Spieth absorbs lessons from Masters collapse

By Rex HoggardMay 11, 2016, 6:22 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – For Jordan Spieth it’s ancient history – a moment to be digested and dismissed, not mourned – even if the rest of us aren’t there yet.

The tragic hero from this year’s Masters took to the stage on Wednesday at The Players, but there were precious few questions regarding TPC Sawgrass and the PGA Tour’s flagship event.

This was, after all, the first time Spieth had taken to an open forum since he built a five-shot lead heading to the second nine of last month’s Masters only to finish three shots behind eventual champion Danny Willett.

In the four weeks since last we saw the world No. 2 he enjoyed a bro-cation with Rickie Fowler, Smylie Kaufman and Justin Thomas in the Bahamas; spent a good amount of time in the gym trying to regain the strength and energy he’d lost during a grueling early-season stretch; and worked with swing coach Cameron McCormick to re-tool an action that he admits wasn’t 100 percent at Augusta National.

What he hasn’t done since depositing two golf balls into Rae’s Creek on Augusta National’s 12th hole is spend much time lamenting his poor play, or poor fortune depending on one’s point of view.

He’s focused on the road ahead, although the assembled media can’t say the same thing.

“I think people have moved on already, at least I thought so until I came in here today,” he laughed.

That’s right, he laughed.


The Players Championship: Articles, photos and videos


It really shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the same guy who handles success so well has proven himself equally adept at dealing with defeat.

Make no mistake, there were lessons to be learned.

The weak miss to the right that had crept into his game when he arrived at the Masters needed to be dealt with.

“I happened to have my miss that week at the wrong time, which also happened to be when I was in the lead on Sunday,” Spieth said. “I put in a lot of good hard work. On the driving range it's there right now. It's just a matter of being able to trust it on the golf course with trouble around. Which may not happen right away, but it's getting closer.”

The technical nuances of the current state of his swing aside, know that Spieth didn’t spend his month away from the game searching for answers to deep esoteric questions.

While it may make interesting water cooler talk, Spieth’s ability as a closer has not been tarnished by his Masters meltdown. You don’t win back-to-back majors, like he did last year, with the Sunday shakes.

For Spieth, those epiphanies were made in 2014 and early ’15 when he was learning how to connect the Sunday dots. He’ll tell you it was at last year’s Northern Trust Open when he bogeyed the 72nd hole thinking he needed a birdie to force a playoff that he began to understand what it took to win.

“I made a couple crucial mistakes on Sunday that cost me the event, even though that maybe didn't make big news,” said Spieth, who missed earning a spot in the playoff last year at Riviera by a stroke.

Just two starts later at the Valspar Championship, Spieth used the experience gained from that missed opportunity to force a playoff that he eventually won.

Consider it a bounce-back event, but even then there were no dark moments, no internal demons that had to be wrestled with before he could move on.

At least not publically, that wouldn’t be his style.

Instead, he clung to what has worked so well for him in his young career, focusing on the process and talking about the need for his team to improve and grow.

That’s not to say things were easy.

One of the coolest ceremonies in all of golf – placing the green jacket on the new champion’s shoulders – was particularly cruel for Spieth at the Masters just moments after drop kicking his title chances into a creek.

“I don't wish it upon any of y'all,” he conceded before quickly adding, “The questions have been asked to [Willett], do you think this will go down as you winning or him losing? That's absolute bull, because he won and he earned it.”

There will be plenty of more pressure moments for Spieth in his career, perhaps even this week at an event that he considers golf’s “fifth major,” and in signature style he figured he may or may not prevail.

The island-green 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass looms for everyone in this week’s field, but no more so for Spieth just because of his performance on Augusta National’s 12th hole on Masters Sunday.

“If I hit a good shot and it catches a gust and goes in the water, it's not because of the Masters. It's not something that was in my head,” said Spieth, who finished tied for fourth place in his first start at The Players in 2014.

Spieth’s finish at this year’s Masters will forever hold a place in Augusta National lore, but that doesn’t mean he has to dwell on it.

Getty Images

Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

Getty Images

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.”

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.”