Stallings hoping to join elite company

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2013, 12:09 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – The West Coast swing hasn’t been kind to Scott Stallings throughout his young career, though his five-shot lead here at the Humana Challenge figures to change that.

Two years ago, he began his first PGA Tour season with five consecutive missed cuts.

Last year, at this very tournament, he tore cartilage in five of his ribs, a freak injury – “a comedy of errors,” he says – that nearly cost him his entire season.

Stallings was undergoing treatment in the physiotherapy trailer here when the injury occurred. “It was a good attempt to try to make a sore back feel better,” he said, “and it did not go well.”

Stallings woke up the next day and could barely swing. When he played the first round at La Quinta alongside Carl Pettersson, Stallings was in such excruciating pain that the big Swede told him, “Either you’re going to withdraw, or I’m going to withdraw. I can’t watch this anymore.”

A few weeks later, Stallings was playing in the pro-am at Riviera when he drove into thick, wet, juicy rough on No. 11. He slashed out, clutched his midsection, dropped to his knees. His caddie turned and walked off the course. They were done.

Well, for a few months, anyway. Stallings’ victory at the 2011 Greenbrier Classic exempted him into The Masters, and he wasn’t about to skip his Augusta debut, even against his doctor’s recommendation. Stallings told him flatly, “Man, even if you put me in a body cast, I’m going to play Augusta.” So he played his first Masters – and made the cut – while on the painkiller Celebrex.

“At the end of the day, it was worth it,” Stallings says now. “You never know if you’re ever going to get an opportunity to (drive) down Magnolia Lane again.”

Stallings says he never fully recovered from the injury until the Memorial, where he led after the first round and was pain-free. A month later, he won the True South Classic, the event played opposite the British Open.

Here in the California desert, Stallings pulled away from a group of relative unknowns with a 9-under 63 that included two eagles. Supreme ball-striking helps, of course, but he also credited his recent good form to his increased focus on fitness and nutrition, as well as his hiring of caddie Frank Williams – the veteran looper who was on Stewart Cink’s bag for 14 years, including during the 2009 British Open – whom Stallings described as having given him a “huge shot in the arm.”

Often overlooked in the best-player-under-30 discussion, Stallings is eyeing his third PGA Tour title in the past 19 months – the same number won by Tiger Woods, Webb Simpson and Dustin Johnson. The only player with more Tour wins during that span: world No. 1 Rory McIlroy. Stallings also would become the sixth 20something with at least three PGA Tour wins, joining Johnson, McIlroy, Simpson and Anthony Kim, though each of his titles would have come in second-tier events.

Asked if he feels underrated, Stallings, 27, shrugged, “I don’t really care about that. I know playing better helps a lot of things.”

He can’t play much better at PGA West. Staked to a five-shot lead over five players, and bogey-free through 54 holes, Stallings could become the first player to win a tournament without dropping a shot since 1974.

“I’ve just got to go do the same thing I’ve done the last three days,” Stallings said. “Be aggressive.”

A victory here is expected to move to Stallings to No. 51 in the Official World Ranking, making him a near-lock to be in the field for next month’s WGC-Match Play.

Stallings and his wife, Jen, are expecting their first child – a baby boy named Bradley Finn – a week earlier. The couple grappled with how to tell friends and family of their new addition, so Stallings told his bride that if he won in Mississippi in July, he would share the news. With everyone.

So there he was, on live television, informing the Golf Channel audience that he would soon become a father.

“She was more of a story than I was,” Stallings says, laughing, “but that’s the way it should be.”

Another victory Sunday would change that narrative, steal the spotlight. Until the baby comes, of course.

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Tiger Woods names his Mount Rushmore of golf

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 25, 2018, 6:29 pm
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Mickelson savoring his (likely) last road game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 25, 2018, 3:49 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Phil Mickelson lingered behind as his foursome made its way to the ninth tee during Tuesday’s practice round.

He needed the extra practice, no doubt. He’s one of just six players on the U.S. Ryder Cup team with even a modicum of knowledge about Le Golf National, but the likely reason for Lefty’s leisurely tempo was more personal.

The 2019 Ryder Cup will likely be Mickelson’s last road game as a player.

He’ll be 52 when the U.S. team pegs it up at the 2022 matches in Rome. Although there’s been players who have participated in the biennial event into their golden years – most notably Raymond Floyd who was 51 when he played the ’93 matches – given Mickelson’s play in recent years and the influx of younger players the odds are against him.

“I am aware this is most likely the last one on European soil and my last opportunity to be part of a team that would be victorious here, and that would mean a lot to me personally,” Mickelson said on Tuesday.

It’s understandable that Mickelson would want to linger a little longer in the spotlight of golf’s most intense event.

For the first time in his Ryder Cup career Mickelson needed to be a captain's pick, and he didn’t exactly roar into Paris, finishing 30th out of 30 players at last week’s Tour Championship. He’s also four months removed from his last top-10 finish on the PGA Tour.

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Although he’s reluctant to admit it for Mickelson Le Golf National looks every bit a swansong for the most accomplished U.S. Ryder Cup player of his generation.

In 11 starts at the Ryder Cup, Mickelson has a 26-16-13 record. Perhaps more telling is his 7-3-1 mark since 2012 and he holds the U.S. record for most matches played (45) and is third on the all-time list for most points won (21.5), just two shy of the record held by Billy Casper.

Mickelson’s record will always be defined by what he’s done at the Masters and not done at the U.S. Open, but his status as an anchor for two generations of American teams may never be matched.

For this U.S. team - which is trying to win a road Ryder Cup for the first time since 1993 - Lefty is wearing many hats.

“You know Phil and you know he's always trying to find a way to poke fun, trying to mess with someone,” Furyk said. “He's telling a story. Sometimes you're not sure if they are true or not. Sometimes there's little bits of pieces in each of those, but he provides some humor, provides some levity.”

But there is another side to Mickelson’s appeal in the team room. Although he’s never held the title of vice captain he’s served as a de facto member of the management for some time.

“At the right times, he understands when a team needs a kick in the butt or they need an arm around their shoulder, and he's been good in that atmosphere,” Furyk said. “He's a good speaker and good motivator, and he's been able to take some young players under his wing at times and really get a lot out of them from a partner standpoint.”

In recent years Mickelson has become something of a mentor for young players, first at the ’08 matches with Anthony Kim and again in ’12 with Keegan Bradley.

His role as a team leader in the twilight of his career can’t be overstated and will undoubtedly continue this week if Tuesday’s practice groupings are any indication, with Lefty playing with rookie Bryson DeChambeau.

As DeChambeau was finishing his press conference on Tuesday he was asked about the dynamic in the U.S. team room.

“We're going to try and do our absolute best to get the cup back,” he said.

“Keep the cup,” Lefty shouted from the back of the room, noting that the U.S. won the last Ryder Cup.

It was so Mickelson not to miss a teaching moment or a chance to send a subtle jab delivered with a wry smile.

Mickelson will also be remembered for his role in what has turned out to be an American Ryder Cup resurgence.

“Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best,” Mickelson said in the Scottish gloom at the ’14 matches. “Nobody here was in any decision.”

If Mickelson doesn’t step to the microphone in ’14 at Gleneagles in the wake of another U.S. loss and, honestly, break some china there probably wouldn’t have been a task force. Davis Love III likely wouldn’t have gotten a second turn as captain in ’16 and the U.S. is probably still mired in a victory drought.

Lefty’s Ryder Cup career is far from over. The early line is that he’ll take his turn as captain in 2024 at Bethpage Black – the People’s Champion riding in to become the People’s Captain.

Before he moves on to a new role, however, he’ll savor this week and an opportunity to win his first road game. If he wants to hang back and relish the moment so be it.

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DeChambeau gets foursomes, fourball mixed up

By Will GraySeptember 25, 2018, 3:31 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Bryson DeChambeau is an accomplished player when it comes to match play, having captured the U.S. Amateur and starred on a Walker Cup team. But don’t ask him to explain the semantic difference between the formats in play at this week’s Ryder Cup.

DeChambeau became crossed up Tuesday at Le Golf National when he was asked about the intricacies of foursomes play – better known to many Americans as alternate shot.

“Fourball, foursomes, I always get those mixed up,” DeChambeau said. “It’s just easier for me to say alternate shot.”

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Thankfully for DeChambeau, he still has some time to make a distinction between the two before the matches begin in earnest. And when they do, it’ll be fourballs for the morning sessions both Friday and Saturday, with foursomes in the afternoon – a change from the 2016 matches when DeChambeau was on the grounds at Hazeltine as a spectator.

While the foursomes format brings with it added pressure in an already tense environment, one of the biggest concerns is how well players can adjust to using the ball of their partner on a given hole. DeChambeau is known to leave nothing to chance in his preparation, and he’s already circled that particular factor as he gets set to make his Ryder Cup debut.

“It’s key because we want to be comfortable. Each player needs to be comfortable with the ball that they are playing,” DeChambeau said. “So for compatibility reasons, it’s one of the most important things out there in regards to alternate shot. It is the most important.”

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Tiger helped calm down Reed before epic RC match

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 25, 2018, 3:30 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Tiger Woods apparently played a pivotal role in getting Patrick Reed ready for that epic Ryder Cup singles match against Rory McIlroy – all by cracking a joke on the range.

Then a U.S. vice captain, Woods noticed that Reed was too amped up during the warm-up for the opening singles match.

“He’s watching me warm up, and he’s like, He needs to calm down. He needs to chill out,” Reed recalled. “I was hitting the ball sideways – I was just like, Let’s go.

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“But he pulled me aside. Cracked a little joke to calm me down a little bit” – what the joke was, Reed wouldn’t say, but you can probably guess that it was unprintable – “and I was able to bring that adrenaline level down to manageable, rather than sitting there on high rev.”

It didn’t take long for Reed to explode again.

In one of the most entertaining matches in Ryder Cup history, Reed and McIlroy traded blows for the first eight holes at Hazeltine, combining for eight birdies and an eagle before settling down. Reed eventually won the match, 1 up, after rolling in a birdie putt on the final green.

“It’s something that was hard to make sure you stayed up in that mind frame and also that level that you could play,” Reed said. “You get so amped up, it’s hard. It’s hard to figure out how far you’re going to hit the ball, but at the same time, if you’re so even-keeled in the other direction, it’s hard to get yourself up to get going. You only have 18 holes.

“The good thing is I’ve been able to manage that really well, and luckily I was able to have Tiger there to help me out there on Sunday.”