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Prez pick? Mickelson's Cup streak in jeopardy

By Rex HoggardAugust 24, 2017, 9:30 pm

OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. – “What did he shoot, 2 [over]?” Steve Stricker asked as a cool morning gave way to the last vestiges of summer at Glen Oaks on Thursday.

Although he’d just finished a round of 4 over himself, Stricker’s focus was squarely on Phil Mickelson and how he fared on Day 1 of what is essentially an eight-round Presidents Cup qualifier.

The toughest part of Stricker’s job as the U.S. Presidents Cup captain has been made that much more complicated by Mickelson’s performance this season which has left the southpaw 18th on the points list and in danger of not playing for a U.S. team, any team, for the first time since 1994.

As the Sept. 4 deadline approaches, Mickelson’s plight has been particularly consuming for Stricker, who will make his two captain’s picks following the final round of next week’s Dell Technologies Championship.

Although two stellar weeks could make all of Stricker’s anxiety go away, Mickelson’s start at The Northern Trust wasn’t exactly encouraging, and the fact that Lefty has just a single top-10 finish in the last five months is hard to ignore.

He is, however, Phil Mickelson.

“I’m going to talk to him when this is all over the next two weeks and see how he’s feeling,” Stricker said. “He deserves that, more than anything. He’s been a part of so many teams and he’s shown when he’s down to 30th on the points that he can come and contribute and contribute in a big way.”


The Northern Trust: Articles, video and photos

FedExCup standings entering the playoffs


Although Stricker stopped short of giving Mickelson the keys to the kingdom when it comes to a potential captain’s pick, it seems clear that when the time comes Lefty will have a voice at the table which creates an interesting dynamic for a player who has never lacked for confidence.

Even if Mickelson doesn’t catch lightning in a bottle over the next fortnight, it’s hard to imagine that the inner competitor would concede that he’s not playing well enough to contribute to the U.S. team at Liberty National.

Asked on Thursday at Glen Oaks if he thought he could be “honest” with Stricker when the time comes Mickelson said, “I will be. I will be.”

Perhaps Mickelson will be able to come to terms with his Presidents Cup plight, but that still leaves Stricker faced with an ever-evolving reality. If not Phil, then who?

“No one else is really standing out in my mind right now. [Kevin] Chappell has played well, he’s No. 11, but 12 through 20 no one has really done anything. I’m looking for someone to really step up and play some good golf,” Stricker said. “If nobody does, then it will be a tough pick.”

That list of would-be picks includes Chappell at No. 11, Brian Harman (12), Jason Dufner (13), Gary Woodland (14), Brandt Snedeker (15), Brendan Steele (16) and Ryan Moore (17).

Of those six players ranked 12th to 17th, only one (Woodland at the Canadian Open) has a top-10 finish over the last month – although Moore did finish tied for 13th at the PGA – and Snedeker recently announced he was done playing this season due to an injury to his sternum joint.

Stricker is also eyeing a team that currently includes five Presidents Cup rookies (to be fair, Koepka’s experience at last year’s Ryder Cup would mitigate some of that inexperience).

Without the likes of Mickelson - who has evolved into the team-room leader - or Jim Furyk, an assistant captain for this year’s matches there’s the potential for a leadership vacuum. Who fills that space without Lefty?

“I don’t know, that’s a good question,” Stricker said. “There could be potentially a lot of leaders. We have [assistant captains] Tiger Woods in our locker room, Davis Love, Freddie [Couples], Jim Furyk. Jordan Spieth is a veteran in so many ways except for his age, there are a lot of guys who are going to lead by example.”

There’s no denying that Mickelson brings more to the team room than just a 23-16-12 record in the matches, and from Stricker’s point of view there’s no statistic to accurately quantify what that means.

“He’s got a calming influence,” Stricker said. “He thinks about everything, he’s got a lot of knowledge. He’s a team guy. He’s important for the team.”

A few weeks ago at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Stricker spoke with Mickelson, encouraged him and offered a final thought, “you’ve got to show me a little bit more than what you’ve shown lately.”

For those who know Stricker, it was entirely out of character and the U.S. captain quickly offered an apology.

“It’s weird coming from a guy who has never won any majors and only won 12 times on Tour telling Phil, 'Hey you’ve got to show me more.' That doesn’t sound right coming from me.”

To Mickelson’s credit, he acknowledged that his current form simply won’t due regardless of how beneficial his experience and leadership could be to what promises to be a young U.S. team.

“I've got to bring something to the table,” Mickelson said. “If I can play well this week and next week and show that I'm playing as well as I know I'm playing, but the only thing that matters is the score.”

All season Mickelson has said his game is close, but now so is a deadline that could potentially end one of the most impressive streaks in golf unless he can turn things around in a hurry.

Jackson Van Paris at the 2018 U.S. Amateur (USGA/Chris Keane) Getty Images

Van Paris' historic week at U.S. Am ends in Rd. of 32

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 7:41 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Standing to the left of the 16th green Thursday, Jackson Van Paris clasped his hands behind his head and grimaced as Mason Overstreet ended his historic week at Pebble Beach.

It was little consolation to him afterward, of course, but earlier this week Van Paris, 14, became the second-youngest competitor to win a match at the U.S. Amateur.  

The only player younger? Bob Jones. In 1916.

Good company.

“I learned that I can hang with all these players,” said Van Paris, who lost to Overstreet, 3 and 2, in the Round of 32. “I can play with these guys. I played with two of the best players in the field and hung with them for the majority of the matches.”

After qualifying for match play, Van Paris took Australian Dylan Perry – the 30th-ranked amateur in the world – the distance and then holed a chip shot on the final green to prevail, 1 up. His second-round opponent was no slouch, either: Overstreet, a junior at Arkansas, was the 2017 NCAA individual runner-up.

Overstreet is 6-foot-1 and sturdily built, and he took advantage of his lengthy by pounding it past the tall and skinny Van Paris. On the ninth hole, Overstreet caught the downslope in the fairway and had only a wedge into the green. With his body still developing, Van Paris maxes out at 270 yards off the tee. About 60 yards behind his opponent, he hit 5-iron into a firm green that had about a 10-foot circle to get it close. Overstreet made birdie, took a 2-up lead, went 3 under for his first 12 holes in windier conditions and easily won the match.

“Mason played great, and he’s a really good player,” Van Paris said, “but I felt like it was nothing I couldn’t handle.”

Those in junior golf circles know all about Van Paris, a rising sophomore who lives about five minutes from Pinehurst No. 2 and is already one of the top prospects in the Class of 2021. A two-time AJGA winner, he’s verbally committed to play college golf at Vanderbilt, alongside his friend Gordon Sargent, the beginning of what he hopes is a dream team during his four years in school.

The Commodores’ affable coach, Scott Limbaugh, the facilities and the team’s recent success were key factors in his early decision, but so were the academics. “I’d rather get a 99 on a test than top 10 in a tournament,” he said.


U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos


Tuesday was the first day of school at O’Neal High School, a college prep school in Southern Pines. Before his match, the students and teachers sent him a photo of them holding up a “Let’s Go, Jackson! Go Low!” sign in front of the school. Once Van Paris knocked out his first-round opponent, he was flooded with texts, emails and Snapchats. One note in particular stood out: The head of the school joked that Van Paris’ absences the rest of the week were unexcused.

Asked what he’ll tell his classmates when he returns to school, Van Paris said: “That I went to the coolest place in the U.S, played the coolest golf course in the country, played the biggest amateur tournament in the world and got 17th.”

His experience at the U.S. Amateur – where he competed against players who were at least four years older – was nothing new for Van Paris. He’s been playing up since he was 6.

“He’s always wanted to play against the best players he could find,” said Van Paris’ father, Todd. “But now that he’s old enough to play against his peers, it’s been a different dynamic – he’s not the underdog, he’s the favorite. It’s going to be an interesting transition.”

Todd Van Paris said that his son has grown about six inches and added about 40 yards over the past year. He’ll only pack on more muscle over the next few years, shortening the distance gap between him and players like Overstreet.

Van Paris’ goal Wednesday was to win both of his matches and reach the quarterfinals. Then he’d be fully exempt into next year’s U.S. Amateur … at Pinehurst No. 2, just down the street from his parents’ house.

“I know that he’s proud of what he’s accomplished this week,” Todd Van Paris said, “but I guarantee you that he thought he could win the tournament. He really thought he could do it. That’s what makes him special.”

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After opening up, Lexi shoots 'comfortable' 68

By Randall MellAugust 16, 2018, 6:27 pm

Lexi Thompson looked at ease, smiling and laughing in a solid start in her return to the tour Thursday at the Indy Women in Tech Championship, where she felt the benefit of her month-long break.

“It was very relaxing out there,” Thompson said. “I felt very comfortable where my game was at. I just tried to go out and let my game show and not put too much pressure on myself.”

Thompson, 23, the defending champ, opened with a 4-under-par 68, four shots behind Angel Yin, the early leader. Thompson skipped the Ricoh Women’s British Open two weeks ago to take a “mental break” and address emotional struggles that built up through last year’s highs and lows.

In a news conference Wednesday, Thompson was candid sharing the challenges she has faced as a prodigy who has poured so much of herself into the game, and how she has recently sought the help of therapists in building a life that isn’t all about golf.


Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship


“I’m not just a robot out here,” Thompson said in heartfelt fashion in her news conference. “I need to have a life.”

Thompson said she took almost two weeks off without touching a club after her last start at the Marathon Classic.

After Thursday’s round, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz asked her about her decision to share her struggle.

“It was very hard for me to take the break, because I didn’t want to show that weakness, but at the same time it takes a lot of strength to acknowledge you need that kind of break, and to take time for yourself,” Thompson said. “Especially when you are in the spotlight like this, it can get hard, to just live your life for you, and figure out what makes you happy.”

Thompson is the highest ranked American in the world at No. 5 in the Rolex rankings. She was the Golf Writers Association of America female Player of the Year last season and also claimed the LPGA’s Vare Trophy for low scoring average, but it was still the toughest year of her career. She watched her mother battle cancer and dealt with the death of a grandmother. She also endured tough competitive blows, losing the ANA Inspiration after being hit with a controversial four-shot penalty in the final round. At year’s end, she lost out on a chance to ascend to world No. 1 and win the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year award after missing a short putt on the final hole in the season finale.

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Snedeker joins 59 club at Wyndham

By Will GrayAugust 16, 2018, 4:19 pm

Brandt Snedeker opened the Wyndham Championship with an 11-under 59, becoming just the ninth player in PGA Tour history to card a sub-60 score in a tournament round.

Snedeker offered an excited fist pump after rolling in a 20-footer for birdie on the ninth hole at Sedgefield Country Club, his 18th hole of the day. It was Snedeker's 10th birdie on the round to go along with a hole-out eagle from 176 yards on No. 6 and gave him the first 59 on Tour since Adam Hadwin at last year's CareerBuilder Challenge.

Snedeker's round eclipsed the tournament and course record of 60 at Sedgefield, most recently shot by Si Woo Kim en route to victory two years ago. Amazingly, the round could have been even better: he opened with a bogey on No. 10 and missed a 6-footer for birdie on his 17th hole of the day.


Full-field scores from Wyndham Championship

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Snedeker was still 1 over on the round before reeling off four straight birdies on Nos. 13-16, but he truly caught fire on the front nine where he shot an 8-under 27 that included five birdie putts from inside 6 feet.

Jim Furyk, who also shot 59, holds the 18-hole scoring record on Tour with a 58 in the final round of the 2016 Travelers Championship.

Snedeker told reporters this week that he was suffering from "kind of paralysis by analysis" at last week's PGA Championship, but he began to simplify things over the weekend when he shot 69-69 at Bellerive to tie for 42nd. Those changes paid off even moreso Thursday in Greensboro, where Snedeker earned his first career Tour win back in 2007 at nearby Forest Oaks.

"Felt like I kind of found something there for a few days and was able to put the ball where I wanted to and make some putts," Snedeker said. "And all of a sudden everything starts feeling a little bit better. So excited about that this week because the greens are so good."

Snedeker was hampered by injury at the end of 2017 and got off to a slow start this season. But his form has started to pick up over the summer, as he has recorded three top-10 finishes over his last seven starts highlighted by a T-3 finish last month at The Greenbrier. He entered the week 80th in the season-long points race and is in search of his first win since the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open.

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Woods' caddie paid heckler $25 to go away

By Will GrayAugust 16, 2018, 4:05 pm

Tiger Woods is known for his ability to tune out hecklers while in the midst of a competitive round, but every now and then a fan is able to get under his skin - or, at least, his caddie's.

Joe LaCava has been on the bag for Woods since 2011, and on a recent appearance on ESPN's "Golic and Wingo" he shared a story of personally dispatching of an especially persistent heckler after dipping into his wallet earlier this month at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

According to LaCava, the fan was vocal throughout Woods' final round at Firestone Country Club, where he eventually tied for 31st. On the 14th hole, LaCava asked him to go watch another group, and the man agreed - under the condition that LaCava pony up with some cash.

"So he calls me a couple of names, and I go back and forth with the guy. And I said, 'Why don't you just leave?'" LaCava said. "And he goes, 'Well, if you give me $25 for the ticket that I bought today, I'll leave.' And I said, 'Here you go, here's $25.'"

But the apparent resolution was brief, as the heckler pocketed the cash but remained near the rope line. At that point, the exchange between LaCava and the fan became a bit more heated.

"I said, 'Look, pal, $25 is $25. You've got to head the other way,'" LaCava said. "So he starts to head the other way, goes 20 yards down the line, and he calls me a certain other swear word. So I run 20 yards back the other way. We’re going face-to-face with this guy and all of a sudden Tiger is looking for a yardage and I’m in it with this guy 20 yards down the line.”

Eventually an on-course police officer intervened, and the cash-grabbing fan was ultimately ejected. According to LaCava, Woods remained unaffected by the situation that played out a few yards away from him.

"He didn't have a problem," LaCava said. "And actually, I got a standing ovation for kicking the guy out of there."