Things not as bad as they may seem for Spieth

By Will GrayMay 25, 2016, 6:22 pm

FORT WORTH, Texas – Having recently moved out of the Dallas area, Colt Knost spent last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson sharing a house near the course with his friend, Jordan Spieth.

It’s hardly an unusual living arrangement for a tournament week, but it gave Knost an up-close view of the tournament’s biggest draw, who spent much of the week critiquing his play but remaining on the leaderboard all the same.

“I saw him Saturday, and he just said he was really struggling bad with his golf swing,” Knost recalled. “He said how bad he hit it Saturday, and I said, ‘How the hell did you shoot 3 under par then?’”

There, in a microcosm, sits Spieth’s current game – or at least the perception of it.

As he has continued to exit the course while focusing on his flaws, questions have begun to pop up with increasing frequency. What’s wrong with Spieth? What’s holding him back? What’s different this time around?

The answer is perhaps a few little things, but ultimately not much. Contrary to popular belief, the sky is not falling on young Mr. Spieth – a fact that he’s happy to reinforce heading into this week’s Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

“Last year I was, I think, making a few more mid-range putts than I have this year, but overall I feel like I’m still stroking it the same,” Spieth said. “Recently I’ve been trying to get back to the consistency my swing was at last year, so I’d say maybe that’s it. Just a little bit of fine-tuning of the ball-striking, but it’s coming around now.”

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The stats bear out Spieth’s assertion. While his iron play has hurt him in recent weeks – he ranks 118th on Tour in greens-in-regulation percentage – Spieth still leads the Tour in birdie average. He’s sixth in scoring average, 10th in total strokes gained, and so on.

His self-described off weeks, like last week in Dallas, still produce quality results. An early exit at The Players Championship, where he missed the cut by a shot, remains his lone result outside the top 20 since March.

Clearly, though, the view of Spieth pivoted on the 12th hole at Augusta National. Had he averted disaster and won a second straight Masters, perhaps a scenario that plays out 99 times out of 100, we’re talking about how his game sets up for another Summer of Spieth, or how he can build momentum heading into Oakmont, eyeing a fourth major title over the last six contested.

Instead, the questions facing him now focus on what went wrong, what still might be going wrong, and whether remnants of his Masters collapse still linger somewhere below the surface.

But much like an M.C. Escher painting, this all boils down to perception. No one was questioning Spieth’s ball-striking stats when he was winning tournaments by the handful last year; likewise, few are lauding him in recent weeks for his ability to keep it together despite ragged iron play or inconsistent putting.

Spieth admitted Wednesday that he has never possessed the towering ball flight that Jason Day displayed two weeks ago at TPC Sawgrass, but that fact hardly keeps him up at night. For him, the goal simply remains to get the ball in the hole as quickly as possible, a notion supported by his season-long statistics which are low on individual component strengths but high on numbers that reflect the end result.

“That’s kind of the strength of mine, is my misses are still in a position where you make par at worst,” he said. “The point is I don’t hit it the highest or the longest, but we plan what shots we hit into the greens on our approaches to have our misses not hurt us.”

“That’s the big difference I see with all the young players now, they’re so much more mature at a young age from a course management side of things,” added Adam Scott. “They manage their game well and understand how they need to, how they can effectively get the ball around the golf course.”

Any reaction to Spieth’s play, of course, is exacerbated by the play of those around him in the world rankings. Since Spieth’s last victory in January, Day has won three times while Rory McIlroy captured a high-profile event last week just hours before Spieth faltered in Dallas.

Recency bias can be a powerful blinder, and it’s likely affecting how we assess the current state of the reigning Player of the Year.

As a result, Spieth is once again poised to face the music this week at Colonial, his third start in as many weeks, knowing a new set of not-so-fresh questions likely awaits him next week at the Memorial.

“I think it’s normal, and it’s tough when it is being asked, and my results aren’t showing,” Spieth said. “I’ve seen both sides of it. Right now, I’m on the side where I’ve given it back, and both of them are coming off wins, and I had a chance to win and didn’t. At this present moment, I feel exactly what the questions that are being asked, I feel the same way, and I feel like I need to work my but off to get back, and I feel like I can.”

Set to tackle a course where he has excelled in the past, perhaps a little extra motivation is all that separates Spieth from a change in perception.

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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.