Cut Line: Good, bad and ugly from an eventful week

By Rex HoggardJanuary 10, 2014, 7:22 pm

The year’s first cut looms today at the Sony Open and 2014’s maiden Cut Line ushers in the season with a breakdown of the good (Zach Johnson), bad (more point races) and ugly (the WGC-Match Play field) from an eventful week.

Made Cut

Zach Attack. Lightly recruited, undersized, largely overlooked – if that sounds like a ready-made feature for the upcoming NFL draft, then you haven’t been paying attention to Zach Johnson the last few years.

At 5-foot-11, 160 pounds, Johnson arrived on the PGA Tour via a path cut through the mini-tours and various secondary circuits and proceeded to outwork his competition, at times to his own detriment.

There was no pedigree and few outside Johnson’s inner circle recognized his true potential, but his victory on Sunday at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions was his second consecutive title, dating to last month’s World Challenge, and his third in his last six starts.

Following his Masters’ victory in 2007, the everyman demurely announced, “I'm Zach Johnson and I'm from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.”

Although he’d never be so boastful, his new calling card is that he is one of just three Tour players to have 10 wins and a major championship, along with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, since 2007.

Refreshing Wie. The question was absurd when considered in context. Essentially, your scribe wanted to ask Michelle Wie in an interview earlier this week if she felt as if she’d under-achieved in her career?

Wie had been atop golf’s radar for more than a decade and yet has just two LPGA victories to show for it. But then you realize she’s just 24. Weren’t we all under-achievers at 24?

Yet when asked if she was where she thought she would be 10 years earlier, Wie’s answer was refreshingly honest.

“No, I am not,” she admitted. “But I wouldn’t trade any of the experiences I’ve had or any of the decisions I made.”

Wie has been an easy target for the better part of a decade and time will tell if she ever lives up to the hype, but in the final analysis it is clear she’s pleased with the person she’s become if not the player everyone thought she would be.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Point missing. It’s official, all of professional golf has gone point crazy.

At least that’s the immediate takeaway from Wednesday’s news that the LPGA Tour will go to a season-long, points-based system this year (the Race to the CME Globe) similar to what the PGA Tour has used since 2007.

Lost in this rush to mathematical madness is the fact that it was the Champions Tour, with the Charles Schwab Cup, that first waded into the points pool and that the vast majority of golf fans still have little interest in the season-long sprint.

Majors and money earned have always been the benchmark in professional golf, and that’s a point many of the game’s decision makers continue to miss.


Tweet of the week:

 

 

The tweet was directed at Vanderbilt head football coach James Franklin, who was being wooed by various NFL and college teams to leave Vandy. Unfortunately for Sneds, it looks like Franklin is headed to Penn State. However, his offer may still be a boon for the Commodores. We hear Steve Spurrier will work for golf lessons.


Missed Cut

Campus visit. It’s impossible to know for sure the details behind Matt Fitzpatrick’s decision to bolt Northwestern University after just one semester, but considering the importance he placed on receiving a quality education, as well as a quality game, during the recruiting process it was a curious move.

“The surprising part for us was how much his family valued education and how important it was to them during the recruitment at Northwestern,” Northwestern golf coach Pat Goss told GolfChannel.com’s Ryan Lavner. “His family and Matt had nothing but espoused the value of education here.”

Perhaps the reigning U.S. Amateur champion’s decision to return to England and “dedicate 100 percent of my time to the game,” will be the right choice. But given the cautionary tales that litter the golf landscape (see Wie, Michelle above) the move feels reactionary at best and potentially disastrous at worst.

No Match (Play). Be it the unintended consequences of the PGA Tour’s new wraparound season, an embarrassment of playing opportunities for the world’s top players or just a less-than-endearing golf course, this year’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is starting to feel less like “March Madness” than it is a February flop.

Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson have already announced they do not plan to play the year’s first World Golf Championship, and it appeared that Tiger Woods would likely skip the event to watch his girlfriend, Lindsey Vonn, compete in the Winter Olympics until Vonn withdrew from the Games with an injury.

If Woods plays, and that’s a healthy if, that still means three of the world’s top 5 players are out at the no-cut, big-money event.

Perhaps this is all no more than an imperfect storm, but the truth is Dove Mountain was in a deep freeze with players long before last year’s snow storm halted play. Relocation may not be the tonic to assure the Match Play lands every top player, but it would be a good start.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”

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Reed's major record now a highlight, not hindrance

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 2:46 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The narrative surrounding Patrick Reed used to be that he could play well in the Ryder Cup but not the majors.

So much for that.

Reed didn’t record a top-10 in his first 15 starts in a major, but he took the next step in his career by tying for second at the 2017 PGA Championship. He followed that up with a breakthrough victory at the Masters, then finished fourth at the U.S. Open after a closing 68.

He’s the only player with three consecutive top-4s in the majors.

What’s the difference now?


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“The biggest thing is I treat them like they’re normal events,” he said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I’ve always gone into majors and put too much pressure on myself, having to go play well, having to do this or that. Now I go in there and try to play golf and keep in the mindset of, Hey, it’s just another day on the golf course. Let’s just go play.

“I’ve been able to stay in that mindset the past three, and I’ve played pretty well in all three of them.”

Reed’s record in the year’s third major has been hit or miss – a pair of top-20s and two missed cuts – but he says he’s a better links player now than when he began his career. It took the native Texan a while to embrace the creativity required here and also to comprehend the absurd distances he can hit the ball with the proper wind, conditions and bounce.

“I’m sort of accepting it,” he said. “I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with doing it. It’s come a little bit easier, especially down the stretch in tournament play.”