Spieth faces tall task after setting bar so high in rookie season

By Jason SobelJanuary 1, 2014, 12:35 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – It’s damn near impossible to walk the Plantation Course here at Kapalua, a living, breathing definition of poetry in motion, with the breaching whales in the nearby Pacific and rainbows emerging in the sky literally out of thin air, and feel any semblance of pessimism. This is where negative thoughts suffer a heinous death, where the improbable feels probable again.

It is similarly futile to watch a swing from Jordan Spieth, all 20 years of him, lean and confident and all sorts of talented, and conjure any cynical outlooks. This is a kid who entered last year a college dropout and Q-School flameout with no status on any major tour, only to finish it with a victory and a Rookie of the Year trophy and a place within the game's elite on the world ranking.

As if the message needed any greater symbolism, here is Spieth, standing on the 13th fairway during a practice round for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, the boundless ocean a few cozy 3-woods in the distance, on Jan. 1, a day of new beginnings, of hopefulness, of optimism and idealism and anticipation. By the time he reaches the green and notices corporate signage from the title sponsor that reads, “NEW THINKING. NEW POSSIBILITIES.” the metaphor is oozing with transparency.

No. 9 Newsmaker of 2013: Jordan Spieth

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Good vibes reign supreme in Camp Spieth and on this day, at this course, that feeling might be at an all-time high. The kid who still can’t order a Mai Tai in the clubhouse bar, who is still driving a 2007 Yukon with 110,000 miles on it during the rare weeks he’s back home in Dallas, has good reason to be so upbeat. As his caddie Michael Greller says, “We’re still playing with house money.” Last year, Spieth was never expected to win the John Deere Classic or earn nine top-10 finishes or jump into the world’s top 30, so every step of the way was gravy, each achievement considered a pleasant surprise rather than the culmination of predictability.

Cue a few piddly dark storm clouds over Kapalua. That’s because Spieth won’t be overlooked as he charges into his sophomore season, instead competing with increased expectations of success for the first time. If a win and nearly $4 million in PGA Tour earnings were part of last year’s story, then those numbers are simply the low end for public presumption this year.

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe he’ll fulfill those lofty expectations and then some, exceeding what any of us could imagine for a 20-year-old, even one with such immense talent.

Chances are, though, he’ll see ebbs and flows, just like every other golfer who has ever played the game. The highs of contending for a tournament on a Sunday afternoon will be offset by the lows of slamming the trunk shut on a Friday evening. That’s not negativity in this world of optimism. It’s just the truth.

Rory McIlroy found this out two years ago. This was when the young Northern Irishman was on the verge of winning Player of the Year on two separate tours, just one season removed from winning a major by eight strokes and two seasons removed from the exact same feat. But at the Memorial Tournament, he was coming off – gasp! – two straight missed cuts and on his way to a third. It was cause for front-page headlines in golf circles, and he was asked about dealing with this kind of attention.

Q: Have you found the more success you've had in your career the more scrutiny there is?

A: Yeah, of course. I think that is the way of life in anything if you're in the spotlight, you're in the public eye. If I'd have missed two cuts in a row a couple years ago, no one would have batted an eyelid, but nowadays it's a little different.

As we stand on the 13th hole, I read McIlroy’s comments to Spieth and ask him how he believes he’ll deal with similar increased scrutiny, especially during those low periods.

“I guess I’ll just try not to miss three cuts in a row,” he says with a smile.

Then he turns serious.

“There are going to be ups and downs. This past year, there weren’t many downs. When they happened, they came at the biggest events, the ones I wanted so badly, so I felt terrible. But there wasn’t any outside influence. Nobody expected anything from me at the majors.

“This year, I’m going to expect more out of myself, because I know what to expect. So yeah, I don’t know what’s going to happen if things don’t go my way if I don’t play well in the majors, which is a big emphasis, or I don’t make the Ryder Cup team, which is a big goal of mine. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Not that Spieth minds a little pressure. Just check out his round-by-round scoring averages from last season. Thursday: 70.17; Friday: 69.30; Saturday: 71.33. But on Sunday, when the pressure was greatest and the focus more intense, he posted an average score of 69.22, good for fourth place amongst an entire membership that owned more final-round experience than him.

If the statistics alone aren’t enough to convince, then listen to the stories.

Greller recalls one from the first time he worked with Spieth at the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur that articulates the point perfectly.

“We were on the eighth hole at Gold Mountain during match play and he was struggling. He says, ‘I just need the cameras to come out. I always play better when there are cameras. I’ll get some nerves and when I have good nerves, I play better.’ Most guys are the opposite, but he wants a little bit of that pressure. He thrives on that. That’s been true for the three years I’ve known him.”

External expectations can often eclipse internal aspersions – just ask Tiger Woods – but Spieth has some tangible goals he’s set for the impending season. Some he’s keeping private, others he’ll willfully divulge, such as claiming a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team and making the cut at all four major championships while contending in at least one of them.

Those easily outsize last year’s New Year’s Day goals of wanting to win a professional tournament – any professional tournament – and trying to earn some sort of PGA Tour status.

“Last year was weird, because there were some tangible goals at the beginning of the year, but they had to be adjusted,” he explains. “Hopefully the same thing happens this year. Hopefully we accomplish some things early and we’re able to adjust later in the year to some bigger goals. I don’t think there’s a lot bigger than what I’ve set for this year, but there is another step up. I need to get into contention at a major and see how it feels. Not many people win the first time they contend at a major. Ultimately there will be bigger goals, but I’m just trying to set some tangible ones this year that are baby steps.”

He looks toward the ocean, admiring the view aloud. This is his maiden voyage to the Hawaiian Islands, but even surrounded by all this apparent optimism, Spieth understands that a little negativity can go a long way.

Not that he reads articles about himself or watches the pundits predict his upcoming fate. Other than checking his Twitter feed – “if anybody is beating me up on there, I’ll see it,” he says – like many players he keeps himself in a protective bubble from such antagonism. He realizes, though, the benefit of learning from his failures and trying to improve upon them.

“I understand there will be more expectations; I understand that last year was incredible and people can get caught up in the past and not what the next step is,” he contends. “In my mind, the easiest way to deal with that is to look at how I failed this past year. Instead of looking at the good things – I mean, yeah, I’m excited by everything that happened – if I look at last year’s majors or specific stats that need improvement and build a gameplan around them, then I feel like everything else takes care of itself.

“I didn’t get any lazier; I’m not taking anything for granted; I’m not spending any money. So all in all, nothing’s really changed. Last year, I had a lot of things I needed to focus on and a lot of outside pressures. Now that’s all taken care of. The pressure’s off as far as where I’m going to be playing the next week or what kind of status I’ll have. Now I can specifically focus on parts of the schedule and parts of my game.”

By this point, Spieth has been speaking for a while, taking about 10 minutes to not only answer one question, but answer one question thoughtfully and honestly, his maturity clearly superseding his age in matters other than golf.

He then circles back to that McIlroy comment about added scrutiny and how he intends to address it this year.

“To answer your question, I don’t know. I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it if things don’t go well, but just like in the past I’m going to pretend that they’re little things,” he says. “Ultimately, I’m not too concerned about it.”

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Alabama faces 'buzzsaw' Arizona for NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 23, 2018, 2:00 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – There was no way Laura Ianello could sleep Monday night, not after that dramatic ending at the NCAA Women’s Championship. So at 12:15 a.m., the Arizona coach held court in the laundry room at the Holiday Inn, washing uniforms and munching on mozzarella sticks and fried chicken strips from Sonic, her heart still racing.

Ianello got only three hours of sleep, and who could blame her?

The Wildcats had plummeted down the team standings during the final round of stroke-play qualifying, and were 19 over par for the day, when junior transfer Bianca Pagdanganan arrived on the 17th hole.

“Play the best two holes of your life,” Ianello told her, and so Pagdanganan did, making a solid par on 17 and then ripping a 6-iron from 185 yards out of a divot to 30 feet. There was a massive leaderboard positioned to the right of the par-5 18th green, but Pagdanganan never peeked. The only way for Arizona to force a play-five, count-four playoff with Baylor and reach match play was to sink the putt, and when it dropped, the Wildcats lost their minds, shrieking and jumping over the ropes and hugging anyone in sight.

Watching the action atop the hill, Alabama coach Mic Potter shook his head.

“I was really glad we didn’t win the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed,” he said, “because they’re a buzzsaw with a lot of momentum.”

Given new life, Arizona dispatched Baylor by three strokes in the playoff, then turned its attention to top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals on Tuesday morning.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Facing two first-team All-Americans, the Wildcats beat them, too, continuing the curse of the medalist. In the afternoon, worried that the adrenaline would wear off, Ianello watched her squad make quick work of Stanford, 4-1.

“They’ve got a lot of great momentum, a lot of great team energy,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “They thought they were going home, and now they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing with an edge.”

After a marathon doubleheader Tuesday at Karsten Creek, Arizona now has a date with Alabama in the final match of this NCAA Championship.

And the Wildcats better rest up.

Alabama looks unstoppable.

“They’re rolling off a lot of momentum right now,” Ianello said. “We know Alabama is a good team. But they’re super excited and pumped. It’s not the high of making it [Monday]; now they’ve got a chance to win. They know they have to bring it.”

Even fully rested, Arizona will be a significant underdog against top-ranked Alabama.

After failing to reach match play each of the past two years, despite being the top overall seed, the Tide wouldn’t be stopped from steamrolling their competition this time.

They roughed up Kent State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals, then frontloaded their lineup with three first-team All-Americans – Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight – in their semifinal tilt against Southern Cal.

Potter said that he was just trying to play the matchups, but the move sent a clear signal.

“It gets pretty tedious when you never miss fairways and hole a lot of putts and your opponent knows that you’re not going to spray it,” Potter said. “That’s tough to match up against.”

They breezed to the first three points, draining any drama out of the semifinals. Of the 99 holes that Bama’s Big 3 played Tuesday, they trailed after only two.

“We’re always consistent,” Stephenson said, “and that’s exactly what you need in match play. Someone has to go really low to beat us.”

That Arizona even has that chance to dethrone the Tide seemed inconceivable a few months ago.

The Wildcats had a miserable fall and were ranked 39th at the halfway point of the season. On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, sent a text to Ianello that she was turning pro. Once she relayed the news, the team felt abandoned, but it also had a newfound motivation.

“They wanted to prove that they’re a great team, even without her,” Ianello said.

It also was a case of addition by subtraction: Out went the individual-minded Quihuis and in came Yu-Sang Ho, an incoming freshman whom Ianello described as a “bright, shining light.”

Because incorporating a top-tier junior at the midway point can be intimidating, Ianello organized a lively team retreat at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, where they made vision boards and played games blindfolded.

They laughed that weekend and all throughout the spring – or at least until Pagnanganan made that last-ditch eagle putt Monday. Then tears streamed down Ianello’s face.

Folding uniforms after midnight, she regaled Alabama assistant coach Susan Rosenstiel with stories from their emotional day on the cut line, not even considering that they might face each other two days later for a national title. She was too delirious to ponder that.

“I feel like a new mother with a newborn baby,” Ianello said. “But we’re going off of adrenaline. This team has all the momentum they need to get it done.”

Yes, somehow, the last team into the match-play field might soon be the last team standing.

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Pairings, tee times set for championship match

By Jay CoffinMay 23, 2018, 1:02 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Alabama coach Mic Potter has three first-team All-Americans on this team. It’s little surprise that all three are going out first in the Crimson Tide’s championship match against Arizona Wednesday at Karsten Creek.

Potter tinkered with his lineup in both the quarterfinal victory over Kent State and the semifinal win over USC. But with the NCAA title on the line, this one was a no brainer.

“We don’t want to sacrifice anything,” Potter said. “We just want to give ourselves a chance to win every match.”

Arizona kept its lineup the same all day Tuesday in defeating Pac-12 foes UCLA and Stanford in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. That meant junior Bianca Pagdanganan, the Wildcats grittiest player this week, was in the last match of the day. She won twice.

Now, with all the marbles riding on the championship match, Arizona coach Laura Ianello moved Pagdanganan up to the third spot to assure that her match is key to the final outcome.

Junior Haley Moore, Arizona’s best player all year, is in the fifth spot and will face Alabama senior Lakareber Abe.

“Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a helluva ride,” Ianello said.

Alabama (2) vs. Arizona (8)

3:25PM ET: Lauren Stephenson (AL) vs. Yu-Sang Hou (AZ)

3:35PM ET: Kristen Gillman (AL) vs. Gigi Stoll (AZ)

3:45PM ET: Cheyenne Knight (AL) vs. Bianca Pagdanganan (AZ)

3:55PM ET: Angelica Moresco (AL) vs. Sandra Nordaas (AZ)

4:05PM ET: Lakareber Abe (AL) vs. Haley Moore (AZ)

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Women's NCAA finals: Arizona vs. Alabama

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 11:49 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – It’s the SEC vs. the Pac 12 for the women’s NCAA Championship; Alabama vs. Arizona, to be more specific.

Both the Crimson Tide and Wildcats cruised in their respective semifinal matches Tuesday at Karsten Creek. Alabama easily beat USC, 3-1-1; Arizona defeated match-play juggernaut Stanford, 4-1.

Alabama’s top three players, Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight were unstoppable forces in both matches on the marathon day. Stacked in the top three positions in the semifinals all three won their matches on the 17th hole, making the last two matches inconsequential.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Arizona, the eighth seed, won as decisively as second-seeded Alabama, but needed a miracle to be in this position in the first place.

Junior Bianca Pagdanganan drained a 30-footer for eagle on the last hole of stroke play on Monday to get the Wildcats into a playoff against Baylor, which they won on the second hole. Then on Tuesday, presumably running on fumes, they downed top-seeded UCLA in the morning, then crushed Pac-12 foe Stanford in the afternoon.

Pagdanganan, Gigi Stoll and Hayley Moore each won both matches for Arizona on the hot, draining day.

“I don’t want to let them down so I do my best to rise to the occasion,” Pagdanganan said.

Said Arizona coach Laura Ianello: “How many players, when you tell them under pressure that you need them, can really handle it,” Ianello said about Pagdanganan. “This kid can.”

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NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 11:30 pm

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals were contested Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live finals action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.


TV Times (all times ET):

4-8PM: Match-play finals (Click here to watch live)