Spieth is in Houston, but with eyes on Augusta

By Will GrayMarch 30, 2016, 7:38 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – The calendar has yet to hit April, but it’s already been a banner year for chalk in golf.

Week in and week out, the best in the game are showing, well, why they’re the best in the game. Players currently ranked inside the top 21 have won on Tour seven of the last eight weeks, and only one player has managed to punch his ticket to the Masters by virtue of a win. (Take a bow, Vaughn Taylor.)

Jordan Spieth kicked off this recent run of top-shelf dominance with his eight-shot romp at Kapalua, a signal that he was eager to pick up right where he left off following an all-everything season.

But in subsequent weeks, Spieth has stalled while other top players around him picked up steam.

Granted, the sky is not exactly falling on the newly minted world No. 2. Spieth’s “drought,” if that term even applies, consists of four top-25 finishes in five starts since leaving Maui. But he was visibly frustrated during rounds at Riviera and Innisbrook, and he was hardly a factor at Doral.

Returning to his college roots last week in Austin, Spieth appeared in command before a poor range session led to an upset loss to Louis Oosthuizen in the Round of 16.

“I just couldn’t grab a shot that I knew I could go to the course with,” he said. “It was just a very off day.”

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One year ago, Spieth arrived at the Shell Houston Open brimming with confidence and on a mission. He had won the Valspar Championship and finished second at the Valero Texas Open in his two most recent starts, and he stated his clear goal during a pre-tournament news conference.

“I’m trying to trim the fat this week,” he said at the time. “Trying to find the little straighter ball flight to take into Augusta versus working it quite a bit both ways, then especially nailing down my short game.”

Needless to say, he accomplished what he set out to do. Spieth lost in a playoff to J.B. Holmes, then headed east and promptly laid waste to the field at Augusta National.

It’s a two-step that Spieth would certainly love to repeat. But this time around, there’s some extra gristle left on the bone.

“I need to do a little bit more than just trimming the fat,” Spieth said Wednesday. “Last year my consistency was there. We had just won and finished runner-up, coming in here off better finishes than I am this year.”

Spieth was quick to note that, on the heels of a five-win season, he feels better equipped to perform in the clutch than he did a year ago. And, after some thought, he added that an early-week consult with swing coach Cameron McCormick has his major prep back on track.

“Everything is there,” he said. “It’s right where we want it to be going into the Masters.”

But in listening to Spieth’s self-evaluation, it’s clear that there’s work to be done and, what’s more, he knows it. Things may have been on autopilot 52 weeks ago, but he is forced to take a much more hands-on approach this time.

It marks a bit of a paradigm shift for the 22-year-old, who has essentially been at the center of the golf universe since he first slipped an arm inside the green jacket. Now he is one of a handful of Masters favorites, relegated to the sidelines in recent weeks while Bubba Watson, Adam Scott and Jason Day racked up trophy after trophy.

Spieth noted that this year’s Masters could be one of the most difficult to predict in recent memory, simply because so many top players are performing so well. But if that creates a more muddled upper echelon heading into the season’s first major, that’s fine with the defending champ.

“I don’t really care about spotlight or not,” Spieth said. “We go and do our thing that week. Hopefully we’re the ones that are in contention, and we’re the most recent winners of it. We’ve got it fresh in our mind. Hopefully it’s an advantage.”

As the Masters approaches with increasing speed, the time for finding one’s game has passed. Momentum, however, can still be harnessed, and it can sometimes make all the difference under the crucible of major championship pressure.

Charl Schwartzel knows all about winning at Augusta National, but he’s enjoying a recent boost from his playoff win at Innisbrook, his first on the PGA Tour since his major breakthrough.

“You feel your game is good enough to win, but to know it’s good enough is a different thing,” Schwartzel said. “Just having that win makes you believe more.”

For Spieth, the emphasis isn’t necessarily on winning – it’s simply being near the lead, as evidenced by last year’s results. Contending breeds confidence, and it leads to invaluable opportunities to execute under pressure.

“It’s just a matter now of hitting nerve-racking shots and putts before that week, which means I’ve got to get myself into contention this week,” he said.

Spieth is hardly alone in mapping out his early-season schedule with an eye on Augusta. He could also miss the cut this week and still find a way to successfully defend his title next week.

But for Spieth, the plan has always been to peak for what he views as the biggest event of the year. While he’s not quite there by his own admission, he has one more opportunity this week to make up some ground.

The Masters may be on the horizon, but right now it’s time for Spieth to go to work in Houston.

“There’s a lot I need to do this week to better prepare for the Masters and feel that I have the confidence to win,” he said. “I just need a little more consistency.” 

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.