Rahm admits he needs to work on anger management

By Ryan LavnerJune 17, 2017, 2:04 am

ERIN, Wis. – The past month has served as a rude reminder that Jon Rahm’s pro career won’t always go so perfectly.

Prior to this rough patch, many wondered if the young Spanish star would ever encounter adversity. In the past 52 weeks, he has enjoyed a meteoric rise, from the low amateur at the U.S. Open to the 10th-ranked player in the world. He has won once, contended for titles as often as any player in the world and become one of the biggest challengers to Dustin Johnson’s throne.

But recently the 22-year-old has also begun to show his age.

It started with a meltdown at The Players, where he shot 82 and missed the secondary cut. It continued at the Memorial, where his emotional outbursts drew attention on social media. And it came to a head at this week’s U.S. Open, where Rahm went 76-73 and joined several big names in missing the cut. Even worse, on the back nine Friday, he dropped F-bombs, slammed clubs and whacked a tee sign – all on camera.

Neither of Rahm’s fellow playing competitors said the flare-ups were distracting.

“I understand it,” Rickie Fowler said. “It’s tough out there.”

Added Hideki Matsuyama: “I knew he’s an emotional player, and sometimes he wears it on his sleeve. I was not expecting it, but it wasn’t a problem at all.”

It might be if it continues.

Most observers are seeing Rahm this year for the first time, but this is the way he has always played and behaved on the course. He has always been quick-tempered. At Arizona State, the coaches would let Rahm blow off steam, knowing that he needed to let the frustration out and then he’d quickly bounce back. The only difference now: As one of the game’s rising stars, he is on TV.

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“College it was even worse, but there was nobody looking,” Rahm said as he walked to the player parking lot late Friday afternoon. “I’ve done many worse things many times on the course, but the thing is there were no cameras.”

And now that there are extra eyeballs on him, Rahm is conflicted, because the same fire that has brought all this negative attention is also what has made him great.

Tomahawking a club into the turf might cause fans to snicker (and the PGA Tour to issue a fine), but it helps him move on. After his outburst on the 14th hole Friday, he birdied the next hole, nearly made another on 16, and then smoked a 331-yard drive down the center on 17.

“I know golfers are supposed to internalize everything, and I wish I could,” he said. “Every time I try to keep it to myself, just imagine a Coca-Cola bottle. If you shake it once, then it comes down. But once you open it, it’s a complete mess, and that’s what happens if I try to keep it down. If I try to keep it down, at some point, I’m going to miss a shot that’s not that bad and I’m going to lose it. Sometimes I need to get mad.”

Rahm admits that he needs to work on his anger management. He doesn’t want to be a distraction to the other players in his group. He doesn’t want to be a poor role model for kids.

He knows there must be some healthy release, some way to channel his energy.

At this point, he’s just not sure how.

“I’ve always been criticized for it,” he said. “I don’t know what to say. I feel bad when I react sometimes, but it’s something I can’t control.

“At the end of the day, I need to look toward my golf game, and sometimes it does help. … I need to find a different way to do it, but even if I work on it, sometimes it just overpowers me.”

His frustration was apparent all week at Erin Hills, where his normally lethal driver betrayed him. At a course that should have perfectly suited his power game, Rahm spent much of the week hacking out of the fescue, only fueling his anger.

“You need to get mad, but maybe not externalize it as much,” he said. “It’s just hard when I feel like I’m hitting good shots and I’m trying as hard as I can and things aren’t happening. It’s unlike me. I can’t remember the last time I played my last four competitive rounds that many over par.”

It’s a shame that this issue seems destined to follow Rahm as he navigates the early stages of his pro career. Though he can be intense and aggressive when things are going poorly, off the course he remains accommodating and approachable and affable – everything you’d hope for in a generational talent.

“Having an eye on you, I sometimes get mad, and then I feel bad for getting mad, and then it makes me feel worse,” he said. “It’s a very downward spiral that I go into a negative place.”

His reputation might depend on whether he can escape it.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.