Monday Scramble: No Spieth in Rio; more rules drama

By Will GrayJuly 11, 2016, 4:25 pm

Sand gets in the way of a great tournament finish, the Olympic field suffers another notable loss and the golf world turns its attention to Royal Troon, plus more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble.

The USGA just can't seem to escape controversy.

First it was Dustin Johnson and his wobbling golf ball at Oakmont. This time it was Anna Nordqvist, who was denied a chance at the U.S. Women's Open title because her club found a few specks of sand at the wrong time.

Make no mistake, the penalty was correctly applied. Upon video review, it was evident that Nordqvist had, unknowingly, grounded her club in a bunker.

But that doesn't do much to dispel the notion that the USGA seems like an organization that can't stay out of its own way. Its shepherding of some of the game's most intricate (and arcane) rules aside, the USGA has seen the defining moment of both of its biggest tournaments this year turn into a rules official tapping a player on the shoulder and starting into a "We regret to inform you..." speech.

"It's definitely a shame for it to come down to something like that," said winner Brittany Lang. "You never want it to be because of a penalty. You want it to be because of better play."

It's certainly not the scenario officials had hoped for at the beginning of the week, and it's a situation where the optics were worsened with most golf fans still recovering from the debacle of Johnson's penalty at Oakmont.

1. As with Oakmont, the USGA exacerbated the issue with poor communication. While they took too long to decide Johnson's fate last month, at CordeValle the timeline was compressed as the penalty occurred in the midst of a three-hole aggregate playoff.

An odd scene played out on the third and final hole, as TV viewers equipped with video replay realized that Nordqvist would be docked two shots, but the players actually competing for the title strolled down the fairway blissfully unaware of the circumstances.

By the time USGA officials informed Nordqvist and Lang of the penalty, it was after Nordqvist had hit her final approach - but before Lang hit hers, arguably the worst possible time to make such an announcement.

Lang clearly altered the strategy for her wedge shot, as Nordqvist certainly would have done the same with such crucial knowledge in hand. To inform the players at an uneven juncture only increased Lang's advantage, since she was able to play more shots with a full grasp of the big picture.

If officials couldn't reach Nordqvist with a definitive answer before her approach, fine. But in that case, they should have waited until Lang had hit her third shot to No. 18 before informing either player.

2. The whole situation unfortunately overshadows a breakthrough victory for Lang, who at age 30 now has a major title to her credit. Eleven years after she was a surprise runner-up at this event as an amateur, stunned along with Morgan Pressel by Birdie Kim's 72nd-hole bunker shot, this time she remained cool under pressure and made a number of critical putts, none more important than the 12-foot par save on the second extra hole after an errant approach.

Her win also breaks the Korean stranglehold on this national championship, as she becomes just the second American (along with Michelle Wie in 2014) to win the U.S. Women's Open since Paula Creamer took home the trophy at Oakmont in 2010.

3. The rules controversy also took some heat away from Lydia Ko, who let the trophy slip away in surprising fashion.

Ko began the day with a one-shot lead and appeared on cruise control until a hiccup on the eighth hole was followed by a disastrous double bogey on No. 9. After displaying a calm demeanor throughout the week in California, the Kiwi was never quite able to get back on track and ultimately missed the playoff by two shots.

It was an uncharacteristic wobble from the world No. 1, who has two majors in her pocket and likely many more ahead of her. But after she was topped in a playoff by Brooke Henderson at Sahalee, Ko's season could very well be as marked by her multiple wins as by the hardware she let get away.

4. Ko was in the anchor pairing along with Sung-Hyun Park and Eun-Hee Ji when they were put on the clock on the 12th hole, a decision that seemed to rattle all three players coming down the stretch.

"When it is windy and when every shot really counts, to kind of feel a little rushed is tough," Ko said after a 75.

It's a tough break for the final group at a major, until you realize that the trio took 5 hours and 43 minutes to play 18 holes. Nearly six hours! There were winds, sure, but the weather in sunny NorCal certainly seemed to be less of a factor than it was, say, at the Scottish Open.

The women's game is already plagued by the label of slow play. Ko and the tournament leaders did little to flip that script under the spotlight of one of the biggest events of the year.

5a. The U.S. Olympic team got a big boost Sunday when both Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed confirmed their plans to tee it up in Rio.

The entire commitment process hasn't gone exactly as planned over the past few weeks, as seemingly one big name after another has dropped out with most citing Zika concerns. Dustin Johnson was the latest to skip the Olympics, a decision that gave Reed another chance to wear the stars and stripes after an entertaining Ryder Cup debut in 2014.

5b. Of course, their decision was quickly overshadowed by the withdrawal of Jordan Spieth on Monday.

Spieth's comments about the Olympics had grown increasingly non-committal in recent weeks, and he now joins the other three highest-ranked players in the world on the sidelines next month. It's arguably the biggest loss for golf's return to the Games, and somewhat surprising given Spieth's earlier comments and his sponsorship deal with Coca-Cola, which pumps large amounts of sponsorship dollars into the Olympics every other year.

There are a number of valid issues surrounding golf in the Rio Games, and there will be plenty of time to dissect where things went wrong for the International Golf Federation. But if the top four players in the world withdrawing from the competition isn't a worst-case scenario, it has to be pretty close - and might get even closer if Spieth decides to defend his title at the John Deere Classic while the Olympics are being conducted half a world away. 

6. Clearly, the current theme of Olympic golf is more about who will be sitting out than who will participate in the sport's return from a 112-year hiatus. But expect that to change.

After all, there were rumblings back in 2008 that Padraig Harrington's two major wins should come with an asterisk because world No. 1 Tiger Woods missed both events with a leg injury. But eight years down the line, Harrington is simply viewed as a three-time major champion - and rightfully so.

The notables skipping the Olympics are a legitimate story, and a sizeable one at that leading into the Games. But once the first ball goes in the air, the story will shift to the players, and the course, and the glory that comes with winning a medal while representing one's country.

Twenty years from now, fans won't remember which golfers skipped the Olympics. But they'll remember who won.

7. No one is questioning the Olympic spirit of Jaco van Zyl these days. The South African has a spot in Rio after three of his countrymen withdrew earlier this year, and he's not taking it lightly: van Zyl announced this week that he would withdraw from both the Open and the PGA Championship to rest up for Rio.

It's an unconventional choice, sure. And perhaps if he had been as enthusiastic about playing in the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March, he would have stayed in the OWGR top 50 long enough to book his first trip to the Masters. But credit to van Zyl for owning up to his decision, despite the potential consequences, to make the Olympics a clear priority.

8. After a rare bye week on the PGA Tour, it's officially time to turn our attention to the 145th Open. While Zach Johnson will look to defend the claret jug, much more attention will be on Dustin Johnson as he looks for his second straight major and third win in as many starts after his victory last week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Royal Troon may not seem like an ideal course for Johnson, but keep in mind that he appeared on cruise control en route to the 36-hole lead last year at St. Andrews and, were it not for an ill-fated long iron approach, could very well have won at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Then again, when you have a 340-yard power fade on speed dial, there isn't a course in the world that seems too tough to handle.

9. Some players who are not receiving nearly enough attention heading into tournament week, with odds courtesy the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook:

- Branden Grace (20/1): The South African's last four major championship results? T-4, T-20, third, T-5. Expect him on the leaderboard come Sunday.

- Louis Oosthuizen (30/1): Twice a runner-up in majors last year, Oosthuizen has now finished T-30 or better in seven straight majors dating back to the 2014 PGA Championship.

- Martin Kaymer (50/1): A two-time major champ who is starting to turn things around at just the right time heading into a busy summer stretch.

- Russell Knox (60/1): Fresh off a top-10 at Castle Stuart, Knox has stepped his game up considerably over the past year and will have plenty of support from the Scottish crowds.

10. One player not flying under the radar would be Phil Mickelson, who closed with a 66 at Castle Stuart to post a T-13 finish that makes it seem like he was much more of a factor than he was. Mickelson is one of the few players in the Open field with some Troon experience, having missed the playoff in 2004 by only a single shot.

Lefty is always prone to stepping up in the biggest occasions, and he is not that far removed from a run of strong play that carried him through much of the spring. But this week marks the three-year anniversary of his most recent worldwide win, a stat that no one would have believed when he walked off the final green at Muirfield with the claret jug in tow.

11. One notable absence this week in Scotland was that of Fowler, who didn't return to defend the title he won in dramatic fashion last year at Gullane.

The summer schedule is hectic for all the top players, and Fowler has a sponsorship deal with Quicken Loans which meant he played Congressional the week between the U.S. Open and WGC-Bridgestone. It also meant that a two-week stint in Scotland would have made the Open his fifth start in as many weeks, and the PGA would have been six out of seven.

It's an understandable decision in a situation where something has to give. But it's still unfortunate that Fowler couldn't find a way to defend at one of the more prestigious events on the European Tour.

"Bethany Lang."

That's the name that USGA president Diana Murphy went with during the trophy ceremony at CordeValle - not once, but multiple times, to the point that the crowd tried to chant "Brittany" in unison to get her to realize her error. Murphy never appeared to do so, and by the time she issued an apology late Sunday night, the damage was already done.

This week's award winners ... 

Golden first win?: Gerina Piller's T-8 finish at CordeValle was just enough to sneak her into the top 15 in the world, earning her an Olympic berth in the process. It's a testament to her consistency this year, and an even more remarkable achievement considering the fact that she has yet to record her first LPGA win. To find a male counterpart without a PGA Tour or European Tour win, you have to go all the way down to K.T. Kim at No. 42.

Better late than never: The final player to crash the Olympic party on the men's side was Espen Kofstad, who will represent Norway in Rio after his playoff win at a European Challenge Tour event in Slovakia. Known more as a winter sports destination, Norway actually took home four medals at the 2012 Olympics, including a pair of golds.

Check, please: Rick Lamb pulled off a Cinderella story at the Tour's LECOM Health Challenge, going from Monday qualifier to the winner's circle in the span of a week. Lamb capped things with a chip-in birdie to win a four-man playoff, and after missing the cut in his first two Web events, both after Monday qualifying, he made his first check of the season one of the big, novelty kind.

Next event up: Golf doesn't have an Ironman award, but if it did, the hardware might go to Danny Lee. After floods prevented him from defending his title at The Greenbrier, Lee flew to Scotland and tied for third at Castle Stuart. While many top names are finding any reason they can to snag a week off, Lee was given a very legitimate reason to rest and instead challenged himself against a new venue on short notice.

Whatever works: John Daly played his way into the mix this weekend on the PGA Tour Champions, then proceeded to putt one-handed during the final round:

Because, why not?

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Teenager Im wins season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.