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Presidents Cup picks both logical and questionable

By Rex HoggardSeptember 6, 2017, 9:35 pm

Headlines will focus on Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker’s decision to burn a captain’s pick on a 47-year-old now four years removed from his last PGA Tour victory, but the truly curious news won’t elicit nearly as much interest.

While Stricker’s call to pick Mickelson may be the sexy topic, it likely won’t impact the outcome of the Presidents Cup. After winning the last eight matches, good-guy Stricker could have picked his pal and assistant captain Tiger Woods, whose golf activity is currently limited to chipping and putting, and the U.S. would still be the heavy favorites to make it nine consecutive wins.

No, the most curious portion of Wednesday’s announcement was how Nick Price, the three-time captain of the International team, put the final pieces of his eclectic team together.

For Price, this year’s picks weren’t that much different than previous matches, a zero-sum game of filling in holes and shoring up alliances, either real or perceived.

For the outspoken International skipper, it’s turned into a biennial chess match featuring vastly different cultures and languages. The International squad will take the field in three weeks at Liberty National in New Jersey under one flag, but in reality Price’s team will include players from eight different countries who speak five different primary languages.

While Stricker was able to fixate primarily on how his potential picks were playing, Price had to look beyond the scorecard and consider the best way to fit his global puzzle together.

Team records: Full U.S. Ryder Cup roster

Team records: Full International Ryder Cup roster

Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo was an easy choice. The second-year PGA Tour player was 11th on the points list and finished the qualifying process with a tie for 22nd on Monday at TPC Boston that was greater than the sum of its parts.

Not only did Grillo have the pressure of qualifying for Price’s team hanging over him, he also needed a solid week at the Dell Technologies Championship just to secure his start at the BMW Championship.

“The first pick, Grillo, was pretty comprehensive. All of the guys, the captains and players, agreed. This guy was someone who was on our radar for last year and this year,” Price said. “We’re so happy he’s going to play on our team.”

Grillo also would seem to be a good partner for Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas. The two share a common language and many dinners together while out on Tour.

Not so obvious was Price’s decision to pick India’s Anirban Lahiri, who is arguably one of golf’s most genuine and enjoyable people. But camaraderie and team room hijinks don’t win matches.

At the 2015 matches in South Korea, Lahiri was the only player on Price’s team who failed to win even a half-point, and his play this season hasn’t exactly been a study in consistency.

Although he has two top-10 finishes on Tour this season, the first came nearly a year ago at the CIMB Classic in October and the second came in June when he finished runner-up to Jason Dufner. In his last six starts, Lahiri has three missed cuts and his best finish is a tie for 28th.

“He brings a lot to the team room. He’s got a very positive personality,” Price said of Lahiri, who was 16th on the International points list. “There were many reasons, but the big reason for us is he plays full-time on the U.S. tour.”

But beyond his pedestrian play, the bigger issue for Price is who he plans to pair Lahiri with during the team sessions. In ’15, he lost matches paired with Thongchai Jaidee, who didn’t qualify for this year’s team, and Adam Scott.

On paper, there is a flow to Price’s team. The Australians – Jason Day, Scott and Marc Leishman – would be interchangeable partners, as would the South Africans, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace.

 Perhaps Lahiri could fit with Canada’s Adam Hadwin or South Korea’s Si Woo Kim, but what of Hideki Matsuyama, the International’s side top-ranked player and the most crucial element of any potential upset.

If Price’s team, which pushed the U.S. side to the final hole of the final match in ’15, is going to win they will need a big week from Matsuyama, and yet there’s no obvious choice for a partner.

Some suggested Japan’s Hideto Tanihara, who finished 12th on the points list, was a likely pick for just this reason. Tanihara and Matsuyama get along well, and the 38-year-old proved this year at the WGC- Dell Technologies Match Play his potential worth.

Tanihara upset Jordan Spieth, 4 and 2, in Round 1 and added victories over Paul Casey and Ross Fisher after advancing out of group play before dropping a close match in the semifinals, 1 up, to eventual champion Dustin Johnson.

“We looked hard at Tanihara,” Price said. “He played well at the Match Play, but outside of that he hadn’t really played well this year. That was sort of the one time he did play well in the Match Play.

“Hideki is such a versatile player, he can play with anyone. I felt that it was the wrong way to make a pick [based on being a countryman], I wanted to pick a guy on merit.”

Price may see something in Lahiri that’s not in the statistics. After his sub-par performance in the last matches, there will certainly be a desire to redeem himself and Lahiri is a popular addition to the team room.

But in the global Jenga game of getting 12 players to play for one flag, picking Lahiri appears to check off one box while leaving a collection of unanswered questions.

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PNC Extends Title Sponsorship of PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Golf Channel Public RelationsApril 19, 2018, 1:00 pm

ORLANDO, Fla., April 19, 2018 – IMG and NBC Sports today announced that The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. has extended its contract as title sponsor of the PNC Father/Son Challenge, the tournament that pairs the games’ legends alongside their sons, daughters and grandchildren.

PNC’s multi-year extension as title sponsor keeps the PGA Tour Challenge Event in Orlando reflecting the bank’s commitment to Central Florida. PNC has served as title sponsor of the tournament since 2012. The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes will continue to play host to the PNC Father/Son Challenge. The 2018 PNC Father/Son Challenge will take place Friday-Sunday, Dec. 14-16, with television coverage on Golf Channel and NBC.

“The PNC Father/Son Challenge long ago became one of my family’s favorite golf tournaments,” said 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus. “I have had the pleasure of playing with my sons, and last year, partnering with my 15-year-old grandson GT was a thrill. I am delighted the event—a uniquely special one to us fathers and grandfathers, and perhaps to the many fans out there watching from home or outside the ropes—will continue for many years to come.”

“After our victory in 2016, I said that this win was as good as anything I have done in my career,” said former World No. 1 and major champion David Duval, who alongside his stepson Nick Karavites captured the 2016 title. “I felt blessed to have Nick inside the ropes with me and to have our family surrounding us all week. That’s what makes the PNC Father/Son Challenge so special, and I’m pleased to hear that PNC has extended its support of the event. This golf tournament means so much to all of us who are lucky enough to have the opportunity to play in this event.”

The tournament also holds three events in qualifier markets per year. This year they will be in Dallas, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

“The PNC Father/Son Challenge allows fans to see golf’s legends playing the game they love alongside those they love most,” said Alastair Johnston, vice chairman, IMG. “We are grateful for PNC’s ongoing support of this unique tournament and we look forward to returning to Orlando to celebrate golf and family for many years to come.”

Community support is a key aspect of the tournament and PNC’s sponsorship. PNC is committed to donating $150,000 annually to local non-profits over the life of its sponsorship. Across six previous years of title sponsorship, PNC has already donated $900,000 to Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation and the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children to support the “Healthy Families Orange” program. Over the years, PNC has also had the opportunity through this tournament to co-host events for local women in business, to put on clinics and provide free access to the tournament for active military, and even provide a service dog for a local veteran.

"PNC's long-standing sponsorship of the Father/Son Challenge reflects the philanthropic values we share with the PGA Tour and the golf community, as well as our focus on strong relationships,” said Bill Demchak, chairman, president and chief executive officer of The PNC Financial Services Group. “As PNC Bank continues to expand its footprint, the PNC Father/Son tournament helps us gain visibility with new audiences and to strengthen the relationships we enjoy today with more than 8 million retail, wealth, and corporate and institutional banking customers across the country.”

“NBC Sports is extremely proud of our heritage as co-founder for the Father/Son Challenge, one of golf’s most special events that closes out the calendar year on the golf schedule,” said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC Sports. “Our relationship with PNC Bank elevates this event each year as a must-attend and must-see event for players and fans alike, and we look forward to our continued relationship with PNC Bank for years to come.”

Past winners of the PNC Father/Son Challenge include some of the biggest names in golf including Raymond Floyd (1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001), Jack Nicklaus (1999), Bernhard Langer (2005-06, 2014), Davis Love III (2012) and David Duval (2016).  Masters champion Angel Cabrera and his son, Angel Cabrera Jr. captured the 2017 title.

To qualify for the PNC Father/Son Challenge, participants must have won either a major championship or THE PLAYERS Championship in their career. The professional’s partner must not currently hold a Tour card, and while the majority of partners in the history of the event have been the sons of the golf legends, the family-themed tournament has seen daughters, grandsons and one father – Justin Leonard’s dad, Larry – participate over the years.

The PNC Father/Son Challenge is operated in partnership by IMG and NBC Sports.

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Fire damages National Golf Links of America clubhouse

By Will GrayApril 19, 2018, 12:55 pm

A fire broke out Wednesday at National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y., causing "extensive damage" to a portion of the historic course's clubhouse.

According to a report, an initial call was made to the Southampton police department about a fire on the roof of the clubhouse at 11:34 a.m. With the club's gates too narrow to fit a fire truck through, more than 100 firefighters from various departments helped douse the flames by transporting water up a hill to the east side of the clubhouse.

The fire was reportedly extinguished by 2:30 p.m., with no injuries requiring medical attention. According to a Golf Digest report, the club was undergoing construction on its outdoor eating area known as "the Birdcage" and that most of the club's historical documents reside on the opposite end of the clubhouse from where the fire broke out and was contained.

Opened in 1911, National Golf Links of America was designed by C.B. MacDonald and hosted the inaugural Walker Cup in 1922. The biennial matches returned in 2013 to NGLA, which is often rated among the top courses in the U.S. and sits adjacent to Shinnecock Hills, site of this summer's U.S. Open.

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Chappell returns to Valero as defending champ

By Will GrayApril 18, 2018, 9:48 pm

It's impossible for any of the players at this week's Valero Texas Open to forget who captured the trophy last year.

That's because most players stay at the JW Marriott hotel that's a short walk from the first tee at TPC San Antonio, and the defending champion's face is emblazoned on the hotel's room keys. This week, that honor belongs to Kevin Chappell.

"You get some sly comments from players about their room key," Chappell told reporters Wednesday. "'Oh, I'm tired of looking at you.' And I'm saying, 'Believe me, I'm tired of being in everyone's room.'"

The position of defending champ is one Chappell relishes this week as he returns to the site of his maiden PGA Tour victory. A one-shot win over Brooks Koepka led to a euphoric celebration on the 72nd green, and it helped propel Chappell to his first career spot on the Presidents Cup team in October.

Chappell has missed the cut each of the last two weeks, including the Masters, but he also recorded top-10 finishes at the CareerBuilder Challenge, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Arnold Palmer Invitational. It's reason enough for Chappell to feel optimistic heading back to a course where he was a runner-up in 2011 and finished T-4 in 2016.

"This year's been a little bit of a strange year for me. I usually don't find form until about here, usually a slow starter," Chappell said. "But having three top-10s before this event, I've kind of found some form. I'm looking to turn those top-10s into top-5s, and the top-5s into wins. That's the challenge moving forward this year."

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Scott returns to Valero with major streak in jeopardy

By Will GrayApril 18, 2018, 8:34 pm

Adam Scott is back in the Lone Star State as he looks to keep alive a majors streak that has stretched across nearly two decades.

The Aussie tends to play a relatively light schedule during the spring, often times skipping every event between the Masters and The Players. But this time around he opted to return to the Valero Texas Open for the first time since 2011 in an effort to capitalize on the form he found two weeks ago at Augusta National, where he tied for 32nd.

"Hopefully kind of pick up where I left off on the weekend, which was really solid, and get a bit of momentum going because that's what I haven't had this year," Scott told reporters. "Trying to put four good rounds together and get the most out of my game for a change."

Scott has won each of the four stroke-play events held annually in Texas, completing the so-called "Texas Slam" before the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play relocated to Austin. That includes his win at TPC San Antonio back in 2010, when he closed with rounds of 66-67 for a one-shot victory.

After a seven-year hiatus, Scott is back San Antonio after a solid but underwhelming spring stretch. He cracked the top 20 at both the Honda Classic and Valspar Championship, but his worldwide top-10 drought stretches back nearly a year to the FedEx St. Jude Classic in June. As a result, the former world No. 1 has dropped to No. 59 in the latest rankings.

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"I'm trying to be really in tune with where my game's at and identify why I'm just not having better results," Scott said. "To kind of change that, I've got to change something, otherwise I'm just going to do the same thing."

That ranking will become even more important in the coming weeks as Scott looks to keep his streak of consecutive majors intact. He has played in 67 straight dating back to The Open in 2001, second only to Sergio Garcia's 75 among active players. But Scott's five-year exemption for winning the 2013 Masters has run its course, meaning he is not yet exempt for the upcoming U.S. Open.

Barring a win next month at TPC Sawgrass, Scott's only way to avoid a trip to sectional qualifying will be to maintain a position inside the top 60 in the world rankings on either May 21 or June 11.

The key for Scott remains easy to identify but hard to fix. While he ranks fifth on Tour this season in strokes gained: tee-to-green, he's 194th in strokes gained: putting. Scott won in consecutive weeks in 2016 with a short putter, but otherwise has largely struggled on the greens since the anchoring ban took effect more than two years ago.

"Hopefully a quick turnaround here and things start going in the right direction, because I think I can have a really great back end of the season," Scott said. "My ball-striking is where I want it; I like where my short game's at. I just need to get a bit of momentum going on the greens. It's easy to do that on the putting green at home, but that doesn't always translate out here. I think I've just got to make it happen out here."