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Monday Scramble: All kinds of whether

By Ryan LavnerJune 4, 2018, 3:00 pm

Bryson DeChambeau takes the next step, Ariya Jutanugarn survives, Tiger Woods befuddles, Oklahoma State romps at home and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

The first win was validation.

The second? It proves that Bryson DeChambeau is on his way to becoming one of the best players in the world.

For years, DeChambeau so badly wanted to prove people wrong and demonstrate that his way could work that he sometimes got into his own way. His breakthrough win at the John Deere Classic last summer did wonders for his reputation, and then his sterling play this season showed that it was no fluke.

His playoff victory at the Memorial was his fifth top-5 finish of the season, vaulting him inside the top 25 in the world and into eighth place in the Ryder Cup standings.

Yes, it’s all coming together for one of the game’s most interesting characters.   

1. When DeChambeau won the 2015 NCAAs, his coach at SMU, Jason Enloe, told me this: “He’s the best ball-striker in college, 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.”

Anyone want to dispute that now?

DeChambeau continues to flush it, ranking inside the top 16 in strokes gained: off the tee and approach the green with his unique set of single-length irons.

So why has DeChambeau taken the next step this season? How did he go from struggling to keep his card to a two-time Tour winner?

His putting.

After waging war with the USGA over his side-saddle method, DeChambeau worked on a Quintec software program last spring and had Sik Golf build him a 44-inch putter that he runs up his left forearm, Matt Kuchar-style.

DeChambeau might never be a lights-out putter, but the way he strikes the ball he doesn’t need to be. When he went to that method he ranked 211st in strokes gained: putting, better than only two players. Now, he sits 60th.

If you don't think he has the game to win majors, well, you're kidding yourself.

2. Ariya Jutanugarn outlasted H.J. Kim to win the U.S. Women’s Open on the fourth extra hole, but it wasn’t quite that simple.

Jutanugarn, the most talented player on the LPGA, blew a seven-shot lead on the back nine. She came home in 41 to drop into a playoff with the 2014 Evian champ.

Had Jutanugarn lost, it would have gone down as one of the all-time worst collapses in major history. This 22-year-old already has accrued so much scar tissue – the 2013 meltdown at home in Thailand, the ANA collapse in ’16 – and it’s reasonable to assume that she couldn't take much more.

She prevailed in the playoff, though, after making four consecutive pars, and she’s now a two-time major champion.

Her talent is breathtaking – she’s now won multiple majors without a driver. But her resilience might be even more remarkable.

3. Even during her collapse, Jutanugarn continued to show a childlike innocence. She giggled on the first hole of the playoff. She smiled before every tee shot, a tip from her mental coaches to stay in the moment and not worry about the outcome. She even applauded her opponent’s good shots, much to the dismay of Fox analyst Paul Azinger, who was already opining how soul-crushing her loss would become.

Jutanugarn also has the potential, talent-wise, to dominate the tour. Whether she has the disposition for it is another matter.

4. This was the first go-round for the USGA’s new two-hole aggregate playoff. The two playoff participants played the first two holes in even par, then went two more holes in sudden death until a champion was determined.

It may not have been as tense as a do-or-die playoff, but it sure beat an 18-hole slog the next day. The ending felt satisfying.

And if two holes seems like a weird number for an aggregate playoff, that’s because it is. But the Masters uses a sudden-death playoff, the PGA a three-hole aggregate and The Open a four-hole aggregate. Come on, you didn’t actually expect the USGA to – gasp! – copy another organization, did you?

5. The good news: At the Memorial, Tiger Woods hit the ball better than he has in years.

The bad: He had the worst putting performance of his career, at least in the strokes-gained era.

Woods led the field in strokes gained: tee to green and approach the green over four days at Muirfield Village, which is remarkable, really, given the quality of the field and the state of Woods’ game just five months ago.

But his putting has never looked worse, missing seven times from inside 5 feet. For context: He missed just nine times from that range in all of 2009.

“If I just putt normally,” he said, “I probably would be right there with those guys and up there in the last couple of groups.”

Instead, he closed with 72 and plummeted all the way into a tie for 23rd, in the process frittering away critical FedExCup and world-ranking points. He moved only from 83rd to 80th in the world.

Remember, he needs to crack the top 50 by the end of July to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, where he’s won a record eight times.  

6. Big picture, Woods is hitting it well enough not just to win at some point this season but also to contend at Shinnecock.

In 2004, he tied for 17th there, but since then the club has taken out more than 500 trees and added about 500 yards of length.

“Overall my game is where it needs to be heading into the U.S. Open,” he said, “and that’s something that’s very positive.”

7. Apparently, that Sunday charge at the Masters wasn’t the turning point that Jordan Spieth hoped it would be.

Since then he has missed a cut in the team event at the Zurich, where he hit water balls on each of the last two holes, then finished outside the top 20 in three consecutive events before another early exit at the Memorial.

It’s nothing short of stunning that Spieth is still winless this season despite ranking fourth in strokes gained: tee to green. He might be close to another torrid stretch on the greens, but right now he’s statistically one of the worst, ranked 186th on Tour.

It’ll turn around sometime this year … right?

8. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that Patrick Cantlay shot a back-nine 39 after being put on the clock.

Cantlay didn’t blame his poor play coming home on the officials – nor should he have, since it was his painful pre-shot routine that put him in that predicament in the first place – but he clearly was out of sorts. After leading for much of the final round, he finished a shot out of the playoff.

“Putting yourself in position is what it’s all about,” he said. “The more you can do that, the better off you’re going to be. I put myself in position, played great all week, and so I feel like my game is in a good spot and really looking forward to the U.S. Open.”

9. Kyle Stanley got one of the unluckiest breaks of the year.

Steamrolling into the 72nd hole off four straight birdies, his tee shot on the last hugged the right side, but it ricocheted off a tree and rocketed across the fairway, into the thick, juicy rough near the creek. He could barely advance the ball down the fairway, leading a momentum-killing bogey and an eventual playoff loss.  

“A bit of a sour finish,” he said.

10. You may or may not have noticed that your trusty correspondent didn't pen this column the past two weeks – I was covering the men’s and women’s NCAA Championships at Karsten Creek.

Read more about Oklahoma State’s blowout victory here, and the significance for a legend like Mike Holder, but there's absolutely no way you can say that the Cowboys weren’t a deserving winner this season.

They were the No. 1 team all season long. They had 10 wins. They had a stacked lineup with five guys who had a sub-par scoring average.

And yet, all anyone outside of Stillwater wanted to talk about was how it was unfair OSU won its home course. (Real talk: The Cowboys were so dominant that they could have won a 72-hole tournament in my backyard.)

No, the setup is not ideal, and Oregon would have had no business winning in 2016 if it wasn’t at Eugene Country Club, but the NCAA is clearly conflicted: It wants the energy and the fans that come with hosting at a college course … but it also wants the competitiveness fairness that comes with a neutral site.

Oklahoma star Brad Dalke joined the chorus of detractors, at least until he was put in his place by Oklahoma State freshman Austin Eckroat:

11. This will once again be a topic of conversation again next year, by the way, with NCAAs heading to Blessings Golf Club, which is the home of the Arkansas Razorbacks.

The Arkansas women spent much of this season at No. 1 in the country, so they’ll be a heavy favorite, and the Razorback men are a perennial fringe contender who could take the next step next May.  

It’s easy to lose sight of this, because of the manufactured featured groups, but one thing you can only notice from following players in person is that they hit some really, really bad shots.

Chris Solomon from No Laying Up was watching Stanley’s group Friday when he noticed Chris Kirk butchering the final stretch. On the ninth hole, his 18th of the day, needing a par to play the weekend, Kirk cold-topped a drive that went 76 yards.

Seventy-six yards!

Kirk still managed to make par, and he even poked fun at himself afterward:

Since #LiveUnderPar is a dud, perhaps the Tour can use this new slogan: These Guys Are Good (When The Cameras Are On Them).

This week's award winners ... 

Stay Hot: Francesco Molinari. Over the past weeks, he has a win and a runner-up during which he made 42 birdies and just four bogeys. And, just sayin', but his fairways-and-greens game is perfect for a U.S. Open, too ...

Stud Alert: Joaquin Niemann. The 19-year-old wrapped up special temporary membership (and will now be able to receive unlimited sponsor exemptions for the rest of the season) after notching his third top-10 in five starts as a pro.

Voice of Reason: Rory McIlroy. Just the latest to pile on the USGA for their antics, he said that the blue blazers “overthink” setups and suggested this for a U.S. Open: “Get the fairways sort of firm, grow the rough, put the pins in some tough locations but fair, and go let us play.” Can he take Mike Davis’ job?

He’s Alive!: Danny Willett. The 2016 Masters champion, who had plummeted all the way to No. 462 in the world because of injury and poor form, recorded his first top-10 in nearly 16 months at the Italian Open.  

Keep In Your Thoughts: Bud Cauley. The former Alabama standout was in a serious car accident last week that left him with a collapsed lung, five broken ribs and a fractured lower left leg. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery.   

Out of Gas: Adam Scott. Trying to find his game in time to preserve his majors-played streak and tee it up at the U.S. Open, Scott tied for 35th at the Memorial, his fifth consecutive start. He's entered in sectionals and will try to nab one of the final spots with a good week in Memphis.

Big-Time Player: Patty Tavatanakit. The UCLA star finished better at the U.S. Women’s Open (T-5) than the NCAA Champioship (T-19) two weeks ago.

Still Got It: John Smoltz. The Hall of Fame hurler (and current terrific broadcaster) shot a 3-under 69 and then prevailed in a 3-for-1 playoff to punch his ticket to the U.S. Senior Open.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Marc Leishman. He still made the cut (T-62), but we’d hoped for so much more out of Leishman, who played well at the Nelson and had three consecutive top-15s at Jack’s Track. He closed with 76 on Sunday. Sigh. 

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Five-time Open champ Thomson passes at 88

By Associated PressJune 20, 2018, 1:35 am

Hailed as a hero to some and as golf royalty to others, Peter Thomson, a five-time winner of The Open and the only player in the 20th century to win the championship for three straight years, died Wednesday. He was 88.

Thomson had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for more than four years and died at his Melbourne home surrounded by family members, Golf Australia said.

The first Australian to win The Open, Thomson went on to secure the title five times between 1954 and 1965, a record equaled only by American Tom Watson.

The Australian's wins came in 1954, '55, '56, again in 1958 and lastly in 1965 against a field that included Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

Only Harry Vardon, with six titles between 1896 and 1914, won more.

Thomson also tied for fourth at the 1956 U.S. Open and placed fifth in the 1957 Masters. He never played the PGA Championship.

In 1998, he captained the International side to its only win over the United States at the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.

Asked by The Associated Press in 2011 how he'd like to be remembered, Thomson replied: ''A guy who always said what he thought.''

Veteran Australian golfer Karrie Webb was among the first to tweet her condolences, saying she was ''saddened to hear of the passing of our Aussie legend and true gentleman of the game .... so honored to have been able to call Peter my friend. RIP Peter.''

Former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Thomson was ''a champion in every sense of the word, both on the course and in life.''

''Many know him as a five-time champion golfer of the year or as a three-time captain of the Presidents Cup International team.'' Finchem added. ''But he was also a great friend, father, grandfather and husband. He was golfing royalty, and our sport is a better one because of his presence.''

Former golfer and now broadcaster Ian Baker-Finch, the 1991 Open champion, called Thomson his ''hero'' - ''Peter - my friend and mentor R.I.P. Australian golf thanks you for your iconic presence and valuable guidance over the years.''

From Britain, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers praised Thomson's plans for the game's future.

''Peter gave me a number of very interesting and valuable thoughts on the game, how it has developed and where it is going, which demonstrated his genuine interest and love of golf,'' Slumbers said. ''He was one of the most decorated and celebrated champion golfers in the history of The Open.''

Born in the Melbourne inner-city suburb of Brunswick on Aug. 23, 1929, Thomson was a promising cricketer. He scored an unbeaten 150 runs for the Carlton club against a men's side as a 15-year-old.

But golf became his passion, and he turned professional in 1947.

He won the national championships of 10 countries, including the New Zealand Open nine times and Australian Open three times. He first played on the PGA Tour in the U.S. in 1953 and 1954, finishing 44th and 25th on the money list, respectively. He won the Texas International in 1956.

Thomson won nine times on the Senior PGA tour in the U.S. in 1985, topping the money list. His last tournament victory came at the 1988 British PGA Seniors Championship, the same year he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Overall, he won 26 European Tour events, 34 times on the Australasian PGA tour and 11 on the seniors tour in the U.S, as well as once in Japan.

In later years, Thomson wrote articles for many publications and daily newspapers, was club professional at Royal Melbourne and designed more than 100 golf courses. In the 2011 Presidents Cup program, Thomson provided an insightful hole-by-hole analysis of the composite course at Royal Melbourne.

Thomson was always reluctant to compare his wins with anyone else's.

''All records are qualified in that they were made at a certain time in history,'' Thomson told golf historian and author Brendan Moloney for a story on his 80th birthday.

''The circumstances change so much, and so do the players' attitudes. In golf, only in the last 30 years or so has there been a professional attitude to playing for money. The professionals in the USA and Britain and anywhere else all had club jobs as a backstop to their income.

''When they did play and make records, you have to understand that they were taking time off from the pro shop,'' he said. ''So the records that were set were pretty remarkable.''

Thomson always had stories to tell, and told them well. With a full head of hair and a lineless face that belied his age, the Australian wasn't afraid to let everyone know his feelings on any subject.

That was true as far back as 1966. As president of the Australian PGA, Thomson was indignant that Arnold Palmer's prize for winning the Australian Open was only $1,600, out of a total purse of $6,000, one of the smallest in golf.

''Golf Stars Play for Peanuts,'' blared the headline of a story he wrote. ''Never before has such a field of top golfers played for what $6,000 is worth today. Canada offers 19 times that. I know 19 other countries who give more.''

But he was always happy on the golf course.

''I've had a very joyful life, playing a game that I loved to play for the sheer pleasure of it,'' Thomson said. ''I don't think I did a real day's work in the whole of my life.''

Thomson served as president of the Australian PGA for 32 years and worked behind the scenes for the Odyssey House drug rehabilitation organization where he was chairman for five years.

In 1979, he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to golf, and in 2001 became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his contributions as a player and administrator and for community service.

Thomson is survived by his wife Mary, son Andrew and daughters Deirdre Baker, Pan Prendergast and Fiona Stanway, their spouses, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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Gaston leaves USC to become head coach at Texas A&M

By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2018, 11:00 pm

In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.

This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.  

Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.

Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.

The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.  

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Spieth 'blacked out' after Travelers holeout

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 9:44 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – It was perhaps the most-replayed shot (and celebration) of the year.

Jordan Spieth’s bunker holeout to win the Travelers Championship last year in a playoff over Daniel Berger nearly broke the Internet, as fans relived that raucous chest bump between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller after Spieth threw his wedge and Greller threw his rake.

Back in Connecticut to defend his title, Spieth admitted that he has watched replays of the scene dozens of times – even if, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t exactly choreographing every move.

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“Just that celebration in general, I blacked out,” Spieth said. “It drops and you just react. For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”

Spieth and Greller’s celebration was so memorable that tournament officials later shipped the rake to Greller as a keepsake. It’s a memory that still draws a smile from the defending champ, whose split-second decision to go for a chest bump over another form of celebration provided an appropriate cap to a high-energy sequence of events.

“There’s been a lot of pretty bad celebrations on the PGA Tour. There’s been a lot of missed high-fives,” Spieth said. “I’ve been part of plenty of them. Pretty hard to miss when I’m going into Michael for a chest bump.”

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Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break

By Randall MellJune 19, 2018, 9:27 pm

Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.

Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.

Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.

“Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”

Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.

“Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”

Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.