Monday Scramble: McGirt hangs with, out-plays big-timers

By Ryan LavnerJune 6, 2016, 4:00 pm

Will McGirt's journey ends in victory, Rory McIlroy switches grips, Ian Poulter trades in spikes for a radio and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

A week that began with talk of a rejuvenated Big 3 (three wins in a row!) ended with a career-altering performance from McGirt. 

The 36-year-old journeyman had played in just one major since turning pro a dozen years ago, but now he’s booked for three of the next four Grand Slam events, including the 2017 Masters. The trip was well-earned, after McGirt went bogey-free over his last 22 holes, including a pair of gritty par saves in overtime, to beat Jon Curran at the Memorial.

The outliers get all of the attention, the guys who jump from college straight to the pros, but it's worth remembering the Tour is made up mostly of members whose path to the Tour was anything but linear.

This was McGirt's 165th start on Tour. Before reaching the big leagues, he toiled on six different mini-tours, teeing it up almost every day each week. His last win came on something called the Tarheel Tour, in 2007, with a first-place check of $16,000. 

“I’m crazy,” he said. “We’re all nuts. We play this game. We chase a little ball around the grass and do it 18 times. We’re all nuts.

“But I kept doing it because my ultimate dream was to get on the PGA Tour and try to win on the PGA Tour. The other thing was I didn’t know what else I was going to do.” 

1. The only major McGirt has played in is the 2012 PGA, which came the week after a runner-up finish in Canada.

It was on the putting green at the PGA that McGirt bumped into Tiger Woods, who offered some advice on how to better handle final rounds. For starters, he told McGirt to look at leaderboards, to know exactly where he stood and what he needed to do.

"It was more of a 'here's what you need to do and you're an idiot for not doing it'" type of thing, McGirt said.

And so, when asked Sunday night how often he looked at the boards, McGirt replied: "I looked at it all day. Every single one I passed, I looked at." 

Lesson learned.

2. Some playoff losses are easier to accept than others.

Curran made bogey on the second playoff hole to lose to McGirt, but while walking off the green he was greeted by Jack Nicklaus, the greatest champion in golf history, but also a man who had 58 runner-up finishes in his career.

“He told me I’m going to win a lot of tournaments,” Curran said with a smile afterward, “which is pretty cool.” 

3. Dustin Johnson launched some of the most awe-inspiring drives you’ll ever see at Muirfield Village, yet he could only muster a third-place finish, one shot out of the playoff. He made four bogeys on the back nine Sunday, including a pair on the par 3s, when he had only a short iron into the green.

If he can tighten up his short game, he should be on the short list of favorites for the Oakmont Open.

On a somewhat related note: On the last two holes, DJ sent two wind-aided drives that totaled 749 yards. But yeah, OK, governing bodies, driving distance is not on the rise

4. Two weeks after snapping a yearlong winless drought, McIlroy showed up at Jack’s Place with a new (well, old) putting grip.

After switching to the cross-handed style at Doral, McIlroy ended the three-month experiment and reverted to the conventional grip. The timing was peculiar, given that he had just won the Irish Open and the year's second major was coming up, but the proof was in the numbers: It just wasn’t working. When he won in Ireland, he took 127 putts. Clearly, he had won in spite of his putting.

Entering the Memorial, he was No. 122 in strokes gained-putting on Tour. He finished the week ranked second, after pouring in 410 feet worth of putts. (Jordan Spieth, by way of contrast, made just 304 feet.)  

It was McIlroy’s eighth top-10 in 12 starts this year. 

5. Longtime readers of this column probably noticed (or not) that I took a two-week hiatus to cover the women’s and men’s NCAA Championships. It’s an event that seems to get better each year.

Washington won the women’s title, after an incredible short-game display in match play, and the men’s championship went into sudden death, with host Oregon dog-piling on the 10th green after the Ducks birdied the third extra hole to outlast an undermanned Texas team in an instant classic. Needless to say, Sulman Raza shouldn’t have trouble getting a drink in Eugene anytime soon.

6. One of the issues that arose late in the men’s championship was the health of Beau Hossler, who injured his shoulder during the semifinals. He said that his left shoulder “popped out” during his follow-through, and he didn’t recover in time to help the Longhorns in the final match. (His status is still uncertain, as he dropped out of Monday's U.S. Open sectional qualifier.) 

Casual fans struggled to grasp why Texas wasn’t allowed to replace its injured star, especially on the biggest stage of the year. Allowing substitutes has been one of the college game’s hot-button issues, with some coaches still opposed to the idea because there are budgetary concerns and it would only further separate the haves and have-nots. But shining a light on an unfair situation at the national championship should help expedite the timeline of a rule change. In a few years, it might become known as the Beau Hossler Rule.

Make no mistake, change is coming sooner than later. (I wrote about the no-sub rule at length here.) With so much at stake – a national title, a coach’s legacy, a player’s pro future – there has to be a better alternative than forfeiting the match and a crucial point on the first tee

7. Get this: 536,000 people tuned in for the conclusion of the Oregon-Texas final. To put that in perspective, that's slightly more than the viewership for Thursday's opening round of the Memorial. How riveting were this year's NCAAs? Even the clubhouse chef was into it:

8. This week, in How the Zika Virus Issue May Affect the Best Golfers in the World …

After researching the issue with medical professionals, McIlroy is back on board for the Olympics, saying that getting infected isn’t “the end of the world. It takes six months to pass through your system, and you’re fine.”

Except that part is still very much unknown, which is why Jason Day, after initially saying that it’d be a great honor to play in the Olympics, left open the possibility that he’d miss out on the Summer Games. 

Day, who has two children with wife Ellie and hopes to have more, said that he’s “a little wary about it” and must make a “smart, educated decision whether to go or not” based on his family. 

The world No. 1's absence would be a massive blow for the Olympics, but you can't blame him in this case.

9. After 54 years, Doral will not host a PGA Tour event next year. The Tour is instead moving the World Golf Championships event away from the Miami resort – and Donald Trump – and instead heading to Mexico with a new seven-year deal.

Commissioner Tim Finchem insisted that the move was more about finding a title sponsor willing to pony up and less about the polarizing presidential nominee – “I hope they have kidnapping insurance,” Trump snarked – but the timing of the announcement couldn’t have been worse. The news not only upstaged the Memorial, where Nicklaus was honoring Johnny Miller, but it also started a public spat with a man who soon could become president of the United States. Not smart.

10. How will players respond to the Tour’s new WGC? That’ll be one of the biggest storylines to watch in early 2017.

Though the revamped Doral fell out of favor with many players (particularly the short- to medium-length knockers), the event slid nicely into the Florida swing schedule, after the Honda in Palm Beach Gardens and before the Valspar in Palm Harbor. No host venue has been named for the WGC event, but it remains to be seen whether a glamorous destination like Cabo will be enough to lure all of the big names at a time of year when Masters prep takes precedence. 

11. Matt Fitzpatrick is now a virtual lock for the European Ryder Cup squad after earning his second European Tour title Sunday at the Nordea Masters.

It’s been written in this space multiple times that the 21-year-old Fitzpatrick just might be the European equivalent of Spieth, with a stout résumé, an affable personality and a spiffy short game. At the U.S. Amateur victory in 2013, Fitzpatrick was described as Luke Donald, but with a better long game. Donald, a former world No. 1, has done OK for himself.

Oh, and speaking of the Ryder Cup ... 

12. Ian Poulter, a non-factor much of the past few years, has decided to rest an arthritic joint in his right foot. The injury will cost him the next four months, which means that he is likely to miss the Ryder Cup in late September, if he were even a viable candidate at that point.

Poulter has an 12-4-2 record in the biennial matches, but he is now 40 years old, he hasn’t won since 2012 and he is coming off a 0-1-2 performance at Gleneagles that dented his bulletproof reputation. The Englishman has already been picked to torment the Americans in a different way – as the European team's fourth vice captain.

With Woods in the other team room, things could get testy.

13. Graham DeLaet announced last week that he was stepping away from the PGA Tour to deal with what he described as “incredible anxiety” while chipping and pitching. It sure sounds like the yips.

DeLaet should be commended for his honesty, especially when a few of his peers hid behind complicated swing jargon like release patterns and entry points.

Interestingly, the Canadian has been playing pretty well of late, notching three top-15s in his past seven starts. In his most recent round, he shot 65 at the Nelson.

Around the greens, though, he has been dreadful – ranking 186th in scrambling and 178th in sand-save percentage. Overall, he is 188th in strokes gained-around the green, losing nearly 0.4 shots to the field. 

Look, your intrepid correspondent isn’t frightened by much – not insects, not heights, not crowded rooms, not savage discussion boards. But this alligator in Palmetto, Fla., is downright terrifying, a beast that is more dinosaur than crocodile. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. 

Apparently, people have been traveling from far and near to check out the massive gator at Buffalo Creek Golf Course, with no intention to actually play golf. If the club wanted to take full advantage of the situation, they’d sell $20 passes for those who wanted to sit and wait out the gator, with the disclaimer that he might eat you and your entire family whole. 

This week's award winners ... 

One for the Old-Timers: Anna Nordqvist. The 28-year-old’s win at the ShopRite LPGA Classic was the first this year by a player who wasn’t 23 or younger. 

FORE!-head: Phil Mickelson. Last week, Lefty drilled a ShotLink volunteer with a tee shot, his ball caroming off the poor guy’s noggin so hard that it wound up all the way across the fairway, into the rough. “If your head was a touch softer,” Mickelson told the man, as he handed him a signed glove, “I’d be in the fairway.” You might remember at the Colonial, when Tony Finau pelted a spectator, he gave the fan flowers and chocolate.

Welcome Back: Keegan Bradley. Maybe it was seeing his buddy, Curran, near the top of the leaderboard that led to his first top-10 of the year at the Memorial. Whatever the case, it was a badly needed week for a guy who had plummeted to No. 122 in the world.  

Changing His Name to Coca-Cola?: Steven “Pepsi” Hale. Keegan’s longtime caddie will work for newly minted pro (and Georgia product) Lee McCoy for the rest of the year, beginning at this week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis.   

Must Not Have Read the Survey: Bubba Watson. You might recall that Watson was tabbed by his peers last year as the player they're least likely to help in a parking-lot fight. And yet there was Bubba, defending Rickie Fowler against a boneheaded heckler. 

When You Don’t Want to be in the Featured Pairing: Justin Thomas. Grouped with McIlroy and – all together now – good friend Jordan Spieth for the first two rounds, Thomas threw up rounds of 77-78 and was one shot out of DFL.

Here Come the Newbies: John Deere Classic. If you want alternative programming to the Olympics, you can find the next generation of stars teeing it up that week at the John Deere Classic. Tournament officials there always give out spots to the game’s brightest up-and-comers, and this year is no different – Aaron Wise, Beau Hossler, Jon Rahm, Charlie Danielson and the previously mentioned McCoy have received exemptions into this year’s event. 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Hideki Matsuyama. Five consecutive top-10s, and he was returning to a ball-striker's paradise, the site of his breakthrough victory … and so, of course, he shot rounds of 74-73 and missed the cut, his first early exit since January. 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.”