Seven rookies will determine fate of Internationals

By Rex HoggardOctober 1, 2013, 11:00 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – If it is true that one can only have bad association with memories, Nick Price’s best chance this week in middle America rests with his seven rookies.

If the Rest of the World is going to wrest itself off a victory schnied at the Presidents Cup that stretches back to the Clinton administration, it will do so on the backs of its fresh-faced majority – Brendon De Jonge, Graham DeLaet, Branden Grace, Marc Leishman, Richard Sterne, Hideki Matsuyama and Louis Oosthuizen.

There is no other choice.

Sure Adam Scott and Ernie Els will anchor the International side, as they have done for the last decade, but if there are any certainties entering this week’s Presidents Cup it is the status quo will not be enough to turn an event that has overwhelmingly been dominated by the United States.

In nine outings, the Americans have won all but two matches (1998 and a tie in 2003) and have never lost a home game. With seven rookies in tow on a distinctly American-style course serving as the global pitch (Muirfield Village), that wasn’t exactly change one felt Tuesday in the fall wind.

But in those untested seven, Price sees hope – so much so that he made both of his captain’s picks rookies (de Jonge and Leishman).

“I think they feel more of a team today,” Price said.

In some ways, the abundance of rookies on Price’s squad has created a cast system, a circle closing tightly around a common theme.

“With there being seven, it makes it a little bit easier,” Grace said. “There's seven guys that haven't been here before. They haven't had this experience. It's nice to get all that experience and sharing with guys like that, especially the great guys we have got on our team.”

Nor will Price’s “seven” be dogged by the ghosts of four consecutive losses in the event. They haven’t had to endure the heartbreak and horror of blowout losses and lopsided matches that have many contending that if the International side doesn’t get off the schnied soon they risk rendering the event irrelevant.

“We don't really know what to expect so we're kind of coming in somewhat blind, whereas some of the veterans know maybe how tough it is and how difficult it's going to be,” DeLaet said.

“I look back at like going to Q-School, and the easiest time to go to Q-School is your first time, and the second time it's harder, and the third time it's harder because you realize what's at stake and the emotions that are going to be involved.”

Considering Tuesday’s practice round pairings, it appears Price seems certain to mix and match his veterans with the newcomers as best he can, but with more than half his team playing their first Presidents Cup there’s only so much he can do.

Expect DeLeat to play with Jason Day, who is playing his second match; Leishman to pair with Scott; Els, who is making his eighth start in the Presidents Cup, to go out with either Grace or Sterne; and Oosthuizen, a rookie in name only, would be a good match with fellow South African Charl Schwartzel.

Having six South Africans and three Australians certainly makes things a little easier for Price, but that still leaves Matsuyama and either Grace or Sterne looking at an all-rookie team sometime over the first four days. Not exactly a best-case scenario when the confines are this unfriendly.

Price will lean on his rookies because he has no other choice. Unlike the Ryder Cup, where four players from each team sit out the team matches, everybody plays at the Presidents Cup.

On paper, this is not a fair fight. Combined, Price’s rookies have won two Tour titles and has just one player ranked inside the top 10 in the world. By comparison, U.S. captain Fred Couples enjoys an embarrassment of riches with seven players on his team ranked inside the top 11.

For Price, this is golf’s version of “Moneyball,” a young, inexperienced team thrown into the big leagues. And like Oakland’s Billy Beane, the International captain knows this is a numbers game – the first team to 17 ½ points wins however you get there.

Price wasted little time on Monday plugging in the proper credentials, clearly with an eye toward his untested newcomers.

“Listen,” he implored. “There is no better feeling than lifting that trophy on Sunday. Believe me, we're going to have a party if we do it.”

That last part was for the benefit of the rookies, because the veterans certainly know what to expect.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”