#AskLav: Will Ryder captains' age help or hurt U.S.?

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 13, 2014, 3:50 pm

Welcome to another installment of the #AskLav mailbag, where each week we follow Tom Watson’s Ryder Cup motto: Age is just a number.

Guess we’ll find out if that’s really true come September. 

When the matches get underway at Gleneagles, Watson and his two assistants, Andy North and Raymond Floyd, will be a combined 201 years old. Two. Hundred. One. 

Potentially, Floyd, at age 72, would be more than 50 years older than Jordan Spieth, who turns 21 in July.

That’s not a generational gap. It’s a generational canyon. 

Watson, of course, hopes that his players will be inspired to tee it up for two legends who have been there and done that, who have earned their respect and trust, who have competed valiantly not only for themselves but also their teammates and their country.

But there’s another, less desirable scenario: The players will tune out the captains – not unlike a teen listening to his grandfather drone on about war stories – and the experience sours early.

One thing is certain, though: If the U.S. wins on foreign soil for the first time in more than two decades, it proves the PGA’s old-timey experiment was a success and opens the door for other outside-the-box captains. 

But, hey, the clock is ticking on this mailbag, too. Let’s dive into your questions: 

 

 

Instagram#AskLav: Does Jimmy Walker have what it takes to add his name to the list of major champions? – Bobby Terwilliger, via Instagram

That’s the big question now, right? It’s nice that J-Walk can win events like the Frys and Sony and Pebble, but how will he fare in those Big Events, the ones on which legacies are built? Consider this: Walker, age 35, has competed in just SIX career majors. No Masters appearances. Just two U.S. Opens berths, and not since 2002. Only one British Open (MC). And three PGAs (two MCs with a T-21). Heck, he’s only been in The Players field four times and has just one WGC under his belt (T-46 last November). It’s unfair to hold that against Walker, of course – with three wins in his last eight starts, it’s clear that he has elevated his game to new heights. For this late bloomer, the WGC at Doral will be a good benchmark of how high he can soar. 


Instagram#AskLav: Where did Jimmy Walker come from? And how is he winning all these tournaments out of nowhere? – Brett Brewster, via Instagram

So, um, I’m assuming you didn’t follow Walker back in 2004, when he was the Nationwide Tour Player of the Year? OK, fair enough. He didn’t record his first top-10 in a PGA Tour event until 2009, didn’t crack the top 50 in earnings until 2012, and last year recorded his first runner-up finish, at The Greenbrier. The turning point came last April, when he began working with swing coach Butch Harmon. Walker proved a quick learner, posting career bests in driving distance and greens hit in 2013 and finishing 36th in the FedEx Cup. Already his $3.6 million in earnings through eight starts is nearly as much as he banked in 2012 and ’13 combined. This guy is for real. 


 

 

Woah! Hyperbole alert. Cheyenne seems like a sweet girl with a beautiful swing and even better bloodlines, but let’s not forget: The 23-year-old earned less than $6,000 in three LPGA starts last year, finished 78th on the Ladies European Tour Order of Merit and then couldn’t secure her tour card here through Q-School. No doubt, she could be a game-changer for women’s golf … someday. Tiger had two dismal season-opening events, and all of a sudden he’s toast in the majors? Come on. 


Instagram#AskLav: Is Cheyenne Woods single? – Roc O’Connor, via Instagram

I’m not sure what kind of shady operation you think we’re running here …


Instagram#AskLav: Cheyenne, will you be my valentine? – Brad Haberkorn, via Instagram

Stop it. You’re scaring her.


Instagram#AskLav: Who’s your fantasy pick this week at Riviera? – Beautiful Golf Courses, via Instagram

A real question! At this point, it seems unwise to pick against Jimmy Walker, what with that 3-for-8 start and all. Other solid picks this week: Dustin Johnson, who has finished no worse than sixth in three starts this season; Keegan Bradley, who prior to a MC at the Phoenix Open had 11 top-25s in his last 13 starts and lost in a playoff here in 2012; and Bill Haas, who has three consecutive top-15s at Riviera, including the victory in ’12. But what do I know? I’m only, ahem, fourth on Golf Channel’s expert leaderboard. 


 

 

Honestly, it’s difficult to generate much excitement when the host course won’t be completed until summer 2015 and the format looks like the World Golf Championships-South America edition. Ideally, tournament officials would have implemented some element of match play into the competition – a 36- or 54-hole stroke-play qualifier, followed by a match-play knockout bracket. As currently constituted, it seems like just another 72-hole big-time tournament, with medals awaiting the top 3 on the leaderboard. 


 

 

As I mentioned earlier, you can’t fault the guys who haven’t been given the opportunity – or, frankly, played well enough – to put themselves in a position to compete in the WGCs and majors. Walker, as he’s shown in the past few months, is absolutely ready to take the next step and win one of the events with a huge purse and loaded field. Reed doesn’t even have 50 Tour starts under his belt, let alone any big-tourney experience. But he’s a legit sleeper pick to go deep in next week’s Match Play – the ultra-aggressive player went 6-0 at the NCAAs in college. His major prospects, long-term, depend on how well he can control his tee ball. In 2013, he ranked 157th on Tour in driving accuracy. That won’t get it done at a difficult venue. 


Instagram#AskLav: How do I become a writer for Golf Channel? – Dien, via Instagram 

Write every day. Read even more. Study the sport. But please, don’t take my job. 


 

 

Tiger. His worst career start as a pro was the product of rust more than anything else. This upcoming Florida swing will tell us all we need to about the state of his game heading into the year’s first major. And don’t forget: He has finished sixth or better in eight of his last nine starts at Augusta.

Phil, as usual, is a more unpredictable case. At his season opener in Abu Dhabi, he extolled the virtues of his new driver that he was hitting longer and straighter than ever before. Yet so far in 2014, he ranks 133rd and 114th in driving distance and accuracy, respectively, though those numbers figure to improve (maybe) when his back is 100 percent. More troubling is his putting. It’s a small sample size, of course, but he’s currently 122nd on Tour, and he’s coming off what he said was his worst putting performance in a year and a half. 


Instagram#AskLav: What are the odds of multiple Oklahoma State guys winning titles? Hunter Mahan, CH3, Rickie Fowler, Peter Uihlein, Morgan Hoffmann … Seems like there is some major talent out of Stillwater – Ryan Loudon, via Instagram

In order of most likely: Mahan, Howell, Uihlein, Fowler, Hoffmann. 

Mahan, winless since April 2012, has finished T-4 and sixth in his last two starts, respectively, while Howell has a Tour-best five top 10s this season and is way too talented to have only two titles (and none since 2007). Uihlein absolutely could win on the U.S. tour this year, provided he gets enough opportunities.


Instagram#AskLav: Why hasn’t Rickie Fowler been performing as well as his competitors who are the same age as him? It has been a very popular few years to see 20-year-olds on top, but Rickie Fowler hasn’t been up there lately. – Brian O’Malley, via Instagram

Right now, he’s simply not playing as well as Jordan Spieth and Harris English and Patrick Reed and the rest of the early-20s brigade. He has just one top 25 in five starts this season – indeed, that 2012 victory at Quail Hollow seems like a loooong time ago – but he’s been working recently with Butch Harmon. Swing changes take time. Rickie said he doesn’t want to be known simply as a one-hit wonder with Crayola clothes. The guess here is that he’ll get it sorted out with Butch and factor again soon. 


 

 

The Masters is the right answer. Always. Every year it delivers. A close second will be the U.S. Open, where there will be so much hype with Phil looking to complete the career grand slam and win that elusive major at the place where all the heartache began, and Tiger looking to improve on his other top-3 finishes at Pinehurst, and the back-to-back Opens with the women. Fun times ahead for golf fans.


Instagram#AskLav: What’s wrong with Bubba under pressure? – Nate Anderson, via Instagram

Yes, the dude plays golf like he has red ants in his socks, but how quickly you have forgotten that hook out of the trees at Augusta. Didn’t have any problem closing there, right?

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”