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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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Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  


Match scoring from U.S. Amateur

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos


On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

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Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.


Purse: $6 million

Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.


Notables in the field

Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Henrik Stenson

• Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

• Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open


Sergio Garcia

• Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

• Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)


Webb Simpson

• Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

• 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.


Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos


"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."

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McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.


Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos


"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.