A year later, Tosti knocking on LAAC door again

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 15, 2016, 9:52 pm

LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic – Alejandro Tosti’s story can come full circle this week at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The winner here at Caso de Campo receives a spot in the Masters – a tournament Tosti has been itching to play ever since he was 5 years old, when he watched the telecast on TV, grabbed a barbecue stick and smacked a deodorant ball around his family’s home in Rosario, Argentina.

“I was hitting the ball all over and breaking glasses,” he recalled Friday. “My mom would scream, ‘Stop doing that!’ And I said, ‘I’m sorry, but I want to go play golf.’”

Tosti’s parents didn’t play, and his mother, Patricia, asked why he didn’t want to try soccer or tennis or rugby – the popular sports in their home country. He still wouldn’t budge. His parents flipped through the Yellow Pages to find a spot to practice.

The nearest course was in Perez, about 10 miles away. Tosti started playing there on the weekends, but with his parents’ busy work schedule – his father, Juan Carlos, was an electronic engineer and his mother a secretary – the 8-year-old often walked seven blocks to the bus station and took the one-hour ride to the club, alone.

“I was loving the sport and nobody was telling me to go practice,” he said. “I went because I wanted to.”

Echavarria takes 3-shot lead

Tosti won his first national junior title when he was 8, on a short course with 120-yard par 3s, 200-yard par 4s and 250-yard par 5s, and with seven mismatched clubs gifted from his first swing coach, Lincho Romero.

A few years later, Tosti joined the Argentina Golf Association and attended a high-performance institute in Buenos Aires. At age 15, he took his first trip to the U.S., but his English was so limited that he couldn’t even ask for a Coke. Several college golf coaches still extended scholarship offers, even though Tosti hadn’t even considered the possibility of playing in the States.

“But then I started looking at all the guys in my country who were playing really good amateur golf and turning pro at 18, after high school,” he said. “They really struggled, because it’s a profession. You have to work and know the world, know how to speak English. Those guys had a problem at the age of 22 without a plan B in their life.”

With a year off between high school and college, Tosti spent every afternoon with a tutor to learn the language. He passed the SAT exam and chose to play at the University of Florida, largely because of his relationship with Gators assistant coach John Handrigan.

In June 2014, J.C. Deacon was one day into his tenure as Florida’s head coach when he reached out to Tosti to gauge whether he was still interested in coming to Gainesville after the coaching change. Tosti never answered the call, instead sending back a text: “I don’t speak English.”

Not surprisingly, then, it was a turbulent freshman year. He struggled with the language barrier and expressing himself with his teammates and coaches, with the balance of golf and coursework, with his parents being a 16-hour flight away.

“It was really difficult to keep up with everything,” he said.

Yet his fortunes appeared to improve at last year’s Latin America Amateur, in his home country of Argentina. One shot off the lead with two holes to play, with a Masters berth on the line, he missed a 4-foot par putt on the 71st hole and failed to birdie the last even after eventual winner Matias Dominguez made bogey to open the door.

Tosti was devastated, but he found solace in his college coach. In the 2005 U.S. Amateur semifinals, with a Masters berth on the line, Deacon held a 1-up lead with two to play against Dillon Dougherty. He dropped the last two holes and lost the match.

“I’ve felt those feelings, of getting the Masters snatched away from you, and it was fun in a way to tell him that story,” Deacon said by phone Friday. “He understood. But I told him: ‘It’s what you make of it now.’”

Tosti’s game was trending upward after the LAAC, but a tooth infection that went untreated sent him to the hospital during the NCAA postseason. Suffering from severe headaches, vomiting and fatigue, Tosti’s doctors determined that he had encephalitis – essentially, swelling of the brain – which required nine days in a hospital bed with a catheter, and 20 more days at home where he administered the IV himself.

When his health finally improved, his game wasn’t nearly sharp enough to contend for any of the major titles over the summer. In fact, Deacon said, “it wasn’t until the last three events this fall [which included a win at FGCU Classic] that we started seeing the Tosti that we all know.”

Now he has returned to the Latin America Amateur, where the memories of last year’s near miss are still fresh. After a rocky opening-round 75, Tosti improved 10 shots on Friday, making nine birdies during a 7-under 65 that moved him into a share of second place, three behind leader Nicolas Echavarria of Colombia.

“I feel the other guys are going to ask themselves how he did that with a double bogey,” Tosti said. “It is the round at the right moment for this tournament.”

“None of his coaches or teammates are surprised by any of this,” Deacon said. “He has no fear on the golf course. He thinks he can hit every shot and, honestly, he can. He’s so explosive. He’s very powerful and has a great touch. He’s really the whole package, and when he gets in a rhythm there’s almost no one that can hang with him.”

Tosti has one of the most natural swings Deacon has ever seen – a powerful, efficient action that was groomed by watching the Masters, by whacking around a deodorant ball with a barbecue stick, and now has improved with the help of Hernan Rey, a member of the Argentina Golf Association who teaches at the Gary Gilchrist Academy in central Florida.

“What he can do with the golf ball and the technique and kind of form he’s learned somehow, some way, it was like he was touched by the golf gods,” Deacon said. “He has the talent and ability with the short game that no one else can do. I’ll ask him how he hit a shot, and he’ll say: “Coach, I just do it.’ He puts that picture in his mind and his body creates it. It’s truly a gift that he has.”

The next step – the only step left – in his progression is to win a major amateur title, to gain more exposure on the global stage.

Perhaps after learning the hard way last year, Tosti has expressed little interest in talking about what a spot in the Masters would mean until he holes out on the 72nd hole, until he lifts the trophy.

“But trust me, it would mean everything to him,” Deacon said. “Every time he practices or plays, it’s with that Masters logo in the back of his mind.”

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He will return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finished worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.