Getty Images

Stock Watch: Highs and lows of 2017

By Ryan LavnerDecember 5, 2017, 3:33 pm

This week, we’re examining which players’ stocks and trends were rising and falling in the world of golf in 2017.

RISING

JT (+10%): No longer just Jordan Spieth’s “good buddy,” Thomas asserted himself as one of golf’s superstars with a breakout 2017 that included his first major, a FedExCup title and Player of the Year honors. If he stays hungry, Thomas should close the gap on Spieth.

Jordan (+9%): It was his iron play and mental fortitude – not his famously hot putter – that carried him to another major title. Those memorable final six holes at Birkdale epitomized Spieth’s unique gifts.  

Team USA (+8%): After steamrolling the competition in the past two international events, and with its core intact, the talented, fearless, young Americans will head to France as heavy favorites as they look to win on foreign soil for the first time in 25 years.

Jon Rahm (+7%): In just a year and a half, he has skyrocketed from 551st in the world to No. 4. There are no holes in his game – he ranked third on Tour in strokes gained-tee to green – and it’s a matter of when, not if, he wins majors and challenges Dustin Johnson for the top spot.

Tommy Fleetwood (+6%): The Englishman might look more like a grunge rocker than an elite player, but he broke out in a big way this year, winning twice, finishing runner-up in two events and taking the season-long European Tour title.

Xander Schauffele (+5%): Just six months ago, he was a struggling newcomer who was in danger of being sent back to the minors. He held his own at Erin Hills, won a few weeks later at The Greenbrier and used a torrid back nine in the playoffs to reach the Tour Championship, which he won to collect a $4 million bonus. Not bad, rook.

Patrick Cantlay (+4%): One of the year’s feel-good stories, after being sidelined for years because of an injury and personal loss, the former No. 1-ranked amateur reminded observers of his immense potential, winning in Vegas for what should be his first of many titles.

Caddie-bros (+3%): How about this trend: Five of the top 12 players in the world ended the year with a caddie who had no prior looping experience. It seems players these days want friends with them inside the ropes, not grizzled veterans.

Lexi (+2%): Yes, she developed even more scar tissue after two heartbreaking losses, but Thompson made huge strides by shoring up her biggest weakness (putting) and nearly completing a dominant season. Perhaps next year she’ll put it all together.

Tiger (+1%): He seems happy and healthy, and best of all his game showed plenty of promise. Tiger vs. the generation he created is the battle we all want in 2018.


FALLING

Lydia (-1%): The former teen phenom and world No. 1 changed coaches, equipment and caddies … and then had a winless year. Go figure.

Women’s No. 1 (-2%): Five different players held the top spot this year – and another, Lexi, should have – which is concerning for a tour that desperately needs a dominant player to reach a mainstream audience.  

J-Day (-3%): On the top of the world at the start of 2017, he endured a difficult year on and off the course, with a slumping long game, his mother’s health scare and the deterioration of his relationship with longtime caddie/father figure Colin Swatton.

Rory (-4%): His injury-plagued year was so disappointing, he decided to shut it down this fall, before the end of the European Tour season. He should show up in January highly motivated – and, hopefully, with improved wedge play and putting.

Season finales (-5%): The rarely fair (and usually awkward) ending to the FedExCup might soon include a one-day, $10 million shootout for the top players after the Tour Championship. Because apparently 18 or 36 holes better determines a season-long race?

Bubba (-6%): Changing his golf ball was always a silly risk for someone who shapes the ball as much as Watson. Now he’s outside the top 80 in the world and without a ball deal for 2018.

PGA (-7%): Beginning in 2019, the year’s final major is moving to May, sandwiched between the Masters and the U.S. Open. Its new identity will be … um … any ideas?

Major records (-8%): Thanks to Branden Grace and Justin Thomas, there is now a sub-63 score in a major and a 9-under round at the U.S. Open. (Sorry, Johnny.) Unless the governing bodies address equipment technology, this could become an annual occurrence.

Presidents Cup (-9%): Time to blow this thing up and try again. The U.S. won by eight at Liberty National (and it wasn’t even really that close) to extend its record in the biennial event to 10-1-1. The Tour’s brainchild is not a compelling product.

Rules issues (-10%): After another year of head-scratchers – from Lexi’s post-round scorecard penalty to Bernhard Langer’s questionable putting stroke to a non-concession at the U.S. Girls’ Junior to the increased use of backboarding on Tour – here’s wishing more officials could use common sense and not the strict, overly penal rulebook.

Getty Images

DJ may keep cross-handed grip for Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 4:29 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – As he’s proven in the past Dustin Johnson isn’t averse to switching things up when it comes to his putting, but this was extreme even for him.

Johnson switched to a cross-handed grip on the sixth hole during Saturday’s third round at the Tour Championship and continued to use the same grip through the final round.

It was the first time he’d putted cross-handed in competition and the first time he switched his grip mid-round.


Ryder Cup: Articles, photos and videos


“I did it a few times on the putting green. Sometimes I do it on the putting green just to get my setup a little bit better because it just levels out my shoulders,” said Johnson, who closed his week at East Lake with a 67 and finished alone in third place. “I was putting well. I hit some bad putts for the first five holes, so after I hit a really bad putt for eagle on 6, the next one I tried it, I made it, so I kept it going.”

Johnson, who moved back into the top spot in the World Golf Ranking thanks to his third-place finish, was encouraged by his putting on the weekend but he was vague when asked if he planned to putt cross-handed this week at the Ryder Cup.

“We're going to stick with it for now. We'll try it,” he said.

Getty Images

For the U.S. team, advice from the gridiron

By Damon HackSeptember 24, 2018, 4:01 pm

Seve Ballesteros might have been a magician with a sand wedge, but he was truly hell on wheels.

As Europe’s captain at the 1997 Ryder Cup in his native Spain, Ballesteros led his team with a heavy foot, racing across the emerald landscape in a souped-up Club Car festooned with blue flags.

“All week long it seemed like there were four Seves or five Seves,” recalls Lee Janzen, who went 2-1-0 for the United States. “He was everywhere. I’d turn around and look up and he’d be following our group, and then he was gone, and then he was back with our group again. I found out years later that there were tunnels at the golf course. I asked [‘97 U.S. captain] Tom Kite and he said he knew about the tunnels, too, but it didn’t seem like he knew about ALL the tunnels.”

The most infamous golf cart in the history of the Ryder Cup is, mercifully, far from Paris, but somehow the skid marks from Valderrama remain.

Europe’s 14 ½-to-13 ½ win over the United States 25 years ago began a streak that has lasted over two decades, a stretch of European dominance and long American flights home.

While the United States has made large strides in teamwork and bonding, the work of its 2014 task force must be judged as incomplete until the Americans find a way in Europe.

It hasn’t happened since Bryson DeChambeau was 10 days old.

“I’m getting tired of saying I was on the last team to win on the road,” says Jim Gallagher Jr., who defeated Ballesteros in singles as a Ryder Cup rookie in 1993. “That was the horse-and-buggy era.”

The American road futility has not gone unnoticed. It has transcended the golf world to the point that figures throughout the sports world have watched as five straight American teams have returned from Europe empty-handed - from Valderrama, the Belfry, the K Club, Celtic Manor and Gleneagles.

One year, Seve shrinks the course, tightening the doglegs and taking driver out of the hands of Tiger and Phil (1997). Or Paul McGinley makes the big putt (2002). Or Darren Clarke proves an inspiration (2006). Or there’s rainsuitgate, golf's version of a wardrobe malfunction (2010). Or Jamie Donaldson starts knocking down flagsticks (2014).

It’s always been something - the vagaries of travel, body clocks out of rhythm, fewer friendly faces in the crowd and missed putts.

So how do you win on the road?

“Whatever you’ve done to be successful in a Ryder Cup at home you try to do the same thing on the road, as far as preparation, meals, meetings, practice, timing, as much as you can make it a home situation,” says Dan Reeves, who participated in nine combined Super Bowls as an NFL running back and coach. “Stay in as nice a place as you can. Do you have a pre-game meal? One thing you’ll talk about with your team is that they’ll be in Paris for several days.”

Reeves was the Atlanta Falcons' head coach for Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami when one of his top defensive players was arrested for soliciting an undercover policewoman the night before the game.

The Falcons went on to lose to Reeves’ former team - the Denver Broncos - 34-19 in what has become one of the most well-known cautionary tales in sports.

“There are a lot of distractions on the road,” Reeves says. “Stay focused on what the job is, have things arranged to where they can do things as a group instead of going out and getting into any kind of trouble.”

R.C. Slocum, the former head coach of Texas A&M, also took his road preparation seriously, once going as far as calling Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for advice on a road game against the high-powered University of Hawaii.

“I called the military and said, ‘Tell me about moving troops from one time zone to another,’” Slocum says. “They gave me a study. The typical response for a long airplane ride is for adults to drink alcohol and coffee and for [college] kids to have carbonated drinks. If you have a few alcoholic beverages at 40,000 feet, you are going to have sleep issues and hydration issues. We put a quart bottle of water in every kid’s seat. ‘Drink this whole bottle before we get there.’”

Slocum says the study also told him to get his players on the time zone of the arrival city as soon as possible.

“The best thing to do when you land,” Slocum says, “is to go get some exercise.”

The coach put together a robust itinerary for his team that varied from a Polynesian dinner show to a solemn trip to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

After calling several coaches of teams who’d lost road games in Hawaii, Slocum packed extra sunscreen after being told of visiting athletes striking out to Hawaii’s beaches and ending up too sunburnt to comfortably wear shoulder pads.

“Those are things you can control,” Slocum says.

His Aggies won, 28-13.

What advice would he give to U.S. captain Jim Furyk and his 12 players as they try to unlock their own road riddle?

“This is a business trip at the highest level,” Slocum says. “They are so privileged to be on the team and represent the United States. They owe it to each other to be at their best. Anything a guy does against that is cheating his teammates and his country and all the people back home rooting for him. To play on the biggest stage is an opportunity that only rolls around a few times.”

That stage has only grown bigger through the years, as evidenced by the 50,000 fans that attended Hazeltine each day.

Some organizers have predicted 60,000 to 65,000 daily at Le Golf National.

And most won’t be donning red, white and blue.

“It’s a bit like in football in that you want to keep them quiet, but the louder they scream and the better you play, that’s what’s really energizing,” says Joe Theismann, who won Super Bowl XVII as the Washington Redskins' quarterback. “When you reach an elite status as an athlete, the ability to focus and block things out is paramount. I played in front of 100,000 people and I could still hear a pin drop.”

Theismann still remembers leading Washington to a 1983 road win against the Detroit Lions at the Pontiac Silverdome.

“Loudest stadium I’ve ever played in,” he says. “It was built down into the ground so the sound would circle around you and sit on top of you. Coming out of that game, you felt like you accomplished something.”

At Ryder Cups in Europe, that sound has been chants of “Ole, ole, ole, ole,” a soundtrack on an endless loop.

“You want to thrive in that chaos,” says former Green Bay Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk. “That’s the true test of mental strength.”

Hawk imagined himself standing in the middle of the United States team room on the eve of the Ryder Cup.

“That’s a hell of a group to be addressing, a lot of major championships,” Hawk says. “I’d say ‘Look at your left and right. This is us against them, and we are in hostile territory. You’ve got each other, your wives, your family, and there is nobody else. Let’s go out here and lean on your brother. You go into Paris and beat up on Europe, you all will be talking about it for the next 20, 30, 40 years.”

Much better than talking about Seve’s old golf cart.

Getty Images

U.S. team celebrates wins by Woods, Stricker

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 3:50 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The U.S. Ryder Cup team was waiting to catch a charter flight to Paris late Sunday in Atlanta when the man everyone was waiting for arrived.

“We had a major victory for the team and we had a whole group of guys waiting in the team room, and then a giant roar when Steve Stricker walked in the room after his victory last night,” U.S. captain Jim Furyk laughed.

Stricker, one of Furyk’s vice captains, did win on Sunday, but it was on the PGA Champions Tour at the Sanford International. The bigger roar, of course, was reserved for Tiger Woods, who won for the first time in five years at the Tour Championship.


Ryder Cup: Articles, photos and videos


“Obviously Tiger played so well at the Tour Championship and to grab ahold of the golf tournament early and fend everyone off, I think was a good buzz in the team room,” Furyk said. “It’s nice to have those two guys play so well, and you know, start us off pretty well this week.”

Woods’ victory at East Lake included a final-round pairing with Rory McIlroy, who the American beat by three strokes, and set an early tone for the Ryder Cup. In fact, European captain Thomas Bjorn was even asked if Woods should be “feared” this week.

“We don't fear anyone because we've played against them so many times before individually but we respect our opponents and know what we are up against,” Bjorn said.

Getty Images

U.S. Ryder Cup team arrives in Paris

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 3:27 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The U.S. Ryder Cup team landed in Paris just before 1 p.m. (local time) on Monday and most players headed to the hotel to rest following a long week at the Tour Championship.

“I’m not going to be at the golf course tomorrow,” Justin Thomas said on Sunday following his final round at East Lake.

U.S. captain Jim Furyk said he encouraged his players to take a day to rest and recover with a busy week looming. Half of Furyk’s team have never played Le Golf National, site of this week’s matches, and the next three days promise to be a crash course in learning the nuances of the layout.


Ryder Cup: Articles, photos and videos


“These next three days are very key for us and very important in practice to get to know this golf course, to understand as best we can the ins and outs,” Furyk said.

Thomas played the French Open on the Ryder Cup course in July and Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth and Tony Finau made a scouting trip to Le Golf National prior to The Open.

“I was always a guy who broke down golf courses in a major trying to learn, like at a major championship, trying to learn a golf course in 36 holes and be very prepared for that round on Thursday,” Furyk said. “That's what we're going to have to do, and the European side is going to know the golf course a lot better.”