Mystery surrounds looming Walker Cup cut

By Ryan LavnerAugust 18, 2015, 11:23 pm

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – U.S. Walker Cup captain Spider Miller understands the magnitude of the decision that looms this week.

He experienced it 18 years ago.

Miller won the U.S. Mid-Amateur in 1996, but he was left off the Walker Cup squad when the team was announced the following year. Worse, he was named the first alternate – or, viewed another way, he was the first man left off – for the matches at Quaker Ridge.

“That’s the worst call you can get,” he said Tuesday while strolling around Olympia Fields. “That’s what I told the USGA selection committee. I said, ‘I know what it’s like to receive that call, but I don’t know what it’s like to make that call.’ I received that call, and it’s no fun.”

The decision stung, but Miller, who owns Best Beers, Inc. in Bloomington, Ind., knew it was a difficult decision to make and was back in his office the next day at 6:30 a.m., business as usual.

The quality of competition in college and amateur golf has improved so much in recent years that the decision has never been more difficult.    

Tough phone calls await.

The first five U.S. team members for the 10-man squad were announced last week, with no surprises: Maverick McNealy, the reigning NCAA Player of the Year; Bryson DeChambeau, 2015 the NCAA champion; Beau Hossler, a three-time U.S. Open participant; Hunter Stewart, the former first-team All-American and Northeast Amateur winner; and Lee McCoy, who, at No. 4, is the second-highest ranked American amateur in the world.

The trouble now is that a compelling case can be made for about 15 other players.

The most blatant omission from that group is Alabama junior Robby Shelton, one of the world’s premier amateurs who recently finished third in the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship. Last fall, Shelton was chosen for the U.S. squad at the World Amateur Team Championship, but he declined an invitation to compete in Japan because the Tide, fresh off back-to-back NCAA titles, were playing their season opener that week and were already shorthanded with three players lost to graduation.

Also not among the first five selected is Oklahoma State senior Jordan Niebrugge, who was named to the U.S. team in 2013. He’s been quiet in college and amateur events since as he dealt with a wrist injury, but he reminded observers of his immense talent when he finished sixth at last month’s Open Championship – the best finish by an amateur at a St. Andrews Open since 1960.

The USGA also added a new wrinkle a few years ago, requiring that at least two mid-amateur players (age 25 or older) must make the 10-man squad.

So, do the math: Five players have already been selected … and Shelton and Niebrugge seem like clear choices … and there is a two mid-am requirement … and the USGA has always added that year’s U.S. Amateur winner (provided he is an American) to the team.

That leaves only one spot – maybe – up for grabs this week at the U.S. Amateur, the final chance for players to make a good impression.

The team could be finalized as early as Sunday night.  

“It’s a good news, bad news thing,” Miller said. “The good news is there’s a lot of strong players vying for spots. The bad news part is that there’s going to be several players, if not more, who most years would have made the team and won’t. I feel bad for that. I really do. But it’s a bumper crop.”

Miller has done his part to make an informed decision, traveling everywhere from Sea Island to Seattle, 13 events in all, over the past eight months. But he isn’t even a part of the six-person committee. All he can do is present his case.

The rest of the process is shrouded in mystery.

Nitpicking résumés of elite players who don’t compete against each other every week is an unenviable task, which makes it even more bizarre that the USGA doesn’t make its decisions more transparent.  

The Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup and Solheim Cup all have points lists. The USGA says there is an internal system that spits out numbers and weighs such factors as strength of schedule, but it chooses not to make that information public.  

That’s a mistake.

Making that list public would eliminate two things: (1) the unnecessary stress for players who are flying around the country in a desperate attempt to impress a secretive committee, and (2) most of the second-guessing that comes after an important decision that defines their amateur careers.

When asked how transparent the committee has been over the past few months, former Virginia standout Denny McCarthy – the favorite to land one of the final spots – said: “I literally have no idea. I can’t control what they do. The only thing I can control is the golf I play and my emotions. Hopefully I can play some really solid golf this week and leave no doubt in their mind that I should be a part of this team.”

When Shelton bowed out of the World Amateur Team Championship, it was McCarthy, a 2014 U.S. Amateur semifinalist, who got the call. All he did was close with 64 on a day when his teammates were struggling, helping lead the Americans to victory. If nothing else, that performance showed McCarthy’s big-game chops, and he boosted his résumé by making the cut at the U.S. Open and winning the Porter Cup a few weeks ago.

McCarthy is one of a handful of players who delayed turning pro just so he could have a chance to make the squad.  

“It’s been my goal for the last four or five years now and the main reason I stayed amateur,” he said. “I want to be on this team.”

Yet he’s far from the only contender, and the final decision could come down to which player performs the best here outside Chicago.

South Carolina senior Matt NeSmith is a future star on the big Tour, and he’s in the mix after winning the SEC Championship in the spring and capturing the prestigious Players Amateur over the summer. Aaron Wise won the Pacific Coast Amateur – played opposite the Porter Cup, and with a decidedly stronger field – and then lost to a lucky hole-out in the finals of the Western Amateur, the toughest test in amateur golf, with its four rounds of stroke-play qualifying and 16-man match-play bracket.

In the mid-am race, Scott Harvey, the 2014 Mid-Amateur champion, is the favorite to lock up one of the spots, with Nathan Smith, a three-time Walker Cupper, likely in line to make another appearance. Todd White, who was on the 2013 roster and a part of the winning U.S. Amateur Four-Ball team with Smith, is also under consideration.

“Chemistry is very important to me,” Miller said. “I tend to focus on their personalities, how they interact. My challenge is to get them to coalesce as a team.”

Except chemistry could be an issue if the Amateur produces another little-known American winner. A U.S. player hasn’t won this event since 2012, and that was Steven Fox, the 63rd seed in match play and a player ranked 127th in the world. The college golf world is one big fraternity, and selecting an unheralded player over proven commodities like, say, McCarthy (ranked sixth in the world) or NeSmith (one of the hottest American players) could cause friction within the team.

Whittling down to the top 10 U.S. representatives has never been simple.

Miller won’t make the call, but he can offer his opinion. After all, he went through this process 18 years ago, when he was left off the team. He bounced back from that disappointment and won the Mid-Amateur again in 1998, which was enough to convince the committee to put him on the ’99 squad.

“It’s tough,” he said, “but golfers are tough people. They get it. They know it’s not easy.”

It wasn’t for Miller all those years ago. There’s a fine line between making the team and receiving the worst call ever.

American Junior Golf Association

Junior golfer's amazing run: ace, albatross, birdie

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 11:03 pm

While most of the golf world had its attention focused on Scotland and The Open Championship at Carnoustie on Thursday, the REALLY remarkable performance of the day was taking place in Halifax, Mass.

There, in an American Junior Golf Association tournament, a 16-year-old Thai player made a hole-in-one and an albatross on consecutive holes.

According to the AJGA, Conor Kelly holed a 5-iron shot on the 198-yard, par-3 eighth hole. It was his first hole-in-one. He then holed a 4-iron second shot from 220 yards on the 480-yard ninth holer for the albatross. (We're gonna go out on a limb and say it was his first albatross.)

Certainly a nice way to make the turn - but Kelly wasn't finished. He birdied the par-4 10th for a 1-2-3 sequence on his scorecard. For the day, he shot a 5-under 67 in the AJGA Junior Golf Hub Championship at the Country Club of Halifax.

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McIlroy, Rahm betting co-favorites after Open Round 1

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 10:10 pm

They're both three shots off the lead, but after starting The Open with rounds in the 60s Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are now betting co-favorites to lift the claret jug at Carnoustie.

McIlroy is four years removed from his Open triumph at Royal Liverpool, while Rahm remains in search of his first major title. Both carded rounds of 2-under 69 in Scotland to sit three shots off the lead of Kevin Kisner. While McIlroy started the tournament at 16/1 and Rahm at 20/1, they're now dead even at 10/1 in updated odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

Kisner started the week at 200/1, but after an opening-round 66 he's quickly been trimmed to 25/1. Tony Finau sits one shot behind Kisner and is now listed behind only McIlroy and Rahm at 12/1 after starting the tournament at 60/1.

On the other side of the coin, consensus pre-tournament betting favorite Dustin Johnson fell from 12/1 to 100/1 following an opening 76 while Masters champ Patrick Reed shot a 4-over 75 to plummet from 30/1 to 200/1. Trailing by five shots following an opening-round 71, Tiger Woods' odds remained unchanged at 25/1 as he seeks a 15th career major title.

Here's a look at the revised betting odds heading into the second round at Carnoustie:

10/1: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm

12/1: Tony Finau

14/1: Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

20/1: Francesco Molinari

25/1: Tiger Woods, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson, Kevin Kisner

30/1: Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka

40/1: Ryan Moore, Jason Day

50/1: Erik Van Rooyen, Brandon Stone, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Danny Willett, Thomas Pieters, Marc Leishman, Thorbjorn Olesen, Russell Henley, Matthew Southgate

80/1: Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Brendan Steele, Kevin Na

100/1: Dustin Johnson, Zander Lombard, Sung Kang, Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Chris Wood, Pat Perez, Luke List, Charley Hoffman

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Despite 78, Lincicome savors PGA Tour experience

By Randall MellJuly 19, 2018, 9:41 pm

Two bad holes derailed Brittany Lincicome in her historic start Thursday at the Barbasol Championship, but they couldn’t wipe the smile off her face afterward.

It might have been the most fun she ever had shooting a 78.

Lincicome joined Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie as the only women to tee it up in a PGA Tour event when she striped her opening tee shot down the middle Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

A double bogey at her ninth hole and a triple at her 16th might have spoiled her chances at joining Zaharias as the only women to make a 36-hole cut in a PGA Tour event, but it didn’t spoil her experience.

“I did what I wanted to do, with having fun,” Lincicome said. “I think I nailed that part pretty well.

“I love playing with the guys. It's so much fun, being inside the ropes with them. Hopefully, I can get a good one tomorrow.”

Lincicome, 32, held her own for 16 holes, playing them in 1 over par, but those two big numbers left her tied for last place when she signed her scorecard, though other players remained on the course.

At 6 over, Lincicome is 13 shots behind the leader, probably seven or eight shots off the projected cut line, but she savored the experience. She arrived wanting to inspire young girls to dream big, and to bring some extra attention to a title sponsor who means so much to her. She represents Pure Silk, part of the Barbasol family.

Sam Ryder, who joined Conrad Shindler playing alongside Lincicome, was impressed with the way Lincicome carried herself.

“I would play with her every day if she wanted to,” said Ryder, who opened with a 68. “She's just a great person.

“Even though I know she's probably a little disappointed with her final score, she had a smile on her face all day.”

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, made her first birdie at her 12th hole, dropping a 30-foot putt, but she wasn’t happy with her putter much of the day. She missed three other good birdie chances, a 4-footer at her eighth hole, an 8-footer at her 10th and a 12-footer at the last.

“Pretty happy with my game overall,” Lincicome said. “I had two bad holes, but I drove it well. I did all the things I said I needed to do, but my putter let me down today.”

After piping her first drive, Lincicome opened with three consecutive pars.

“I was actually calmer than I thought I was going to be,” she said. “I thought I was going to be a nervous wreck. After the first tee shot, I was pretty happy that I found the fairway.”

Lincicome said Ryder and Shindler made her feel welcome. So did the crowds.

“It was great,” she said. “I could feel the energy of the crowd support me. Every time I hit a good driver or good shot, they would cheer for me, which was great.

“Conrad and Sam were so nice. I couldn't have asked for a better pairing. They were very welcoming, and we were interacting, they were asking me questions, and it was great.”

On Tuesday, Lincicome said a key to her play would be hitting fairways. She did that, hitting 10 of 14, but she was taking in longer clubs than she does in LPGA events, with Keene Trace set up at 7,168 yards. That’s 600 yards longer than she played last week at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic, where she finished second. She hit just 8 greens in regulation in this PGA Tour start.

Lincicome is nicknamed “Bam Bam.” She is one of the LPGA’s longest drivers, but she was typically 30 to 40 yards behind Ryder and Shindler after hitting her driver. She averaged 259 yards per drive, Ryder 289 yards.

“She had a couple birdie putts that she could have made,” Ryder said. “If she made a couple of those, might've been a little bit different, just to get a little bit of momentum. Who knows?”

Lincicome’s biggest challenges were the par 3s.

At the 18th, playing 195 yards, she mis-hit her tee shot, knocking it in the water, short of the green. She took a penalty, moved up to a forward tee, dropped and hit into a right greenside bunker. She got up and down from there for a 5.

At the seventh, playing 198 yards, she missed wild right and deep. From a tough spot in the rough, she left her pitch short of the green. She chipped her third past the hole and to the fringe, where she took three putts from 20 feet.

Afterward, Lincicome wasn’t dwelling on the bad shots. She was focused on going to sign autographs for all the fans waiting for her, including all the little girls who came out to see her.

“I need to go back over there and sign,” she said. “Any time I can influence a child, especially a girl, obviously I want to get them involved with the LPGA, as much as possible.”

Her overall assessment of her day?

“It was a great experience,” she said.

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.