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Monday Scramble: Almost, won and done

By Ryan LavnerOctober 9, 2017, 3:00 pm

Brendan Steele defends, Phil Mickelson comes close, Tony Finau uses a backboard, Rory McIlroy wraps up his year and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Brendan Steele went back-to-back at the Safeway Open, but it was Phil Mickelson who injected some excitement into what was an otherwise sleepy opening to the PGA Tour season.

Lefty pulled within a shot of the lead heading into the final two holes before eventually finishing in a tie for third, his best finish on Tour in 15 months. But the close call validated what he had said a day earlier: “I’m going to win [soon]. It’s a matter of time.”

That’s bold talk for an arthritic 47-year-old who hasn’t won since the 2013 Open Championship – or a longer victory drought than Tiger Woods. And yet it isn’t totally unrealistic. His putting has been solid for a few years. His short game still has plenty of magic. And his iron play has remained sharp.

Phil is right: It now seems like just a “matter of time” before he wins again. 


1. Steele knows all about fast starts, winning the Tour's season opener for the second consecutive year. (In 2015, he held the 54-hole lead there before a closing 76.)

Over his last eight rounds at Silverado, Steele is a whopping 33 under par. This time, he used a final-round 69 in difficult, windy conditions to pass rookie Tyler Duncan and win for the third time on Tour.

2. Steele used last year’s Safeway victory to propel him to his best season on Tour. Inside the top-30 bubble for much of the season, he was bumped out of a spot at the Tour Championship (33rd) with a poor playoff performance, where he didn’t finish better than 44th in three events.

Looking back on a season that ended three weeks ago, Steele said he played too conservatively in trying to accrue as many FedExCup points as possible.

“I wasn’t trying to win,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to play my best. I was just trying to get whatever points I could, and I played to that level where you could just barely miss. I’m definitely going to try not to do that this year.”  

3. Those in Napa had a scare after the final round, after several massive wildfires burned out of control in Napa and Sonoma counties and forced the evacuation of the surrounding neighborhoods and those staying at Silverado Resort.

It was a frightening situation, with 30-40 mph winds and a hell storm of smoke and ash.  


4. Mickelson might have scared the leaders, but he couldn’t finish off his Sunday charge.

Trailing by one heading into the final two holes – a short par 4 and a reachable par 5 – Mickelson hit his iron tee shot into the left rough, where he was blocked out by a tall tree. His approach shot expired in the greenside bunker, and he failed to get up and down, missing an 8-footer – the kind of sloppy, unforced error he’s made too many times over the past four-plus years.  

Mickelson rebounded with a birdie on the home hole, but his chance to win was gone.

5. That said, it was remarkable that Mickelson even had a shot, what with his putrid driving performance last week at Silverado.

For the week, he hit only 15 of 56 fairways – tied for the worst in the field.

At least he kept his sense of humor about it. After finally finding the fairway on the 16th hole, he turned to the gallery and joked, “Let’s take a moment to admire the fact I just hit a fairway.”

6. The reigning Player of the Year unwittingly thrust himself into a debate about player integrity Sunday night.

During the final round, Tony Finau, who was only two shots off the lead, used playing partner Jason Kokrak’s ball as a backstop as he played a difficult bunker shot from a plugged lie. With no chance to get it close – even Finau admitted that his ball would have scurried well past the cup – he played his shot before Kokrak, who had chipped from 30 yards away, marked his ball.

“It was a bonus to hit his ball,” Finau said afterward. “I used the rules to my advantage, I guess.”

But it was seen by many as the latest example of Tour players who are more interested in being chummy with each other than protecting the field. Yes, it required incredible accuracy to hit Kokrak’s ball, but not everyone who played from that bunker last week had the benefit of a ball sitting 2 feet from the cup.

Had Finau gone on to win, the controversy would have marred the outcome.  

On Twitter, Justin Thomas said that it was “ridiculous” that these types of situations are even scrutinized, that it's more of a pace-of-play issue, and that “if I want to rush and hit a shot for that reason” – to use the ball on the green as a backboard – “it’s my right.”

Except that’s not true. According to Rule 22-1, a tournament committee can disqualify any player(s) they determine agreed not to lift a ball that might assist another competitor.

Will Tour officials start cracking down on the buddy system? 



7. See you in January, Rory.

In a round that epitomized his entire year, McIlroy wrapped up 2017 with an even-par 72 and a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He finished the year with seven top-10s in 18 worldwide starts … but no victories, and in a year when Thomas asserted himself as golf’s newest star, Dustin Johnson held onto the No. 1 ranking for much of the year and Jordan Spieth added another major, there’s no other way to describe McIlroy’s 2017 campaign: It was wildly disappointing.

It was his first year since 2008 that he didn't win at least once.

“Even though I haven’t won and the results haven’t been what I wanted," he said, "I can still salvage something from the rest of the year, even though I am not playing.” 

And so now comes a three-month break, where McIlroy will shelve the clubs and focus on resting and rehabbing his injured rib, which has affected him since January.

Was that the only reason for his relative struggles this year? Of course not. He was one of the worst wedge players on Tour last season, ranking 190th in approaches from 125-150 yards, and he was the 140th-best putter.

Those are weaknesses that the other top players in the world don’t have. If he doesn’t improve in those areas by the time he returns in January, it could be another underwhelming year. 

8. Tyrrell Hatton won the Dunhill Links at 24 under, but the biggest drama Sunday was whether golf’s magic number would be shot on one of golf’s most famous courses.  

Prior to Sunday, the lowest round ever recorded on the Old Course at St. Andrews was a 10-under 62 (by Curtis Strange, in 1987).

Victor Dubuission was the first to challenge that mark in the final round (before settling for a 63), and Ross Fisher later breezed through with a bogey-free 61 in which he three-putted for par on the final hole from the Valley of Sin.  

There have been 13,146 professional rounds played on the Old Course. Fisher now owns the lowest score. 

And not everyone was pleased.


9. With the sports world focused on a wild college football Saturday, Tiger Woods couldn’t help himself, teasing fans with a slow-motion video of a "smooth" iron shot.

Woods said at the Presidents Cup that he was only able to hit 60-yard shots, per his doctor’s instructions, but he clearly was given the green light for some heavier lifting.

We’ll leave the swing analysis to our Golf Channel colleagues, but it’s an encouraging sign, given his uncertain future. The Masters is only 177 days away, you know … 

10. The European Tour will reportedly test a 40-second shot clock at an event next summer.

The Austrian Open will be the first event with a shot-clock system that will immediately penalize any player who takes longer than 40 seconds to play a shot. An official will follow every group in the reduced field.

It likely won’t become the norm, because it’d be unrealistic with a full field and major stakes, but it’s a worthwhile experiment to see how much of a difference it can make. 



11. Marc Leishman’s American wife Audrey posted some thoughtful comments on the boorish fan behavior at the recent Presidents Cup.

Taking exception with the 7 a.m. drinking, cheering for missed putts, heckling of the wives and girlfriends, and even the overly aggressive tone from the American players and commentators, Leishman concluded that the week was “hard on her heart” and golf fans did themselves no favors at Liberty National.

There was similar disappointment expressed from those who attended the Ryder Cup last fall at Hazeltine, and it’s not hard to imagine how insane the experience will be at Bethpage Black in 2024.

It makes for a huge home-course advantage, but the PGA Tour and PGA of America executives might want to consider a limit on alcohol sizes or crowd size. 

12. There are fewer spots available for the men’s and women’s U.S. Open qualifiers, after the USGA offered two more spots to the previous year’s U.S. Junior and Mid-Amateur champions.

While that’s two fewer spots for someone who could actually win the tournament, it was a no-brainer for the USGA, as this move helps validate those big-time tournaments.

It never made sense that the Mid-Am champ got into the Masters but not the USGA’s own premier event.

13. Leading by nine with one round to go, Cristie Kerr completed a wire-to-wire victory at the French Open, her first on the Ladies European Tour.

Afterward, though, she broke down in tears, after losing a friend from back home and Ladies European Tour player Cassandra Kirkland to cancer. Kerr made a $5,000 donation to the charity in Kirkland’s name.

“I’m sorry, but f--- cancer,” she said. “I played for them, and I played for myself. I’m so sorry to say the F-word, but I’m so sick of losing people to cancer. … I’ve been having an angel on my shoulder all week. I was on a mission and I got it done for them.”  

There’s so much to take in here, from the facial expressions to the golf-themed dance moves. But it’d be a miracle if any of us move this well at age 81 … 

This week's award winners ... 


It’s Not That Easy: Tyler Duncan. Taking the 54-hole lead at the Safeway in just his second career Tour start, the rookie crashed back to reality with three consecutive bogeys to start his final round and a closing 75. The tie for fifth was still a good start in helping him try and keep his card for next season. 

Easy to Root For: A.J. McInerney. The Web.com Tour player recounted last week his harrowing experience of attending the country music concert in Las Vegas. Fortunately, he and his friends survived the shooting.

Honest … To A Fault?: David Howell’s caddie. On the bag for the first time with his new boss, Howell’s looper informed him while playing the 18th hole that he committed a rules violation by playing in front of the tee markers. Perhaps the caddie should have piped up earlier, but Howell wasn’t upset: “I patted him on the back and told him he’s just done a good honest thing. It’s not easy doing that when it hurts your own pocket.” 

At Least One Tiger Event is Fine: Hero World Challenge. Woods’ D.C.-area event is in a world of trouble, with Congressional backing out and no title sponsor for 2018, but he’s had little trouble attracting stars to the Bahamas in December for an exhibition with world-ranking points. Fourteen of the top 20 players in the world are expected to tee it up at the Hero. 

Signs of Life: Hunter Mahan. Lost for the past few years, he lost his PGA Tour card and will be playing this season on the Web.com circuit, but he continued to show signs of progress with a T-13 in Napa. That followed a T-16 in the regular-season finale in Greensboro. 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Sam Saunders. Riding high after earning his Tour card at the Web.com Tour Championship (where he opened with a 59 and tied for second), he couldn’t keep the momentum rolling on the West Coast. With rounds of 74-70, he missed the cut in the season opener. Sigh. 

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Kupcho wins NCAA title; final eight teams set

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 1:55 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – On one of the more nerve-racking days of the college golf season two important honors were up for grabs at Karsten Creek – the individual title, and the top eight teams attempting to qualify for match play.

Here’s the lowdown of what happened Monday at the women’s NCAA Championship:

Individual leaderboard: Kupcho, Wake Forest (-8); Andrea Lee, Stanford (-6); Bianca Pagdanganan, Arizona (-6); Cheyenne Knight, Alabama (-5); Morgane Metraux, Florida State (-4); Jaclyn Lee, Ohio State (-3).

Team leaderboard: UCLA (+9), Alabama (+9), USC (+16), Northwestern (+21), Stanford (+28), Duke (+30), Kent State (+32), Arizona (+33).

What it means: Let’s start with the individual race. Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho was absolutely devastated a year ago when she made triple bogey on the 17th hole of the final round and lost the individual title by a shot. She was bound not to let that happen again and this year she made five birdies on the last eight holes to win by two shots. Kupcho is the first player with three consecutive top-six finishes at the NCAA Championship since Duke’s Amanda Blumenherst (2007-09).

The team race took an unexpected turn at the end of the day when Arizona junior Bianca Pangdaganan made eagle on the last hole to vault the Wildcats into an eighth-place tie, meaning they would enter a playoff with Baylor for the final spot in the match play portion of the championship.

The Wildcats got a reprieve because they played terribly for most of the day and dropped from third place to 10th at one point. In the playoff, Arizona ultimately defeated Baylor in an anticlimactic finish.

Best of the rest: Stanford played horribly the first round. So bad that it almost seemed like the Cardinal shot itself out of the championship. But they played steady over the next three days and ended with the fifth seed. This is the fourth year in a row that Stanford has advanced to match play.

Round of the day: USC shot a 5-under total on Monday, the best round of the day by six shots. They landed as the third seed and will play Duke in the quarterfinals.

Stanford sophomore Andrea Lee shot a 7-under 65, the best score of the day by three shots. Lee made seven birdies and no bogeys and vaulted up the leaderboard 11 spots to end in a tie for sixth place.

Biggest disappointment: Arkansas, the second-ranked team in the country, missed qualifying for match play by one shot. The Razorbacks shot a 20-over 308 in Round 1 and played only slightly better with a 300 in the second round. Consecutive 1-over-par 289 scores were a good try, but results in a huge miss for a team expected to contend for the team title.

Here are Tuesday morning's quarterfinal matchups:

Cut and not so dry: Shinnecock back with a new look

By Bradley S. KleinMay 21, 2018, 9:22 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - The last time the USGA was here at Shinnecock Hills, it nearly had a train wreck on its hands. The last day of the 2004 U.S. Open was so dry and the turf so firm that play was stopped in the morning just to get some water on the greens.

The lessons learned from that debacle are now on display three weeks before Shinnecock gets another U.S. Open. And this time, the USGA is prepared with all sorts of high-tech devices – firmness meters, moisture monitors, drone technology to measure turf temperatures - to make sure the playing surfaces remain healthy.

Players, meanwhile, will face a golf course that is 548 yards longer than a dozen years ago, topping out now at 7,445 yards for the par-70 layout. Ten new tees have assured that the course will keep up with technology and distance. They’ll also require players to contend with the bunkering and fairway contours that designer William Flynn built when he renovated Shinnecock Hills in 1930.

And those greens will not only have more consistent turf cover, they’ll also be a lot larger – like 30 percent bigger. What were mere circles averaging 5,500 square feet are now about 7,200 square feet. That will mean more hole locations, more variety to the setup, and more rollouts into surrounding low-mow areas. Slight misses that ended up in nearby rough will now be down in hollows many more yards away.



The course now has an open, windswept look to it – what longtime green chairman Charles Stevenson calls “a maritime grassland.” You don’t get to be green chairman of a prominent club for 37 years without learning how to deal with politics, and he’s been a master while implementing a long-term plan to bring the course back to its original scale and angles. In some cases that required moving tees back to recapture the threat posed by cross-bunkers and steep falloffs. Two of the bigger extensions come on the layout’s two par-5s, which got longer by an average of 60 yards. The downwind, downhill par-4 14th hole got stretched 73 yards and now plays 519.

“We want players to hit driver,” says USGA executive director Mike Davis.

The also want to place an emphasis upon strategy and position, which is why, after the club had expanded its fairways the last few years, the USGA decided last September to bring them back in somewhat.

The decision followed analysis of the driving statistics from the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where wide fairways proved very hospitable to play. Players who made the cut averaged hitting 77 percent of fairways and driving it 308 yards off the tee. There was little fear of the rough there. “We didn’t get the wind and the dry conditions we anticipated,” says Davis.

Moving ahead to Shinnecock Hills, he and the setup staff wanted to balance the need for architectural variety with a traditional emphasis upon accuracy. So they narrowed the fairways at Shinnecock Hills last September by seven acres. They are still much wider than in the U.S. Opens played here in 1986, 1995 and 2004, when the average width of the landing areas was 26.6 yards. “Now they are 41.6 yards across on average,” said Davis. So they are much wider than in previous U.S. Opens and make better use of the existing contours and bring lateral bunkers into play.

This time around, with more consistent, healthier turf cover and greens that have plenty of nutrients and moisture, the USGA should be able to avoid the disastrous drying out of the putting surfaces that threatened that final day in 2004. The players will also face a golf course that is more consistent than ever with its intended width, design, variety and challenge. That should make for a more interesting golf course and, by turn, more interesting viewing.

Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys Documentary Series Continues Tonight at 8 p.m. ET on Golf Channel

By Golf Channel Public RelationsMay 21, 2018, 8:27 pm

Monday’s third installment in the four-part series focuses on the Big 12 Championships and NCAA Regional Championships

Reigning NCAA National Champion Oklahoma Sooners and Top-Ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys Prepare for Showdown Friday at the 2018 NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships

ORLANDO, Fla., May 21, 2018 – Tonight’s third episode of the critically-acclaimed documentary series Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys (8 p.m. ET) wraps up the conclusion of the 2017-18 regular season and turns to post-season play for the top-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys and reigning NCAA National Champions Oklahoma Sooners.

Drivenwill take viewers behind the scenes with the conclusion of regular season play; the Big 12 Conference Championship, where Oklahoma captured their first conference championship since 2006; and the NCAA Regional Championships, where Oklahoma State and Oklahoma – both No. 1 seeds in their respective regionals – were both victorious and punched tickets to the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships.

The episode also will set up the showdown starting Friday at the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships, where Oklahoma State will attempt to dethrone Oklahoma as national champions, all taking place at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., Oklahoma State’s home course. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will be paired together for the first two rounds of individual stroke play Friday and Saturday.

Driven’s fourth and final episode will air on NBC on Saturday, June 16 at 5 p.m. ET, recapping all of the action at the NCAA Golf National Championships and the two programs’ 2017-18 golf seasons.

Golf Channel is airing back-to-back weeks of live tournament coverage of the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships. Golf Channel’s coverage begins today (4-8 p.m. ET) to crown the individual national champion and track the teams attempting to qualify for the eight-team match play championship. Golf Channel’s coverage on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 22-23 will include all three rounds of team match play, ultimately crowning a team national champion. Next week (May 28-30), the same programming schedule will take place for the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships.

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Mann's impact on LPGA felt on and off course

By Randall MellMay 21, 2018, 8:00 pm

Just a few short hours after winning the U.S. Women’s Open in 1965, Carol Mann was surprised at the turn of emotion within her.

She called her friend and mentor, Marlene Hagge, and asked if they could meet for a glass of wine at the Atlantic City hotel where players were staying.

Hagge was one of the LPGA’s 13 founders.

“I’ll never forget Carol saying, `I don’t mean to sound funny, because winning the U.S. Women’s Open was wonderful, but is that all there is?’” Hagge told GolfChannel.com Monday after hearing news of Mann’s death.

It was one of the many defining moments in Mann’s rich life, because it revealed her relentless search for meaning, within the game, and beyond it.

Mann, an LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer, died at her home in Woodlands, Texas. She was 77.

“Carol was a very good friend, and a really sincere and good person,” Hagge said. “She was intelligent and insightful, the kind of person who always wanted to know the `why’ of things. She wasn’t content to be told this is the way something is. She had to know why.”

Mann’s search for meaning in the sport took her outside the ropes. She was a towering presence, at 6 feet 3, but her stature was more than physical. She won 38 LPGA titles, two of them major championships, but her mark on the game extended to her leadership skills.

From 1973 to ’76, Mann was president of the LPGA, leading the tour in challenging times.

“Carol was a significant player in the growth of the LPGA,” LPGA Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said. “She was involved when some big changes came to the tour. She was a talented woman beyond her golf.”

Mann oversaw the hiring of the tour’s first commissioner, Ray Volpe, a former NFL marketing executive. Their moves helped steer the tour out of the financial problems that threatened it.

“Carol was willing to do something nobody else wanted to do and nobody else had the brains to do,” Hagge said. “She loved the LPGA, and she wanted to make it a better place.”

At the cost of her own career.

Juggling the tour presidency with a playing career wasn’t easy.

“My golf seemed so secondary while I was president in 1975,” Mann once told author Liz Kahn for the book, “The LPGA: The Unauthorized Version.”

That was a pivotal year in tour history, with the LPGA struggling with an ongoing lawsuit, a legal battle Jane Blalock won when the courts ruled the tour violated antitrust laws by suspending her. With the tour appealing its legal defeats, a protracted battle threatened to cripple LPGA finances.

It was also the year Mann led the hiring of Volpe.

“I could barely get to the course in time to tee off,” Mann told Kahn. “There was so much other activity. I burned myself out a bit.”

Still, Mann somehow managed to win four times in ’75, but she wouldn’t again in the years that followed.

“I had launched a ship, and then I had to let it go, which was not easy,” she said of leaving her tour president’s role. “I was depressed thinking that no one on tour would say thank you to me for what I had done. Some would, others never would, and 10 years later players wouldn’t give a damn.”

Mann’s reign as a player and a leader aren’t fully appreciated today.

“A lot of players in the ‘60s haven’t been fully appreciated,” Rankin said.

Mann won 10 LPGA titles in 1968, the same year Kathy Whitworth won 10. Mann won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average that year. She won eight times in ’69 and was the tour’s leading money winner.

“Those were the toughest times to win,” Hagge said. “You had Kathy Whitworth and Mickey Wright, who is the best player I ever saw, and I saw them all. You had so many great players you had to beat in that era.”

Mann’s good humor came out when she was asked about her height.

“I’m 5-foot-15,” she liked to say.

After retiring from the tour at 40, Mann stayed active in golf, working as a TV analyst for NBC, ABC and ESPN. She found meaning in her Christian faith, and she was active supporting female athletes. She was president of the Women’s Sports Foundation for five years. She wrote a guest column for the Houston Post. She devoted herself to the World Golf Hall of Fame, taught at Woodlands Country Club and became the first woman to own and operate a course design and management firm.

“I’ve walked on the moon,” Mann once said. “I enjoy being a person, and getting old and dying are fine. I never think how people will remember Carol Mann. The mark I made is an intimate satisfaction.”