Bunker Shots A pro debut and a brave new world

By Randall MellSeptember 15, 2009, 6:39 pm

Rickie Fowler makes his pro debut this week. In honor of his teacher, a driving range pro, we frame the coming week’s storylines with quotes from the movie Tin Cup.

Tin Cup’s prized pupil goes pro

“I tend to think of the golf swing as a poem.” – Roy McAvoy

Rickie Fowler should be riding high into Idaho this week for the Nationwide Tour’s Albertsons Boise Open.

Four days after closing his stellar amateur career in dramatic fashion at the Walker Cup, he will tee it up for the first time as a pro.

With the PGA Tour off for a week for rest and relaxation before the Tour Championship, more eyeballs than normal are likely to be trained on the Nationwide Tour event, especially if this 20-year-old standout gets in contention. Fowler was 4-0 at the Walker Cup. A month before that, he nearly won as an amateur on the Nationwide Tour, losing on the second hole of a playoff to Derek Lamely at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational. He's the only player to win the Ben Hogan Award as the nation's top collegian as a freshman and is leaving Oklahoma State after two seasons.

What fans who have never seen Fowler before will notice is that his swing is distinctive, with a flat takeaway, slightly laid off.

Fowler learned to play hitting balls when he was 3 with his grandfather, Taka Tanaka, at Murrieta Valley Golf Range near his home in Murrieta, Calif. His father, Rod, cut down some clubs but not a driver.

“He played with a full length ladies’ driver,” Taka said.

It might explain that flat takeaway, but Rickie’s father, Rod, said wielding the big driver made the boy better.

“Rickie was winning quarters off his grandfather and me when he was 7,” Rod said.

Taka’s favorite story of Rickie’s upbringing in golf was when the boy was 10 and won $100 off a friend of Rod’s. Taka said the man watched Rickie awkwardly swinging the big driver and told Rickie if he could hit a green 200 yards away with it he would give him $100.

“A few minutes later, the guy was peeling out a $100 bill and giving it to Rickie,” Taka said.

Rickie’s only swing coach was Barry McDonnell of Murrieta Valley Golf Range, the facility Taka first took Rickie to play. Rod said McDonnell taught Rickie to play by feel. That also helps explain the uniqueness of Fowler’s swing.

Welcome to a brave new world

“I’m just thinking about how to get in your heart.” – Roy McAvoy

With a week off before the Tour Championship, 10 players can ponder what great rewards are within grasp besides the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus or the $1.35 million first-place tournament check.

Ten players will be making their first appearance in the Tour Championship next week.

Their playoff run thrusts them to an elite level with a chance to stay there. They have a chance to keep stockpiling money and world rankings points that can get them into major championships and World Golf Championships they’ve never played before.

Of the 30 players who will tee it up next week, Marc Leishman’s the only one who hasn’t played in a major. Dustin Johnson had played in just one before this season. Johnson and Brian Gay had never played in a WGC event before this year. Leishman, Marino and Jason Dufner are still looking to tee it up in a WGC event for the first time. Every player in next week’s Tour Championship is assured of getting into next year’s WGC-CA Championship by virtue of making it among the top 30 in FedEx Cup points. They also are all guaranteed spots in the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open.

The South Korean Express keeps on churning

“This is the choice it comes down to; this is our immortality.” – Roy McAvoy

Jiyai Shin continued South Korea’s LPGA dominance with her victory Sunday at the P&G Beauty Northwest Arkansas Championship.

It’s the eighth LPGA event won by a South Korean this year, the country’s seventh title in the last 12 events.

Shin’s now atop the LPGA money list and Rolex Player of the Year points list and will be looking to pad her totals when she tees it up at the Samsung World Championship at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif., this week.

Paula Creamer’s the defending champion and will be looking to end a drought that has seen Americans go 12 consecutive LPGA events without a victory.

Shin is bidding to become the first LPGA player to win Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year honors in the same season since Nancy Lopez did it in 1978.

Welcome to a brave new world, Part II

“Greatness courts failure.” – Roy McAvoy

Amanda Blumenherst leads the field of women’s prospects looking to prove themselves at LPGA Q-School.

The former Duke standout and ’08 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion will be among 139 players teeing it up in the year’s first LPGA Sectional Qualifier beginning Thursday at Mission Hills Country Club in Palm Springs, Calif. It’s a 72-hole event with a 36-hole cut with the top 30 players advancing to Q-School finals Dec. 2-6 at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla. The second LPGA Tour Sectional Qualifier will be Sept. 29-Oct. 2 at Plantation Golf and Country Club’s Bobcat and Panther Courses in Venice, Fla.

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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”