Matthew Wolff and Davis Riley Getty Images

NCAA Men's takeaways: Four for future success

By Ryan LavnerMay 31, 2018, 3:21 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – The lopsided NCAA final between Oklahoma State and Alabama – 5-0, in favor of the host Cowboys – didn’t properly reflect the quality of both teams at Karsten Creek.

Here are four short stories of players who, in a few years, will be playing for big checks on Sundays.



A FEW YEARS AGO, Oklahoma State coach Alan Bratton was hosting a recruit for lunch when the prospect brought up the results of a recent junior event. He had finished second to a Southern California kid who had shot 61.

“I inched forward in my seat and said, ‘Oh, really? What’s his name?’” Bratton recalled.

His name was Matthew Wolff – the breakout star of this NCAA Championship.

Bratton told his then-assistant Brian Guetz to follow Wolff at an upcoming AJGA invitational. Guetz texted him a video of Wolff’s homemade, Jim Furyk-esque backswing and wrote, “Wait till you see this. You’re going to love it.”

Bratton, a former All-Everything at Oklahoma State who helped the team capture the 1995 NCAA title, approaches recruiting from a player’s perspective.

“I’m looking for things I’ve seen before, and a swing I think will repeat and that the kid owns,” Bratton said. “And Matt had that.”

Wolff might resemble a home-run hitter at the top of his backswing, but in the impact area – the only area that matters – few in college golf are better. A biomechanist from Cal State Fullerton recently found that Wolff pressures the ground (and thus creates his incredible power) better than anyone he’d ever studied, including PGA Tour players.

“He’s a really, really good ball-striker,” Bratton said.

An example: On the par-5 ninth hole during stroke play, Bratton and Wolff discussed starting a driver at a fan in an orange shirt off in the distance. Wolff blasted it 375 yards, and “as it’s coming down,” Bratton said, “I told Matt, ‘Wait for it. Wait for it.’ And it came down right on top of him. Like, do you realize how narrow a person is?”

Wolff became a first-team All-American this season, and was named the National Freshman of the Year, despite failing to win an event; he finished runner-up in four of the biggest tournaments of the season. Wolff now also has a career highlight, as he earned the clinching point for the Cowboys as they captured their first NCAA title in 12 years. 

Wolff’s unique swing, ability to shoot low scores and infectious love for the game immediately reminded Bratton of another OSU legend: Rickie Fowler.

“He’s going to be really, really special,” Bratton said.



LAST WEEKEND IN TUSCALOOSA, Alabama coach Jay Seawell set up a private meeting between his former and current stars.

Because when Justin Thomas talks, Davis Riley listens.

“I’ve always tried to bleed the two of them together,” Seawell said. “Not only is Justin No. 1 in the world, but he has an incredible golf IQ. It’s off the charts, and that’s where Davis needs to learn the most. The more I can put him around that, the better off he’ll be.”

Seawell said that Riley, a junior, is “as good as anybody who has played at our place physically.”

And that includes Thomas.

Riley was a top recruit who has high finishes in every major amateur event. He even looks the part of a future Tour pro, with the perfect build and gorgeous swing.

The coaches recently ran him through a series of ball tests using TrackMan. Riley hit 25 balls with a 6-iron – and had only a yard and a half of variance.

“I’m like, My word,” Seawell said. “You’re going to see Davis Riley a lot on TV in the future. It’s a high-quality game.”



BRATTON HAD FLOWN TO Scotland to watch another recruit at the European Boys Championship when he stumbled into a newcomer on the Norwegian national team.

It was his first introduction to Viktor Hovland.

“I know what good is when I see it,” Bratton said, “and he was good.”

Bratton had already secured the commitment of another player on that squad, Kristoffer Ventura, and he hoped that decision would influence Hovland two years later.

Ventura was the player, Bratton said, who coaches will “pick out every time.” He had a sterling record. Bombed it off the tee. Could hit every shot.

Hovland wasn’t yet established, but he made such an impression on Bratton that he didn’t have a fallback option for the class of 2020 – Hovland was the only player he wanted. Hovland visited Stillwater a week before signing day.

“We waited on him,” Bratton said, “and fortunately we were able to get him.”

Hovland and Wolff formed a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of a deep, talented roster, with both earning first-team All-American honors.

Bratton sent off Hovland first in the championship match, mostly because his sophomore doesn’t want much time to warm up. He didn’t hit any balls between the quarterfinals and semifinals on Tuesday, and he normally doesn’t last more than 20 minutes on the range.

The reason?

“He knows he’s ready,” Bratton said. “If you’ve got it, you’ve got it.”



SENIOR JONATHAN HARDEE LANDED in the anchor spot in Alabama’s championship lineup, and it had the feel of a career achievement award.

During his freshman season, Hardee partially dislocated his right shoulder while bow hunting. He nursed the sprain for six weeks, but he continued to play through the discomfort until he fully tore his labrum, all the way down to his biceps, during the spring semester of his sophomore season.

Seawell told Hardee that the prudent move was to undergo surgery so he could return in time for the start of the fall season. But Hardee wouldn’t listen.

“I’m playing for my team,” he said.

Held together by black athletic tape, Hardee was playing the second round of the 2016 NCAA regionals when his shoulder popped out on the 18th hole. The school trainer walked up to Seawell and said that he didn’t think Hardee would be able to continue. This happened before the substitution rule was implemented, so Seawell faced the prospect of having to count each of his four remaining players’ scores, with no wiggle room in the high-stress NCAA Championship qualifier.

The trainer later returned with a different message.

“That boy is going to play,” he said.

Two weeks later, at nationals, Hardee was in sixth place individually, and the Crimson Tide were hovering around the top-8 team cut line, when his shoulder popped out again while he tried to gouge out of deep rough. He couldn’t feel his arm the rest of the round. He came home in 44, with tears in his eyes.  

“It hurt so freakin’ bad,” Seawell said, “and he’s fighting with all that he can.”

A week later, Hardee underwent surgery to repair the torn labrum – the same injury that former Texas star Beau Hossler had suffered, in his left shoulder, that led him to bow out of the 2016 championship match – and missed the next 10 months.

Without Hardee in the lineup the following season, Alabama was relying on a walk-on, ranked 63rd in the country and in danger of missing the postseason because of the .500 rule. Hardee was a steadying presence upon his return, and he finished inside the top 20 at last year’s NCAAs in one of his first events back.

The final against Oklahoma State didn’t hinge on Hardee’s match – and in fact, he was steamrolled, 8 and 7, by a red-hot Zach Bauchou – but there was no one Seawell would rather have had in the anchor spot.

“He deserved that spotlight for what he’s done and how he’s done it,” Seawell said. “He’s tough. He’s strong. He’s bigger than his shoulders are wide.”

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Langer named Payne Stewart Award recipient

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 20, 2018, 12:00 pm

Bernhard Langer has been named the 2018 recipient of the Payne Stewart Award, presented annually by the PGA Tour to the golfer who best exemplifies the values and character of the three-time major champion who died in a 1999 airplane crash.

Langer, who turns 61 later this month, won the Masters twice before becoming one of the most dominant players in PGA Tour Champions history. He has won 37 times on the over-50 circuit, second most all-time, including 10 major championships. In 2002, he became the first German player ever inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

But it's his "supreme level of character and sportsmanship" that led to the award, which he'll receive at a special ceremony during next month's Tour Championship.

"We are all so proud of Payne Stewart and the husband and father he was, and the player he was and the character he had," Langer said in a release. "To now be receiving the Payne Stewart Award, I feel extremely honored. I know there are many, many other guys that deserve it as much if not more than me, and I'm thrilled to receive it."

The Payne Stewart Award was created in 2000, one year after Stewart died as the reigning U.S. Open champion. Past recipients include Ben Crenshaw (2001), Gary Player (2006), Ernie Els (2015) and Stewart Cink (2017).

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Im wins Web.com regular-season finale; 25 get Tour cards

By Associated PressAugust 20, 2018, 11:15 am

NORTH PLAINS, Ore. – Sungjae Im won the regular-season ending Portland Open on Sunday to earn one of 25 PGA Tour cards and become the first player to top the Web.com Tour money list wire-to-wire.

Im closed with a 4-under 67 on Pumpkin Ridge's Witch Hollow course for a four-stroke victory over John Chin. The 20-year-old South Korean player earned $144,000 to finish the season with $534,326.

Im finished at 18-under 266. He also won the season-opening event in the Bahamas and had three second-place finishes.


Web.com Tour final regular season money list

Full-field scores from the WinCo Foods Portland Open


Chin shot a 66. He was the only player to move into the top 25 on the money list, earning $86,400 to go from 41st to 10th with $207,909.

Two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton was third at 13 under after a 66. Jim Knous (67) and Derek Ernst (71) were 12 under, a stroke ahead of Kevin Dougherty (70) and Curtis Luck (69).

Dougherty finished 26th on the money list, $207,909 behind Hank Lebioda for the final PGA Tour card.

Ben Taylor dropped out of the top 25, going from 25th to 29th after missing the cut.

Twenty-five more PGA Tour cards will be awarded in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals.

Here's a look at the regular-season top 25 (*=PGA Tour rookie in 2018-19):

The 25

Hometown

Stats

  1. 1. Sungjae Im*

Jeju, South Korea

Two wins

  1. 2. Sam Burns

Shreveport, La.

One win, five top-10s

  1. 3. Scott Langley

Barrington, Ill.

One win, five top-10s

  1. 4. Martin Trainer*

Palo Alto, Calif.

Two wins

  1. 5. K.H. Lee*

Ilsan, South Korea

Three runners-up

  1. 6. Cameron Champ*

Sacramento, Calif.

One win, five top-10s

  1. 7. Sebastian Muñoz

Bogota, Colombia

Six top-10 finishes

  1. 8. Anders Albertson*

Alpharetta, Ga.

One win, two top-10s

  1. 9. Chase Wright*

Muncie, Ind.

One win, four top-10s

  1. 10. John Chin*

Temecula, Calif.

Three top-10s

  1. 11. Kyle Jones*

Snowflake, Ariz.

Four top-10s

  1. 12. Jose de Jesus Rodriguez*

Irapuato, Mexico

One win, three top-10s

  1. 13. Adam Long*

St. Louis, Mo.

Five top-10s

  1. 14. Adam Svensson*

Surrey, B.C., Canada

One win, four top-10s

  1. 15. Josh Teater

Lexington, Ky.

Three top-10s

  1. 16. Wyndham Clark*

Denver, Colo.

Four top-10s

  1. 17. Julián Etulain

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Three top-10s

  1. 18. Alex Prugh

Las Vegas, Nev.

Four top-10s

  1. 19. Joey Garber*

Petoskey, Mich.

One win, three top-10s

  1. 20. Chris Thompson*

Lawrence, Kan.

Five top-10s

  1. 21. Carlos Ortiz

Jalisco, Mexico

Four top-10s

  1. 22. Brady Schnell*

Mesa, Ariz.

One win, two top-10s

  1. 23. Kramer Hickok*

Dallas, Tex.

Four top-10s

  1. 24. Roberto Castro

Atlanta, Ga.

Five top-10s

  1. 25. Hank Lebioda*

Orlando, Fla.

Four top-10s

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Hovland finally puts 'it' all together for U.S. Am title

By Ryan LavnerAugust 20, 2018, 1:35 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Viktor Hovland had an hour and a half to decompress and regroup for the afternoon session of the 36-hole final at the 118th U.S. Amateur. During that downtime, he scrolled on his phone for 20 minutes, uninterrupted, before he finally headed toward the buffet line in The Lodge.

Every college kid is glued to his iPhone, of course, but Hovland wasn’t replying to texts or sifting through his Twitter mentions or checking out Snapchat.

He was reading a philosophical debate about affirmative action.

“He’s constantly on his phone, reading articles, gaining knowledge, and there have been times this year that it’s 20 minutes before his tee time and he hasn’t warmed up yet, so we’re thinking, ‘Is Viktor going to warm up today or is he going to roll out there cold?’” said Oklahoma State assistant coach Donnie Darr. “He would go to the range, literally hit 10 to 12 balls and off to the first tee he’d go. He knows what he’s working on – he’s not down there searching.”

Or as OSU head coach Alan Bratton put it: “If you’ve got it, you’ve got it.”

Hovland, 20, might be more interested in worldly matters than sports, but his own success story might pop up on his news feed Sunday night.

With one last commanding performance at Pebble Beach, he capped a near-perfect week by defeating Devon Bling, 6 and 5, to win the U.S. Amateur.

The new Prince of Pebble’s dominance this week was astounding.

The fifth-ranked amateur in the world, Hovland never trailed during his final 86 holes and was 1 down only once in six matches. His 104 total holes tied the fewest played by a U.S. Amateur champion since 1979.

You’d never have known it was just the Norwegian’s second career victory – at any level.  

“It wasn’t anything flashy,” he said afterward, “but this week it all came together, which is really cool.”

His championship match against the 302nd-ranked Bling wasn’t flawless, but he also didn’t need to be.

Hovland so thoroughly trounced his opponents this week that he played 15 fewer holes than Bling, a sophomore at UCLA. In front of a few dozen family and friends, Bling played the best round of his life in the semifinals, but he was 5 over par during the morning 18 Sunday and managed only one non-par 5 birdie all day.  

Hovland led outright for all but two holes, taking the lead for good after the signature shot of the championship. On the fourth hole, he blasted his tee shot over the cliff, into an ice plant. After sliding down the embankment to reach his ball, he saw it sitting perfectly.

“It was a hit-and-hope moment,” he said, “and it ended up pretty sweet.”

Hovland chopped out to 3 feet, the unlikely birdie jump-starting his day. He took a 4-up lead into the intermission and never came close to surrendering that advantage during the afternoon.


 

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos


His eventual 6-and-5 decision was the second-largest margin of victory since 2010.

“He’s been on a steady rise,” said Bratton, who caddied for Hovland this week, “and I can’t wait to see where he goes from here.”

Bratton was also on the bag for the 2010 U.S. Amateur champion at Chambers Bay. But unlike Peter Uihlein, the top amateur who wanted to play for the top program, Hovland was an underrated addition in Stillwater.

In the summer of 2013, Bratton took a trip to Scotland to watch one of his prized recruits, Kristoffer Ventura, at the European Boys Championship. While there Bratton watched the rest of the Norwegian national team practice, and the newest and youngest member of that squad stood out.

“I promise you I know what good is when I see it,” Bratton said, “and Viktor was good.”

Still, Hovland never won as a junior – a common theme, until recently – and was lightly recruited through his senior year of high school, only receiving interest from Texas Tech, TCU, Tennessee and Bratton’s Oklahoma State program. Though many of his friends chose the pro route, Hovland was dead set on college. “I just didn’t think I was good enough for the pros,” he said.

During recruiting, Hovland would talk on the phone with Bratton for hours, about almost everything – TV shows, politics, philosophy. He devours podcasts. He’s an ardent movie critic. He extensively researches and then welcomes a debate on the day’s hottest topics.

Even without any tournament titles on Hovland’s résumé, Bratton was so smitten that he didn’t bother to bring in another recruit for the class of 2016. He was all-in, with no backup option, and Hovland visited the campus for the first time a week before signing day his senior year.

The gamble paid off.

Hovland closed out his freshman season with five consecutive top-10s and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors, but as a sophomore he truly became an elite player.

During his freshman year his swing was too shallow and he struggled to get the ball airborne. At OSU’s event at Southern Highlands in Las Vegas, Hovland bubbled with frustration when he couldn’t stop his shots on the firm greens.

“For the life of me I could hit a 3-wood off the deck,” he said. “It was disgusting to look at.”

He finally had enough last fall, when he flew to South Florida to see his swing coach, Denny Lucas, for three days over the Thanksgiving break. They worked to get Hovland more into his left side at impact and compress the ball. 

The difference was significant and immediate. He won his first college tournament in the spring, only once placed outside the top 25 in an event and became a first-team All-American. He also saved his best for the biggest stages, leading off the Cowboys in match play and going a perfect 3-0 as they cruised to the NCAA title.

“Prior to that he got a lot out of that because his mis-hits were so good, but his good shots are way better now,” Darr said. “His ball flight is higher, so he’s more versatile as a player. He can hit it farther and hit it both ways. I think you’re going to see he’s going to win a lot of tournaments moving forward.” 

This summer, Hovland reached the Round of 16 at the British Amateur and tied for second at the European Amateur before his resounding performance here at Pebble Beach. He’s the first player since Florida’s Bubba Dickerson (2001) to be part of a NCAA title team and win the U.S. Amateur in the same year.

“I always thought I had a pretty good vocabulary,” Hovland said, “but I’m at a loss for words. It’s really special. I just hope it’s the start of something great.” 

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After Further Review: Women's No. 1 ranking a precarious perch

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 20, 2018, 1:20 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On musical chairs at the top of the women's rankings ...

Women’s golf is a game of musical chairs these days. The Rolex Women’s World Rankings are a testament to the depth of the tour, with seven changes at No. 1 in the last 14 months. Ariya Jutanugarn looked as if she might be on her way to  dominating this season, but her latest run at No. 1 lasted three weeks. Sung Hyun Park’s victory Sunday at the Indy Women in Tech Championship helped her take back the top ranking. Park lasted a week at No. 1 the first time she got there late last fall. Jutanugarn lasted two weeks at No. 1 the first time she got there last summer. Sung Hyun Park, Jutanugarn, Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Lydia Ko have all taken turns at the top since June of 2017, and there’s no reason to believe anyone should get too comfortable on the game’s throne the rest of the year. - Randall Mell


On a promising day for U.S. Ryder Cup chances ...

This year’s Ryder Cup is still weeks away, but Sunday was a good day for the U.S. team.

Brandt Snedeker birdied two of his last four holes to win the Wyndham Championship and set the stage for a potential captain’s pick and his third start at the biennial matches.

If U.S. captain Jim Furyk can rest easier with his four picks coming into focus, he can also take solace in Webb Simpson’s play at the Wyndham. Simpson, who held on to the final automatic qualifying spot at the PGA Championship, closed with a 62 at Sedgefield Country Club to finish tied for second place.

And Furyk shot a final-round 63 to tie for fourth at the Wyndham, so a good day all the way around for the U.S. captain. - Rex Hoggard