Monday Scramble: Emphatic, exhausting week on HHI

By Ryan LavnerApril 18, 2016, 3:40 pm

Branden Grace breaks through, Bryson DeChambeau shines in pro debut, Mike Weir gets called out, Ernie Els rebounds and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Grace won’t be underappreciated much longer. 

The tidy South African shook off a disappointing Masters with a clinical performance at the RBC Heritage, where he finished in the top 10 in both ball-striking and putting en route to his breakthrough victory. 

Grace has been one of golf's most prolific winners of late, racking up 10 worldwide titles since 2012. He splashed onto the major scene last year, when he shared the lead late on U.S. Open Sunday, only to send his tee shot onto the railroad tracks on the 70th hole. Two months later, he finished fourth at the PGA. His win in Harbour Town was his fourth top-five finish in nine starts this year.

And yet, even the CBS announcers said that Grace is not very well known in golf circles – a troubling remark, seeing how the 27-year-old is now ranked 11th in the world, just behind Justin Rose.

This may have been Grace's first U.S. victory, but it most certainly won't be his last.


1. Grace received a sponsor exemption into the Heritage a year ago, and his T-7 in Hilton Head helped secure his playing privileges for this season.   

It was Els who had told Grace that the tight, quirky Harbour Town was a good fit for his game, that it had a similar feel to Fancourt Links, Grace's home course in South Africa. When Grace and Els met for coffee last Wednesday, the Big Easy reaffirmed that belief: “This is one event that you’re going to win a couple of times in your career.” 

And so, after Grace slipped into the tartan jacket, Els was quick to remind him of their discussion.

“I told you you were going to win it a couple of times,” he said.  

2. For casual golf fans, their only introduction to Grace was at Chambers Bay a year ago, when he double-bogeyed the 16th hole and lost to Jordan Spieth by that two-shot margin. 

Was Grace thinking about that critical mistake down the stretch as he tried to close out his first PGA Tour victory? 

His answer might surprise you.

“Actually,” he said, “when I hit that bad shot on 16, I thought, Here we go again.” 

Actually, he hit two bad shots on 16 – a pull-hook into the fairway bunker and an approach that came up short, in another bunker. He splashed out to 12 feet and made the par putt to stay three clear, burying some of the memories of that Chambers Bay collapse. 

“I’m obviously smiling about it now,” he said of the Open, “but it’s a little bit of a tough one. I played some great golf. There are a lot of positives to take from it: I secured my card, my playing rights. It’s one of those things that I look back and I think it’s made me stronger.”

3. Stop us if you've heard this one before: Luke Donald had another close call at Harbour Town. His tie for second was his SIXTH top-three finish there.

In all of his other near misses, Donald had broken par in the final round. Sunday, the former world No. 1 could manage only an even-par 71, which allowed Grace (66) to race past him and Russell Knox (67) to match him. Still, it was Donald's best finish, anywhere, since his runner-up in Hilton Head in 2014, but he hasn't won on Tour in more than four years. He also dropped to 2-for-10 with a 54-hole lead.



4. It was a rather impressive pro debut for Bryson DeChambeau, who shared the lead briefly during the third round, closed with 68 and finished in a two-way tie for fourth.

That’s an important result for a few reasons: 

  • By finishing inside the top 10, DeChambeau is automatically exempt into this week’s event in San Antonio. That’s good news, because he was slated to burn the second of his seven sponsor exemptions allowed to non-members. Now he can save it for later in the season, if necessary.
  • The fourth-place check (thanks to Jason Kokrak's 72nd-hole double bogey) was worth about $259,600, or 123 FedEx Cup points. DeChambeau needs 361 points to earn special temporary membership, which would allow him to receive unlimited sponsor exemptions for the rest of the season. If (or when) he satisfies that requirement, he can focus on earning enough money to place 125th on either the points or money list by season's end. Last year, that target was about $750,000, so the Heritage was a critical step toward earning enough for a card next year. 

5. Each week we learn more about one of golf's most eccentric characters. Yes, DeChambeau is artistic in the way he maneuvers himself around the course, but he is first and foremost a scientist. How else to explain this card on his golf bag, which shows his yardages based on his clock model? (A swing to 10 o'clock with his 55-degree wedge, for instance, can be expected to fly 61.8 yards.)

6. Last year, DeChambeau's college coach at SMU, Jason Enloe, told me this about the newest NCAA champion:

“He’s the best ball-striker in college golf for sure. Possibly top 20 in the world, like, you could put him against any ball-striker playing for a living. He’d be right there with those guys.” 

At the time, it seemed like hyperbole, but he might have been on to something.

In his pro debut, DeChambeau finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-tee to green, gaining more than 10 shots (10.64) on the field average.


 


7. Playing the week after a major has to be an absolute grind, even if the laid-back vibe of the Heritage usually makes it feel as though it’s a working vacation. (Not so this year, with swirling, 20-mph winds.) Everybody hits the wall eventually, and Jason Day finally did in the third round ... unfortunately, after he climbed into a share of the 36-hole lead. His Saturday 79 was his worst score in his last 62 rounds, and it sent him plummeting to a tie for 23rd.

Day was gassed and ready for a break. He said he's been away from his Columbus, Ohio, home for all but 10 days since Dec. 28. The world No. 1 likely wouldn’t have been in the field if not for his sponsorship obligations with RBC, but his poor weekend showing was a missed opportunity to put some daylight between he and Jordan Spieth in the world rankings. 

8. A few years ago, Steve Stricker’s appointment as the 2017 Presidents Cup captain would have doomed his chances to lead the U.S. Ryder Cup squad.

Not anymore.

Jack Nicklaus remains the only man to lead both the Ryder and Presidents Cup teams, but the task force's mission is to create a more unified American effort. That’s why we should view Stricker’s Presidents Cup gig as an apprenticeship for the 2020 Ryder Cup, when the biennial matches head to his native Wisconsin.



9. Dawie van der Walt likely received a phone call from a 904 area code last week after blasting one of his peers on social media.

Van der Walt, a PGA Tour rookie who was the second alternate into the RBC Heritage, was peeved that Mike Weir withdrew following an opening 78 in Hilton Head. The early exit extended Weir’s run of futility – it was his 24th consecutive missed cut or withdrawal – and provided even more ammunition for his many detractors.

And so Van der Walt wrote what many of us are thinking: “Gota (sic) love a guy who gets an invite into a Tour event and then WD after the first round #hangitupmike.” 

That hashtag was particularly cruel, but if Weir isn’t well physically or mentally – and it’s painfully obvious that he is not – then he should stay home and let sponsors use one of their precious spots on a player who will actually be competitive. 

10. Valderrama is one of the most demanding venues on any tour, and its reputation was enhanced yet again last week at the European Tour’s Spanish Open. It was the first time in 20 years – since Ian Woosnam at the 1996 Scottish Open – that the winner of a regular tour event was over par. 

11. Which is why Andrew Johnston was so ecstatic, and relieved, to walk away with his first European Tour title, at 1 over par. Afterward, the man nicknamed “Beef” was asked what his maiden victory meant to him. His response was an all-timer:


12. Minjee Lee erased a five-shot, final-round deficit with a closing 64 to win the Lotte Championship. The 19-year-old Australian’s second LPGA title pushed her into exclusive company: Only Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, Marlene Hagge, Sandra Haynie and Lee have won multiple times before their 20th birthday.

That list will only continue to grow. As colleague Randall Mell noted here, the oldest winner on the LPGA this season is Ha Na Jang. She was 23 at the time of her victory. Ancient.


Josh Pastner was already a controversial choice for Georgia Tech’s head coaching vacancy, given his lack of recent success at Memphis, and now he isn’t exactly ingratiating himself with his new fans or alumni base.

Pastner wants all of his assistants to work hard because they have a long road ahead to return the Yellow Jackets to relevance. That's understandable. Where he crosses the line is that he says he won't hire anyone who – wait for it – plays golf, because that's a waste of time and they should be in the locker room drawing up plays on the dry-erase board or hitting the road recruiting. 

Is this guy really that tone-deaf?

Never mind that golf is the recreational activity of choice for many successful coaches, including one of his main ACC counterparts, North Carolina’s Roy Williams, who earlier this month took his team to the brink of the NCAA title. Never mind that golf is one of the best ways to network and build relationships. And never mind that Georgia Tech has one of the largest and most vocal alumni bases in all of college golf. 

But you do you, Josh. Surely your plan to hire only work-obsessed robots that have no time for fun or their family will work out just fine. 

This week's award winners ... 


Comeback of the Week: Ernie Els. A week after yipping his way to an embarrassing performance at the Masters, the Big Easy shot a season-best 66 in the final round and tied for 14th at the Heritage. Even better news? He was third in strokes gained-putting. Golf, man.

Best Story of the Week: Jason Bohn. In his first start since suffering a heart attack, Bohn made the cut at the Heritage. “I put a little stress on the old ticker,” he said, “so that’s good.”

Good Timing: The Ryder Cup being held in late September. Pop quiz: Who is the only American to win a non-opposite-field event over the past eight weeks on Tour? The answer: Jim Herman. Oh. 

Another Class of 2011 Winner (well, kind of): Anthony Paolucci. Funny to think now, but Jordan Spieth, Patrick Rodgers and Justin Thomas weren’t the No. 1-ranked players in their vaunted high school class. No, it was Paolucci, one of Spieth’s chief rivals growing up, who held the top spot. He just won his first pro title, on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica circuit.  

Best Way to Unwind After a Stressful Masters: Rickie Fowler, who shotgunned beers on stage with country star Dierks Bentley. 


Hey, Thanks, Vij!: Siddikur Rahman. With the news last week that Vijay Singh will skip the Olympics because of the Zika virus and a crowded summer schedule, the 31-year-old from Bangladesh is now in line to qualify for the Summer Games. 

No One Likes a Whiner: Camilo Villegas, who complained that he wasn’t given relief when his ball clearly was not embedded. He tied for 71st


Buffoon of the Week: Colin Cowherd, who tweeted that a Spieth victory at the Masters would have been “terrible for golf.” The Fox Sports talking head doubled down on that moronic opinion later, saying that now, and only now, is Spieth interesting because he is “vulnerable” and “layered.” It’s nauseating that he gets paid about $6 million annually to pander to the lowest common denominator.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Kevin Kisner. Last year’s playoff loser actually did well to make the cut, after rallying from a rough start, but he bombed out with weekend rounds of 75-77 to tie for 69th. Sigh.  

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Lincicome grouped with two rookies in Barbasol

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 17, 2018, 9:54 pm

Brittany Lincicome will tee it up with a pair of rookies when she makes her first start in a PGA Tour event Thursday at the Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, is scheduled to go off the 10th tee at 9:59 a.m. ET in the first round with Sam Ryder, 28, and Conrad Shindler, 29. They’re off the first tee Friday at 2:59 p.m. ET

Lincicome will become just the sixth woman to play in a PGA Tour event, joining Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie.

“The first three or four holes, I’ll be a nervous wreck, for sure,” Linicome said.

 

 

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Lincicome thrilled by reception from male pros

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 8:31 pm

Brittany Lincicome wondered how PGA Tour pros would greet her when she arrived to play the Barbasol Championship this week.

She wondered if there would be resentment.

She also wondered how fans at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky., would receive her, and if a social media mob would take up pitchforks.

“I can’t stop smiling,” Lincicome said Tuesday after her first practice round upon arriving. “Everyone has been coming up to me and wishing me luck. That means a lot.”

PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, husband of LPGA pro Gerina Piller, welcomed her immediately.

Other pros sought her out on the practice putting green.

She said she was also welcomed joining pros at a table in player dining.

Fans have been stopping her for autographs.

“It has been an awesome reception,” said Dewald Gouws, her husband, a former long-drive competitor. “I think it’s put her much more at ease, seeing the reception she is getting. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”

Lincicome, 32, wasn’t sure if she would be playing a practice round alone Tuesday morning, but when she made her way to the first tee, Domenico Geminiani was there, just about to go off.

He waved Lincicome over.

“He said, `Hey, Brittany, do you want to join me?’” Gouws said. “Come to find out, Dom’s a pretty cool guy.”

Geminiani made it into the field as a Monday qualifier.

“The two of us were both trying to figure things out together,” Lincicome said.

Keene Trace will play to 7,328 yards on the scorecard. That’s more than 800 yards longer than Highland Meadows, where Lincicome finished second at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic last weekend. Keene Trace was playing even longer than its listed yardage Tuesday, with recent rains softening it.

Nicknamed “Bam Bam,” Lincicome is one of the longest hitters in the women’s game. Her 269.5 yard average drive is 10th in the LPGA ranks. It would likely be dead last on the PGA Tour, where Brian Stuard (278.2) is the last player on the stats list at No. 201.

“I think if I keep it in the fairway, I’ll be all right,” Lincicome said.

Lincicome is an eight-time LPGA winner, with two major championships among those titles. She is just the sixth woman to compete in a PGA Tour event, the first in a decade, since Michelle Wie played the Reno-Tahoe Open, the last of her eight starts against the men.

Lincicome will join Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Wie in the elite ranks.

Zaharias, by the way, is the only woman to make a 36-hole cut in PGA Tour history, making it at the 1945 L.A. Open before missing a 54-hole cut on the weekend.

What are Lincicome’s expectations?

She would love to make the cut, but . . .

“Just going to roll with it and see what happens,” she said. “This is once in a lifetime, probably a one-and-done opportunity. I’m just going to enjoy it.”

Lincicome grew up playing for the boys’ golf team at Seminole High on the west coast of Florida. She won a couple city championships.

“I always thought it would be cool to compete against the guys on the PGA Tour,” Lincicome said. “I tend to play more with the guys than women at home. I never would have gone out and told my agent, `Let’s go try to play in a PGA Tour event,’ but when Tom Murray called with this opportunity, I was really blown away and excited by it. I never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.”

Tom Murray, the president of Perio, the parent company of Barbasol and Pure Silk, invited Lincicome to accept one of the tournament’s sponsor exemptions. Lincicome represents Pure Silk.

Lincicome said her desire to play a PGA Tour event is all about satisfying her curiosity, wanting to know how she would stack up at this level. She also wants to see if the experience can help take her to the next level in the women’s game.

As a girl growing up, she played Little League with the boys, instead of softball with the girls. She said playing the boys in golf at Seminole High helped her get where she is today.

“The guys were better, and it pushed me to want to be better,” Lincicome said. “I think playing with the guys [on the PGA Tour], I will learn something to take to LPGA events, and it will help my game, for sure.”

Lincicome has been pleased that her fellow LPGA pros are so supportive. LPGA winner Kris Tamulis is flying into Kentucky as moral support. Other LPGA pros may also be coming in to support her.

The warm fan reception Lincicome is already getting at Keene Trace matters, too.

“She’s already picked up some new fans this week, and hopefully she will pick up some more,” Gouws said. “I don’t think she’s putting too much expectation on herself. I think she really does just want to have fun.”

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”