A touch of class: 2011 high schoolers shining

By Rex HoggardJanuary 15, 2017, 5:11 am

HONOLULU – Six years ago this week Justin Thomas was wrapping up his senior year of high school and readying for college life at the University of Alabama.

Ditto for Jordan Spieth, who was bound for Texas, and Ollie Schniederjans, who had signed to play golf for Georgia Tech. All told, there are at least 10 players from the high school class of 2011 who currently have day jobs at golf’s highest level – the PGA Tour.

Spieth has won eight times in the big leagues, including two majors. Emiliano Grillo was voted the 2015-16 Rookie of the Year thanks to his victory at the Frys.com Open, and Daniel Berger outdueled Phil Mickelson, no less, to win the 2016 FedEx St. Jude Classic.

And now there is Thomas, the rail-thin, high-flying jokester of that ultra prolific class, forging a legacy that seems blatantly absurd. After holding off Hideki Matsuyama last week at the SBS Tournament of Champions and winning the year lid-lifter by three strokes, he became the first of the group to shoot a 59 in a Tour event on Thursday at the Sony Open.

He followed that with a 36-hole scoring record on Friday (123 total) and, despite not having his best stuff on Day 3, he matched the 54-hole mark (188).

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“It reiterates the journey we've all been on to get out here from when we've been playing together since we were 12 years old, or 13 years old,” said Spieth, who is alone in ninth place at Waialae Country Club.

“Our whole class. There was no doubt, whether we believed it was as hard as it is or not, we just chose to shrug it off, and hey, we're just going to go to the next level and the next level.”

There have always been young players who crash through barriers, with Tiger Woods being the best example of preconceived expectations. But the class of ’11, collectively, has gone next level.

Although they largely took different paths to the Tour, they’ve all arrived with the same unbridled ambition and fearlessness.

“It’s fun to watch this breed of player come out because everybody has talked about the fact they hit it further than anyone else, but nobody talks about the scores they are shooting,” Charles Howell III said of Thomas’ 59. “To come out on this course, which is a tricky golf course, and the guy shoots 59.”

There is no shortage of reasons why the class has blown through the normal Tour learning curve and age ceiling.

Junior, amateur and college golf have never been more honed to groom success than they are now. Events at all levels are played on better golf courses and the best players have access to the most modern training techniques and fitness programs.

But the class of ’11 goes beyond those normal assumptions. They were prepared, physically, mentally, emotionally to play at the highest level from the opening tee shot. They didn’t earn their Tour cards and expect a few years of tough lessons like so many young players in the past.

There’s also something to be said for the group’s shared competitive history.

“The level of play has just been so good for so many years and we’re used to trying to win tournaments,” said Schniederjans, who is tied for 10th place in Hawaii. “Coming out here at first and trying to win tournaments, these guys are so good, but at every level our class has shown we’re able to rise to the challenge.”

Beating, for example, a future major champion or multiple Tour winner can have a profoundly inspiring impact on a player like Schniederjans, whose mind quickly drifts back to the group’s junior days.

At the 2008 Polo Junior Classic at PGA National, he recalls, Schniederjans beat Grillo in the quarterfinals and Trey Mullinax in the finals to take the title. A year later he finished second to Grillo at the Ping Invitational, well ahead of the likes of Spieth and Thomas.

There’s also no ignoring Woods’ influence on the class. In the last 2000s, the 14-time major champion was regularly winning, instilling from afar that it was simply the way of the world

“I'd say it's because of him, honestly," Thomas said. "I think what Tiger did, you can't put into words what he did and continues to do for this game. I got into golf, as much as I did, watching him play. I knew he was in his early 20s and winning majors.”

It’s only apropos that Thomas’ current run is very much Tiger-like, with the 23-year-old 18 holes away from winning his third event in his last four starts.

It’s not a comparison to Woods, which is always a wildly unfair bar to set, as much as it is an explanation, a rationale behind the collective success of the class of ’11.

Like Spieth, Thomas isn’t prone to bouts of bragging, for the new breed it’s best to let the results sing your praises; but asked his thoughts on the class’ success his answer was the best explanation to date.

“I'm trying to think of how to say this without sounding really arrogant, but I just think we're all good. I think we're all very accomplished,” he said. “We've won at every level we've played.”

That they’re now winning, and dominating, at the highest level is nothing more than a logical progression.

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Gooch chooses 'life over a good lie' with gators nearby

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 11:31 pm

AVONDALE, La. – A fairway bunker wasn’t Talor Gooch’s only hazard on the 18th hole at TPC Louisiana.

Gooch’s ball came to rest Thursday within a few feet of three gators, leading to a lengthy delay as he sorted out his options.

Chesson Hadley used a rake to nudge two of the gators on the tail, sending them back into the pond surrounding the green. But the third gator wouldn’t budge.

“It woke him up from a nap,” Gooch said, “and he was hissing away and wasn’t happy.”

The other two gators remained in the water, their eyes fixed on the group.

Full-field scores from the Zurich Classic of New Orleans

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“I’m sure we would have been fine, but any little movement by them and no chance I would have made solid contact,” he said.

A rules official granted Gooch free relief, away from the gator, but he still had to drop in the bunker. The ball plugged.

“I chose life over a good lie in that situation,” he said.

He splashed out short of the green, nearly holed out his pitch shot and made par to cap off an eventful 6-under 66 with partner Andrew Landry.

“It was my first gator par,” he said. “I’ll take it.”

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Koepka's game 'where it should be' even after injury

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 11:18 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Brooks Koepka didn’t look rusty Thursday while making six birdies in the first round of the Zurich Classic.

Making his first start in four months because of a torn ligament in his left wrist, Koepka and partner Marc Turnesa shot a 5-under 67 in fourballs at TPC Louisiana.

“It felt good,” Koepka said afterward. “It was just nice to be out here. I played pretty solid.”

Full-field scores from the Zurich Classic of New Orleans

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The reigning U.S. Open champion felt soreness in his wrist the week after he won the Dunlop Phoenix in the fall. He finished last at the Hero World Challenge in December and then the following month at the Tournament of Champions before shutting it down.

He only began practicing last week and decided to commit to the Zurich Classic after three solid days at Medalist. He decided to partner with one of his friends in South Florida, Marc Turnesa, a former PGA Tour winner who now works in real estate.

Koepka hasn’t lost any distance because of the injury – he nearly drove the green on the 355-yard 16th hole. He’s planning to play the next two weeks, at the Wells Fargo Championship and The Players.

“I feel like I’m playing good enough to be right where I should be in April,” he said. “I feel good, man. There’s nothing really wrong with my game right now.”

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Like a tattoo: Ko shares early Mediheal lead

By Randall MellApril 26, 2018, 10:45 pm

Lydia Ko put herself in early position Thursday to try to extend her birthday celebration through Sunday at the LPGA Mediheal Championship.

Ko, who turned 21 on Tuesday, is off to a strong start at Lake Merced Golf Club, where she has a lot of good memories to draw upon as she seeks to regain the winning form that made her the greatest teen phenom in the history of the women’s game.

With a 4-under-par 68, Ko moved into a four-way tie for the lead among the morning wave in the first round. I.K. Kim, Jessica Korda and Caroline Hedwall also opened with 68s.

All Ko has to do is look at her right wrist to feel good about returning to San Francisco. That’s where she tattooed the date April 27, 2014, in Roman numerals. That’s how she commemorated her Swinging Skirts victory at Lake Merced, her first title as an LPGA member. She won there again the following year.

“This is a golf course where I've played well,” Ko said. “The fans have been amazing. They’ve been super supportive every single time I've come here, even since I played the U.S. Juniors here.”

Full-field scores from the LPGA Mediheal Championship

Ko made it to the semifinals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior at Lake Merced in 2012.

“It just brings back a lot of great memories,” she said.

Ko got this week off to a good start with friends from South Korea and New Zealand flying to California to surprise her on her birthday. She was born in South Korea and grew up in New Zealand.

“Turning 21 is a huge thing in the United States,” Ko cracked. “I’m legal now, and I can do some fun things.”

Ko is looking to claim her 15th LPGA title and end a 21-month winless spell. Her ball striking was sharp Thursday, as she continues to work on improvements under her swing coach, Ted Oh. She hit 11 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in regulation.

“My ball striking's been getting better these last few weeks, which has been really nice,” Ko said at week’s start. “But then I've been struggling with putting, which was the aspect of the game that was going really well. I feel like the pieces are there, and just, sometimes, the hardest thing is to kind of put all those pieces together. Just have to stay patient, I know there are a lot of good things happening.”

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Watch: Rose drops trou despite gator danger

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 26, 2018, 10:12 pm

We all know how fashion-conscious pro golfers are, and sometimes that even trumps modesty.

Take Justin Rose, whose tee shot on the par-3 third hole in Thursday's opening round of the Zurich Classic found the water. But the ball was close enough to shore for Rose to try to play it. Not wanting to get his light-colored pants dirty - what is up with all the white pants on Tour these days, anyway? - he took them off to play the shot.

If there were any gators in the water hazard - and this being Louisiana, there almost certainly were - they showed no interest in the Englishman.

It was only appropriate that Rose should strip down for a shot, as his partner, Henrik Stenson, famously did the same thing (to an even greater degree) at Doral in 2009.

Finally, just to provide some closure, Rose failed to get up and down.