Spieth puts Augusta disaster behind him

By Rex HoggardJanuary 4, 2017, 10:15 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – However unfair and shortsighted it may seem, for many, Jordan Spieth’s 2016 season came down to a single swing.

Of the 25 worldwide turns he took at the till, his two victories on the PGA Tour and heroics at the Ryder Cup, his near miss at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and late-season run at the FedEx Cup, it was a single 9-iron from 150 yards on a postcard-perfect Sunday in April that defined his fourth year as a big leaguer.

It’s not fair, but he knows that’s the way stardom works. He knows that’s the way of the sports world, which is why last month when he stepped to the 12th tee at Augusta National with a group of members and friends he politely requested a moment of silence.

“I was vocally expressing that, guys, we have some demons to get rid of here, I'd appreciate if y'all stood to the side of the tee box while I do my work here,” Speith laughed on Wednesday at Kapalua.

Spieth hit 8-iron to 18 feet and made birdie. He followed that the next day with a 9-iron, of all clubs, that nearly spun into the hole. Another birdie.

“Last two times I played the hole, I made birdie,” he smiled.

It was Spieth’s way of acknowledging the 800-pound gorilla in the room that has lingered since last year’s Masters, where he turned a 5-stroke lead with nine holes to play into a runner-up finish after making a quadruple bogey-7 at the 12th on Sunday.

Charles Dickens pretty much summed up Spieth’s 2016: best of times, worst of times.

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At 23, Spieth continues to impress by taking the long view when it comes to 2016 – thinking more about a career than what may or may not be around the next corner.

“Overall, recognizing that if last year is a down year for us, we're in really good shape long term when you start compiling those numbers,” he reasoned. “It makes me think a lot more positive about last season and my career going forward, just looking at it from a more elongated perspective.”

It’s a healthy outlook that’s defined Spieth in his young career, but that doesn’t mean he’s entirely immune to the inevitable peaks and valleys of golf. “I was happy when the [New Year’s] ball touched down and 2017 started,” he admitted.

As tough as the media may have been on Spieth’s season, it was probably the internal dialog that led to a few fitful nights for the eight-time Tour winner. He’d been virtually unstoppable in 2015, winning five times including the Masters and U.S. Open, and was a regular on leaderboards at the season’s final two Grand Slam events.

Winning the ’16 lid-lifter in Maui by eight strokes only fueled those expectations going into the meat of last year’s schedule and he began his week at the year’s first major with three solid rounds for a one-stroke lead heading into Sunday at Augusta National.

“The first major of the year after starting strong, I thought the last five majors I had a chance to win, why won't this continue,” he said. “But it's unrealistic for that to continue every single major consecutively.”

His misplayed 9-iron may have marred his play through Amen Corner and nixed his title chances, but he suggested it was his play at the U.S. Open, where he finished tied for 37th, that was truly frustrating. That he wasn’t a factor at The Open or PGA Championship only compounded that frustration, but throughout it all Spieth clung to the notion that by the time he ambles into the sunset of his career 2016 will be a distant footnote.

He closed last year with a playoff victory at the Australian Open in November and returned this week to Kapalua, where he’s finished first (’16) and second (’14) in two starts to begin anew.

Although he talked of the Plantation Course being a bomber’s paradise, it’s been his putting that has made Spieth the king of Kapalua in recent years.

Last year he led the field in putts, putts per GIR and putts made distance. That he spent his abbreviated offseason working almost exclusively on his putting should give the rest of the Tournament of Champions field plenty to think about.

But mostly, Spieth said he’s put 2016 behind him, a mental housekeeping he probably didn’t have much interest in when he arrived in Maui last January.

Earlier this week a jokester among his Tour frat brothers turned the sign marking Spieth’s parking spot at Kapaula around and scribbled a familiar moniker –  “Golden Child.”

That wayward 9-iron that found Rae's Creek last April has done nothing to dull the golden one’s shine, or his confidence that something special is just one start away.

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Asia offers chance for players to get early jump on season

By Rex HoggardOctober 17, 2018, 6:00 pm

When the field at this week’s CJ Cup tees off for Round 1 just past dinner time on the East Coast Wednesday most golf fans will still be digesting the dramatic finish to the 2017-18 season, which wrapped up exactly 24 days ago, or reliving a Ryder Cup that didn’t go well for the visiting team.

Put another way, the third event of the new season will slip by largely unnoticed, the victim of a crowded sports calendar and probably a dollop of burnout.

What’ll be lost in this three-event swing through Asia that began last week in Kuala Lumpur at the CIMB Classic is how important these events have become to Tour players, whether they count themselves among the star class or those just trying to keep their jobs.

The Asian swing began in 2009 with the addition of the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, although it would be a few years before the event earned full status on Tour, and expanded in 2010 with the addition of the CIMB Classic. This week’s stop in South Korea was added last season and as the circuit transitions to a condensed schedule and earlier finish next year there are persistent rumors that the Tour plans to expand even more in the Far East with sources saying an event in Japan would be a likely landing spot.

Although these events resonate little in the United States because of the time zone hurdles, for players, the Asian swing has become a key part of the schedule.

Consider that seven of the top 10 performers last year in Asia advanced to the Tour Championship and that success wasn’t mutually exclusive to how these players started their season in Asia.

For players looking to get a jump on the new season, the three Asian stops are low-hanging fruit, with all three featuring limited fields and no cut where players are guaranteed four rounds and FedExCup points.

For a player like Pat Perez, his performances last October virtually made his season, with the veteran winning the CIMB Classic and finishing tied for fifth place at the CJ Cup. All total, Perez, who played all three Asian events last year, earned 627 FedExCup points - more than half (53 percent) of his regular-season total.

Keegan Bradley and Cameron Smith also made the most of the tournaments in Asia, earning 34 and 36 percent, respectively, of their regular-season points in the Far East. On average, the top 10 performers in Asia last year earned 26 percent of their regular-season points in what was essentially a fraction of their total starts.

“It's just a place that I've obviously played well,” Justin Thomas, a three-time winner in Asia, said last week in Kuala Lumpur. “I'm comfortable. I think being a little bit of a longer hitter you have an advantage, but I mean, the fact of the matter is that I've just played well the years I played here.”

Perhaps the biggest winner in Asia last season was Justin Rose, who began a torrid run with his victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions, and earned 28 percent of his regular-season points (550) in the Far East on his way to winning the FedExCup by just 41 points.

But it’s not just the stars who have made the most of the potential pot of Asian gold.

Lucas Glover finished tied for seventh at the CIMB Classic, 15th at the CJ Cup and 50th in China in 2017 to earn 145 of his 324 regular-season points (45 percent). Although that total was well off the pace to earn Glover a spot in the postseason and a full Tour card, it was enough to secure him conditional status in 2018-19.

Similarly, Camilo Villegas tied for 17th in Kuala Lumpur and 36th in South Korea to earn 67 of his 90 points, the difference between finishing 193rd on the regular-season point list and 227th. While it may seem like a trivial amount to the average fan, it allowed Villegas to qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals and a chance to re-earn his Tour card.

With this increasingly nuanced importance have come better fields in Asia (which were largely overlooked the first few years), with six of the top 30 players in the Official World Golf Ranking making the trip last week to Malaysia and this week’s tee sheet in South Korea featuring two of the top 5 in world - No. 3 Brooks Koepka and No. 4 Thomas.

“I finished 11th here last year and 11th in China the next week. If I can try and improve on that, get myself in contention and possibly win, it sets up the whole year. That's why I've come back to play,” Jason Day said this week of his decision to play the Asian swing.

For many golf fans in the United States, the next few weeks will be a far-flung distraction until the Tour arrives on the West Coast early next year, but for the players who are increasingly starting to make the trip east, it’s a crucial opportunity to get a jump on the season.

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Watch: Woods uses computer code to make robotic putt

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 3:10 pm

Robots have been plotting their takeover of the golf world for some time.

First it was talking trash to Rory McIlroy, then it was making a hole-in-one at TPC Scottsdale's famous 16th hole ... and now they're making putts for Tiger Woods.

Woods tweeted out a video on Tuesday draining a putt without ever touching the ball:

The 42-year-old teamed up with a computer program to make the putt, and provided onlookers with a vintage Tiger celebration, because computers can't do that ... yet.

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Woods admits fatigue played factor in Ryder Cup

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 12:35 pm

There was plenty of speculation about Tiger Woods’ health in the wake of the U.S. team’s loss to Europe at last month’s Ryder Cup, and the 14-time major champ broke his silence on the matter during a driving range Q&A at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach on Tuesday.

Woods, who went 0-4 in Paris, admitted he was tired because he wasn’t ready to play so much golf this season after coming back from a fourth back surgery.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

The topic of conversation then shifted to what's next, with Woods saying he's just starting to plan out his future schedule, outside of "The Match" with Phil Mickelson over Thanksgiving weekend and his Hero World Challenge in December.

“I’m still figuring that out,” Woods said. “Flying out here yesterday trying to look at the schedule, it’s the first time I’ve taken a look at it. I’ve been so focused on getting through the playoffs and the Ryder Cup that I just took a look at the schedule and saw how packed it is.”

While his exact schedule remains a bit of a mystery, one little event in April at Augusta National seemed to be on his mind already.

When asked which major he was most looking forward to next year, Woods didn't hesitate with his response, “Oh, that first one.”

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Podcast: Fujikawa aims to offer 'hope' by coming out

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 17, 2018, 12:03 pm

Tadd Fujikawa first made golf history with his age. Now he's doing it with his recent decision to openly discuss his sexuality.

Last month Fujikawa announced via Instagram that he is gay, becoming the first male professional to come out publicly. Now 27, he has a different perspective on life than he did when he became the youngest U.S. Open participant in 2006 at Winged Foot at age 15, or when he made the cut at the Sony Open a few months later.

Joining as the guest on the latest Golf Channel podcast, Fujikawa discussed with host Will Gray the reception to his recent announcement - as well as some of the motivating factors that led the former teen phenom to become somewhat of a pioneer in the world of men's professional golf.

"I just want to let people know that they're enough, and that they're good exactly as they are," Fujikawa said. "That they don't need to change who they are to fit society's mold. Especially in the golf world where it's so, it's not something that's very common."

The wide-ranging interview also touched on Fujikawa's adjustment to life on golf-centric St. Simons Island, Ga., as well as some of his hobbies outside the game. But he was also candid about the role that anxiety and depression surrounding his sexuality had on his early playing career, admitting that he considered walking away from the game "many, many times" and would have done so had it not been for the support of friends and family.

While professional golf remains a priority, Fujikawa is also embracing the newfound opportunity to help others in a similar position.

"Hearing other stories, other athletes, other celebrities, my friends. Just seeing other people come out gave me a lot of hope in times when I didn't feel like there was a lot of hope," he said. "For me personally, it was something that I've wanted to do for a long time, and something I'm very passionate about. I really want to help other people who are struggling with that similar issue. And if I can change lives, that's really my goal."

For more from Fujikawa, click below or click here to download the podcast and subscribe to future episodes: