Newsmakers of 2014: Honorable mentions

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2014, 11:00 pm

You know it’s been a big year in golf if these stories were left on the cutting-room floor.

There was the man at the center of the year’s biggest tournament, the best major of the season and the man who left the field in his dust at Pinehurst – and that’s just some on our list of near-misses.

Golf Channel’s writers, editors, reporters and producers ranked the top 10 Newsmakers of 2014. The list will be revealed, one by one, day by day, beginning Thursday. For now, let’s take a look at the honorable mentions from this year:

Tom Watson: Watson was hand-picked to return the U.S. side to glory at the Ryder Cup, but instead he piloted the team into the ground. Watson’s pedigree couldn’t overcome his lack of rapport with the top American players. His captain’s picks drew immediate scrutiny and things only got worse from there. He failed to adjust once the team landed at Gleneagles, and then watched as the final news conference turned into a finger-pointing session between he and Phil Mickelson. Watson is still the last American captain to win on European soil, but that triumph at The Belfry 21 years ago will now be largely overshadowed by the chaotic loss under his watch in Scotland this year.

Martin Kaymer

Martin Kaymer: The German hadn’t done much to stand out since winning the 2010 PGA Championship and clinching the Ryder Cup in 2012, but Kaymer had a summer to remember. He won wire-to-wire at The Players Championship, opening with a 63 and holding on for victory after holing a dramatic par putt on the 17th green. That proved to be just an appetizer, though, as Kaymer cruised to another wire-to-wire victory at Pinehurst No. 2, winning the U.S. Open by eight shots.

PGA Championship

PGA Championship: After three consecutive majors that lacked drama in the final hours, the PGA Championship more than made up for any shortfall. The week began with an eye on the parking lot to see if Tiger Woods would tee it up. He did, but missed the cut. That’s when the tournament really took off as Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson squared off in an epic final-round duel that pushed the limits of daylight. Following a rain delay, the last groups finished at Valhalla in darkness as Mickelson and Fowler allowed McIlroy to hit up on the 72nd hole. That gave them a front-row seat as McIlroy held on for a one-shot win to clinch his second straight major title.

Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson: He remains one of the game’s most popular players, but 2014 was a year to forget. Lefty missed out on his first crack at the career Grand Slam at Pinehurst and went 0-for-the-year for the first time since 2003. His mid-tournament withdrawals (three) outnumbered his worldwide top-10 finishes (two). While his game didn’t do much talking, Mickelson made waves elsewhere: He was, and then wasn’t the subject of an insider-trade probe; he criticized the FedEx Cup playoff format; and he openly challenged captain Tom Watson following the disastrous U.S. Ryder Cup effort at Gleneagles.

Rickie Fowler

Rickie Fowler: It’s hard to make a Newsmakers list without winning a tournament, but Fowler nearly pulled it off after a season of high-profile near-misses. Fowler joined Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to notch top-five finishes in each of the four majors in the same calendar year (though Woods and Nicklaus both won in their campaigns). Fowler, under the guide of coach Butch Harmon, followed his T-5 finish at the Masters with two straight runner-ups and a T-3 showing at the PGA Championship. After beginning the year outside the OWGR top 50, Fowler cracked the top 10 by season’s end. Not a bad run for a guy who hasn’t touched a trophy since 2012.

Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth: Spieth’s start to 2014 was surpassed only by his finish. The 21-year-old quickly put to bed any questions of a sophomore slump, with a runner-up finish at the Masters followed by another close call at The Players Championship, where he played his first 58 holes without a bogey. After a sluggish summer, Spieth closed with an impressive cross-continental double: first capturing the Australian Open by six shots for his second professional win, then adding a 10-shot romp at the Hero World Challenge in Florida the next week.

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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.'"

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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.