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The struggle is real for Kaufman

By Ryan LavnerMarch 16, 2018, 8:04 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – By the time Smylie Kaufman approached the 12th green Friday at Bay Hill, the few fans following him were already snickering.  

Six bros in tropical polos looked at the black 14 next to Kaufman’s name on the standard and scoffed at how bad he was playing, joked that even they could do that. Then Kaufman made a mess of the 12th, leaving his third shot in the bunker, barely blasting out onto the green with his fourth and flipping his wedge into the air en route to another bogey. Only then did the group finally decide it had seen enough, falling back to watch another three-ball.

It’s become an all-too-familiar scene lately for Kaufman, who is mired in one of the worst slumps on the PGA Tour.

After rounds of 77-81 here at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he finished last for the third consecutive week. He has missed 10 of his last 11 cuts overall – the lone exception a tie for 69th at the CareerBuilder – and is a whopping 86 over par this season.

Perhaps not surprisingly, he is ranked outside the top 150 in every major statistical category. The torrent of bad play has threatened his job security – and the social-media heroes won’t let him forget it, not after he became a pseudo-celebrity following those well-chronicled spring break trips in the Bahamas.

“It’s been frustrating these last three or four weeks with fans – they haven’t been too kind to me,” Kaufman said Friday.

“But I know how talented I am. I’ve got gears that other guys don’t have; I’ve got shots that other guys don’t have. It’s just a matter of getting over it and getting through it.”

Kaufman explained that he’s gone through a “lot of changes” over the past few weeks, but he only wanted to discuss his swing. He’s in the midst of a major overhaul, changing coaches two weeks ago, to Mark Blackburn, and trying to create more depth in his backswing instead of just lifting the club.

The range sessions, of course, are great. That’s the most frustrating part. He can shape shots both ways. Hit them high and low. 

Even this week started encouragingly – he was 3 under through four holes. “Then it was like I got hit by a bus,” he said.


Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


He fell into bad habits. Got needlessly aggressive. Made 10 bogeys, four doubles and a triple the rest of the way. It added up to another DFL, to another lost week.

“I’ve tried not to focus on it,” he said, “but it sucks. I’m such a tough competitor that it’s hard to see my score. It’s one of those things that I’m not letting it define me. I know good golf is in front of me.”

For inspiration, he needed only to look at one of his fellow playing partners this week.

Before the 2016 Wells Fargo Championship, James Hahn had missed his previous eight cuts, failing to shoot in the 60s in each of those 16 rounds. After another trunk slam in New Orleans, he sat down at an Outback Steakhouse with his caddie, Mark Urbanek, about talked about “tearing down the fort,” perhaps even walking away from the game.

“Maybe I’m just not that good,” Hahn told him. “Maybe my good is missing cuts.”

At dinner, they decided to analyze each of his rounds and find the defining moment, when his score turned for the worst. Seventy-five percent of the time it was a bad break – a mudball, a plugged lie, a spike mark – but all of those bogeys altered the momentum of the round.

“That night my caddie said, ‘Your season starts next week – it’s your first tournament of the year,’” Hahn recalled. “Let’s go have a great year.”

The following week, at Quail Hollow, Hahn was five shots inside the cut line as he played his final hole in the second round. He found the green with his approach, then turned to Urbanek and hugged him.

“We’re gonna do this!” Hahn said excitedly.

He was guaranteed his first paycheck in three months.

“Chill, chill,” Urbanek said. “We’re in the top 10. Let’s go win the golf tournament.”

And two days later, they did, in a playoff over Roberto Castro, one of the most unlikely victories in recent memory.

Watching Kaufman struggle over the past two days, Hahn couldn’t help but relate.

“You almost feel like the world is against you,” he said. “It feels very lonely. No one in the world can relate to how you’re feeling in that particular situation when you’re missing that many cuts in a row and you feel down on yourself.

“Everyone is quick to say, ‘Oh, you’re gonna win next week,’ but golf is a tough game, so when s--- hits the fan, when things go very wrong on the course, especially early on, it’s very easy to get ahead of yourself and say, ‘Well, here goes another missed cut.’ It’s very difficult.”

What helped pull Hahn through was a supportive caddie. He hopes Kaufman finds that same positive influence in his new looper, Will Davidson.

“The person who needs to step up in his life right now is his caddie,” Hahn said. “The caddie is the one who you pay to put you in a good attitude. The caddie is with a player six hours a day, and he has the opportunity, every minute, to tell him how good he is and how quickly things can jump back.

“It’s not a weekly thing. It’s not a daily thing. It’s an every hour thing: ‘Tell me how good I am, please, just tell me, because right now I feel like I’m the worst golfer on Tour.’”

If Kaufman has sunk that low, well, he’s not letting on. He says next week’s course in the Dominican Republic suits his game. He’s getting married next month. He has a supportive family and a great group of friends.

And despite his newfound social-media fame, Kaufman is the first to point out that he’s not like Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. They’ve always been winners, at every level.

Kaufman was an afterthought in college, in and out of the lineup for his first three years at LSU. His career just so happened to take off, first handling a tough track to win on the Web.com Tour and then, a few months later, torching TPC Summerlin with a closing 61 to steal the Vegas event and earn a two-year exemption.

“I’m pretty tough,” he said, “and I’ve been through the cycles of golf. Once it comes around, I’m not scared to go get it. It’s just a matter of time.”

And maybe, like Hahn, just a week away.

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Third-round tee times for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 9:05 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eighteen major champions made the cut at The Open and will be playing the weekend at Carnoustie, including 60-year-old ageless wonder Bernhard Langer, and both major champs so far this year, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.

Twenty-four-year-old Gavin Green will be first off solo Saturday at 4:15 a.m. ET. Reed and Rhys Enoch will follow along 10 minutes later.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, both at even par for the tournament, six shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, are in consecutive groups. Mickelson is playing with Austin Cook at 8:05 a.m. and Woods is with South Africa’s Shaun Norris at 8:15 a.m.

Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, both three shots off the lead, are also in consecutive groups. Fowler is at 10 a.m. with Thorbjorn Olesen and Spieth is 10 minutes later with Kevin Chappell. Rory McIlroy, looking to win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship, is at 10:40 a.m. with Xander Schauffele. McIlroy is two shots behind.

Johnson and Kisner are last off at 11 a.m.

4:15AM ET: Gavin Green

4:25AM ET: Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed

4:35AM ET: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Justin Rose

4:45AM ET: Yusaku Miyazato, Tyrrell Hatton

4:55AM ET: Ross Fisher, Keegan Bradley

5:05AM ET: Ryan Fox, Jason Dufner

5:15AM ET: Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson

5:25AM ET: Tom Lewis, Sam Locke (a)

5:35AM ET: Paul Casey, Chris Wood

5:45AM ET: Bernhard Langer, Rafa Cabrera Bello

6:00AM ET: Paul Dunne, Brett Rumford

6:10AM ET: Masahiro Kawamura, Shubhankar Sharma

6:20AM ET: Cameron Smith, Brendan Steele

6:30AM ET: Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood

6:40AM ET: Byeong Hun An, Kevin Na

6:50AM ET: Julian Suri, Adam Hadwin

7:00AM ET: Gary Woodland, Si-Woo Kim

7:10AM ET: Yuta Ikeda, Satoshi Kodaira

7:20AM ET: Marcus Kinhult, Thomas Pieters

7:30AM ET: Beau Hossler, Haotong Li

7:45AM ET: Cameron Davis, Sean Crocker

7:55AM ET: Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink

8:05AM ET: Phil Mickeslon, Austin Cook

8:15AM ET: Tiger Woods, Shaun Norris

8:25AM ET: Lucas Herbert, Michael Kim

8:35AM ET: Jason Day, Francesco Molinari

8:45AM ET: Sung Kang, Webb Simpson

8:55AM ET: Patrick Cantlay, Eddie Pepperell

9:05AM ET: Matthew Southgate, Brooks Koepka

9:15AM ET: Kyle Stanley, Adam Scott

9:30AM ET: Charley Hoffman, Alex Noren

9:40AM ET: Ryan Moore, Brandon Stone

9:50AM ET: Luke List, Danny Willett

10:00AM ET: Thorbjorn Olesen, Rickie Fowler

10:10AM ET: Jordan Spieth, Kevin Chappell

10:20AM ET: Zander Lombard, Tony Finau

10:30AM ET: Matt Kuchar, Erik Van Rooyen

10:40AM ET: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele

10:50AM ET: Pat Perez, Tommy Fleetwood

11:00AM ET: Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson

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Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

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Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”

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After 36, new Open favorite is ... Fleetwood

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 7:49 pm

With a handful of the pre-championship favorites exiting early, there is a new odds-on leader entering the third round of The Open at Carnoustie.

While Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner share the 36-hole lead, it's England's Tommy Fleetwood who leads the betting pack at 11/2. Fleetwood begins the third round one shot off the lead.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.

Tommy Fleetwood: 11/2

Zach Johnson: 13/2

Rory McIlroy: 7/1

Jordan Spieth: 8/1

Rickie Fowler: 9/1

Kevin Kisner: 12/1

Xander Schauffele: 16/1

Tony Finau: 16/1

Matt Kuchar: 18/1

Pat Perez: 25/1

Brooks Koepka: 25/1

Erik van Rooyen: 50/1

Alex Noren: 50/1

Tiger Woods: 50/1

Thorbjorn Olesen: 60/1

Danny Willett: 60/1

Francesco Molinari: 60/1