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Hot Seat: DJ's distance puts heat on governing bodies

By Randall MellJanuary 10, 2018, 7:09 pm

Who turned up the thermostats at the USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J. and The R&A offices in St. Andrews, Scotland, this week?

Blame it on Dustin Johnson.

His Ruthian blast while winning Sunday in Hawaii must make the seats of USGA executive director Mike Davis and R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers feel a little hotter starting the new year. With Johnson nearly holing out with driver at the 433-yard 12th hole, the distance debate escalates for both the USGA and the R&A.

The Hot Seat is back at GolfChannel.com, and here are the folks who are on it this week as we try to gauge the level of heat they’re facing ...

Bunson burner heat: Mike Davis and Martin Slumbers

Is this the year golf’s governing bodies force a showdown with ball and club manufacturers? The work R&D departments have done with polymers in their high-tech laboratories is helping players hit the ball farther than they ever have. So is the work they’re doing with shafts and drivers.

But is it helping or hurting the game?

When Davis said in November that the distance players are hitting the ball is having a “horrible” impact on the game, it was a pretty big clue where he stands on the question. Can you say that as the USGA’s point man and not try to do something about it? It sounded like it might be a call to arms.

Davis and Slumbers earn high praise for their leadership helping to oversee a modernization of the Rules of Golf, a monumental task in helping make the rules simpler and easier to understand, but they are tasked with something even more complicated if they dare to try to restrict the ball this year. They didn’t create this mess, but they inherited it with previous administrations failing to reign in manufacturers.

Was Johnson’s blast good for the game or bad for it?

The question is worth repeating because there may be no more complicated question in golf to answer. If the USGA and R&A answer no to the question, there’s no simple way to solve the problem, whether you like the idea of bifurcation or not.


Jason Day and Rory McIlroy


DJ-style grill-flamed barbecue: Rory McIlroy and Jason Day

Yes, McIlroy and Day won’t be teeing it up at the Sony Open in Hawaii this week, but these gifted former world No. 1s must feel like the stakes were raised in their bids to claim back the game’s most important titles and awards after Johnson’s tour-de-force performance Sunday at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

McIlroy and Day have the kind of firepower it takes to dominate the way Johnson is threatening to do.

After off years with unique challenges, with McIlroy slipping to No. 11 in the world rankings and Day to No. 13, there’s excitement building to see what answers they have for the statement Johnson made. These giant talents, with their raw power, are capable of fireworks displays every bit as mesmerizing as Johnson.



Island fever: Jim “Bones” Mackay

Mackay is quickly growing into his role as a roving TV course reporter, showing the promise of being as special with a microphone in hand as he is with a bag on his shoulder, but he is leaving his TV gig for a one-week return to serving as caddie at the Sony Open. Mackay promises to stay in the spotlight there carrying the bag of Justin Thomas, last year’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

Mackay will go down as one of the greatest caddies who ever toted a bag, but this marks the first time he’ll loop on Tour since he put down Phil Mickelson’s bag last summer. After 25 years with Mickelson, it will be strange to see Mackay on somebody else’s bag.

Mackay, who is helping out while Thomas’ regular caddie, Jimmy Johnson, heals up from a foot injury, will be doing his best to help Thomas get off to another great year, and there has to be some pressure in that, even as accustomed to pressure as Mackay is.

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Suwannapura beats Lincicome in playoff for first win

By Associated PressJuly 15, 2018, 10:49 pm

SYLVANIA, Ohio - Thidapa Suwannapura won her first LPGA event on Sunday, closing with a 6-under 65 and birdieing the first playoff hole to defeat Brittany Lincicome at the Marathon Classic.

The 25-year-old Thai player is the sixth first-time winner on tour this year. Her previous best finish in 120 starts was seventh at the 2014 Kingsmill Championship.

Suwannapura picked up three strokes over her final two holes, making eagle on the par-5 17th and closing with a birdie on the par-5 18th at Highland Meadows to finish at 14-under 270.

In the playoff, Suwannapura converted a short birdie putt after Lincicome hit her second shot into a water hazard and scrambled for par.

Lincicome shot 67. She had a chance to win in regulation, but her birdie putt from about 10 feet did a nearly 360-degree turn around the edge of the cup and stayed out. Next up for the big-hitting Lincicome: a start against the men at the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship.

Third-round leader Brooke Henderson led by two shots after six holes, but struggled the rest of the way. Back-to-back bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes dropped her out of the lead. The 20-year-old Canadian finished with a 2-under 69, one shot out of the playoff.

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Kim cruises to first win, final Open invite at Deere

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 9:38 pm

Following the best week of his professional career, Michael Kim is both a winner on the PGA Tour and the 156th and final player to earn a tee time next week at The Open.

Kim entered the final round of the John Deere Classic with a five-shot lead, and the former Cal standout removed any lingering doubt about the tournament's outcome with birdies on each of his first three holes. He cruised from there, shooting a bogey-free 66 to finish the week at 27 under and win by eight shots over Francesco Molinari, Joel Dahmen, Sam Ryder and Bronson Burgoon.

It equals the tournament scoring record and ties for the largest margin of victory on Tour this season, matching Dustin Johnson's eight-shot romp at Kapalua in January and Molinari's margin two weeks ago at the Quicken Loans National.

"Just super thankful," Kim said. "It's been a tough first half of the year. But to be able to finish it out in style like this means a lot."

Kim, 25, received the Haskins Award as the nation's top collegiate player back in 2013, but his ascent to the professional ranks has been slow. He had only one top-10 finish in 83 starts on Tour entering the week, tying for third at the Safeway Open in October 2016, and had missed the cut each of the last three weeks.

But the pieces all came together at TPC Deere Run, where Kim opened with 63 and held a three-shot lead after 36 holes. His advantage was trimmed to a single shot during a rain-delayed third round, but Kim returned to the course late Saturday and closed with four straight birdies on Nos. 15-18 to build a five-shot cushion and inch closer to his maiden victory.

As the top finisher among the top five not otherwise exempt, Kim earned the final spot at Carnoustie as part of the Open Qualifying Series. It will be his first major championship appearance since earning low amateur honors with a T-17 finish at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, and he is also now exempt for the PGA Championship and next year's Masters.

The last player to earn the final Open spot at the Deere and make the cut the following week was Brian Harman, who captured his first career win at TPC Deere Run in 2014 and went on to tie for 26th at Royal Liverpool.

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Poulter offers explanation in dispute with marshal

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:47 pm

Ian Poulter took to Twitter to offer an explanation after the Englishman was accused of verbally abusing a volunteer during the third round of the Scottish Open.

Poulter hooked his drive on the opening hole at Gullane Golf Club into a bush, where Quintin Jardine was working as a marshal. Poulter went on to find the ball, wedge out and make bogey, but the details of the moments leading up to his second shot differ depending on who you ask.

Jardine wrote a letter to the tournament director that he also turned into a colorfully-titled blog post, accusing Poulter of berating him for not going into the bush "feet first" in search of the ball since Poulter would have received a free drop had his ball been stepped on by an official.


Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open


"I stood and waited for the player. It turned out to be Mr. Poulter, who arrived in a shower of expletives and asked me where his ball was," Jardine wrote. "I told him and said that I had not ventured into the bush for fear of standing on it. I wasn't expecting thanks, but I wasn't expecting aggression, either."

Jardine added that Poulter stayed to exchange heated words with the volunteer even after wedging his ball back into the fairway. After shooting a final-round 69 to finish in a tie for 30th, Poulter tweeted his side of the story to his more than 2.3 million followers:

Poulter, 42, won earlier this year on the PGA Tour at the Houston Open and is exempt into The Open at Carnoustie, where he will make his 17th Open appearance. His record includes a runner-up at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and a T-3 finish at Muirfield in 2013.

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Immelman misses Open bid via OWGR tiebreaker

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:25 pm

A resurgent performance at the Scottish Open gave Trevor Immelman his first top-10 finish in more than four years, but it left him short of a return to The Open by the slimmest of margins.

The former Masters champ turned back the clock this week at Gullane Golf Club, carding four straight rounds of 68 or better. That run included a 5-under 65 in the final round, which gave him a tie for third and left him five shots behind winner Brandon Stone. It was his first worldwide top-10 since a T-10 finish at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open.

There were three spots available into The Open for players not otherwise exempt, and for a brief moment it appeared Immelman, 38, might sneak the third and final invite.


Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open


But with Stone and runner-up Eddie Pepperell both not qualified, that left the final spot to be decided between Immelman and Sweden's Jens Dantorp who, like Immelman, tied for third at 15 under.

As has been the case with other stops along the Open Qualifying Series, the tiebreaker to determine invites is the players' standing in the Official World Golf Rankings entering the week. Dantorp is currently No. 322 in the world, but with Immelman ranked No. 1380 the Swede got the nod.

This will mark Dantorp's first-ever major championship appearance. Immelman, who hasn't made the cut in a major since the 2013 Masters, was looking to return to The Open for 10th time and first since a missed cut at Royal Lytham six years ago. He will instead work the week at Carnoustie as part of Golf Channel and NBC's coverage of The Open.