Getty Images

Monday Scramble: An ode to 2017

By Ryan LavnerDecember 4, 2017, 5:00 pm

Tiger Woods returns from a layoff, Justin Thomas becomes a superstar, Jordan Spieth authors an incredible comeback, Lexi Thompson comes close, Team USA keeps rolling and more in this season-ending edition of the Monday Scramble:

Tiger Woods proved yet again that he is still the needle in golf, but 2017 will be remembered as the year that an already-famous high school class rose to the top.

Members of the class of 2011, Justin Thomas was the no-brainer Player of the Year as a five-time winner, major champion and FedExCup champion; Jordan Spieth moved one step closer to the career Grand Slam, on a major pace with Jack and Tiger; and Xander Schauffele went from struggling newcomer to Rookie of the Year after a torrid three-month stretch.

It’s a trend that isn’t going anywhere: 15 of the 30 players who qualified for the Tour Championship were in their 20s, marking the first time that the average age of a Tour winner was younger than 30.

These 20-somethings are talented. Fearless. Hungry.

If Woods can somehow return to championship form, it would make for one heck of a show in 2018: Golf’s next generation versus the player they grew up idolizing. 


1. Before we wrap up the past year, Tiger Woods returned to competitive golf last week, and there was a lot to digest. A few thoughts:

• The biggest takeaway is that Tiger looks happy and healthy. His gait was more athletic, his swing more free-flowing and powerful. That wasn’t the case last year, when he showed flashes of brilliance but overall looked like he was laboring, like he was 60, not 40. If his body cooperates, this "comeback" – whatever that entails – has a real chance.

• Tiger’s driver is now a weapon, not a liability. That hasn’t been the case in … a decade? On a forgiving course, he avoided the big miss, worked the ball both ways and absolutely pounded it, easily reaching the par 5s in two. His 180-mph ball speed matched the big-hitting Thomas, and it would have ranked among the top 20 on Tour last season. The only question: Can his back withstand that type of velocity over a full season?

• His short game still needs work. One of the misconceptions about his previous aborted comebacks was that he was able to spend more time in the short-game area than on the range. Not true, Woods said. It hurt even more to put himself in the proper posture, and so he avoided it altogether. It became obvious that part of the game had been neglected. Albany’s tight, sandy lies proved a stiff challenge for everyone, but Woods hit enough shaky chips to recall memories of his chip-yip horrors from years’ past.

• Tiger has been through a physical and personal hell. He was in so much pain, he kept a bucket near his bed to go to the bathroom. That's a horrible way to live, and it's little wonder he became so reliant on pain medication. It's impossible to play good golf in a fog, but a clear-eyed Woods says he's now on the "other side." 

Overall, the week was a resounding success - the T-9 put him back in the top 700 in the world ranking - that portends well for Woods perhaps being more competitive than previously thought.

2. Some of the Woods apathy was understandable – after all, this was his 10th comeback, from either personal or physical issues – but he proved that he’s still the most powerful man in golf.

His mere presence turned the Hero World Challenge, an 18-man holiday exhibition, into a must-see event. The first round alone was streamed by so many people, it would have ranked as the sixth-most-streamed four-round event of the year on NBC/Golf Channel. (Don’t you people work?!) Based on the reaction of his peers, the on-site fans and a very unscientific sampling on Twitter, most seem genuinely happy that Woods is back in the fold and eager to see him return to form.

If he can stay healthy, 2018 just got a lot more interesting.

3. So what will his schedule next year look like?

At this point, Woods either isn’t sure or isn’t ready to share it publicly.

Only Woods knows his body and how much he can handle, or how much he needs to play to feel sharp, but a pre-Masters run with Phoenix, Riviera, Honda and Bay Hill sounds ideal to this scribe. Yes, he has so much history at Torrey Pines, but the long, brutal track is no longer the best fit for his game.

The worst mistake he can make with a fused back is to overextend himself. He doesn’t need a 20-event slate to be competitive.   



4. At long last, Thomas has moved out of Spieth’s considerable shadow.

For the majority of his career he has taken a backseat to Spieth, and that divide only grew once both were in the pros. Not anymore. With awe-inspiring drives and a vastly improved short game, Thomas became one of the game’s bona fide stars, surging from 35th in the world last fall to No. 3.

And so a new question has emerged: Right now Thomas trails Spieth in the major department, 3-1, but at the end of their careers, who will have more? Thomas has the firepower – and, now, the self-belief – to make it a close race. 

5. It’s a what-could-have-been year for Dustin Johnson.

Make no mistake, he was brilliant – winning four times, including a pair of World Golf Championships and a playoff event, and holding on to the No. 1 ranking – but you also can’t shake the feeling that it could have been so much better.

DJ had reached Tiger-like levels of dominance. He was the first player in more than 40 years to arrive at Augusta having won his last three tournaments … and then he never even made it to the first tee, after slipping on a set of stairs on the eve of the Masters and injuring his back.

The year’s first major went on without the world No. 1 – and produced a deserving winner in Sergio Garcia – but would the result have been different with a healthy DJ? We’ll never know, of course. The back injury led to compensations in his swing, and he failed to factor in any of the three remaining majors. A shame, because that may have been once-in-a-lifetime form.



6. After a predictable letdown year, all Spieth did in 2017 was put together the best ball-striking season of his career and add another major to his collection.

For as much as Spieth is lauded for his putting prowess, this year it was his iron play that carried him to three wins and some Player of the Year discussion. A point of emphasis moving forward will be improving his performance off the tee, but at 24 he’s already a generationally great player.

His back nine at The Open figures to be replayed for decades, a two-hour period that had a little bit of everything – a meltdown that recalled his Masters collapse, a lengthy ruling, clutch shots, a few iconic moments – and, ultimately, the end result that he desired.

If Spieth can overcome all of THAT and still claim the claret jug, then no obstacle is insurmountable. 

7. As for two guys who disappointed in 2017 …

Expect “angry” Rory McIlroy to show up next year. He has plotted an ambitious, early-season schedule in hopes of rediscovering the form that propelled him to four majors and world No. 1.

There should have been plenty of soul-searching this fall, after a transitional year in which he battled a nagging injury, got married and changed both his equipment and caddie. We should know by March if he’s addressed the issues with his wedges and putting.

And after winning eight times over the previous two years, Day went 0-for-2017 while taking significant steps back with his driver, iron play and putter. It’s probably unreasonable to think he’ll ride another heater like he did in 2015-16, but he also possesses way too much firepower to get left behind for long. 

8. In a year in which the top players played hot potato with the No. 1 ranking, even more memorable might be the ladies who didn’t end the year in the top spot.

Lydia Ko was No. 1 at the start of the year and she’s all the way down to No. 9. Ariya Jutanugarn seemed the most likely challenger, but she was alternately brilliant and bewildering during a two-win campaign. Lexi Thompson had the best year of her career, and yet two self-inflicted mistakes left her wanting more.

Rising to the top, instead, were So Yeon Ryu and talented rookie Sung-Hyun Park, who last year took the Korean tour by storm. The talent level is only getting deeper. That’s bad news for Lydia, Ariya, Lexi and everyone else who was supposed to "dominate" the women’s tour.    

9. How good was Bernhard Langer’s 2017? Smart golf people legitimately debated whether he’s better now than when he won his two Masters titles.

That’s hyperbole, of course, but the 60-year-old German left everyone searching for superlatives after a year in which he won seven events (including three majors), finished in the top 3 on five other occasions and top-tenned in 16 of 21 events.

That he didn’t take the season-long title (that went to Kevin Sutherland) should be reason enough for the PGA Tour Champions to overhaul how it determines the playoff winner.  

Langer is now just 10 wins from overtaking Hale Irwin as the all-time senior wins leader. The way he’s playing, he could accomplish that in the next three years. 



10. Are we entering a new era of American domination in team events?

It sure felt that way at the Presidents Cup, where the U.S. team nearly ran the Internationals out of town on Saturday, with the singles session still to play.

Their rout at Liberty National was a continuation of last year’s beatdown at Hazeltine, and what’s so scary about Team USA moving forward is that its core of players – Spieth, Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Daniel Berger – figures to remain intact for the next decade or so, while Europe transitions to a new wave that includes Jon Rahm and European No. 1 Tommy Fleetwood.

Next September in France, the Americans should be heavy favorites to end a 25-year winless drought on foreign soil. 


No moment generated a bigger what-is-happening?! reaction than when Lexi Thompson was slapped with a four-shot penalty during the final round of the ANA Inspiration.

Thompson was cruising, up by three with six holes to play, when she was notified of the infraction from a day earlier, after she sloppily marked a 1-foot putt.

“Is this is a joke?” she asked an official.

In tears, she staged an improbable rally, only to lose to So Yeon Ryu in a playoff. It would be the first of two heartbreaking finishes; at the season finale, she yipped a 2-footer that would have given her Player of the Year honors.

The governing bodies’ new reasonable-judgment standard wouldn’t exonerate Thompson, but the USGA and R&A now seems open to revisiting the more unfair issue – the post-round scorecard penalty, which added an additional two strokes to her card. 

It'll be a long offseason for Lexi.

This year's award winners ... 


Breakout Star of 2017: Jon Rahm. Already one of the game’s best from tee to green, he won three titles all over the globe – California, Ireland, Dubai – while playing many of these courses for the first time. Stud.

One Way to Go into the Offseason: Rickie Fowler. He erased a seven-shot final-round deficit with a career-low 61 that set a course and tournament record at the Hero. It was his third top-2 finish in his last four worldwide starts. Which is why ...

Breakthrough Pick for 2018: Rickie. He’s such a complete player, with a ton of big-game experience. Yes, he tempts us at every major, but a year of watching his pals win the big ones should light a fire under him.  

Most Overlooked Achievement: Branden Grace’s 62. We’d been waiting forever for someone to finally break the 63 barrier in a major. Grace finally did, on a windless day at Birkdale, but it’s been virtually forgotten because A) it happened in the third round, B) he didn’t win, and C) it was one of the most dramatic finishes in history. Hey, he still goes in the record books.

Quote of the Year: Johnny Miller, after Thomas broke his record for lowest U.S. Open score: “A 63 for a par 72 is a heck of a score, even if it was the Milwaukee Open.”



Best Celebration: Jordan Spieth and Michael Greller. Hard to believe, but a golfer and his caddie actually pulled off a cool celebration, connecting not on a high-five but a chest bump after holing a bunker shot to win the Travelers.

Who Got Next?: Patrick Cantlay. He’s already won in Vegas, and the former world No. 1 amateur is finally beginning to realize his immense potential after years on the sidelines because of a back injury and personal loss. Don’t be surprised if he contends for a major in 2018.

Redemption: I.K. Kim. Three years after blowing a 14-inch putt to win a major, Kim banished all of those demons by cruising to the Women’s British title at Kingsbarns. 

Look For a Comeback in 2018 From …: Bubba Watson and Jimmy Walker. Bubba no longer plays a gimmicky ball that you’d find on a putt-putt course, and Walker should be able to put the toughest physical year of his life behind him with the proper Lyme disease medication.

Biggest Surprise: Stacy Lewis’ victory. The former world No. 1 had come so close so many times over the past few years, but to get back in the winner’s circle apparently she needed to open up her wallet. Before the tournament, she vowed to pledge all of her earnings to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. One of the year's feel-good stories.

What to Watch For: Governing bodies vs. golf manufacturers. Never before has there been such a drumbeat for a scaled-back ball or bifurcation. It promises to get very messy. Can’t wait!

Getty Images

Watch: Kid Rock makes 40-footer in front of Nicklaus

By Grill Room TeamApril 24, 2018, 1:51 pm

For the second consecutive year, rock star Kid Rock (Bob Ritchie) teamed with Jack Nicklaus in the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf Celebrity Shootout, last week at Big Cedar Lodge.

And while they didn't defend their title - the team of Johnny Miller and Larry the Cable Guy won - the Kid did show golf's ultimate legend how he rolls on the greens.

The Golden Bear and the American Bad A**. What a team.

Getty Images

The next big thing: Xiong 'wasn’t born to be ordinary'

By Ryan LavnerApril 24, 2018, 1:45 pm

The details are etched in Casey Martin’s memory, the rare where-were-you-when moment in college recruiting.

In the summer of 2014, Oregon was coming off another successful season, but Martin couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for the next wave of juniors. No one dazzled him. It was a similarly frustrating start to the AJGA event at Mayacama, as he watched a highly regarded prospect labor through a painful pre-shot routine and then smother-hook his opening tee ball. No, that’s not it, Martin thought. That’s a meltdown.

But then they announced Norman Xiong – a 14-year-old man-child, decked head-to-toe in Nike gear, pushing 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds. In the span of a few seconds, he nonchalantly pegged it, waggled his club and then smoked a 330-yard drive, center cut.

“When you evaluate, you’re looking for a moment of clarity, like, Wow,” Martin says, “and I had that from the very first shot.”

That euphoria continued throughout the round, as Xiong [pronounced Zhong] hammered drives, sauntered down fairways and brushed in 6-footers without even marking his ball. Smitten, Martin texted his assistant: Dude, I’m going for this. He canceled his plans and devoted the next few years to recruiting Xiong.

“For his age, it was just so massively different – like that’s the real deal, right there,” Martin says. “I didn’t leave his side. It was selfish, but I just loved watching him play. There was a joy about him, and it was easy. I couldn’t stop watching.”

And so Martin has watched that man-child blossom into the top recruit in the country, the NCAA Freshman of the Year, the frontrunner for all of this year’s major college awards, and now the envy of talent agencies and equipment reps everywhere.

Xiong’s play during his sophomore season has been so awe-inspiring that college coaches and players are whispering that they’re competing against a future world No. 1. Blessed with a unique combination of power and touch, humbleness and swagger, he’s the most tantalizing 19-year-old prospect in golf since … well, that’s up for debate.

Few understand college hype better than Martin – after all, he played alongside Tiger Woods at Stanford – so he doesn’t make this statement recklessly. He knows that future success is not guaranteed. He knows that Jordan Spieth won a PGA Tour event as a teenager, and that Jon Rahm rapidly climbed the world rankings after college, and that they’re special talents on a Tour that has chewed up and spit out can’t-miss phenoms like sunflower seeds. He knows that simply invoking Woods’ name in any age comparison is blasphemous, but he also knows what he’s seen, firsthand.

He genuinely believes this: “At 19 years old, I think Tiger is the only guy I would defer to as being better than Norman. I haven’t seen much better than him at that age. He’s really that good.”


THE TROPICAL ISLAND OF Guam, in the Western Pacific, is an unusual starting point for a prodigy, but that’s where Xiong learned the game, as a chunky 4-year-old with supernatural hand-eye coordination. His uncle, James, bought a pitching wedge off the rack, dumped him on the range and told him to swing as hard as he could at a target for a half-hour. Before long, Norman could keep up with his uncle and a family friend at the Navy’s Admiral Nimitz Golf Course.

“Even then he was always a step ahead of me,” says Devin Hua, one of Xiong’s best friends growing up. “We’d compete in everything, and I’d always be mad that he was beating me.”

Granted, it wasn’t a fair fight. As a youngster, Xiong scarfed down everything in sight, especially sushi rolls at his family’s Chinese restaurant, Joy Food, and was “enormous” for his age. But in many ways he also won the genetic lottery – his father, Jackie, was a talented athlete, and his mother, Jing, competed on the Chinese Olympic developmental sharpshooting team, her only son inheriting her focus and precision.

Despite his pudgy physique, Xiong proved such a natural that his parents flew him to San Diego to compete in the 6-and-under division at Junior Worlds. He finished second, but more importantly that’s where he met Rick Johnson, who was fresh out of Cal State San Marcos. Working in the First Tee of San Diego program at the Pro Kids Golf and Learning Center, Johnson camped out at the 125-yard sixth hole. Most players ran up driver or 3-wood; Xiong flew his 6-iron into the middle of the green, his ball taking one hop and stopping.

“I’d never seen anything like it,” Johnson says.

That auspicious performance convinced the family that Norman might have a future in the sport. A few months later, Jing sold her restaurant and returned the family to Southern California, cramming into a one-bedroom apartment. Raising Norman was a group effort: Jing waited tables five nights a week at a local Chinese restaurant, while James served as a father figure and Johnson the protective older brother.

“Looking back, it was a struggle,” Xiong says. “We didn’t know where my golf game was going to lead. My uncle believed in it, and I was just hoping it was going to work out for us.”

After the initial culture shock, Xiong thrived under Johnson’s guidance at Pro Kids. It became his second home, a safe haven in a hardscrabble community. After school and on weekends, he played as many as 100 holes a day at the par-3 course, Colina Park, with his best friend and now Oregon teammate, Donald Kay. (Little wonder Xiong now has 26 holes-in-one.) During the day he learned how to score, but at night he smashed drivers at Stadium Golf Center, unwittingly training his body to be explosive.

The unorthodox regimen worked, because the tales from Xiong’s junior career are legendary – and not just how he’d inhale two Double-Doubles, two sides of Animal Style Fries and a shake while at In-N-Out Burger.

He routinely won nine-hole tournaments by double digits. He once shot 29 – with a water ball. Tired of blowing away his competition, he intentionally tried to drop into a playoff by five-putting the final green, except he miscounted and still won by one, leading to a tearful trophy presentation. In such command of his self-made swing, he could pull off shots even when they called out the shape (“Low draw! High cut!”) at the top of his backswing.



“It was like a freak show,” Johnson says. “Hey, here’s this chubby kid: What do you want him to do with the golf ball?”

But that baby fat melted away once Xiong hit his early teens, once he discovered the gym and stuck to a stricter diet, once he graduated to big-boy courses, thanks to a citywide, $5-a-round junior special. By the time he played that AJGA event at Mayacama, in 2014, he was an imposing physical specimen, no longer fighting with Johnson over the final helping of twice-cooked pork.

“I was quite impressed when I came back to see him at events,” Hua says. “I couldn’t even recognize him.”

Still a man amongst boys, Xiong became a Junior World champion, a first-team AJGA All-American, the top prospect in California and the winner of the Junior PGA Championship, which earned him a spot on the Junior Ryder Cup team.

A constant presence throughout has been Johnson, now 39, who serves many roles: golf pro and travel planner, confidant and matchmaker, dinner companion and hype man, gatekeeper and adviser. He traveled to several of Xiong’s junior tournaments, making contact with coaches, and then naturally handled his college recruitment.

It was an overwhelming process, because he could have gone anywhere, but Xiong surprised some by signing with Oregon. He listed three reasons: Growing up in San Diego, he already knew how to win when it’s 78 and sunny; Martin played the Tour, and now he’s arguably the best coach in college golf; and he wanted to make history, delivering Oregon its first NCAA title. (He was a year too late – the Ducks won on their home course in 2016, after he committed.)

“Norman likes to do things his own way,” Johnson says. “He was trying to create his own legacy.”

After graduating from high school a semester early, he enrolled at Oregon in January 2017. Martin had raved to colleagues and players that Xiong was a game-changer, and in blustery conditions he fired the lowest score in his first practice at SandPines, earning his teammates’ respect and validating his coach’s hype.

“When you build someone up, typically they don’t live up to expectations,” says Wyndham Clark, a senior on last year’s squad, “but I can honestly say that Norman is one of the very few who did. He’s the rawest player I’ve ever seen. He can step out of bed, a car, an airplane, use someone else’s clubs and still shoot under par. He’s just really impressive.”


SO IMPRESSIVE THAT XIONG won in his second college start. So impressive that he earned the Phil Mickelson Award as the nation’s top freshman despite playing just one semester. So impressive that he helped lead Oregon to the brink of consecutive NCAA titles, before losing to Oklahoma in the finals.

The transition to college was seamless, and he continued to roll into the summer. His biggest goal was to make the U.S. Walker Cup team – at 18, he’d be the second-youngest in history – but the selection process is notoriously secretive. Asked what Xiong needed to do to be considered, captain Spider Miller coyly replied: “Something special.”

Xiong got the message. At the Western Amateur, the summer’s most grueling event, he earned medalist honors after 72 holes of stroke play and then beat all four of his match-play opponents to take the title. Two weeks later, he breezed to a 64 at Riviera and finished second in the U.S. Amateur’s stroke-play qualifying.

“Is that something special?” he asked, smiling.

In one of his first showcases on national TV, Xiong went unbeaten (3-0-1) at Los Angeles Country Club, earned the clinching point during an American rout and left a lasting impression on his teammates.

“He’s a really quiet, reserved kid, the last person you’d label as over-confident or cocky,” says Walker Cup teammate Maverick McNealy. “But seeing him stand up and smash driver gives the complete opposite impression.”

It’d become abundantly clear that Xiong wouldn’t be eligible for the next Walker Cup match in two years. Ranked fourth in the world, Xiong and his uncle always had a vision for the future, and it didn’t involve an extended stay in the amateur ranks. Last fall was filled with important meetings and decisions, and the daily distractions began to affect his performance. Even his “B-minus game” resulted in two early-season victories – supreme talent usually prevails – but some of the joy with which he played had disappeared. “I felt like I was going 100 mph every single week,” he says.

So Xiong shelved his clubs for a month, the longest break of his career, and traveled overseas with his girlfriend, Erica Wang, the captain of the women’s team at California Baptist. Rusty to start the new year, he missed the cut in his PGA Tour debut at Torrey Pines, then returned to Eugene to fine-tune his game.

His uncle remains the only swing coach he has ever had, but for the past four years, with James spending most of his time with his family in China, Xiong has essentially managed it alone. His brisk pace of play and powerful swing is uniquely his own, but there’s an old-school feel, with a bowed left wrist, minimal shift off the ball and raised left heel. Martin doesn’t tinker with Xiong’s action – “I ain’t touchin’ that” – and his only formal lesson was three months ago, with instructor Jeff Smith, to tidy up his wedge play. 

“I always tell him: ‘If you’re great from 100 yards and in, there’s no telling what’ll happen,’” Martin says.

But today’s elite players aren’t renowned for their wedge play – it’s for their otherworldly driving distance that puts them in position to attack. Xiong fits the modern prototype, as well. Over the winter, while showing off for teammates, he consistently registered a 133-mph swing speed, 194-mph ball speed, carry distance of 340 yards and spin axis less than 1.

Translation: “Full-pummel rips, dead straight,” Martin says.

Even on a demanding home track like Eugene Country Club, Xiong’s scoring average is 68, the lowest in Martin’s 12 years as coach. (He estimates Xiong’s handicap there would be a plus-9.) The team’s statistician recently asked if Xiong’s numbers were a mistake, if it was possible to average 330 off the tee and also find 85 percent of the fairways. “From what I see from him,” Martin said, “yeah, it’s certainly possible.”

During his current three-tournament win streak, Xiong closed with 64 to take the Duck Invitational, then shot a combined 25 under par to top strong fields at The Goodwin and Western Intercollegiate. That prompted one coach who competed against Xiong to describe him as a “runaway freight train.”

“It’s not like he’s just getting in the zone for tournaments, either,” Martin says. “This is who he is.”

With an NCAA-best five wins entering this week's Pac-12 Championship, Xiong is among the leading contenders for Player of the Year. Claiming the award would be an honor, of course, but he doesn’t need the validation – anyone has seen him play knows that, talent-wise, he’s in a league all his own, that he’s ready for the Tour at 19.

“He just has so many tools and can literally make birdie from anywhere,” says one Pac-12 coach. “He’s a fearless kid who believes he can accomplish anything.”

In fact, Martin’s only concern is how Xiong will handle adversity, because, frankly, there hasn’t been much throughout his charmed career. He’s won prolifically at every age, while seemingly impervious to pressure.

“There are three things that I think you need to be on Tour,” Xiong says. “The talent and the skill. The mental game. And the experience. The only thing I’m lacking now is the experience, because I haven’t been out there. But I think I’m ready.”


A FEW WEEKS AGO, while on the 13th hole at Eugene Country Club, Xiong started talking with Johnson about the future. About how he’d love to have a normal life. To get married. Have a couple of kids. Cook them dinner each night.

Then he stopped himself.

“But I wasn’t born to be ordinary,” he said, “and I’m OK with that.”

It’s fair to wonder if Xiong’s boundless joy will fade in the pressure cooker of pro golf, if another 19-year-old is ready for Tour life, for fame and fortune and scrutiny. Those closest to him have brushed off concerns. He doesn’t drink or smoke. He doesn’t party or swear. He’s smart and unmotivated by money. He’s soft-spoken but self-assured – “an absolute gem of a human being,” Martin says.

“What’s impressed me most is that he hasn’t changed who he is,” says Kay, his longtime pal and roommate. “Most players, when they get to his level, they become a different person than they were. But he’s still the same. He’s still just Norman.”

In college, away from his family, Xiong is becoming his own man, with his own interests and values and dreams, but he’s also wise to assume that nothing in his immediate future will be ordinary. Conversations over the past few months have confirmed as much.

The CEO of a prominent club manufacturer told him that he’d heard from others that he was the best player of this generation.

“And they’re right,” Xiong replied matter-of-factly.

The CEO of a top apparel company pressed him on how good he thinks he’ll be.

“The No. 1 player in the world,” he said.

“And how long do you think it’ll take?”

“That part I don’t know,” he said, grinning.

Even in the most cutthroat and unpredictable of professions, there’s a growing inevitability about Xiong among those who have seen him play.

After the six-shot victory at TPC Harding Park, a coach approached him after the round, offered his congratulations and then asked for a small favor.

An autograph.

“Part of me felt like I should get this now,” he said, “before it’s too late.”

Getty Images

Mets star attributes poor play to 'golf deficiency'

By Will GrayApril 24, 2018, 1:18 pm

New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is off to a slow start this season, and he has a theory as to why he's struggling at the plate: a lack of golf.

Cespedes, a two-time all-star, has been an avid golfer since defecting from Cuba in 2011. But this year, he cut out his time on the links as part of an overhauled training regimen and according to the New York Times hasn't played since June. But Cespedes is struggling, hitting just .195 with four home runs through the first month of the season.

And according to Cespedes, his work in the two sports is related, as he has reportedly diagnosed himself with a "golf deficiency."

"In previous seasons, one of the things I did when I wasn't going well was to play golf," Cespedes said. "This year, I'm not playing golf."

Cespedes' relationship with his newfound hobby is well-documented. He played a round of golf the same day the Mets clinched the National League pennant back in 2015, and the following year he raised eyebrows by playing a round at Medinah only hours before he left a night game because of injury.

Despite a slow start from one of their top players, the Mets have gotten off to a 14-6 start to lead the National League East division. But they'll likely need Cespedes to start shouldering his load soon, and the solution just might be a quick trip to the course.

"With golf, I had to keep my hands inside and keep watching the ball in order to hit it well," Cespedes said. "I think that helped me."

Getty Images

Stock Watch: Ko-Leadbetter feud getting juicy

By Ryan LavnerApril 24, 2018, 12:40 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Moriya Jutanugarn (+9%): The older Jutanugarn couldn’t be more different than her free-wheeling, big-hitting, wide-smiling and more famous sister, but Mo has plenty of game, too. She held off a strong leaderboard on a historic course to win for the first time in 156 starts.

Andrew Landry (+7%): Nothing has come easily to this gritty, undersized Texan, so his breakthrough Tour victory perfectly encapsulated his career.

Alexander Levy (+6%): The happiest person watching the Trophee Hassan II? Thomas Bjorn, who has to be salivating at the prospect of having an in-form Frenchman teeing it up in a home Ryder Cup.

Joaquin Niemann (+5%): Any questions about how his skills would translate to the Tour level were erased with weekend 67s in his pro debut. The 19-year-old was the top-ranked amateur for 48 weeks, so results like these are just another reflection of how strong amateur golf is these days.

Kirk Triplett (+2%): Doesn’t matter how old you are – holing out from the bunker is a baller way to win.


FALLING

Shanshan Feng (-1%): Three top-5 finishes this season, and she still lost her No. 1 ranking to Inbee Park. It’s competitive out there.

Beau Hossler (-2%): It was another Sunday to forget, as his closing 79 sent him tumbling down the Valero board. He’s had a solid rookie season despite ranking 178th in final-round scoring average (72.9).

Sergio (-3%): Seems like this new dad could use some rest. Garcia made a 13 at the Masters, clapped back at jokesters on Twitter and then had a temper tantrum in San Antonio, hurling his driver into the wilderness en route to his second MC in a row. Oy.

TPC Louisiana (-4%): If this year’s field is any indication (10 of the top 14), the Zurich is close to a must-play for today’s stars. The only piece missing is a venue change, to Bayou Oaks at City Park, because another forgettable TPC away from downtown New Orleans excites exactly no one.

Lydia Ko-David Leadbetter feud (-6%): Unhappy with how he was portrayed in a recent magazine article regarding Ko’s struggles, Leadbetter is now firing back, citing Ko’s father and fatigue as the key issues in her year-long slump. This is getting juicy.