Monday Scramble: Emotional week in the golf world

By Ryan LavnerApril 20, 2015, 4:30 pm

Jim Furyk gets off the schneid, Jordan Spieth keeps his word, Sei Young Kim walks off, a new era in golf apparently starts and more in this drought-busting edition of the Monday Scramble: 

These were the best possible circumstances for Jim Furyk to break through for his first victory, anywhere, in nearly 55 months: (1) He has a love affair with Harbour Town, where he already had a win and six other top-10s; (2) He trailed by four shots heading into the final round, which was ideal, because he has failed to win each of the last nine times he held or shared the lead after 54 holes; and (3) He entered the Heritage with no top-40s in his last three starts, so he had lower expectations.

All of that was working in his favor, and he still needed 11 birdies in 20 holes to nail down his first title since the 2010 Tour Championship. It’s only fitting, his sterling play barely being enough, because nothing has come easy for the soon-to-be 45-year-old. He has developed so many scars over the past few years that he could star in a slasher film, and, he conceded, "I was getting to the point where losing hurts a lot more than winning feels good."

But you can’t help but admire his persistence. It took four-and-a-half years of frustration, a perfect combination of events and a near-flawless 63 to nab win No. 17. How sweet that must feel. 

1. Jim Furyk is too proud to admit it, of course. 

“I always did feel like I was going to win a tournament again,” he said Sunday. “I believed that in my heart.”

But deep down there had to be serious doubts. He turns 45 in a few weeks. He is bunting it 272 yards on oversized courses against fearless kids who are bigger, stronger, faster. He’s been battered over the past few years, because after winning with regularity, he has found new and interesting ways to come out on the losing end. He has played well and lost. He has played poorly and lost. He has played OK and lost.

And for 54 profitable but ultimately unsatisfying months, he never complained. It’s been an exhausting journey for fans, all those close calls, so we can only imagine the toll it took on Furyk's psyche. 

Since his last victory, he had:  

  • 99 starts
  • 7 runners-up
  • 16 top-fives
  • 31 top-10s
  • $14.8 million in earnings

That's a nice résumé, but it lacked the one thing this aging warrior coveted most: wins. 

2. And so, when that 12-footer dropped on the second extra hole to beat a game Kevin Kisner, there was lot of that pent-up frustration:



3. He was a good bet even before he surged to victory Sunday at Harbour Town, but now Furyk can begin preparing his World Golf Hall of Fame enshrinement speech. 

For years the accepted (and unofficial) benchmark was 20 Tour wins including a major, but recent inductees Fred Couples (15 and one) and Colin Montgomerie (31 Euro Tour wins but no majors or Ws in the U.S.) have lowered the standard for admission.

Why is Furyk a (deserving) lock? He played his entire career in the era of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, and to this point he has scratched out 17 wins and a major, the 2003 U.S. Open. And he's one of the greatest overachievers in the game's long history, not just because of his unorthodox swing, but because he's playing small ball in an age of bench-pressing bombers.

He turns 45 next month, and he’s unlikely to reach 20 wins. No matter. This long-awaited title all but made him a cinch for the Hall. 



4. You wouldn’t blame Jordan Spieth if he had his agent call the RBC Heritage tournament director and say, “Hey, sorry, don’t know if you noticed, but my 21-year-old client just won the Masters. You probably saw it, right? All those records? Yeah, well, anyway, he’s not going to make it to your little stop in Hilton Head. Dude did 25 interviews in, like, three hours. Not happening.”

You wouldn't blame Spieth if after a first-round 74 he’d blamed his weary legs or his whirlwind media tour, if he'd said, “Um, hello? Did you see me play a practice round this week? Didn’t think so. I’m tired, man.”

You wouldn’t blame Spieth if he missed the cut by a mile and then, when asked what he was going to do next, replied, “Go into a coma and wake up next Wednesday.” 

Except Spieth didn’t do that. The day after a sluggish opening round, he shot a career-low-tying 62, energized the sleepy post-Masters event and eventually tied for 11th. It was only the third time in his last 13 worldwide events that he finished outside the top 10, but it was one of his best performances.

The 21-year-old earned a lot of respect from his sponsors, fans and peers not just by showing up last week on Hilton Head, but also by clawing his way back into contention. It was a pro move, honoring his commitment, not making excuses, continuing to grind. Props.

5. Speaking of Spieth’s schedule … he’s not playing this week’s Zurich Classic, but if he sticks to his usual workload he’ll have 14 events in 18 weeks. Yes, he’s 21. Yes, he plays golf for a living and it could be so much worse. Yes, he tends to perform better on the back-end of long runs. Yes, he made 27 starts a year ago. But that’s A LOT of golf leading up to the U.S. Open, and the calendar doesn’t exactly quiet down with the Open-Quicken-Bridgestone-PGA-FedEx-Presidents Cup slate upcoming. Plus, he has more off-the-course responsibilities than ever before. (Here he is Sunday night, after the final round of the Heritage, presenting at the Academy of Country Music Awards.

Keep in mind: Of the last six Masters champions, only Adam Scott (2013) had two top-10s in the other three majors. There’s an adjustment period for everyone.



6. The Heritage is a favorite among Tour types because of the event’s mellow, laid-back vibe. Nothing gets some struggling players back in the mood like a quick trip to Hilton Head: 

  • Jim Furyk: After blowing the lead at Pebble, he had gotten progressively worse over his last three starts, going 40-58-MC. A perfect landing spot – this was his fourth top-10 (and second win) there since 2010.
  • Matt Kuchar: Mr. Consistency has had a quiet year until he arrived at Harbour Town for his title defense. After a T-2 at the Humana, he didn’t have a top-10 in his last six starts, an eternity for one of the best week-in, week-out performers on Tour. A solo fifth has him back on track.
  • Luke Donald: The former world No. 1’s form has sagged over the past few years, but it doesn't matter once he turns up at the RBC (five top-threes from 2009-14). He tied for 15th this year – only his second top-35 in his last 19 Tour starts.
  • Graeme McDowell: The 2013 winner, G-Mac shared the first-round lead after a 66, then followed it up with a Friday 69. Those were his first rounds in the 60s in an official PGA Tour event since Nov. 6-7. He tied for 26th

7. Birdie Kim. Craig Parry. Boo Weekley. Jonathan Byrd. Matt Jones. Matt Kuchar. Sei Young Kim. What does this eclectic group have in common? Not much, other than they are among the few players who have won a tournament recently by holing out on the final hole.



Kim’s heroics at the Lotte Championship were particularly memorable. After finding the water with her tee shot on the 72nd hole, she chipped in for par just to get into the playoff against world No. 3 Inbee Park. In overtime, Kim's 8-iron shot from 154 yards landed on the front of the green, hopped a few times and dove into the hole for an improbable eagle-2 and playoff victory over one of her idols. This is the same woman who capped her first victory earlier this year in the Bahamas with a birdie on the first playoff hole against two other players. She's cold-blooded. 

8. So, according to Sports Illustrated, the Rory Era lasted a total of 1,393 days. Man, time flies when you're winning tournaments!

Surely you remember this, when McIlroy appeared on the June 27, 2011 cover, after his record-breaking win at the U.S. Open:



Well, Jordan Spieth is now on the cover, after his remarkable wire-to-wire win at Augusta, along with this all-too-familiar headline:



Is it a stretch to say that this is the “Spieth Era”? At this point, yes. Very much so. (Trust me: I used to work at a golf magazine and realize hyperbole tends to make for better headlines. In a related note, this Mike Weir headline, from 2003, is pure gold.) Sure, he’s young, he’s American, he’s thoughtful and he’s a heck of a player, but if you’re asking whose new five years will be better, Rory or Jordan, well, you’re likely going to side with the guy who hits it 330 and straight. Lest you forgot, about two weeks ago we were bracing for a 25-year-old to capture the career Grand Slam and win his third major in a row. He’s not going anywhere. 

Together, though, McIlroy and Spieth have set the foundation for a compelling decade-long rivalry between two likable stars with wildly different games. Now that’s an era that makes sense. It has the potential to be golden. 

9. Bubba Watson spent a lot of time in the dark last week in China. He posted videos on a nightly basis of various trick shots at Genzon Golf Club’s neighboring lit course.

This shot was pretty cool …



... but maybe Bubba should have spent more time in the light. And on the practice putting green. He made hardly anything over the first three days before a final-round 65 helped salvage a top-30 finish against a weak European Tour field. Oh, to be a former Masters champion who is well compensated to play in China … 

10. Fun fact: It's a 22-hour flight from Orlando, Fla., to Shenzhen. Which is plenty of time for Bubba to pen the follow-up to his cameo on a new Christian rap record. Our apologies in advance. 

11. This is easily the best 37-second clip of the year: An oblivious fan trudges into the water to retrieve what is probably a $10 hat from Dick’s Sporting Goods and then – most importantly – loses his beer out of his side pocket. Finally, he catches a face full of dirt as he stumbles into the grass. Classic! 


 

HELP WANTED: Edoardo Molinari should be looking for a new caddie this week. Not only did his looper take a cart to catch up after he fell behind the group – an obvious two-shot penalty – but then he didn’t even notify his boss of the mistake, leaving him open to a WD after he signed his card at the European Tour event. Hey, maybe he didn’t know it was against the rules?, you ask. If that’s truly the case, if he didn’t know that he was doing anything wrong, if he thought it was OK for him or any other caddie to get back into position by using a cart, then he should have been dumped a while ago. That’s Professional Golf 101. Common sense. Don’t ax the guy for one careless mistake. Ax him because of sheer stupidity. 

This week’s award winners … 

Do You Recognize This Man?: Probably not, but it's Stuart Appleby. He's on the mend from back surgery, but aparently there's a very good reason Stuie looks like he's auditioning for the 83rd season of "Survivor". This little mix-up:



The Farewell Tour Continues: Tom Watson. The 65-year-old is already making his last Open appearance this year at St. Andrews. Now, he hinted that he’d make next year’s Masters his last, after going 71-81 and missing the cut for the – gulp – 16th time in 18 years. He’s having a hard enough time keeping up with Bernhard Langer, let alone Bubba Watson.

Random Dagger: Kuchar, when asked about fellow competitor Spieth: “I may be older, but we have similar hairlines.”

Job Security: Kevin Kisner. That $637,200 paycheck at Harbour Town was a much-needed boost for Kisner, who has now secured his playing privileges for next season. It’s the first time in the 31-year-old’s career that he will earn his card in back-to-back seasons without the aid of Q-School. His $1.03 million in earnings is already a career high, and it should alleviate some of the pressure of having to play 25-plus events in a desperate attempt to crack the top 125. 

'Bout Time: Branden Grace. It took 35 starts, but he finally has a top 10 on the PGA Tour (T-7 at the Heritage). Those nine pro titles at the age of 26 are swell, but they don’t mean much if he’s not beating the best competition. 

Go On, Big Fella: Kiradech Aphibarnrat. The Barn Rat earned his second European Tour title Sunday, and the guy sure knows how to celebrate.



Chatterbox: Jordan Spieth. Check out this epic mash-up of the full-blown conversations between Spieth and his golf ball during the final round of the Masters.

(Not) Another Day at the Beach: Belen Mozo. Does anyone care that she only has one round in the 60s this year? Didn’t think so.  



Plenty in the past 25 years, actually. One of the best ever was Byrd’s walk-off ace in Vegas. A hole-in-one to win a playoff – come on, it’s tough to top that. But Sei Young Kim’s theatrics rank right up there with Robert Gamez’s approach at Bay Hill, and Parry’s dunk at Doral, and Kim’s bunker blast to steal the Women’s Open. Extend the search a few more years, and there was Larry Mize and Bob Tway walking off in the majors. Kim's is likely the finish of the year, but the most exciting all time? There are plenty of contenders for that title. 



At first I thought this question was a joke – Furyk is a terrible closer! He’s mangled his last nine chances! 

Dig a little deeper, though, and Furyk was 9-for-14 before this recent skid. That’s a very respectable 64 percent. This year alone, only six 54-hole leaders/co-leaders have gone on to win in the 23 PGA Tour events (26 percent). 

But if you had to pick one guy to close out a tournament, would Furyk really be anywhere near the top of your list? No chance. Rory is the world’s best; you'd take your chances with him. Spieth is playing better than anyone. DJ has game-changing length and the third-best final-round scoring average on Tour (68.2). Phil plays his best when the pressure is at its highest. We’ve seen too much carnage in the past few years to blindly trust Furyk. 

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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.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”

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Reed's major record now a highlight, not hindrance

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 2:46 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The narrative surrounding Patrick Reed used to be that he could play well in the Ryder Cup but not the majors.

So much for that.

Reed didn’t record a top-10 in his first 15 starts in a major, but he took the next step in his career by tying for second at the 2017 PGA Championship. He followed that up with a breakthrough victory at the Masters, then finished fourth at the U.S. Open after a closing 68.

He’s the only player with three consecutive top-4s in the majors.

What’s the difference now?


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“The biggest thing is I treat them like they’re normal events,” he said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I’ve always gone into majors and put too much pressure on myself, having to go play well, having to do this or that. Now I go in there and try to play golf and keep in the mindset of, Hey, it’s just another day on the golf course. Let’s just go play.

“I’ve been able to stay in that mindset the past three, and I’ve played pretty well in all three of them.”

Reed’s record in the year’s third major has been hit or miss – a pair of top-20s and two missed cuts – but he says he’s a better links player now than when he began his career. It took the native Texan a while to embrace the creativity required here and also to comprehend the absurd distances he can hit the ball with the proper wind, conditions and bounce.

“I’m sort of accepting it,” he said. “I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with doing it. It’s come a little bit easier, especially down the stretch in tournament play.”