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Punch Shot: Upset picks, cup favorite with two to go

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 13, 2017, 11:45 am

After a one-week hiatus, the FedExCup Playoffs return for the BMW Championship outside of Chicago. GolfChannel.com senior writers Rex Hoggard and Ryan Lavner were asked on the conversational tool Slack, Which player, if any, will be hampered the most by the break: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas or Jordan Spieth?

The two took it from there. No moderator necessary.

Lavner: No player will be affected by the off-week – they won’t lose all of their ability because they put away the clubs for a few days, and all three needed a little break. I do, however, think it was good for Spieth. Motivation is never an issue for him, but with back-to-back runner-up finishes in the playoffs, and being thisclose to putting it all together, it was a nice reset.

Hoggard: I wouldn't think the break would impact any player considering how much golf they have been playing lately, although Johnson returning to an event where he is the defending champion (the BMW was played at a different venue last year) can only fuel his confidence.

Lavner: You're really going to play the defending champ card? He tied for seventh the last time this event was held at Conway Farms (2015).

Hoggard: OK, he's finished first-T-18 in his last two starts and looks like the guy who was unbeatable earlier this year. That work?

Lavner: Fair enough, but if we're looking at the favorites for this week, he'd be third on my list, behind Thomas and Spieth, in that order.

Hoggard: Would say all three of those players would be co-favorites for the foreseeable future until Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, et al, rediscover some form. Dark horse would be a more interesting topic?


BMW Championship: Articles, video and photos

Current FedExCup Playoff points standings


Lavner: The dark horse for this week is Patrick Cantlay. He opened these playoffs with back-to-back top-15s, continuing what has been a remarkable comeback season. It's been so impressive, in fact, that I thought he should have been one of Captain Stricker's wildcard picks for the Presidents Cup.

Hoggard: Glad you shared your views on Cantlay being a pick. Maybe Stricker could have selected Bigfoot as well? Cantlay has been a solid story, but I will be interested to see how Kevin Chappell responds after earning his spot on the team and playing well in New York.

Lavner: All right, the BMW marks the halfway point of the postseason. We know all about the top five, and how it mirrors the top five in the world ranking (shameless plug: read my story!), but who outside the magic number could crash this playoff party?

Hoggard: Have to go with Paul Casey on this one. Although he's probably going to be a bit distracted after the birth of his second child this week, the dude has done everything except win in recent weeks with top-5 finishes at four of his last six starts.

Lavner: No doubt, he's been a machine in the playoffs the last two years, but to win the FedExCup he is going to have to win at least one playoff event. That's a lot to ask of a guy who has one career victory on Tour.

Hoggard: Agreed, and his finish in Boston (T-4) seemed to suggest his bridesmaid status is starting to become an issue. Should also mention Marc Leishman as a possible party crasher. It was a tough finish for him in Boston, but he is always overlooked/underrated.

Lavner: Criminally underrated. I would throw out Justin Rose as a potential outsider. It hasn't been the best year for him since that crushing loss at Augusta, but he has consecutive top-10s in the playoffs and his record at East Lake is so good (four consecutive top-6s) that he just needs to give himself a chance to cash in.

Hoggard: There are no shortage of guys who can change the script, but it's hard to imagine how this doesn't come down to the (current) Big 3 of Spieth, Thomas and Johnson. To be honest, I'm not sure our conversation three weeks from now if, say, Leishman wins the season-long race, will be overly kind. Playoffs should identify the best, and right now those three are the best.

Lavner: But with apologies to Bill Haas and Brandt Snedeker and Billy Horschel, it hasn't always done that, right? As the cup moves into its second decade, are we finally OK with how this whole thing works?

Hoggard: From a general perspective (the top players competing in large markets during a time of year they normally wouldn't), the playoffs have been successful. Details, however, are always difficult for fans, players and media to understand. The Tour could help this along by simplifying the process.

Lavner: And how would you do that? I'm fine with the cutoffs for the top 100, 70 and then 30, but the Tour Championship needs a serious makeover. I would suggest a five-day event: three rounds of stroke-play qualifying, then a match-play bracket for the top 8 and the shot at $10 million. Might get a dud championship match, but at least the format would be something different.

Hoggard: The Tour has spent a decade considering a similar kind of head-to-head finish at East Lake with little success/interest, so I'm not sure we will see any significant changes there. The circuit will, however, need to tinker with the field sizes and points distribution when the schedule makeover starts in 2019. If there are only going to be three playoff events, which seems likely, there will need to be more volatility.

Lavner: Except volatility isn't a good thing for a "season-long race," which the FedEx is supposed to be. If DJ or Thomas or Spieth get bumped in the first event, then everyone is livid (and rightfully so).

Hoggard: Not sure there would be that much volatility, but there will need to be a way for those who just make the playoffs (either top 125 or top 100 on the points list) to advance. Under the current format that's not going to happen.

Lavner: Well, that's why those in Ponte Vedra get paid the big bucks, to figure out these sorts of dilemmas. Let's wrap it up with this: With two weeks to go, who is your pick to win the cup?

Hoggard: There is something strangely concerning about Spieth's finishes in the first two post-season starts (back-to-back runner-up finishes), but he continues to be the most consistent player and he has won the season-long race before. That experience will be the difference.

Lavner: I don't know about "concerning" – he got beat by the better players that week. But I, too, am going with Spieth. He has the most to gain over these two weeks, and he should come out firing on venues where he's had prior success. Or maybe that's just wishful thinking, because a Spieth FedEx title would (will?) make for a very compelling Player of the Year vote.

Hoggard: I like your thinking, but I'm pretty sure Thomas wrapped up POY with his victory in Boston, according to the players I've spoken to. See you after East Lake.

Lavner: Seems that's a Slack convo for another day.

Cut and not so dry: Shinnecock back with a new look

By Bradley KleinMay 21, 2018, 9:22 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - The last time the USGA was here at Shinnecock Hills, it nearly had a train wreck on its hands. The last day of the 2004 U.S. Open was so dry and the turf so firm that play was stopped in the morning just to get some water on the greens.

The lessons learned from that debacle are now on display three weeks before Shinnecock gets another U.S. Open. And this time, the USGA is prepared with all sorts of high-tech devices – firmness meters, moisture monitors, drone technology to measure turf temperatures - to make sure the playing surfaces remain healthy.

Players, meanwhile, will face a golf course that is 548 yards longer than a dozen years ago, topping out now at 7,445 yards for the par-70 layout. Ten new tees have assured that the course will keep up with technology and distance. They’ll also require players to contend with the bunkering and fairway contours that designer William Flynn built when he renovated Shinnecock Hills in 1930.

And those greens will not only have more consistent turf cover, they’ll also be a lot larger – like 30 percent bigger. What were mere circles averaging 5,500 square feet are now about 7,200 square feet. That will mean more hole locations, more variety to the setup, and more rollouts into surrounding low-mow areas. Slight misses that ended up in nearby rough will now be down in hollows many more yards away.



The course now has an open, windswept look to it – what longtime green chairman Charles Stevenson calls “a maritime grassland.” You don’t get to be green chairman of a prominent club for 37 years without learning how to deal with politics, and he’s been a master while implementing a long-term plan to bring the course back to its original scale and angles. In some cases that required moving tees back to recapture the threat posed by cross-bunkers and steep falloffs. Two of the bigger extensions come on the layout’s two par-5s, which got longer by an average of 60 yards. The downwind, downhill par-4 14th hole got stretched 73 yards and now plays 519.

“We want players to hit driver,” says USGA executive director Mike Davis.

The also want to place an emphasis upon strategy and position, which is why, after the club had expanded its fairways the last few years, the USGA decided last September to bring them back in somewhat.

The decision followed analysis of the driving statistics from the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where wide fairways proved very hospitable to play. Players who made the cut averaged hitting 77 percent of fairways and driving it 308 yards off the tee. There was little fear of the rough there. “We didn’t get the wind and the dry conditions we anticipated,” says Davis.

Moving ahead to Shinnecock Hills, he and the setup staff wanted to balance the need for architectural variety with a traditional emphasis upon accuracy. So they narrowed the fairways at Shinnecock Hills last September by seven acres. They are still much wider than in the U.S. Opens played here in 1986, 1995 and 2004, when the average width of the landing areas was 26.6 yards. “Now they are 41.6 yards across on average,” said Davis. So they are much wider than in previous U.S. Opens and make better use of the existing contours and bring lateral bunkers into play.

This time around, with more consistent, healthier turf cover and greens that have plenty of nutrients and moisture, the USGA should be able to avoid the disastrous drying out of the putting surfaces that threatened that final day in 2004. The players will also face a golf course that is more consistent than ever with its intended width, design, variety and challenge. That should make for a more interesting golf course and, by turn, more interesting viewing.

Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys Documentary Series Continues Tonight at 8 p.m. ET on Golf Channel

By Golf Channel Public RelationsMay 21, 2018, 8:27 pm

Monday’s third installment in the four-part series focuses on the Big 12 Championships and NCAA Regional Championships

Reigning NCAA National Champion Oklahoma Sooners and Top-Ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys Prepare for Showdown Friday at the 2018 NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships

ORLANDO, Fla., May 21, 2018 – Tonight’s third episode of the critically-acclaimed documentary series Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys (8 p.m. ET) wraps up the conclusion of the 2017-18 regular season and turns to post-season play for the top-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys and reigning NCAA National Champions Oklahoma Sooners.

Drivenwill take viewers behind the scenes with the conclusion of regular season play; the Big 12 Conference Championship, where Oklahoma captured their first conference championship since 2006; and the NCAA Regional Championships, where Oklahoma State and Oklahoma – both No. 1 seeds in their respective regionals – were both victorious and punched tickets to the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships.

The episode also will set up the showdown starting Friday at the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships, where Oklahoma State will attempt to dethrone Oklahoma as national champions, all taking place at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., Oklahoma State’s home course. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will be paired together for the first two rounds of individual stroke play Friday and Saturday.

Driven’s fourth and final episode will air on NBC on Saturday, June 16 at 5 p.m. ET, recapping all of the action at the NCAA Golf National Championships and the two programs’ 2017-18 golf seasons.

Golf Channel is airing back-to-back weeks of live tournament coverage of the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships. Golf Channel’s coverage begins today (4-8 p.m. ET) to crown the individual national champion and track the teams attempting to qualify for the eight-team match play championship. Golf Channel’s coverage on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 22-23 will include all three rounds of team match play, ultimately crowning a team national champion. Next week (May 28-30), the same programming schedule will take place for the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships.

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Mann's impact on LPGA felt on and off course

By Randall MellMay 21, 2018, 8:00 pm

Just a few short hours after winning the U.S. Women’s Open in 1965, Carol Mann was surprised at the turn of emotion within her.

She called her friend and mentor, Marlene Hagge, and asked if they could meet for a glass of wine at the Atlantic City hotel where players were staying.

Hagge was one of the LPGA’s 13 founders.

“I’ll never forget Carol saying, `I don’t mean to sound funny, because winning the U.S. Women’s Open was wonderful, but is that all there is?’” Hagge told GolfChannel.com Monday after hearing news of Mann’s death.

It was one of the many defining moments in Mann’s rich life, because it revealed her relentless search for meaning, within the game, and beyond it.

Mann, an LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer, died at her home in Woodlands, Texas. She was 77.

“Carol was a very good friend, and a really sincere and good person,” Hagge said. “She was intelligent and insightful, the kind of person who always wanted to know the `why’ of things. She wasn’t content to be told this is the way something is. She had to know why.”

Mann’s search for meaning in the sport took her outside the ropes. She was a towering presence, at 6 feet 3, but her stature was more than physical. She won 38 LPGA titles, two of them major championships, but her mark on the game extended to her leadership skills.

From 1973 to ’76, Mann was president of the LPGA, leading the tour in challenging times.

“Carol was a significant player in the growth of the LPGA,” LPGA Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said. “She was involved when some big changes came to the tour. She was a talented woman beyond her golf.”

Mann oversaw the hiring of the tour’s first commissioner, Ray Volpe, a former NFL marketing executive. Their moves helped steer the tour out of the financial problems that threatened it.

“Carol was willing to do something nobody else wanted to do and nobody else had the brains to do,” Hagge said. “She loved the LPGA, and she wanted to make it a better place.”

At the cost of her own career.

Juggling the tour presidency with a playing career wasn’t easy.

“My golf seemed so secondary while I was president in 1975,” Mann once told author Liz Kahn for the book, “The LPGA: The Unauthorized Version.”

That was a pivotal year in tour history, with the LPGA struggling with an ongoing lawsuit, a legal battle Jane Blalock won when the courts ruled the tour violated antitrust laws by suspending her. With the tour appealing its legal defeats, a protracted battle threatened to cripple LPGA finances.

It was also the year Mann led the hiring of Volpe.

“I could barely get to the course in time to tee off,” Mann told Kahn. “There was so much other activity. I burned myself out a bit.”

Still, Mann somehow managed to win four times in ’75, but she wouldn’t again in the years that followed.

“I had launched a ship, and then I had to let it go, which was not easy,” she said of leaving her tour president’s role. “I was depressed thinking that no one on tour would say thank you to me for what I had done. Some would, others never would, and 10 years later players wouldn’t give a damn.”

Mann’s reign as a player and a leader aren’t fully appreciated today.

“A lot of players in the ‘60s haven’t been fully appreciated,” Rankin said.

Mann won 10 LPGA titles in 1968, the same year Kathy Whitworth won 10. Mann won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average that year. She won eight times in ’69 and was the tour’s leading money winner.

“Those were the toughest times to win,” Hagge said. “You had Kathy Whitworth and Mickey Wright, who is the best player I ever saw, and I saw them all. You had so many great players you had to beat in that era.”

Mann’s good humor came out when she was asked about her height.

“I’m 5-foot-15,” she liked to say.

After retiring from the tour at 40, Mann stayed active in golf, working as a TV analyst for NBC, ABC and ESPN. She found meaning in her Christian faith, and she was active supporting female athletes. She was president of the Women’s Sports Foundation for five years. She wrote a guest column for the Houston Post. She devoted herself to the World Golf Hall of Fame, taught at Woodlands Country Club and became the first woman to own and operate a course design and management firm.

“I’ve walked on the moon,” Mann once said. “I enjoy being a person, and getting old and dying are fine. I never think how people will remember Carol Mann. The mark I made is an intimate satisfaction.”

 

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Nelson win moves Wise to 12th in Ryder Cup race

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 7:12 pm

Aaron Wise received plenty of perks with his title Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson, but the victory also brought with it a healthy bump in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings.

The 21-year-old notched his maiden win at Trinity Forest in impressive fashion, holding off Marc Leishman in near-darkness. After starting the week at No. 46 in the points race for Paris, Wise is now all the way up to 12th with the top eight players after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically for the team.

Jimmy Walker moved from 18th to 15th with a top-10 finish in Dallas, while an idle Tiger Woods dropped one position to No. 32.

Here's a look at the updated standings, as the top 11 names remained in order this week:

1. Patrick Reed

2. Justin Thomas

3. Dustin Johnson

4. Jordan Spieth

5. Bubba Watson

6. Rickie Fowler

7. Brooks Koepka

8. Phil Mickelson

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9. Webb Simpson

10. Matt Kuchar

11. Brian Harman

12. Aaron Wise

It was also a quiet week on the European side of the race, where the top four from both the European Points and World Points list in August will join a roster rounded out by four selections from captain Thomas Bjorn.

Here's a look at the latest European standings:

European Points

1. Tyrrell Hatton

2. Justin Rose

3. Jon Rahm

4. Ross Fisher

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5. Matthew Fitzpatrick

World Points

1. Rory McIlroy

2. Tommy Fleetwood

3. Sergio Garcia

4. Alex Noren

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5. Ian Poulter