Youthful pros continue to have success on Tour

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2014, 11:33 pm

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The comment doesn’t seem so absurd anymore.

Two amateurs named Harris English and John Peterson had just finished 1-2 at a then-Nationwide Tour in 2011 when Peterson, the NCAA champ, woofed:

“The top guys in college, the top 20 or 30 guys, can beat the top 20, 30 guys on the PGA Tour. Maybe with the exception of two or three guys who are constantly up there, those top 20 college guys will beat those top 20 or 30 PGA Tour guys, if given the opportunity. They just don’t have the opportunity.”

Was he overly giddy at the high finish? Of course. Was he young and brash? Sure.

But 2 1/2 years later, it’s clear that Peterson knew of the impending storm. English has two Tour wins in the past eight months, while Peterson finished T-4 at the 2012 U.S. Open, made the cut in the Masters, and blitzed through Web.com Tour Finals to secure his playing privileges this year.

That golf is in the midst of a youth movement is no new revelation, yet this season it is one of the earliest and most intriguing story lines. So far, five of the eight winners have been in their 20s. Last year, in 40 events, there were 14 20-something champions.


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Compare that to the past 10 years, and you can see where the game is headed. In 2009, in 46 events, there were only six wins by players in their 20s, including just two under 25. In 2004, in 48 events, there were just 10 20-something winners.

Last week, Patrick Reed, 23, started with three consecutive rounds of 63 to set the Tour scoring mark en route to his second win in his last nine starts. His decisive victory at the Humana moved Reed into elite company, joining Rory McIlroy, 24, and English, 24, as the only players under 25 with multiple Tour titles.

Of course, Reed’s peers knew of his talent. He was a two-time NCAA champion at Augusta State, where in back-to-back years he knocked off both Peter Uihlein and English in singles to earn the pivotal points for his team.

“Kids come out and they’re ready to win,” said two-time winner Jimmy Walker, who needed 188 starts to break through on the PGA Tour. “I don’t think I was as good as Jordan Spieth was. He’s 20. It takes longer (for some players).”

Not long ago, there was only one answer – Rory – to the question of the best player in the world under 30. Now there are myriad choices, from Spieth (20) to Hideki Matsuyama (21) to English (24) to Keegan Bradley (27) to Dustin Johnson (29, for a few more months at least). Twenty-somethings occupy eight spots in the world’s top 30, but there are dozens more uber-talented prospects in the pipeline.

“I think everybody is just feeding off each other,” said Russell Henley, 24. “Obviously it’s gotten way more competitive and more and more guys are playing out here. And it’s going to keep happening, too.”

So, what happened? 

Sure, equipment has helped narrow the playing field, shortening the gap between elite and very good. But college stars also play a demanding schedule against elite competition on tough tracks all season long, preparing them for the grind of tour life. What’s more, amateurs are being given more opportunities in pro events, which provide not only a chance to test their game but also their nerves.

Henley played in two U.S. Opens and a handful of Nationwide events while he was in college at Georgia. During his junior and senior years, he watched as Rickie Fowler splashed onto the scene at just 20 years old, nearly winning the 2009 Frys and, a year later, earning a spot on the Ryder Cup team.

When it came time for Henley to jump to the pros, he hardly seemed fazed – he won the Sony Open in his first start as a PGA Tour member.

“I think you’d be lying if you said it didn’t motivate you to see your friends playing really well,” Henley said. “It’s a great thing, though. It’s exciting for me to know that the same guys I’ve been playing in tournaments with forever are doing well. I know that I can do it again, too.”

Which brings us back to Peterson’s point. Finally given an opportunity, the 20-somethings are proving that, yes, they can beat the 20 or 30 best Tour players. And there are more on the way.

Andrew Beef Johnston at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

Getting cheeky: 'Beef' drops trou, saves par

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 17, 2018, 3:23 pm

Andrew "Beef" Johnston provided the Nordea Masters crowd a little beefcake - that was just too easy - on Friday when he dropped trou during the second round.

He had pulled his drive on the short (253 yards) par-4 12th hole into a hazard, but the ball was playable. He played a mud-spattered explosion out of the muck, then opted to abandon his trousers for a pair of rain pants, much to the delight of the fans. The story has a happy ending, too. After hitting his second shot over the green, he chipped up and saved par.

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Cut Line: An appreciation of Woods, Lyle

By Rex HoggardAugust 17, 2018, 2:13 pm

In a regular-season finale edition, we celebrate how far Tiger Woods has come this season, mourn the loss of one of the game’s truly special people and crunch the numbers on Sergio Garcia’s 11th-hour sprint to the playoffs.

Made Cut

Perspective. Tiger Woods’ runner-up finish at the PGA Championship was another reason to appreciate the 14-time major winner’s comeback, and to marvel at how far he’s come in a relatively short period of time.

“I didn't know what my schedule would be. I didn't know how many tournaments I would play this year or if I would even play. So each tournament brought about its own challenges,” Woods reminded us following his closing 64 at Bellerive.

Although Woods has repeatedly talked about those dark and painful days before fusion surgery on his lower back, a recent interview with Nick Faldo on the Dan Patrick Show revealed just how bad things were.

 “I know [Woods] whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago [2017], 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,’” Faldo said. “He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the [2016] Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain.”

Woods’ improved play in recent months has slowly glossed over just how bad things were, not to mention how far he’s come.

RIP Jarrod Lyle. The PGA Tour community continues to mourn the loss of Lyle, who died last week at home in Australia following his third bout with acute myeloid leukemia.

A GoFundMe page created by Golf Channel’s Tripp Isenhour quickly met its goal of raising $200,000 for Lyle’s family, and tournament officials at this week’s Wyndham Championship placed Lyle’s staff bag, along with his signature bright-yellow bucket hat, on the first tee.

Officials at Sedgefield Country Club also created a sand castle memorial for Lyle, who played the Wyndham Championship four times in his career.

“It was hard not to think of Jarrod, certainly,” Adam Scott said on Sunday at the PGA. “The people who knew him quite well that were playing this week, golf was a little distraction, but probably now, as we get some time off and get to go home and be with our family, that we will be able to celebrate him a little bit more.”


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Bon voyage Bellerive. Major championship golf returned to St. Louis for the first time in two decades last week, and the Midwestern masses celebrated like it had been more than 20 years.

Record crowds swarmed the layout all week and Sunday’s final round was the most raucous day in golf (non-Ryder Cup division) since the 2008 U.S. Open.

Even the golf course, which featured slower-than-normal greens and wet conditions following storms on Tuesday and Friday, received high praise from the rank and file, all of which makes the course’s Grand Slam future so awkward.

The PGA Championship is booked up pretty much through 2029, with one open date, either 2025 or ’26, still available; while the Ryder Cup is scheduled through the 2024 matches at Bethpage, which means the earliest it could be played at Bellerive is 2028.

As much as players and fans celebrated golf’s return to St. Louis, Bellerive’s future place on the Grand Slam dance card has a distinct “don’t call us, we’ll call you” feel to it.

Tweet of the week: @JustinThomas34 (Justin Thomas) “Fans and people in St Louis . . . y’all were unbelievable! Never heard roars like that in my life. That is what I’ve thought and dreamt major championship Sundays were like since I was a kid.”

Bubble this and that. It’s a rite of fall in professional golf, players scrambling at the year’s final regular-season event to qualify for the playoffs or improve their postseason fortunes.

Sergio Garcia is the week’s most high-profile “bubble” player in the Wyndham Championship field, with the Spaniard mired at 131st on the point list. But this is likely less about the postseason – Garcia has skipped the first playoff start the last three years – than it is his need to secure his 15th start of the season, which is required to maintain membership.

A similar scenario occurred a few seasons ago with Henrik Stenson, and as the Tour transitions to a new, condensed schedule next year it’s probably going to happen more often.

With fewer playoff events and a condensed summer schedule, players, particularly those who also play the European Tour, will be faced with some tough choices starting in 2019.


Missed Cut

Captain obvious. We can appreciate Jim Furyk’s desire to cling to protocol. He has three weeks to decide who will be his first three captain’s picks for the Ryder Cup, but perhaps he should just come clean.

Following Woods’ runner-up finish at the PGA, which moved him from 20th to 11th on the U.S. point list, Furyk played a particularly aloof card when asked about Tiger’s chances of being a pick.

“He's playing very well. I think there's a lot of folks out there who probably think he can help us,” Furyk said. “I realize Tiger is a story. I realize he's playing very well, and I'm excited to see that.”

While Furyk’s reluctance is understandable, anyone with a pulse and an internet connection knows Woods will be a pick. If the captain wants to focus on other things, like the eight automatic qualifiers, simply stop the formalities and make Tiger an early selection.

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Even with broken driver, Salinda beats Hagestad at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 17, 2018, 2:52 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – With a trip to the U.S. Amateur quarterfinals on the line, and with the Pacific Ocean staring him in the face, Isaiah Salinda piped a 330-yard drive down Pebble Beach’s 18th hole.

Not a bad poke with a replacement driver.

Salinda’s Round of 16 match against Stewart Hagestad got off to a rocky start Thursday afternoon with an awkward tee shot on the second hole.

“The ball came out weird, with no spin,” said Salinda’s caddie and former Stanford teammate, Bradley Knox. “He said, ‘Yeah, that felt weird.’”

Salinda looked at the bottom of his Callaway Epic driver and noticed a crack.

Worried that they'd have to play the rest of the round with only a 3-wood, Knox called a Callaway equipment rep, told him the issue, and was relieved to hear he'd meet them at the back of the third tee. Salinda teed off the next hole with a 3-wood – he’d taken driver there all week – and wound up in a tricky spot, on the side of a mound, leading to a bogey.

“Then they came over and cranked the driver,” Knox said. “It was like a NASCAR pit crew.”

The replacement driver was nearly identical – same head, same loft, same weighting – except for the lie angle. The new one was a degree flatter than his gamer, which led to a few more pulled shots than usual.

“It took a little while to recover the mindset that we’d had the rest of the week,” Knox said.


Match scoring from U.S. Amateur

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Salinda downplayed the equipment malfunction – “I just had to adjust, and it wasn’t really a problem” – but he didn’t play well early. After trailing for just one hole during his first two matches, he was 4 over par and 2 down through 10 holes against Hagestad, the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion who’d finally made match play after eight previous failed attempts.

On 11, Salinda finally got going, stuffing a wedge shot to 10 feet and recording his first birdie. He followed with three clutch pars before another good approach on 15, leading to a conceded birdie to square the match.

On the home hole, Salinda bombed his drive about 30 yards past Hagestad and had 220 yards to the flag. It was a perfect 4-iron distance, and he sent a rocket into a blinding sunset.

“I never saw it,” Salinda said. “I told my caddie: ‘Where is that? I have no idea.’ But it felt good.”

A lone voice shrieked as the ball landed on the green. They knew the shot had to be tight. Years ago, Stanford senior Chris Meyers had made an albatross on 18 for a walkoff victory with Lee Janzen at the PGA Tour Champions’ First Tee Open. Knox thought they’d come close to duplicating the feat.

“Probably almost had a Chris Meyers,” Knox said, chuckling, as they walked up the fairway.

The shot never had a chance to drop – turns out the spectator was well-lubricated – but it still was only 35 feet away, for eagle. Salinda cozied his putt to a few feet and could only watch as Hagestad’s last-ditch 25-footer stopped a rotation short of the cup.

The Round of 16 victory continued a breakout summer for Salinda. His 15th-place showing at the NCAA Championship kick-started a three-month stretch in which he’s finally taken his game to the next level.

“He’s shown flashes of brilliance before,” Knox said, “and he’s had the game. But now he has the consistency and the confidence that it’ll come back time and time again.”

Salinda shot 62 in the third round and won the Pacific Coast Amateur, which boasts one of the strongest fields of the summer. Then he finished third in stroke play at the Western Amateur before a quarterfinal loss in match play.

Now he’s one step closer to his biggest victory yet – even with a backup driver.

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Salas (62) leads LPGA's Indy Women in Tech

By Associated PressAugust 17, 2018, 12:50 am

INDIANAPOLIS - Lizette Salas' waited 77 minutes to line up her 4-foot putt to take the lead Thursday at the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

She refused to let the weather delay get to her.

When the 29-year-old California player returned to the course, she quickly rolled in the birdie putt, finished her round with another birdie at No. 18 and took a two-shot lead over Angel Yin and Nasa Hataoka with a course record-tying 10-under 62.

''I didn't even think about it the entire time,'' Salas said. ''I was hanging out with Danielle (Kang) and she was giving me her silly dad jokes. So it definitely kept my mind off of it. I was really excited to be back and to finish off with a birdie, from off the green, was the icing on the cake.''

It's the lowest score by a female player at the Brickyard Crossing.

Defending champion Lexi Thompson opened last year's inaugural tournament with a 63, one shot off of Mike McCullough's 62 in the PGA Champions Tour's 1999 Comfort Classic.

But the way the saturated 6,456-yard course played Thursday, Salas needed virtually every putt of her career-best round to reach the top of the leaderboard.

The morning starters took advantage of overnight rain by shooting right at the pins.

And nobody made a bigger early splash than Yin, the 19-year-old Californian who finished second in last year's rookie of the year race.

She opened with five straight birdies and shot 8-under 28 on the front nine. Only a par on No. 6 prevented her from becoming the sixth LPGA player to shoot 27 on nine holes. South Korea's Mi Hyang Lee did it most recently at the 2016 JTBC Founders Cup.

Yin also tied the third-lowest nine-hole score in relation to par in tour history.

Her only bobble came with a bogey on No. 13 and she closed out her best career round with a birdie on No. 18.


Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship


''I have never done that before,'' she said. ''I had nine putts, I think, on the front nine, which is incredible. I've never had that many little putts. But it just felt good. Everything was working.''

Last year's runner-up for rookie of the year has never won an LPGA Tour title in her home country though she did win in a playoff at Dubai on the Ladies European Tour.

Everybody seemed to find their groove Thursday.

Eighty-eight of the 143 players shot under par and 54 were 3-under or better.

And with more rain in the forecast Thursday night and Friday, the scores could go even lower as a star-studded cast chases down Salas, Yin and Hataoka.

Four players, including Kang and Jane Park, are three shots behind.

Seven players, including last year's tournament runner-up Lydia Ko, are four shots back. Ko was tied with Yin for the lead - until she knocked her tee shot on the par-4, 16th into the water. She wound up with a double bogey and birdied the final hole to finish with 66.

After taking a monthlong break to recover from physical and mental exhaustion, Thompson looked relaxed and comfortable in her return to the course. She shot 68.

''It was hard for me to take the break because I didn't want to show weakness,'' she said. ''But at the same time, it takes a lot of strength to acknowledge that you need that kind of break and just take time for yourself, especially when you're in the spotlight like this.''

Salas, meanwhile, started fast with an eagle on the par-5 second and finished with a flurry.

She birdied three straight holes on the front side to get to 5-under, added birdies at Nos. 12 and 14 to get to 7-under and then birdied the final three holes - around the approaching storm - to put herself in contention for her first title since the 2014 Kingsmill Championship.

''I have been just striking the ball really well this entire year, and just glad some more putts dropped today,'' she said. ''I was really refreshed. I didn't practice at all last week, and I was just really eager and excited to be back.''