Par 5: Ruthless or Clueless?

By Randall MellJuly 26, 2011, 2:48 pm

Setting the week’s agenda with five questions for tournament golf at large …

Is this new college breed more clueless than ruthless?

These college kids on a hot summer run are raising speculation there may be a new breed of American player poised to take the PGA Tour by storm.

The bravado spilling out of NCAA champion John Peterson’s mouth Sunday at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational is evidence there’s no lack of determination or cocksureness in these young ones.

After the University of Georgia’s Harris English won the Nationwide Tour event and Peterson placed second in a 1-2 amateur finish, Peterson confidently crowed to Golf World that the top 20 or 30 players in college could beat the top 20 or 30 pros today, with a few minor exceptions.

“I knew I could beat all those guys,” said Peterson, an LSU standout. “I didn’t win the tournament, but I beat all those pros.”

English was just as bold.

“We’re ruthless,” English said. “All college events are very competitive, and you learn how to go out there and win.”

The fact that English’s teammate at Georgia, Russell Henley, also won a Nationwide Tour event as an amateur this summer, and that UCLA’s Patrick Cantlay is on a roll as an amateur in Tour events, makes you wonder if something super is heating in the collegiate game.

Are these guys an exception to an old rule? Or are they the new rule?

English and Peterson know what it’s like to freewheel as amateurs in professional events. They’ve yet to learn what it’s like to play for money, to play when there’s so much more to agonize over, to choke over. They’ve yet to know the sting of missing a putt that costs them $100,000 or even a paycheck for the week.

Those hard lessons aren’t taught in college.

“We’re ruthless.” Those are words we can excuse as youthful exuberance. Still, they were uttered on a pro stage, and that also makes them words that promise to define someone, for better or worse.

Will they be staging a party or a tournament at Killarney this week?

The Irish Open will feature just three players among the top 50 in the world at Killarney this week, but it couldn’t pick three better.

Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell will turn the event into a celebration of what’s right with Irish golf. The trio from Northern Ireland, winners of three of the last six major championships, are teeing it up there this week. Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, the three-time major championship winner, is also in the field. Even Wednesday’s pro-am is expected to draw enormous crowds.

Clarke is making his first start since winning the British Open the week before last. He played the Irish Open in his first European Tour start as an amateur in 1990.

“It would be a hell of an achievement – a dream come true – to have the (British) Open and Irish Open trophies on display back at home,” Clarke told the European Tour’s website. “It has already been an amazing month for me and to do the double would be unbelievable.”

Can Phil Mickelson be re-energized in the summer time?

With his front-nine Sunday charge at the British Open, and then his back-nine fade at Royal St. George’s, we got a glimpse of the old Phil Mickelson, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He was, after all, younger back then.

At 41, Mickelson’s biggest problem at the Greenbrier this week isn’t his age. It isn’t that he’s moving toward the autumn of his career. It’s that this is summer time, and even in his prime he’s never played well in the middle of summer.

Of Mickelson’s 39 PGA Tour titles, just one has come in the month of July, and barely in that month. He won the Greater Hartford Open in 2001, when the first three rounds were played in June and the final round on July 1. He’s also won just once in June.

Actually, Mickelson hasn’t been much of a second-half player through his career. Thirty of his Tour victories have come in the first five months of the year, 17 during the West Coast swing months of January and February.

Here’s a breakdown of Mickelson’s PGA victories by month:

January: 8

February: 9

March: 2

April: 7

May: 4

June: 1

July: 1

August: 4

September: 2

October: 0

November: 1

December: 0

Will Yani Tseng join Armour, Hogan, Player and Watson as Carnoustie winners?

With the Ricoh Women’s British Open continuing to visit historic venues for the first time, Tseng gets a chance to defend her title on a course that’s been host to seven British Opens.

Carnoustie promises to offer a difficult test. It is, after all, where Jean Van de Velde infamously collapsed to lose to Paul Lawrie in the British Open finish of ‘99. It’s also where Harrington defeated Sergio Garcia in a playoff in ’07 and where Tommy Armour (‘31), Henry Cotton (’37), Ben Hogan (’53), Gary Player (’68) and Tom Watson (’75) won.

Tseng, 22, is going for her fifth major championship title, her third in the last five played and her fourth in the last two seasons.

Who will win the Watson-less U.S. Senior Open?

The buildup to the U.S. Senior Open at Inverness includes focus on who is not there.

Watson, who has yet to win this major, is skipping the U.S. Senior Open to play his first regular PGA Tour event since the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 2007. He’s playing the Greenbrier Classic. Watson is the pro emeritus at Greenbrier and said he’s playing there to live up to a commitment he made to Greenbrier owner Jim Justice after missing the inaugural event last year.

At 61, Watson, winner of the Senior PGA earlier this year, would have been one of the favorites at Inverness. Count Bernhard Langer, the defending U.S. Senior Open champ, among the favorites as he continues to make his way back after undergoing left thumb surgery in March. After winning the Senior British Open last week, Russ Cochran looks like the man to beat. Count Tom Lehman and John Cook as the hottest players on the senior circuit this year.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”