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Youth - and Sergio! - reigned on Tour this season

By John FeinsteinSeptember 26, 2017, 7:29 pm

It was certainly no surprise on Sunday when one of the game’s talented 20-somethings walked off with the Tour Championship trophy.

After all, they had already won three of the year’s four majors and that didn’t take into account 22-year-old Jon Rahm, who won twice worldwide and, along with Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Marc Leishman came to East Lake knowing a win would guarantee the FedExCup and the accompanying $10 million bonus.

Sure enough, when the dust finally cleared late Sunday, there was one of the 20-somethings being handed a replica of Bobby Jones’ Calamity Jane putter, which is the new winners’ trophy for the Tour Championship.

Congratulations, Xander Schauffele.

Xander, who?

It is a reasonable question to ask, given that a year ago Schauffele had to fight his way through the Web.com Tour playoffs just to get to the PGA Tour. His rookie year was already a success when he won The Greenbrier Classic in July, earning a two-year Tour exemption and an invitation to next year’s Masters.

What’s more, he needed a final-round 67 a week ago in Chicago to finish T-20 at the BMW Championship and sneak into the top 30 for Atlanta. Given the chance to play the last week of the season, he never blinked – except perhaps when he almost punched his two-foot birdie putt for the win at 18 past the cup. The ball did a near-360 but went in, leaving Schauffele laughing in both embarrassment and relief.


Video: Top shots from the 2016-17 PGA Tour season


For Schauffele, it was the perfect finish. For the Tour it was almost perfect. A perfect finish would have been Thomas, who should be the unanimous choice as Player of the Year, rolling in his 25-foot birdie putt at 18 and going on to win the tournament and the FedExCup. Instead, he had to settle for second place in the tournament and the $10 million bonus for the season-long competition.

At 24, Thomas is now one of the sport’s elite players. His 2017 wasn’t quite up to the standard set by Spieth in 2015 when Spieth won two majors, five tournaments and that year’s big-money bonus. Thomas won five times too – including the PGA Championship – and just missed win No. 6 on Sunday.

This was a year filled with eye-popping performances. While Thomas was the clear-cut Player of the Year; Spieth the clear-cut runner-up and Schauffele the slam dunk Rookie of the Year, the moment of the year was just as clear-cut: Sergio Garcia winning the Masters.

There’s a famous opera called ‘The Flying Dutchman.’ It is about a sea captain who is destined to sail the world forever unless he can somehow find true love. Every seven years he finds land and is given the chance to find someone who will love him forever. In the Wagnerian opera, the captain DOES find true love – but only in death. After all, that’s the way all operas end.

Garcia was luckier. After sailing the seven seas of the golf world for 18 years without a major title, he found true love – new wife Angela Akins ­– and lived to win in Augusta this past April, coming from three strokes down on the back nine on Sunday to beat Justin Rose in a playoff. Mercifully, Garcia didn’t start singing an aria when his final putt went in the hole.

As it turned out, Garcia was the oldest of the year’s major champions. Brooks Koepka, who won the U.S. Open with a bravura Sunday performance was 27; Spieth was about to be 24 when he won in July; and Thomas, three months older than Spieth, was 24 when he won at Quail Hollow. Schauffele is 23; Rahm is 22.

That list doesn’t include Jason Day, who turns 30 in November, Rory McIlroy, who won’t be 29 until next May and Rickie Fowler who turns 29 in December. All are still young, it only FEELS like they’ve been around forever.

For all three, 2017 was mostly forgettable. Fowler won early and contended often, but didn’t win again. Neither McIlroy nor Day won at all, a stunning development. Day had to deal with his mother’s cancer and his own various health issues and a year that led to his stunning decision to fire Colin Swatton, his longtime mentor and caddie, although he kept him on as his coach.

McIroy also had injury issues. He never completely recovered from the fractured rib he suffered early in the year and, in 20/20 hindsight, it seems apparent he should have taken more time off before coming back to play. One can only hope he will take a lengthy break now and that we’ll see the real McIlroy again next year. It has now been more than three years since he won his last major in the darkness at Valhalla in 2014.

And Fowler? He is still without a major. No doubt that’s unbelievably frustrating for him and he’s probably pretty tired of giving congratulatory hugs to his buddies as they walk off with major hardware. It is worth noting though that some pretty good players were well past their 30th birthday when they won their first major: Ben Hogan and Phil Mickelson come to mind. Arnold Palmer was 28.

It’s far too soon for Fowler fans to panic. He’s far more likely to be Mickelson than Colin Montgomerie.

And what of Mickelson? His streak without a win of any kind dates now back to Muirfield in 2013, when he had perhaps his most satisfying win since The Open was the one major he honestly believed he might not ever win. He’s still got the U.S. Open left to complete a career Grand Slam, just as McIroy still needs a Masters and Spieth needs a PGA. Don’t think for one second that missing out on one major doesn’t weigh on the minds of those great players who win three of the four.

Palmer was in his 80s when someone asked if he could have won wish fulfilled late in life what would it be? “Win the PGA,” he said. Tom Watson once said he would trade three of his five Opens for one PGA.

McIlroy will still be 28 when he next plays the Masters; Spieth will be 25 at next year’s PGA. Mickelson will turn 48 on the Saturday of next year’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock. Clearly, the hourglass for him is close to empty.

In all, 2017 was one of golf’s better years in recent memory. The 20-somethings (19 wins and three of the four majors) dominated. That’s why the combination of Schauffele and Thomas hoisting the big trophies at East Lake was as it should be.

This is the second-to-last year that the Tour Championship will be played in late September. The Tour is already putting together a new, more compact schedule intended to move this event to the last week in August beginning in 2019. In all likelihood, the playoffs will take place in August and should draw more attention without football to compete with.

The change in schedule and format represents a great chance for the Tour to shake up the points system: create a true playoff with everyone starting at zero once the regular season ends.

And so, to put a coda on 2017, how about this: Thomas, Spieth, Koepka and Garcia were the year’s biggest winners, Garcia’s victory the most dramatic. And, it can be argued that Schauffele’s win in the finale was the most surprising. And, in all likelihood, he was the most surprised winner of them all.

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Descending into golf's depths, and trying to dig out

By Brandel ChambleeApril 23, 2018, 3:05 pm

Watching Alvaro Quiros finish second this past week in Morocco, I was reminded of just how rare it is for player to come back from the depths of golf hell.

Quiros, a player of immense ability, hype and length, won the Dubai World Championship – his sixth win in four years – to close out 2011 and then went down the rabbit hole of trying to change his golf swing. He would miss 11 cuts in 2012 and either miss the cut or withdraw in another 41 European Tour events over the next four years. Because he hadn’t won a major championship, his epic backwards slide in the world rankings (435th prior to this past week) mostly went unnoticed – but it was far from unusual.

Ian Baker-Finch won the 1991 Open Championship, but just three years later, when he played 20 events on the PGA Tour and missed 14 cuts, he no longer looked anything like a recent major champion. In 1995, he played in 18 events and either missed the cut, withdrew or was disqualified from every one of them. In 1996, he missed the cut in all 11 events he entered on the PGA Tour; and in 1997, he shot 92 in the first round of The Open, withdrew from the championship and stopped playing professional golf.

Like Quiros, Baker-Finch’s downfall came after his biggest win, when he finally thought he had the time, because of the 10-year exemption he received, to change his golf swing.

David Duval won the 2001 Open Championship and just two years later he shot 83-78 in the same event and missed the cut, which was one 16 events he either missed the cut or withdrew from that year. In 2005, he missed 18 cuts in 19 starts. Duval’s competitive demise may well have been precipitated by injuries and an existential malaise after winning golf’s oldest championship, but it was accompanied by queries far and wide as to how to correct his swing and thinking, just like Baker-Finch before him and Quiros thereafter.

These desperate searches for help, like the indelible ink stains on dyer’s hands, are the one common thread amongst those who suffer from the absolute negation of their technical and then creative abilities. Those who take as indisputable the theories of others are, in the deepest sense, wounding their own intuition. They are controverting the evidence of their own senses in such a way that is comforting to the insecure player, but tragic to the artist. To quote Carl Jung: “Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.”

As I write this, PGA Tour winners Steven Bowditch (1,885th in the world) and Smylie Kaufman (337th) are in similar downward spirals in their careers and no doubt are desperate for, and susceptible to any suggestion.

One player they can look to who made it back from the frantic madness that accompanies losing one’s game, is Henrik Stenson. He put his trust in one man, Pete Cowen, even though while working with Pete he missed 14 cuts in 2002, followed by 15 missed cuts in 2003, and 11 in 2004. What Stenson did not do was panic and run from teacher to teacher, from shrink to shrink, as the missed cuts piled up.

Stenson, with Cowen’s help, slowly built one of the most reliable swings in the history of the game. A swing that regularly leads events in fairways found and greens hit in regulation. A swing that authored the lowest score ever shot in major championship history. A swing that is a far cry from the OB-launching swipes he was taking in late-2001 and 2002.

Given the soul-eating depths of where he came from, a place from which few have dug themselves out of, I watch Stenson play golf with a far great admiration than I otherwise would, and similarly was pulling for Quiros in Morocco. The same way I am pulling for Bowditch and Kaufman to find their games again.

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Langer skipping Senior PGA for son's HS graduation

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 23, 2018, 2:53 pm

Defending champion Bernhard Langer will miss this year’s Senior PGA Championship to attend his son’s high school graduation.

Langer made the announcement Monday, during Senior PGA media day at Harbor Shores in Michigan. The event will be held May 24-27.

“I won’t be able to defend my title this year because my son graduates from high school that very same weekend,” he said. “Family comes first in my life, so I have to be there to celebrate.”

Langer said that his son, Jason, will play golf for the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. Langer and his family live in South Florida.

Langer won last year’s event at Trump National outside Washington, D.C. The 60-year-old has no wins but three runners-up in eight senior starts this season.  

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Landry reaches OWGR career high after Valero win

By Will GrayApril 23, 2018, 12:40 pm

After notching his first career PGA Tour win at the Valero Texas Open, Andrew Landry also reached unprecedented heights in the latest installment of the Official World Golf Ranking.

Landry shot a final-round 68 at TPC San Antonio to win by two shots, and in the process he cracked the top 100 in the world rankings for the first time at age 30. Landry started the week ranked No. 114, but he's now up to 66th. The move puts him within reach of a possible U.S. Open exemption, given that the top 60 in the May 21 rankings will automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills.

Trey Mullinax went from No. 306 to No. 169 with his T-2 finish in San Antonio, while fellow runner-up Sean O Hair jumped 29 spots to No. 83 in the world. Jimmy Walker, who finished alone in fourth, went from No. 88 to No. 81 while fifth-place Zach Johnson moved up five spots to No. 53.


Updated Official World Golf Ranking


Alexander Levy took home the title at the European Tour's Trophee Hassan II, allowing the Frenchman to move from No. 66 to No. 47. With no OWGR points available at this week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Levy is guaranteed to stay inside the top 50 next week, thereby earning a spot in The Players.

Idle since an MDF result at the Houston Open, former world No. 1 Lee Westwood dropped two spots to No. 100 this week. It marks the first time Westwood has been ranked 100th or worse in nearly 15 years, ending a streak of consistency that dates back to September 2003.

The top 10 in the rankings remained the same, with Dustin Johnson leading off at No. 1 followed by Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose. Rickie Fowler remains No. 6 with Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Sergio Garcia rounding out the top 10.

With no starts announced until the U.S. Open in June, Tiger Woods dropped two more spots to No. 91 in the latest rankings.

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What's in the bag: Valero Texas Open winner Landry

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 23, 2018, 12:34 pm

Andrew Landry won his first PGA Tour event at the Valero Texas Open. Here's a look inside the winners' bag.

Driver: Ping G30 (9 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 65X shaft

Fairway woods: Ping G (14.5 degrees adjusted to 15.5), with Project X HZRDUS Yellow 75X shaft; (17.5 degrees), with Project X HZRDUS Yellow 85X shaft

Irons: Ping iBlade (3-PW), with Nippon N.S. Pro Modus3 105 S shafts

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 (52, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400 shafts

Putter: Ping PLD ZB-S

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x