack any drama this year.

While four players cracked the top 125 in the season's final event, it was the manner in which they made their climbs that was noteworthy. Martin Flores essentially needed an ace on the 70th hole, and he got it. Rory Sabbatini came to the same green a few minutes later and holed a putt from Winston-Salem.

Even J.J. Henry had a hand in the theatrics, stuffing his final approach to 6 feet for a birdie that edged him past Zac Blair for coveted spot No. 125 by a single point.

More often than not, we'll see players crumble under the pressure of a 72-hole crucible where they know that every poor shot or a missed cut could cost them a job next year. Credit to this year's party crashers for thriving amid difficult circumstances.



7. Rory McIlroy will be in the field this week at Glen Oaks, which is a somewhat surprising turn of events given his comments at Quail Hollow.

McIlroy has clearly been frustrated by his inability to shake a rib injury that has already sidelined him twice this year. After closing out the season's final major he didn't rule out the possibility that he might shelve it for the whole year. Instead, he'll return to begin defense of his FedExCup title, with friend Harry Diamond still on the bag, after consulting with doctors in Northern Ireland.

This won't be a year to write home about for McIlroy, and a few good rounds in New York or Boston likely won't change that as his stated focus last week was on Augusta in April - not Atlanta in September. At this point, any efforts that aren't pointed toward hitting the ground running in 2018 might not be the best use of his time.

8. Even with McIlroy's inclusion, the 125-man field for The Northern Trust (formerly The Barclays, and not to be confused with the Northern Trust Open, which is now the Genesis Open ... got all that?) has been trimmed to 120.

Adam Scott was an an expected absence with the birth of his second child, while Sergio Garcia skipping a postseason event is nothing new. Brandt Snedeker ended his season last week, while No. 115 Dominic Bozzelli's is effectively over with his withdrawal. No. 85 Scott Piercy, who hasn't played since June, will also be absent at Glen Oaks.



9. There may not have been a seven-figure check on the line, but the theatrics Redman showed in mounting a last-gasp comeback to win the U.S. Amateur at Riviera were nonetheless riveting.

Down two with two holes to play, the rising sophomore calmly rolled in a 60-foot eagle putt on No. 17, stuffed his approach to the famed 18th, rolled in that putt to force overtime and then nearly drove the green on the tricky par-4 10th. How many Tour pros would kill for that series of shots each February?

Poor Doug Ghim seemed shell-shocked, and rightfully so. There was little he could have done to prevent the Redman onslaught, as a man who needed to survive a 13-for-8 playoff on the 10th hole Wednesday just to make the match-play portion of the tournament etched his name on the Havermeyer Trophy four days later.

10. A thrilling comeback means Redman will basically be able to plan a PGA Tour schedule around his classes at Clemson next year. Should he remain an amateur, he can expect to receive spots in each of the first three majors of 2018, plus invites to the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Memorial Tournament and Quicken Loans National. He'll also have a leg up on snagging a "Champions' Choice" sponsor invite to Colonial.

Not bad for a guy who still won't be able to legally drink next spring in the Crow's Nest.

11. Let's pause for a moment to reflect on Ghim, who played a masterful match through 34 holes and then was undone by a single tee shot in overtime. This is the second time the Texas senior has carred a 1-up lead into the 36th hole of a USGA final, and both times he's come up short.

Ghim is a talented prospect, and he landed a spot (alongside Redman) on the Walker Cup despite the loss. At least he can take additional comfort in knowing that as runner-up he'll still receive invites to the Masters and U.S. Open next year.


Schniederjans nearly took down Stenson with one hand tied behind his back. Sort of.

While making his charge up the leaderboard at Sedgefield over the weekend, Schniederjans drew some funny looks over how he executed from short range. On close putts, he would take his right hand off the club entirely at impact, essentially implementing a one-handed follow-through.

It may look unconventional, but it certainly didn't hold him back down the stretch. It's also not the craziest thing we've seen a PGA Tour pro attempt with putter in hand.

Captain knows best: Creamer and Catriona Matthew both filled in admirably this week as injury replacements, each going 3-1 for their teams. Inkster especially took some flak for naming Creamer to replace Jessica Korda, but the choice was ultimately vindicated - just as it was two years ago in Germany.

Too much to overcome: The Euros were already facing an uphill battle before losing Suzann Pettersen to injury. Pettersen was at the center of the storm back in '15, and while she embraced her role as assitant, her on-course fire would've been helpful - especially as Sorenstam's squad fought to find its footing early in the week.

Family first: With two weeks left in the Web.com Tour season, Martin Piller sat at No. 26 on the money list with the top 25 getting PGA Tour cards. But rather than tee it up in Knoxville, he opted to go to Iowa to support wife Gerina at the Solheim Cup. He'll head into the season finale in Portland at No. 27, about $12,000 behind No. 25 Beau Hossler as he seeks a promotion.

Even major winners tremble: Geoff Ogilvy, 2006 U.S. Open winner who entered the Wyndham No. 125 on the points list and saved his card with a T-16 finish: "There's a level of tension and stress in your body that's on a different level when you're in that position."

See you in Columbus: Familiar names facing a trip to Web.com Tour Finals after missing out on the FedExCup top 125: Sam Saunders, Ryan Palmer, Ricky Barnes, Johnson Wagner, Ben Crane, Retief Goosen and Boo Weekley.

To the victor go the spoils: Notables who finished outside the top 125 but will remain exempt next year thanks to recent wins on Tour: Shane Lowry, Billy Hurley III, Graeme McDowell, Smylie Kaufman, Greg Chalmers and Matt Every.

Decent rotation: After finishing up at one of the best courses on Tour in Riviera, the U.S. Amateur will shift to Pebble Beach next year, followed by Pinehurst No. 2 in 2019 and Bandon Dunes in 2020. Not too shabby.

Too much secret ballot: Ryan Lavner's stance on the subject is worth your time, but the USGA's insistence on using a super-secret formula to pick the Walker Cup team is one of the biggest head-scratchers from an organization that has produced a few in recent memory. Until the policy changes, they'll come under fire for it every two years - and rightfully so.

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: Who's got next?

By Rex HoggardNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

The sprawling legacy of the Class of 2011 can be traced to any number of origins, but for some among what is arguably the most prolific class ever, it all began in June 2009.

The 99-player field that descended on Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C., for the AJGA’s FootJoy Invitational included Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and so many others, like Michael Kim, who up to that moment had experienced the weight of the ’11 class only from afar.

“It was that year that Justin won the FootJoy Invitational and that got him into [the Wyndham Championship]," Kim recalled. "That was my first invitational and I was like 'these guys are so good’ and I was blown away by what they were shooting. I remember being shocked by how good they were at that time.”

Tom Lovelady, who like former Cal-Berkeley Bear Kim is now on the PGA Tour, remembers that tournament as the moment when he started to realize how special this particular group could be, as well as the genesis of what has become lifetime friendships.

In the third round, Lovelady was paired with Spieth.

“We kind of hit it off and became friends after that," Lovelady recalled. "The final round I got paired with Justin Thomas and we became friends. On the 10th hole I asked [Thomas], ‘Where do you want to go to school?’ He said, ‘Here. Here or Alabama.’ My first reaction was, ‘Don’t go to Alabama.’ He’s like, ‘Why?’ I wanted to go there. I knew the class was strong and they only had so many spots, but that’s where I really wanted to go.”

Both ended up in Tuscaloosa, and both won an NCAA title during their time in college. They also solidified a friendship that endures to this day in South Florida where they live and train together.

While the exploits of Thomas, Spieth and Daniel Berger are well documented, perhaps the most impressive part of the ’11 class is the depth that continues to develop at the highest level.

To many, it’s not a question as to whether the class will have another breakout star, it’s when and who?



There’s a good chance that answer could have been found on the tee sheet for last week’s RSM Classic, a lineup that included Class of ’11 alums Lovelady; Kim; Ollie Schniederjans, a two-time All-American at Georgia Tech; Patrick Rodgers, Stanford's all-time wins leader alongside Tiger Woods; and C.T. Pan, a four-time All-American at the University of Washington.

Lovelady earned his Tour card this year via the Web.com Tour, while Schniederjans and Rodgers are already well on their way to the competitive tipping point of Next Level.

Rodgers, who joined the Tour in 2015, dropped a close decision at the John Deere Classic in July, where he finished a stroke behind winner Bryson DeChambeau; and Schniederjans had a similar near-miss at the Wyndham Championship.

To those who have been conditioned by nearly a decade of play, it’s no surprise that the class has embraced a next-man-up mentality. Nor is it any surprise, at least for those who were forged by such an exceedingly high level of play, that success has seemed to be effortless.

“First guy I remember competing against at a high level was Justin. We were playing tournaments at 10, 11 years old together,” Rodgers said. “He was really, really good at that age and I wasn’t really good and so he was always my benchmark and motivated me to get better.”

That symbiotic relationship hasn’t changed. At every level the group has been challenged, and to a larger degree motivated, by the collective success.

By all accounts, it was Spieth who assumed the role of standard-bearer when he joined the Tour in 2013 and immediately won. For Rodgers, however, the epiphany arrived a year later as he was preparing to play a college event in California and glanced up at a television to see his former rival grinding down the stretch at Augusta National.

“Jordan’s leading the Masters. A couple years before we’d been paired together battling it out at this exact same college event,” he laughed. “I think I even won the tournament. It was just crazy for me to see someone who is such a peer, someone I was so familiar with up there on the biggest stage.”

It was a common theme for many among the Class of ’11 as Spieth, Thomas and others emerged, and succeeded, on a world stage. If familiarity can breed contempt, in this case it created a collective confidence.

Success on Tour has traditionally come slowly for new pros, the commonly held belief being that it took younger players time to evolve into Tour professionals. That’s no longer the case, the byproduct of better coaching, training and tournaments for juniors and top-level amateurs.

But for the Class of ’11, that learning curve was accelerated by the economies of scale. The quality and quantity of competition for the class has turned out to be a fundamental tenet to the group’s success.

“Since the mindset of the class has been win, win, win, you don’t know anything other than that, it’s never been just be good enough,” Lovelady said. “You don’t think about being top 125 [on the FedExCup points list], you think about being as high as you can instead of just trying to make the cut, or just keep your card. It’s all you’ve known since you were 14, 15 years old.”

It’s a unique kind of competitive Darwinism that has allowed the class to separate itself from others, an ever-present reality that continues to drive the group.

“It was constantly in my head motivating me,” Rodgers said. “Then you see Jordan turn pro and have immediate success and Justin turn pro and have immediate success. It’s kind of the fuel that drives me. What makes it special is these guys have always motivated me, maybe even more so than someone like Tiger [Woods].”

The domino effect seems obvious, inevitable even, with the only unknown who will be next?

“That’s a good question; I’d like for it to be myself,” Lovelady said. “But it’s hard to say it’s going to be him, it’s going to be him when it could be him. There are just so many guys.”