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One year after 59, Thomas a more confident champion

By Rex HoggardJanuary 11, 2018, 12:56 am

HONOLULU – In some sports, it’s called "the zone," that mode where the mind lets go and the artist takes over.

At last year’s Sony Open, Justin Thomas spent four days fearlessly rewriting the record books on his way to a commanding victory that completed the Aloha Slam following his triumph at the year’s first event in Maui.

Thomas’ statistical line from the ’17 Sony Open is filthy. He became the eighth player to shoot a sub-60 round on the PGA Tour on Day 1, then set 36- and 72-hole Tour scoring records (he only tied the circuit’s 54-hole record). He went wire-to-wire and won by seven strokes.

It was effortless, flawless and, yes, maybe even a little mindless, particularly for a player who freely admits that there are weeks on Tour when his mind is consumed by all the things sports psychologists say are performance killers.

Weeks like last week at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where Thomas finished 22nd out of 34 players.

“When I was in 30th place last week, I wasn't exactly feeling great. I'm being perfectly honest. It's such a weird game. I was embarrassed,” he admitted on Wednesday at Waialae Country Club. “I was just in a very emotional state last week, and there's weeks that I'm like that, and there's weeks that I'm not. Obviously, I want to get rid of it, but just every little thing really just pissed me off.”

Thomas would never be considered stoic, and he is one of the circuit’s most out-going players on social media; it stands to reason that there is a correlation between his play and the natural ebb and flow of his emotions.

Last year’s opening round in Honolulu is perhaps the most obvious example.

Thomas began his day with an eagle at the par-4 10th hole and made the turn at 6 under par. He added birdies at Nos. 1 and 2 and arrived at the par-5 ninth, his last hole of the day, needing an eagle to shoot 59.

From 14 feet, Thomas calmly rolled in the eagle attempt and then froze.


Sony Open in Hawaii: Articles, photos and videos


“I didn't really know what to do because I've never had a putt on Thursday that meant that much,” he said. “I didn't know how to react, and I didn't know what to do. I was more worried about trying to make the putt than anything.”

By comparison, Jordan Spieth, who was paired with Thomas for that historic round, began jumping around the green and high-fiving everyone in the group, which included Daniel Berger.

“I might have fist pumped harder than he did,” Spieth said. “I think he was kind of in the zone. I don't think he knew where he was at the time.”

To the point, it’s telling that Thomas’ recollections of that round are largely generalized, with his highlights limited to his eagle putt at the ninth and the celebration that followed. Spieth, who shot 65 that day, can offer a slightly more detailed analysis.

“The most surprising thing was that I was like a stroke and a half or something better tee to green than he was that round, and I got beat by like seven shots,” Spieth laughed.

For the record, Spieth’s proximity to the hole for the first round at Waialae last year was 18 feet, 4 inches, compared to Thomas’ 25 feet, 7 inches.

But that’s left-brain stuff, and that’s not Thomas. When he’s playing his best, like he did for the vast majority of last season, Thomas is more artist than alchemist.

In many ways, his learning about what produces his best golf was a big part of his breakthrough in 2017, when he won his first major at the PGA Championship and collected both the Player of the Year Award and FedExCup.

Thomas can be intense, and after watching players like Spieth, his contemporary growing up, enjoy early success at the highest level, Thomas had a tendency to press the issue. Last season, however, he emerged a more patient player.

“I know that I don't have to go out and play this perfect round,” he said. “I know that if I go shoot 1 under the first round at this tournament, that I still have a chance to win. I know that I'm not going to win every tournament.”

Thomas is hardly unique on this front. Most young players not named Spieth go through a learning process, but few emerge with as much momentum as JT did last year following his Hawaiian sweep.

It’s not a stretch to consider Thomas’ Sony Open victory a pivotal point in his development into a quieter and more confident champion.

“It was a new way of winning for me,” he said. “It was playing with that big of a lead, just having the opportunity to break records like this. It really was just kind of a week of almost being unconscious.”

Some would call that the zone.

Im wins Web.com Player and Rookie of the Year awards

By Nick MentaOctober 18, 2018, 1:22 pm

Sungjae Im on Thursday was named the Web.com Tour's 2018 Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year.

Im won twice on the Web.com this year, taking the season opener in January, The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, and the season finale in August, the WinCo Foods Portland Open, to become the first player in history lead the circuit's money list wire-to-wire.

Im is the first Korean-born player to win the Web's POY award and, at 20 years old, its youngest recipient.

In a player vote, Im bested Anders Albertson, Sam Burns, Kramer Hickok and Martin Trainer, 2018's only other two-time winner, for POY honors, and Burns, Hickock, Trainer and Cameron Champ for ROY honors.

“My first year on the Web.com Tour was an incredibly happy time for me,” Im said, “and it’s pretty surreal that I was able to win the first and last tournament of the season. I honestly thought I would spend about two to three years on the Web.com Tour before making it to the PGA Tour, so I’m happy to have achieved my goal so soon. I’m grateful to have earned the Player of the Year honors and I hope to finish the remainder of the PGA Tour season on a good note.”

In his first PGA Tour start, Im tied for fourth at the Safeway Open, earning $241,280, a little less than half of the $534,326 he amassed in 25 starts as the Web's regular-season money winner.

Playing this week's CJ Cup in his native South Korea, Im opened with a 1-over 73 Thursday.

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Former DJ advisor found guilty in embezzlement case

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 18, 2018, 12:38 pm

A federal jury has found Nathan Hardwick, a former advisor to Dustin Johnson, guilty of embezzling $26 million in funds from his now-bankrupt real estate closing firm, Morris Hardwick Schneider.

Per Golf.com, citing Law.com, a 12-person jury convicted Hardwick of "one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 21 counts of wire fraud and one count of making false statements to federally insured banks."

As for where exactly the money went, The Sun News of Myrtle Beach, once again citing Law.com, has the details:

"The alleged spending included $18.47 million on gambling, private jet travel and women from 2011 through August 2014. The prosecution submitted two binders of documentation as evidence that Hardwick spent $4.39 million on “female social companions,” including one testifying witness who claimed to have met him through SugarDaddy.com."

"Other alleged expenditures described in testimony include more than $7 million at casinos, more than $3 million with a bookie, $680,000 for a luxury condo at The St. Regis Atlanta, $273,000 on a diamond ring, $186,000 on a deposit for a party on a private island, and $635,000 on a trip to the 2014 British Open for golfing buddies that included a customized jet and round at St. Andrews."

Johnson in 2014 sued Morris Hardwick Schneider over a $3 million loan he believed to be an investment. Instead, Johnson argued, the money was going to make up for shortages created by Hardwick's embezzlement. Johnson later amended his suit to argue that Hardwick, who previously served on the board of the Dustin Johnson Foundation, was being used as a "pawn" by the firm's other partners. 

That suit was settled in 2016 for $2 million.

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Kang 'going with the flow,' one back of A. Jutanugarn

By Associated PressOctober 18, 2018, 9:43 am

SHANGHAI – Ariya Jutanugarn shot a 6-under 66 to take a one-stroke lead after the first round of the Buick LPGA Shanghai tournament on Thursday.

The Thai player had six birdies in a bogey-free round, including three straight on Nos. 4, 5, and 6.

''I always have so much fun when I play in Asia,'' said Jutanugarm, who added her key was ''just not to expect anything. Just go out have fun and enjoy everything.''

Sei Young Kim and Danielle Kang (both 67) were one shot back, with six other players only two shots off the lead.


Full-field scores from the Buick LPGA Shanghai


The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

Kang credited her improved play to new coach Butch Harmon.

''We just kind of simplify the game a lot,'' the American said. ''Just trying to calm it down and get back to how I used to play. Just more feel golf. Thinking less mechanics and going with the flow.''

Kang tied for third last week at the KEB Hana Bank championship in Incheon, South Korea.

''Today's round went very smooth,'' Kang said. ''Coming off very good momentum after last week, and I've been hitting the ball really well, playing great. I've just been trusting my game and just keep giving myself birdie chances. They kept rolling in.''

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Sharpshooting Reavie (68) leads tough CJ Cup

By Associated PressOctober 18, 2018, 9:34 am

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea – Chez Reavie overcame cool, windy conditions for a 4-under 68 and a one-stroke lead after the first round of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges on Thursday.

In the breezy conditions, the back nine of the course posed the most difficulty, but the 36-year-old American made two birdies and negotiated it in 35 after starting on the 10th tee, and then picked up three shots on his final nine.

Danny Willett and Si Woo Kim shot 69 while the large group at 70, and tied for fourth, included Ian PoulterNick Watney and Michael Kim.

Brooks Koepka, playing in his first tournament since being voted PGA Tour Player of the Year, shot 71 and was in a group three strokes behind and tied for 11th, which included Paul Casey and Hideki Matsuyama.

Jason Dufner and Brandt Snedeker shot 72. Defending champion Justin Thomas had a 73, as did Jason Day, Ernie Els and J.B. Holmes.


Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos


Marc Leishman, who won last week's CIMB Classic in Malaysia, and Adam Scott had 75s.

Reavie's only PGA Tour win came at the 2008 Canadian Open, and he finished second in back-to-back starts last year in Phoenix and Pebble Beach, losing at Phoenix in a playoff.

''It was a great day, I hit the ball really well,'' Reavie said of Thursday's round. ''The wind was blowing really hard all day long so you had to really start the ball well and keep it out of the wind. Luckily, I was able to do that.''

Despite the windy conditions, Reavie found all 14 fairways off the tee and hit 15 out of 18 greens in regulation, which he felt was the key to a good score.

''It's tough because once you get above the hole with this wind, it's really hard to chip it close,'' he said. ''The more greens you can hit, the better and that was key to my game.''

Willett, who has struggled with injuries and form since winning the 2016 Masters and has dropped to No. 342 in the world, made five birdies and two bogeys in his 69. Willett has just one top-five finish since finishing second in the Italian Open in September 2016.

Having committed to play on the PGA Tour by taking up membership this season, Willet said it was important to make a quick start to the season.

''I've done two tours for a couple of years, and it's very difficult,'' Willett said. ''We committed to play on the PGA Tour, to play predominantly over here this year and next. It's nice to kind of get in and get some points early if you can.''

The second of three PGA Tour events in three weeks in Asia has a 78-player field and no cut. Only 19 players broke par on Thursday.