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Monday Scramble: Rahm, Henderson earn popular wins

By Ryan LavnerApril 16, 2018, 3:00 pm

Jon Rahm wins at home, Satoshi Kodaira rallies, Brooke Henderson impresses, Kelly Kraft stews and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Each of the top players has a weakness – iron play, accuracy, short putting, temperament – but Jon Rahm might be best positioned for success.

He has proven, with five wins in just 15 short months, that he can triumph anywhere and everywhere.

Winning on one of the most difficult courses on Tour (Torrey Pines) and one of the easiest (PGA West), taking the title when it’s blustery (Ireland) and dome-like (Dubai), Rahm can now add another line to his increasingly impressive résumé, outlasting the field and steeling himself to capture his home open in Spain.

There will be rough patches, of course, since these stars are not machines. But it’s worth noting that the 23-year-old Rahm has missed only one cut since the U.S. Open.

He brings it every time he tees it up, often giving himself a chance to win, wherever that may be.


1. Rahm didn’t rise in the rankings after taking the Spanish Open title, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a significant victory.

Playing his home open for the first time, he closed with 67 to hunt down Paul Dunne and Nacho Elvira and win for the second time this year. A week after finishing fourth at the Masters, Rahm flew 14 hours and still shot 20 under par.

For now Rahm remained at No. 4 in the world, even with the victory, but he's expected to leapfrog Spieth in two weeks. Math!

2. To many players, a home open is as important as any event outside of the majors. At age 23, Rahm became just the fifth Spaniard to win the Spanish Open over the past 40 years, joining Seve Ballesteros, Sergio Garcia, Alvaro Quiros and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

“It’s truly been the hardest Sunday I’ve ever had in any tournament that I’ve won, because the crowd wanted it so much and I wanted it so much,” he said afterward. “You can tell how excited everybody is. I felt that tension; I felt that stress. I felt everything magnified.”

3. So Rahm was able to handle the pressure of trying to win at home. Elvira, it seems, could not.

Tied for the lead with two holes to play, Elvira missed on the 71st hole the only place he could not – left, in the water. He still would have had a chance on the home hole, but he yipped a 3-footer for a deflating double bogey.

He finished third, three shots back. Dunne, the 54-hole leader, wound up in second.



4. Satoshi Kodaira erased a six-shot deficit on the final day at the RBC Heritage. In difficult conditions he shot a 5-under 66, then waited around to see if his 12-under 272 would be enough.

Locked in a playoff with Players champion Si Woo Kim, Kodaira made two pars before rolling in a 25-footer for the win on the third extra hole.

The Heritage was just his 15th career PGA Tour start.

“To win this quickly is a big surprise to me,” he said.

5. Never heard of Kodaira?

He’s a six-time Japan Tour winner who has never had a top-25 in a major. (Though he tied for 28th at the Masters.) Last year, he won twice and ripped off 13 other top-10s on the Japanese circuit to soar up the world rankings. He entered the week at No. 46 and now is all the way up to 27th – ahead of guys like Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Patrick Cantlay and Daniel Berger.  

Clearly, he has a ton of game. He finished the week ranked sixth in strokes gained: off the tee and seventh in the tee-to-green statistics.

“This course is very similar to the courses in Japan – a little bit shorter and a shape course,” he said. “I felt very comfortable.”



6. Kodaira benefited from Kim’s horrible day on the greens.

Entering the week ranked 209th out of 210 players on Tour in strokes gained: putting, Kim predictably looked lost at times. Holding a slim lead down the stretch, he missed putts of 4, 7, 5 and 6 feet over the last four holes to drop into the playoff. In overtime, he also missed a pair of 20-footers.

It was all part of a round in which Kim lost nearly three strokes to the field on the greens and holed a combined 33 feet of putts. With stats like that, it was a miracle he was even in contention and able to shoot even par on Sunday.

“Rather than it being nerves,” Kim said through a translator, “I think with the weather, it kind of slowed the greens down and affected them, how I made the putts. But I tried my best and the putts didn’t drop.”

As sweet as Kim’s swing appears, there’s a reason why the two-time Tour winner has also missed 22 cuts over the past three seasons.

7. Six Sunday birdies helped Dustin Johnson salvage a respectable showing in his Palmetto State homecoming.

A new RBC ambassador, Johnson was playing the Heritage for the first time since 2009. He had missed the cut in his two prior appearances at one of the most claustrophobic courses on Tour, failing to even break par in a round, but he’s a different, more well-rounded player now. He shot rounds of 69-69-72-67 to tie for 16th.

He’s had significantly more success at the other RBC event on the schedule – the Canadian Open, the week after The Open, where he has a pair of runners-up and another top-10 in five starts.



8. With Lydia Ko’s game on the fritz, it looks like Brooke Henderson could be the young star to rule the game in 2018. The 20-year-old Canadian won for the sixth time on the LPGA, battling strong winds and winning by four shots at the Lotte Championship. She already has three other top-10s this season.

Henderson is a joy to watch, the rare female talent who is unafraid to grip-and-rip the driver and to attack flags even when she’s clinging to a narrow lead. It’s a stark contrast to Ko, who captured 14 tour titles with steady, methodical, consistent, almost boring play.

Henderson is just two wins shy of tying Sandra Post for the most wins by a Canadian player in LPGA history.

9. It took the PGA Tour a while to finally get on Keith Pelley’s level, and the selections will probably be more Darius Rucker than Drake, but tournament officials should be applauded for trying something different next week at the Zurich Classic: walk-up music on the first tee.

With one week left to commit, here are some of the notable groups: Justin Thomas-Bud Cauley, Jon Rahm-Wesley Bryan, Jordan Spieth-Ryan Palmer, Justin Rose-Henrik Stenson, Patrick Reed-Patrick Cantlay, Sergio Garcia-Rafa Cabrera Bello, Tommy Fleetwood-Chris Paisley, Jason Day-Ryan Ruffels, Graeme McDowell-Ian Poulter, Bubba Watson-Matt Kuchar.



10. Those who think the PGA Tour Champions is just a carefree hit-and-giggle must not have watched Saturday’s 36-hole finish.

Forced to complete two rounds in one day because of severe storms expected to hit the area on Sunday, the over-50 set played a marathon Saturday that went even longer, with Steve Flesch, Bernhard Langer and Scott Parel battling it out in a playoff.

Perhaps it was no surprise, then, that it was a 50-year-old, Steve Flesch, who emerged from the pack, taking the Mitsubishi Electric Championship after a 38-hole day. At least they got to use carts at hilly TPC Sugarloaf.

“I know I’ll sleep great,” Flesch said, “but mentally I’m more exhausted than physically.”

He won in only his sixth career senior start, after previously failing to record a top-15 this season.

“You never know if you’re ever going to win again,” said Flesch, who hadn’t won anywhere since 2007. “Honestly, it’s been harder than I anticipated winning on this tour. The guys are so good. That Langer guy is hard to beat.”


Not all missed cuts are the same. Just ask Kelly Kraft.

Fighting to play the weekend at the Heritage, Kraft’s tee shot on the par-3 14th had just begun its descent when it drilled a bird. His ball dropped short of the green, in the water, and led to a double bogey. He missed the cut by one.

“It wouldn’t been in the middle of the green,” he said. “It might have been close. I got screwed.”

At this point, you just hope that the bad break doesn’t cost Kraft down the road, or at least evens out over time. He entered the week at No. 85 in the FedEx Cup standings.

This week's award winners ... 


Stay Hot: Luke List. In 16 starts this season, he now has nine top-25s and a trio of top-5s – a tie for fifth at the CJ Cup, a playoff loss at Honda and now a tie for third at the Heritage, where he finished one shot out of the Kim-Kodaira playoff.  

Running On Fumes: Ian Poulter. Playing his sixth consecutive week, the Englishman crashed back to Earth with a final-round 75 while staked to the overnight lead. After winning just two Tour events in 240 career starts, he was seeking his second title in the past three weeks.

Back to the Drawing Board: Live Under Par. Saying goodbye to “These Guys are Good” after two decades, the PGA Tour rolled out its new advertising campaign, which was supposed to highlight the Tour’s younger, fan-friendly approach. A sampling on Twitter shows just how much it missed the mark, but even more of a forehead-slapper was the fact that, in the UK, to “live under par” means that you feel like total crap. Oops!

Psycho Scorecard of the Week: James Hahn. Not good in golf, but, man, Giancarlo Stanton would love to hit for the cycle right about now:


Not Quite Tiger-Esque: Paul Casey. His Tour-leading streak of 29 consecutive cuts made came to an end at the Heritage. Too bad, because he was only 113 short of catching Tiger’s amazing run.

Leading Amateurs: Hogan Award finalists. The final vote isn’t for another month, but right now Ole Miss’ Braden Thornberry, Oregon’s Norman Xiong and Texas’ Doug Ghim should be considered the frontrunners for amateur golf’s most prestigious award.

Place Your Bets: PGA Tour. The Tour said last week that it would support legalizing sports betting, falling in line with other major sports leagues. One thing to watch: Fan behavior is already an issue, and that could be exacerbated if, say, a spectator has 50 benjis on a JT head-to-head victory.

Lunch of (Masters) Champions: Patrick Reed hits Chick-fil-A. 


Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Luke Donald. His form stunk heading into Harbour Town, but rarely has that mattered – since 2009, he was 9-for-9 with five runners-up and a pair of third-place finishes, reason enough for many one-and-doners to pick him. Then he opened with 76, and even though he rebounded with a Friday 67, it still wasn’t enough to make the cut. Sigh.

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Putting prepared Park's path back to No. 1

By Randall MellApril 26, 2018, 12:13 am

Inbee Park brings more than her unshakably tranquil demeanor back to the top of the Rolex Women’s World Rankings this week.

She brings more than her Olympic gold medal and seven major championships to the Mediheal Championship on the outskirts of San Francisco.

She brings a jarring combination of gentleness and ruthlessness back to the top of the rankings.

Park may look as if she could play the role of Mother Teresa on some goodwill tour, but that isn’t what her opponents see when she’s wielding her Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball mallet.

She’s like Mother Teresa with Lizzy Borden’s axe.

When Park gets on one of her rolls with the putter, she scares the hell out of the rest of the tour.

At her best, Park is the most intimidating player in women’s golf today.

“Inbee makes more 20- and 30-footers on a regular basis than anyone I know,” seven-time major championship winner Karrie Webb said.

All those long putts Park can hole give her an aura more formidable than any power player in the women’s game.

“A good putter is more intimidating than someone who knocks it out there 280 yards,” Webb said “Even if Inbee misses a green, you know she can hole a putt from anywhere. It puts more pressure on your putter knowing you’re playing with someone who is probably going to make them all.”

Park, by the way, said Webb and Ai Miyazato were huge influences on her putting. She studied them when she was coming up on tour.

Webb, though, believes there’s something internal separating Park. It isn’t just Park’s ability to hole putts that makes her so intimidating. It’s the way she carries herself on the greens.

“She never gets ruffled,” Webb said. “She says she gets nervous, but you never see a change in her. If you’re going toe to toe with her, that’s what is intimidating. Even if you’re rolling in putts on top of her, it doesn’t seem to bother her. She’s definitely a player you have to try not to pay attention to when you’re paired with her, because you can get caught up in that.”


Full-field scores from the LPGA Mediheal Championship


Park has led the LPGA in putts per greens in regulation five of the last 10 years.

Brad Beecher has been on Park’s bag for more than a decade, back before she won her first major, the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open. He has witnessed the effect Park can have on players when she starts rolling in one long putt after another.

“You have those times when she’ll hole a couple long putts early, and you just know, it’s going to be one of those days,” Beecher said. “Players look at me like, `Does she ever miss?’ or `How am I going to beat this?’ You see players in awe of it sometimes.”

Park, 29, won in her second start of 2018, after taking seven months off with a back injury. In six starts this year, she has a victory, two ties for second-place and a tie for third. She ended Shanshan Feng’s 23-week run at No. 1 with a tie for second at the Hugel-JTBC LA Open last weekend.

What ought to disturb fellow tour pros is that Park believes her ball striking has been carrying her this year. She’s still waiting for her putter to heat up. She is frustrated with her flat stick, even though she ranks second in putts per greens in regulation this season.

“Inbee Park is one of the best putters ever,” said LPGA Hall of Famer Sandra Haynie, a 42-time LPGA winner. “She’s dangerous on the greens.”

Haynie said she would rank Park with Kathy Whitworth, Mickey Wright and Nancy Lopez as the best putters she ever saw.

Hall of Famer Joanne Carner says Park is the best putter she has seen since Lopez.

“I thought Nancy was a great putter,” Carner said. “Inbee is even better.”

Park uses a left-hand low grip, with a mostly shoulder move and quiet hands.

Lopez used a conventional grip, interlocking, with her right index finger down the shaft. She had a more handsy stroke than Park.

Like Lopez, Park prefers a mallet-style putter, and she doesn’t switch putters much. She is currently playing with an Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball putter. She won the gold medal with it two years ago. She used an Oddysey White Ice Sabertooth winged mallet when she won three majors in a row in 2013.

Lopez hit the LPGA as a rookie in 1978 with a Ray Cook M1 mallet putter and used it for 20 years. It’s in the World Golf Hall of Fame today.

“I watch Inbee, and I think, `Wow, that’s how I used to putt,’” Lopez said. “You can see she’s not mechanical at all. So many players today are mechanical. They forget if you just look at the hole and stroke it, you’re going to make more putts.”

Notably, Park has never had a putting coach, not really. Her husband and swing coach, Gi Hyeob Nam, will look at her stroke when she asks for help.

“When I’m putting, I’m concentrating on the read and mostly my speed,” Park said. “I don’t think mechanically about my stroke at all, unless I think there’s something wrong with it, and then I’ll have my husband take a look. But, really, I rely on my feel. I don’t think about my stroke when I’m out there playing.”

Hall of Famer Judy Rankin says Park’s remarkably consistent speed is a key to her putting.

“Inbee is definitely a feel putter, and her speed is so consistent, all the time,” Rankin said. “You have to assume she’s a great green reader.”

Beecher says Park’s ability to read greens is a gift. She doesn’t rely on him for that. She reads greens herself.

“I think what impresses me most is Inbee has a natural stroke,” Beecher said. “There’s nothing too technical. It’s more straight through and straight back, but I think the key element of the stroke is that she keeps the putter so close to the ground, all the time, on the takeaway and the follow-through. It helps with the roll and with consistency.”

Park said that’s one of her fundamentals.

“I keep it low, almost like I’m hitting the ground,” Park said. “When I don’t do that, I miss more putts.”

Beecher believes the real reason Park putts so well is that the putter brought her into the game. It’s how she got started, with her father, Gun Gyu Park, putting the club in her hands as a child. She loved putting on her own.

“That’s how she fell in love with the game,” Beecher said. “Getting started that way, it’s played a huge role in her career.”

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Teams announced for NCAA DI women's regionals

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 25, 2018, 10:50 pm

Seventy-two teams and an additional 24 individuals were announced Wednesday as being selected to compete in the NCAA Division I women's regionals, May 7-9.

Each of the four regional sites will consist of 18 teams and an extra six individual players, whose teams were not selected. The low six teams and low three individuals will advance to the NCAA Championship, May 18-23, hosted by Oklahoma State at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

The four regional sites include Don Veller Seminole Golf Course & Club in Tallahassee, Fla., hosted by Florida State; UT Golf Club in Austin, Texas, hosted by the University of Texas; University Ridge Golf Course in Madison, Wis., hosted by the University of Wisconsin; TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, Calif., hosted by Stanford University.

Arkansas, Duke, UCLA and Alabama are the top seeds in their respective regionals. Arizona State, the third seed in the Madison regional, is the women's defending champion. Here's a look at the regional breakdown, along with teams and players:

Austin Regional Madison Regional San Francisco Regional Tallahassee Regional
Arkansas Duke UCLA Alabama
Texas USC Stanford Furman
Michigan State Arizona State South Carolina Arizona
Florida Northwestern Kent State Washington
Auburn Illinois Oklahoma State Wake Forest
Oklahoma Purdue North Carolina Vanderbilt
Houston Iowa State Colorado Florida State
Miami (Fla.) Virginia Louisville Clemson
Baylor Wisconsin N.C. State Georgia
Texas A&M Campbell Mississippi Tennessee
BYU Ohio State Cal UNLV
East Carolina Notre Dame San Diego State Kennesaw State
Texas Tech Old Dominion Pepperdine Denver
Virginia Tech Oregon State Oregon Coastal Carolina
UTSA Idaho Long Beach State Missouri
Georgetown Murray State Grand Canyon Charleston
Houston Baptist North Dakota State Princeton Richmond
Missouri State IUPUI Farleigh Dickinson Albany
       
Brigitte Dunne (SMU) Connie Jaffrey (Kansas State) Alivia Brown (Washington State) Hee Ying Loy (E. Tennessee State)
Xiaolin Tian (Maryland) Pinyada Kuvanun (Toledo) Samantha Hutchinson (Cal-Davis) Claudia De Antonio (LSU)
Greta Bruner (TCU) Pun Chanachai (New Mexico State) Ingrid Gutierrez (New Mexico) Fernanda Lira (Central Arkansas)
Katrina Prendergast (Colorado State) Elsa Moberly (Eastern Kentucky) Abegail Arevalo (San Jose State) Emma Svensson (Central Arkansas)
Ellen Secor (Colorado State) Erin Harper (Indiana) Darian Zachek (New Mexico) Valentina Giraldo (Jacksonville State)
Faith Summers (SMU) Cara Basso (Penn State) Christine Danielsson (Cal-Davis) Kaeli Jones (UCF)
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Leach on grizzlies, walk-up music and hating golf

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 25, 2018, 10:47 pm

He's one of college football's deepest thinkers, and he has no time to waste on a golf course.

Washington State head football coach Mike Leach created headlines last week when he shared his view that golf is "boring" and should be reserved for those who, unlike him, need practice swearing. The author and coach joined host Will Gray on the latest episode of the Golf Channel podcast to expand on those views - and veer into some unexpected territory.

Leach shared how his father and brother both got bitten by the golf bug as he grew up, but he steered clear in part because the sport boasts an overly thick rule book:

"First of all, the other thing I don't like is it's pretentious. There's a lot of rules. Don't do it this way, don't do it that way. You walked between my ball and the hole. This guy has to go first, then you go after he does. I mean, all these rules, I just don't understand."

Leach also shared his perspective about what fuels the vibrant fashion choices seen on many courses:

"You can tell there's a subtle, internal rebellion going on with golf, and where that subtle, internal rebellion manifests itself is they really liven up the clothes. I mean, they're beaten down by all the little subtle rules, so they really liven up the clothes. Maybe have knickers, maybe they'll have a floppy hat or something like that."

Leach on the advice he would sometimes offer when friends explained their rationale for hitting the links: 

"They say, 'Well I don't go there to golf or go to take it seriously. When I go golf, I just like to have some beers.' And I'm thinking, 'You know there's bars for that? There's bars for that, and at those bars they have, often times, attractive women and music going on?'"

Leach is heading into his seventh season at Washington State, and he also described a unique hazard that can sometimes pop up at the on-campus course in Pullman, Wash.:

"In the spring the grizzlies come out, and the grizzly preserve is right across the street from the golf course. So they’ll be out, you’ll see them running around on the hills inside the preserve there. But there is this visual where, all of a sudden you drive up this hill on your golf cart, and you’re at the tee box and you’re getting ready to hit, and on the hill just opposite of you it’s covered with grizzly bears. And as you’re getting ready to hit your ball, it occurs to you that the grizzly bears are going to beat you to your ball."

Other topics in the wide-ranging discussion included Leach's proposal for a 64-team playoff in NCAA Division I football, his chance encounter with Tiger Woods before a game between the Cougars and Woods' Stanford Cardinal, his preferred walk-up music and plans for "full contact golf."

Listen to the entire podcast below:

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Post-Masters blitz 'exhausting' but Reed ready for return

By Ryan LavnerApril 25, 2018, 8:24 pm

AVONDALE, La. – After briefly suffering from First-Time Major Winner Fatigue, Patrick Reed is eager to get back inside the ropes this week at the Zurich Classic.

The media blitz is an eye-opening experience for every new major champ. Reed had been told to expect not to get any sleep for about a week after his win, and sure enough he jetted off to New York City for some sightseeing, photo shoots, baseball games, late-night talk shows, phone calls and basketball games, sitting courtside in the green jacket at Madison Square Garden next to comedian Chris Rock, personality Michael Strahan and rapper 2 Chainz. Then he returned home to Houston, where the members at Carlton Woods hosted a reception in his honor.

With Reed’s head still spinning, his wife, Justine, spent the better part of the past two weeks responding to each of the 880 emails she received from fans and well-wishers.

“It’s been a lot more exhausting than I thought it’d be,” he said Wednesday at TPC Louisiana, where he’ll make his first start since the Masters.

It’s a good problem to have, of course.

Reed was already planning a family vacation to the Bahamas the week after Augusta, so the media tour just took its place. As many directions as he was pulled, as little sleep as he got, Reed said, “We still had a blast with it.”


Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos


There are few places better to ease into his new world than at the Zurich, where he’ll partner with Patrick Cantlay for the second year in a row.

Reed wants to play well, not only for himself but also his teammate. After all, it could be an important week for Cantlay, who is on U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk’s radar after a victory last fall. That didn’t earn him any Ryder Cup points, however – he sits 38th in the standings – so performing well here in fourballs and foursomes could go a long way toward impressing the captain.

“There’s maybe a little extra if we play well,” Cantlay said, “but I’m just trying to play well every week.” 

Reed got back to work on his game last Tuesday. He said that he’s prepared, ready to play and looking forward to building off his breakthrough major.

“A lot of guys have told me to just be careful with your time,” he said. “There will be a lot of things you didn’t have to do or didn’t have in the past that are going to come up.

“But first things first, you’ve got to go out and grind and play some good golf and focus on golf, because the time you stay and not focus on golf will be the time you go backward. That’s nothing any of us want. We all want to improve and get better.”