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Tough mudder: Koepka eyes more major history

By Rex HoggardAugust 12, 2018, 1:06 am

ST. LOUIS – The 100th PGA Championship turned out to be exactly what we all thought it would be, a heavyweight title bout masquerading as a toughest man competition.

With a heat index north of triple digits and the kind of humidity that makes the championship’s relocation to the more comfortable confines of May starting next year a welcome reprieve, the strongest have risen to the top.

With few exceptions, the bombers have emerged on a course that’s been soused to a spongy and one-dimensional test – see flag, hit flag. All of the other nuances of playing the year’s final major have been washed away by downpours on Tuesday and Friday.

What might not have been widely predicted, however, was Brooks Koepka’s dominance. He checked all the right boxes, had all the firepower Bellerive could ask for and a two-pack of majors to prove his pedigree; but with all the other power players perfectly aligned for what promised to be a long drive competition he blended into the crowd.

Despite his victory in June at the U.S. Open, and a major scorecard that includes five top-10 finishes in his last 10 Grand Slam starts, Koepka began the week with 20-to-1 odds, behind the likes of Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas. For all the wrong reasons, Koepka has been largely overlooked like vegetables on a buffet.


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Whether it’s a byproduct of a personality that can at times come off as aloof, or his disinterest in the modern trappings of social media, in a game filled with stars Koepka is still searching for his place among the world-beater set.

Koepka uses that indifference, be it real or perceived, as fuel. It carried him through those lonely months of inactivity as he recovered from a left wrist injury and those far flung early days of his career when he chased his dream to the four corners of the globe on the European Challenge Tour.

“You always feel like you've got something to prove, whether it be to yourself or somebody else,” said Koepka, who will take a two-stroke lead into the final round following a third-round 66. “I can think of plenty of people along the way telling me I'll be nothing, working at McDonald's, doing things like that. The whole time, you're just trying to prove them wrong.”

The 28-year-old is 18 holes away from winning three of the last seven majors, not bad considering he missed one of those Grand Slam stops earlier this year when he was rehabbing a wrist injury during the Masters.

Put another way, he’s poised to prove that he’s arguably the best major championship player at the moment.

Koepka gave the field a glimmer of hope after moving to 13 under with back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 14 and 15, but he closed with a birdie at the 17th hole to set an impressive line.

“I can really tune in in the majors and I have no idea why,” he said. “They really get my attention. Every shot's so important out here, and you need to be able to play well.”

The consensus before this week’s PGA was that Bellerive would favor the long hitter and there’s nothing on the 54-hole leaderboard to suggest that won’t be the case.

In order, Koepka (who is tied for second this week in driving distance) is followed by Adam Scott (T-19 in driving distance), Jon Rahm (T-13), Rickie Fowler, Gary Woodland (sixth), Jason Day (T-2), Tiger Woods (33rd) and Justin Thomas (10th).

“You can just have a quick look down the first page of the leaderboard and look who is there, it's great players and players in the best form this year,” marveled Scott, who shot a round-of-the-day 65 to move into second place.

Koepka, who would become just the fifth player to win his third major by 28, may have made it look easy on Saturday, but if history is any indication the game’s most relaxed player will have his hands full.

Rahm moved into the hunt for his first major with a 66 and is tied for third place at 9 under. On the check list of players who have the tools to turn Bellerive into a pitch-and-putt count the Spaniard atop the list, and like the other members of the cast he’s also not lacking in confidence.

“I know that I can do it,” Rahm said.

The same could probably be said for Fowler, who is tied with Rahm after a third-round 69, and Day, the 2015 PGA champion who is another stroke back at 8 under and tied with Thomas, this week’s defending champion.

As for Woods, his new competitive reality has never been so clear. Although he said, and did, all the right things on a sweltering Saturday, moving to within four strokes with a 4-under 66, he’s in a similar position to where he was starting the final round at last month’s Open Championship.

The old Tiger would have maintained the pressure and waited for those ahead of him to blink, but as he learned at Carnoustie, where he tied for sixth, the current generation isn’t prone to Sunday swoons, at least not collectively.

If he’s going to win major No. 15 he’ll need to outplay a generation that’s only seen his greatness on YouTube, and that means he must be aggressive.

“I just have to make birdies. This golf course is stacked right now and everyone is bunched,” Woods said.

For the second time this season the game’s best will begin a Sunday at a major chasing Koepka, and Koepka will begin his day in the gym. The gym is his refuge, a place where he can go and get away from golf and expectations; just not the feeling that he’s overlooked among the game’s best.

On Saturday morning, Koepka went to a local gym with frequent workout partner Johnson.

“Everybody wanted a picture with Dustin,” Koepka smiled. “They were talking about him as we left and I was just standing there laughing. They were like, ‘Did you see that, No. 1 player in the world was here.’ It's like, yeah, OK.”

He won’t get to No. 1 in the world with a victory on Sunday, but he’ll certainly make a statement that will be impossible for anyone to ignore.

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Golf Channel adds Matt Farrell as GM of Alternative Golf & Exec. Director of World Long Drive Association

By Golf Channel Public RelationsOctober 23, 2018, 1:20 pm

Farrell’s New Role Follows Past Decade Spent as CMO of USA Swimming

Matt Farrell, CMO of USA Swimming, has joined Golf Channel as General Manager of Alternative Golf and Executive Director for the World Long Drive Association. Farrell is a 20-year veteran of sports and entertainment marketing spanning roles with USA Swimming, the U.S. Olympic Committee and Warner Brothers. The announcement was made today by Tom Knapp, Golf Channel executive vice president, partnerships and programming.

“Golf Channel is committed to the growth of the game by engaging new and different fans in our coverage of all aspects of the game,” said Knapp. “Alternative competitions like World Long Drive expand golf’s reach, and Matt’s proven track record of elevating sports, both through grassroots efforts, digital extensions and high-profile media opportunities will further fuel our efforts. Matt has a terrific reputation within the Olympic community, where he is known as an effective and strategic partner amongst colleagues across sport governing bodies and sponsors.”

“From the first time I experienced a WLD event, I immediately saw the progressive vision and promising future of long drive as a sport and unique avenue for golf to connect with younger, athletic-minded sports fans,” Farrell said. “And thanks to the investments of NBC Sports, the competitors, sponsors, and event hosts the past few years, we have an incredible foundation to expand upon with a global, long-term strategic plan. For me personally, I look forward to combining my background in commercial development, organizational leadership and digital content at USA Swimming and the U.S. Olympic Committee with Golf Channel’s entrepreneurial enthusiasm to grow the sport of golf in non-traditional ways.”

In the newly created role, Farrell will lead all domestic and international business elements for Golf Channel’s owned and operated alternative golf franchises, led by the World Long Drive Association, which has aired on Golf Channel since 2013. For these franchises, Farrell will oversee event sponsorships, marketing, communications, operations, player relations and TV/digital media extensions. Farrell will lead teams focused on further development of additional alternative golf competitions, events and franchises. Farrell will report to Knapp and his official start date is December 3.

Since making a commitment to add World Long Drive to its business portfolio in 2015, Golf Channel has elevated the sport to feature five televised live competitions in 2018, culminating in the Volvik World Long Drive Championship in primetime, and adding the women’s division to televised events for the past two years. Previously, World Long Drive’s exposure was limited to a single, tape-delayed presentation of the men’s world championship on ESPN2. Despite a history as a sport dating back to 1976, Golf Channel’s support drove World Long Drive to be named a 2018 finalist for a “Breakthrough Sports League of the Year” by the annual Cynopsis Sports industry awards. The broader sports industry also has taken notice, including ESPN proclaiming that long drive has “recently started to enter the mainstream of golf;” Men’s Journal noting “with the sport’s ascendant profile and ever-growing prestige,” fans should “buckle up for more high-octane action;” Golf Digest saying the WLD atmosphere is “on the upswing, gaining traction;” and Golf.com claiming it is “an eye-opening experience”.

Matt Farrell Professional Background:

  • USA Swimming, Chief Marketing Officer since 2008, previously Managing Director of Business Development since 2005.
    • USA Swimming is a National Governing Body with 400,000 members and the No. 1 Olympic swimming country in the world.
    • Under his leadership, delivered highest corporate partner revenue in organization’s history, including corporate partners such as BMW, Marriott, MilkPEP, Arena, TYR, Blue Diamond and Chobani, in addition to long-term partnership renewals with Speedo and Phillips 66.
    • Farrell developed partnerships with Disney and Discovery Education, as well as a diversity and inclusion partnership with Sigma Gamma Rho, an African-American sorority.
    • Signature programs created by Farrell include USA Swimming Productions digital video department, SwimToday youth participation campaign, USA Swimming House VIP hospitality experience, and annual SwimBiz conference focused on elevating the swimming industry’s business potential, sponsorship opportunities and social media influence.
    • Previous professional experience includes serving as Associate Director, Internet Marketing at the U.S. Olympic Committee from 2000-2005, and Director of Internet Marketing, Warner Home Video for Warner Bros. from 1999-2000. Additionally, Farrell served previously at the U.S. Olympic Committee as Manager of Online Projects from 1997-1999 and Communications Coordinator at USA Swimming 1993-1997, after starting his career in the Purdue University’s Sports Information Office from 1992-1993.
    • Farrell additionally has served on the boards for Adaptive Adventures (2013-16) and USA Ultimate (2010-12).
    • Farrell graduated from the University of Arkansas with a BA in Broadcast Journalism.
    • Farrell, a life-long golfer, will be relocating to Golf Channel’s World Headquarters in Orlando, Fla.
    • Farrell is married to Michelle Dusserre, 1984 Olympic silver medalist in gymnastics, who currently works in international sports consulting. They have two daughters – Abby and Zoe. Abby is currently at the University of Illinois and competes on the wheelchair basketball team; while Zoe competes in soccer, swimming and playing in the marching band.
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Randall's Rant: Tales of the lost and found

By Randall MellOctober 23, 2018, 12:28 pm

Give me a player who lost his way.

Give me a player who lost his motivation, or his confidence, or maybe just his hard-fought momentum, or, better yet, a player who lost all of the above.

Give me a man or woman like that as a winner on a tour Sunday, because there’s inspiration for all of us in those kind of stories.

This wicked, mysterious game comes with the dreary certainty that eventually we’re all going to have to make our way out of some deep patch of woods.

That’s what made this past week so special.

We hit the trifecta.

We didn’t just get one winner who came out triumphant after feeling lost this year. We got three of them.

We got Brooks Koepka winning the CJ Cup @Nine Bridges in South Korea, Danielle Kang winning the Buick LPGA Shanghai and Sergio Garcia winning the Andalucia Valderrama Masters in Spain.

If you’re a golf fan needing an offseason as much as the players do, maybe you were tempted to take the week off and just gorge on high school, college and NFL football. Koepka, Kang and Garcia made that hard to do. They had compelling stories to tell, or to keep telling.

Koepka, 28, ascended to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time with Sunday’s victory. Yes, it comes after he won his second and third majors this year and after he was named PGA Tour player of the year, but it also comes in a year that began with such a troubling start.

Koepka’s success is more remarkable when you remember he missed the Masters with a wrist injury. You can’t fully appreciate where he is now without reminding yourself he missed four months early in the year with a torn tendon in his left wrist, and that he spent two months in a soft cast and didn’t touch a club for 91 days.

“You go from playing some of the best golf I’ve probably ever played to being at the lowest point professionally that I’ve been,” Koepka said on the eve of the U.S. Open back in June. “It wasn’t anything I’d wish upon anyone.”

Six months ago, who would have believed he would seize the No. 1 ranking by fall? Six years ago, who would have believed it possible with Koepka beginning his pro career in Europe’s minor leagues? He’s the first European Challenge Tour player to win three majors.

“It’s unbelievable,” Koepka said. “Look where I started. My first pro start was in Switzerland. I don’t think I could have said six years later I’d be No. 1.”

And then there’s Kang.

Last year, the two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur winner broke through to win her first LPGA title, making it a major at the KPMG Women’s PGA.

By late this summer, Kang’s confidence was gone.

Kang, 26, said she was struggling with the yips over full shots and over putts in a run of missing five cuts in six starts. While she began working out her issues going to Butch Harmon a month ago, she was still wrestling with demons just a week ago. She said she needed “four minutes” to take the club back over a shot at the KEB Hana Bank Championship.

“I was able to get over a lot of anxiety I was feeling when I was trying to hit a golf ball,” Kang said. “I just kept trusting my golf game.”

Kang was a bit of a mess early on Sunday in Shanghai, until her caddie handed her a wedge going to the back nine and told her to smash her golf bag with it, to exorcise her demon anger.

“I thank him for that,” she said.

And there’s Garcia, who broke through to win the Masters a year ago but looked as if he might not be worthy of a spot on the European Ryder Cup team last month. He missed eight of 11 PGA Tour cuts leading up to the Ryder Cup, including the cuts at all four majors, but he flipped a switch going to Paris. He returned to his former brilliance going 3-1 to help the Euros win.

Garcia, 38, carried his Ryder Cup momentum to Spain.

“To be able to win here at Valderrama three times in a row is a dream come true,” Garcia said.

Yes, but give me players who know what nightmares are. Watching them find their way out makes for terrific golf theater. It makes football’s shadow a little less formidable this time of year.

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Stock Watch: LPGA raises some Q-uestions

By Ryan LavnerOctober 23, 2018, 11:42 am

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Brooks (+9%): Golf’s new king looks built to last, with a powerful game, a rock-solid stroke and a chip on his shoulder the size of his South Florida mansion. As long as Koepka stays healthy, the game’s preeminent big-game hunter will continue to eat.

Danielle Kang (+7%): Two weeks ago her mind was so cluttered that she needed four minutes to pull the trigger on a shot. Battling chip and full-swing yips, she kept the demons at bay to earn an LPGA title even more satisfying than her major breakthrough.

Paul Azinger (+5%): Tabbed to replace the inimitable Johnny Miller in the NBC booth, Azinger was the best and the most logical choice for the job. He’s a sharp observer of the game who won’t be afraid to let it rip, when necessary.

Sergio Garcia (+4%): Whenever the Ryder Cup inevitably returns to Valderrama, even if he’s 65 years old, Garcia deserves at least some consideration for a captain’s pick. His record there is stupid-good: 14 appearances, three wins, seven top-3s, 13 top-10s.

Gary Woodland (+3%): He’s 37 under par across the first two events of the season, with no wins to show for it. Tough sport!


FALLING

Ian Poulter (-1%): Playing in the final group with Koepka in Korea, Poulter threw up a 1-under 71 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 22 – and nearly tumbled out of the top 10.

Slow-play penalties (-2%): Good thing the PGA Tour Champions rules officials finally cracked down on slow play at the senior level – by picking on Corey Pavin and not notorious slowpoke Bernhard Langer, who just so happens to be No. 2 in the points standings.

LPGA Q Series (-4%): The LPGA’s new version of Q-School gets underway this week, and the women’s college golf coaches are not happy about it: The top 5 players from last season’s individual rankings (Jennifer Kupcho, Maria Fassi, Patty Tavatanakit, Lilia Vu, Lauren Stephenson) automatically earned a spot in the final stage, guaranteeing at least some Symetra status and likely a full LPGA card, if they finish inside the top 45. The LPGA is cherry-picking the best from the college ranks, even if they’re not yet ready to make the jump.

World No. 1 parity (-5%): This was just the second time since the world rankings debuted that four players reached No. 1. That trend doesn’t seem like it’ll end in 2019, either – especially with Tiger Woods once again eyeing the top spot.

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What's in the Bag: CJ Cup winner Koepka

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 23, 2018, 12:50 am

Brooks Koepka closed strong to win the CJ Cup in South Korea, and he also took over the No. 1 ranking. Here's a look inside his bag.

Driver: TaylorMade M3 (9.5 degrees)

Fairway Woods: TaylorMade M2 Tour HL (16.5 degrees)

Irons: Nike Vapor Fly Pro (3); Mizuno JPX-900 Tour (4-PW)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 Raw (52, 56 degrees), SM7 Raw TVD (60 degrees)

Putter: Scotty Cameron T10 Select Newport 2 prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x