Getty Images

Rosaforte Report: The Phil-Tom Brady connection

By Tim RosaforteMarch 5, 2018, 7:20 pm

Jimmy Dunne was playing with Tom Brady and Rory McIlroy at Seminole on Sunday when he predicted a Phil Mickelson-Justin Thomas playoff in the WGC-Mexico Championship. Afterward, the club president got a text from Brady saying, “You called it Dunne man.”

The scenario at Chapultepec is what the 40-year-old Brady faces every week in the NFL. At 47, Mickelson is 23 years older than Thomas. But age didn’t matter, or if it did, it mattered in Mickelson’s favor. He looked past the 2017 Player of the Year and FedEx Cup champion in the drawing of straws, and made par on the first hole of the playoff for his first win in 102 tournaments, a streak that goes back to the 2013 Open Championship.

The Patriots would have retired Brady had he gone that long without a victory, but this is golf and Mickelson kept making Cup teams and using those as motivation. As Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk told me recently, “You could see it in Phil’s eyes, hear it in his voice.” The same way with the same desire that Brady shows every season.

Mickelson and Brady had been friends before Dunne invited them to Augusta National prior to last year’s Masters, but that’s when they really hit it off. Brady would throw spirals to Mickelson outside their cottage and they discussed the concept of sports science that Brady believes in, where ‘overload, overload’ is a way of creating body speed. Whether it’s throwing a bullet to Danny Amendola or smashing a 300-yard drive on the PGA Tour, it’s what coaches in the NFL and PGA Tour call ‘using the ground’.

Phil worked hard this offseason, but didn’t want anybody to know how hard. When I called in early January he didn’t want a big deal made out of his condition (under 220 pounds) or ball speed (currently in the ballpark with Alex Noren, Jamie Lovemark and Rickie Fowler at 172.89 MPH).

People, opponents, media would have expected too much – especially after splitting with swing instructor Butch Harmon and caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay. All he would share was, “I’m physically a lot stronger. I’ve been practicing and working to get my game sharp. I don’t know how it’s going to start out, but I’m very optimistic.”

Based on his winter, with three top-six finishes on the West Coast, that included a second-place finish at Pebble Beach, Mickelson was already right where he wanted to be in peaking for the Masters. The win in Mexico validated the work he put in to get his game back.

This is Phil’s 27th season on Tour. It’s also his third with swing coach Andrew Getson and second with brother Tim Mickelson on his bag. One year older than when Jack Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters, Phil heads into Augusta predicting, “there’s a lot more to come.”

I talked to Dunne early Monday, who concurred, “TB feels exactly the same.”


A real game-changer for India?

Shubhankar Sharma didn’t get the win he wanted, but the experience of playing with Mickelson on Sunday in the WGC-Mexico Championship was valuable. The 21-year-old native of India returned home for his country’s national open this week in Delhi after witnessing Mickelson’s hall-of-fame lesson on how to close for the 43rd time.

Prior to Sunday, there was some debate as to whether a victory by Sharma would have been a game changer for golf in the world’s second-largest country, with 1.3 billion people.

“Everybody thought when I won, it was going to be a big deal,” said Arjun Atwal, the first player from India to win on the PGA Tour. “But nothing really happened in India. Even though it was a really big deal, our country is so big and so overpopulated, how do you get through to the masses, because nobody really follows golf? I hope (Sharma’s performance) does in any small way, but we’ll see.”

Atwal followed in the footsteps of Jeev Milkha Singh, who won 20 events as a pro including four times on the European Tour. Atwal did what Singh could never accomplish, winning the 2010 Wyndham Championship by a shot over David Toms.

Anirban Lahiri has recorded the best finish by an Indian player in a major (T-5 in the 2015 PGA) and became the first native of India to compete in the Presidents Cup (2015 and 2017). He saw the performance by Sharma as the biggest game changer there’s been so far – but that was before his final-round 74. Coming off wins in the Joburg Open and Maybank Championship, the test will be how Sharma rebounds from a T-9 finish in his first WGC.

“He’ll have a huge reception back home regardless of what happened,” Lahiri said. “We’re all so proud of him.”


Wie's body of work

Knowing she’s a chronic tinkerer, David Leadbetter made a bet with Michelle Wie about whether she would make changes to what they worked on over the winter. He wasn’t talking about the color of her hair.

Leadbetter wouldn’t give me the amount, only going far enough to say it was “substantial.” He had been getting text messages from Wie even before her victory in the HSBC Women’s World Championship saying, “I’m still doing it. The bet looks good.”

What exactly did they change that led to Wie’s first win in 1,365 days? To take pressure off Wie’s torso and back, Leadbetter modified Wie’s leg action, softening her stiff right knee through impact. That created more control of a left-to-right ball flight.

“She’s still taped up like a boxer,” Leadbetter said. “But the major goal, trying to produce action that doesn’t put stress on her body and create injuries.”

Although not the longest player on the LPGA, Wie is still a big hitter so they also focused on wedge play, keeping the blade squarer through the ball. From a putting perspective, they went with more performance drills rather than technical instruction. While it’s early, Wie leads the tour in putting average with 26.45 putts per round that includes the 36-footer she made on the 72nd hole to win by a stroke. She did this with three different putting grips in the final round, but that was not part of the bet.

They worked together in January at the Bears Club near Wie’s home in Jupiter, Fla., and again before Wie headed to Thailand.

“I could see this coming,” Leadbetter said. “If she can just stay healthy, I think she’ll have a fabulous year.”


I Love the '90s, fashion edition

This week’s Valspar Championship won’t be Tiger Woods’ first competitive trip to the Innisbrook Resort. In 1996, Woods and Kelli Kuehne finished second in the JCPenney Mixed Team Championship.

Kuehne and her brothers, Hank and Trip, grew up playing AJGA and USGA amateur events, with Kelli winning the U.S. Junior Girls, two U.S. Women’s Amateur titles and the British Ladies Amateur.

“We were both just kids,” Kelli said of her ’96 teammate. Kids with a lot of money: Kuehne was recuited by Tiger’s father Earl to sign with IMG, which negotiated a six-figure deal for Kuehne with Nike.

I talked to Kuehne from her home in Texas on Monday. Her favorite memories of that week include the contest she had with Tiger over who would wear the most Nike logos, plus the pleated pants and men’s extra small golf shirts that draped over her since Nike didn’t have a women’s line back then.

“They were so gigantic,” Kuehne said. “When you look at them on Facebook, they’re pretty amazing.”

Getty Images

Garcia leads as Valderrama Masters extends to Monday

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2021, 3:52 pm

Weather continues to be the enemy at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where Sergio Garcia remains in front as the tournament heads for a Monday finish.

European Tour officials had already ceded the fact that 72 holes would not be completed this week in Spain, but players were not even able to finish 54 holes before another set of thunderstorms rolled in Sunday afternoon to once again halt play. Garcia remains in front at 10 under, having played seven holes of the third round in even par, while Lee Westwood is alone in second at 7 under.

Officials had previously stated an intention to play at least 54 holes, even if that meant extending the tournament to Monday, given that this is the final chance for many players to earn Race to Dubai points in an effort to secure European Tour cards for 2019. Next week's WGC-HSBC Champions will be the final event of the regular season, followed by a three-event final series.


Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters


Garcia, who won the tournament last year, started the third round with a four-shot lead over Ashley Chesters. He balanced one birdie with one bogey and remains in position for his first worldwide victory since the Asian Tour's Singapore Open in January.

Westwood, who has his son Sam on the bag this week, made the biggest charge up the leaderboard with four birdies over his first eight holes. He'll have 10 holes to go when play resumes at 9:10 a.m. local time Monday as he looks to win for the first time since the 2015 Indonesian Masters.

Shane Lowry and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are tied for third at 6 under, four shots behind Garcia with 10 holes to play, while Chesters made two double bogeys over his first four holes to drop into a tie for sixth.

Getty Images

In Buick win, Kang overcame demons of mind and spirit

By Randall MellOctober 21, 2018, 3:33 pm

Danielle Kang beat three of the most formidable foes in golf Sunday to win the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

Anxiety.

Frustration.

Anger.

Kang overcame these demons of mind and spirit to win for the second time on tour, backing up her KPMG Women’s PGA Championship victory last year.

“I’ve been going through a lot mentally,” Kang said.

Kang birdied four of the last eight holes to close with a 3-under-par 69, coming from one shot back in the final round to win. At 13-under 275, she finished two shots ahead of a pack of seven players, including world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and former world No. 1 Lydia Ko (66).

It hasn’t been easy for Kang trying to build on her major championship breakthrough last year. She started the fall Asian swing having missed three cuts in a row, five in her last six starts.

“I had to go through swing changes,” Kang said. “I had the swing yips, the putting yips, everything possibly you could think of.

“I was able to get over a lot of anxiety I was feeling when I was trying to hit a golf ball. This week I just kept trusting my golf game.”

Through her swoon, Kang said she was struggling to get the club back, that she was getting mentally stuck to where she could not begin her takeaway. She sought out Butch Harmon, back at her Las Vegas home, for help. She said tying for third at the KEB Hana Bank Championship last week felt like a victory, though she was still battling her demons there.

“Anxiety over tee balls,” Kang said. “People might wonder what I'm doing. I actually can't pull the trigger. It has nothing to do with the result. Having to get over that last week was incredible for me. Even on the first round, one shot took me, I think, four minutes.”

Kang, who turned 26 on Saturday, broke through to win last year under swing coach David Leadbetter, but she began working with Harmon while struggling in the second half this year.


Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos


“I was actually very frustrated, even yesterday,” Kang said. “Things just weren't going my way. The biggest thing that Butch tells me is to stay out of my own way. I just couldn't do that. If I had a short putt, I just kept doubting myself. I couldn't putt freely.”

Kang said her anger and frustration built up again on the front nine Sunday. She made the turn at 1 over for the round. She said her caddie, Oliver Brett, helped her exorcise some anger. After the ninth hole, he pulled her aside.

This is how Kang remembered the conversation:

Brett: “Whatever you need to do to let your anger out and restart and refresh, you need to do that now.”

Kang: “Cameras are everywhere. I just want to hit the bag really hard.”

Brett: “Here's a wedge. Just smash it.”

Kang did.

“Honestly, I thank him for that,” Kang said. “He told me there are a lot birdies out there. I regrouped, and we pretended we started the round brand new on the 10th hole. Then things changed and momentum started going my way. I started hitting it closer and felt better over the putts.”

Kang said the victory was all about finding a better place mentally.

“I'm just so happy to be where I'm at today,” Kang said. “I'm just happy that I won.

“More so than anything, I'm finally at a place where I'm peaceful and happy with my game, with my life . . . . I hope I win more. I did the best I can. I'm going to keep working hard and keep giving myself chances and keep putting myself in contention. I'll win more. I'll play better.”

Getty Images

Goal for new world No. 1 Koepka: Stay healthy

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2018, 1:38 pm

Last season Brooks Koepka bagged a pair of majors en route to the PGA Tour's Player of the Year award. He started the new wraparound season with an emphatic win at the CJ Cup to reach world No. 1 for the first time.

But amid the best form of his career, Koepka has a simple goal in mind as he gets ready to turn his attention to the new year.

"Stay healthy," Koepka told reporters. "That's been the big thing. I need to be healthy to be able to play all these events, play all the majors."

Koepka's breakthrough year comes despite the fact that he missed four months in the spring, including the Masters, while recovering from a wrist injury. He hit the ground running once he returned, with strong finishes at TPC Sawgrass and Colonial preceding wins at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

Now Koepka has added a third trophy after cruising to a four-shot win in South Korea on Sunday that allowed him to move past Dustin Johnson at world No. 1.

"I'm 1-for-1 this year, which is nice," Koepka joked about his undefeated record in the new wraparound season.

Koepka will be in the field next week in China for the WGC-HSBC Champions before putting the clubs on the shelf. With Justin Thomas paving the way by making the goal-setting process more public in recent years, Koepka explained that even after summiting the world rankings he plans to wait until 2019 to adjust his expectations for himself.

"I keep the same goals through the calendar year," Koepka said. "On Jan. 1 I go to the beach in the morning and go write down my goals and figure them out for the calendar year, but I just need to finish this year off. I've got next week and I would like to, coming out the first week as No. 1, I'd like to play well."

Getty Images

Birdie binge for Woodland comes up short at CJ Cup

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2018, 12:52 pm

Gary Woodland mounted an impressive rally at the CJ Cup, but in the end even 11 birdies weren't enough to catch Brooks Koepka.

Woodland started the final round in South Korea five shots behind the new world No. 1, but he made the biggest move of the day amid chilly conditions on Jeju Island. With six birdies over his first nine holes, including four in a row on Nos. 6-9, he briefly caught Koepka at the top of the leaderboard.

But Woodland bogeyed No. 10, and even with five more birdies coming home to finish a 9-under 63 he still finished alone in second, four shots behind Koepka who closed with a bogey-free 29 to put the trophy out of reach.

"Yesterday I didn't get any putts to go in, and today I saw a lot of putts go in," Woodland told reporters. "Brooks with the lead, not much fazes him. So you knew you had to make a lot of birdies, and I made a lot today. But I was just too far behind."

It's the second straight strong performance from Woodland to start the new wraparound season, as he tied for fifth at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia after holding a share of the 54-hole lead. A closing 63 would have gone a long way last week, but he was still pleased to be able to make Koepka sweat a little on a day when even the bad holes resulted from good shots.

"I made two bogeys on the back and I said, 'Be right' on both shots," Woodland said. "I was just maybe a little too amped up, a little excited. I hit them both perfect. All in all, I would have liked for a couple more putts to go in yesterday and been a little closer going into today."