Fore Things: For Walker, shorter is better


KAPALUA, Hawaii – The first round of the year is in the books at the SBS Tournament of Champions and some different names are atop the leaderboard at the place dominated by Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson over the past few years. Here are four takeaways from Thursday at Kapalua:

Jordan Spieth’s streak came to a crashing halt with an opening-round 72 and he is tied for 22nd place. In his previous eight rounds at the Tournament of Champions, Spieth had been in either first or second place after each, including an eight-shot victory last year. His career scoring average at Kapalua was 67.0. Was…

On this day it was his wedge play and putting (of all things) that prevented him from scoring better.

“I really didn’t have it with my scoring clubs,” he said. “Everything seems to be in place, just try to make a few more putts.”

Jimmy Walker wanted to hit more fairways, so during the Christmas break he and a buddy chopped his driver shaft down to 42 inches. Walker loved it so much that he had Titleist build him something similar. It’s the only driver he brought to Hawaii, that’s how committed he is to the decision.

Walker figures he’s losing anywhere from 5 to 20 yards of distance at times but he’s willing to sacrifice it in hopes of hitting more fairways. He averaged 273.5 off the tee on Thursday, good for 21st out of 32 players, hit 11 of 15 fairways and made six birdies and an eagle to shoot 8-under 65. He leads three others by two shots.

“I just feel like I've got more control,” he said. “I feel like the golf swing is better at that length for me, and that's where I've always struggled, the longer the club got. So that's the thinking. More fairways is what I'm looking for.”

Twelve years ago Jim Herman played the Plantation Course while on a Hawaiian island-hopping honeymoon with his new bride Carolyn. Back then he was a club pro, joined with some locals, used rental clubs and went out and shot something around even par as his memory recalls. This time he shot 6-under 67 and is tied for second place, two shots off the lead.

“This is a long way from there, 12 years ago,” he said. “I’d like to say that I always believe it but it’s a pretty long way from being an assistant pro to a tournament winner on the PGA Tour.”

Herman qualified for this event via a victory in Houston last April. Since then he’s missed nine cuts and his best finish in that span is a 13th-place tie at the RSM Classic in November.

Jason Dufner, where have you been? The last Dufner sighting was in the form of an eighth-place finish at the Tour Championship. He hasn’t played since.

“Getting away from the game is big for me,” he said. “Taking time off and decompressing, getting into kind of a normal life, as opposed to being out here every week.”

A fresh Dufner made five birdies to shoot 68 and is tied for fifth place.