From caddies to clubs, pros will always tinker

By Will GrayAugust 3, 2017, 8:38 pm

AKRON, Ohio – As Russell Knox walked to the interview podium that sits a few feet from the clubhouse steps at Firestone Country Club, he took off his hat, ran his hand through his hair and breathed a deep sigh of relief.

It’s been a while since Knox has had reason to address a handful of reporters after one of his rounds. The affable Scot has been mired in a lengthy slump, missing each of his last three cuts as his world ranking plummeted from 18th in January to 50th as of this week.

With his on-course efforts not translating into results, Knox found himself beginning to tinker. He recently tried new iron shafts for the first time in five years. And he rifled through his personal collection of putters, spending a rainy afternoon last week at home in Jacksonville Beach effectively holding a tryout on a 12-foot mat.

After spending hours in search of a spark, Knox ended up coming full circle by reinstating the putter he used to win the 2015 WGC-HSBC Invitational. Why it ever left his bag – or what exactly it did to turn his fate around on the greens during his opening-round 66 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational – remains a mystery.

“We’re sick, man,” Knox said. “Us golfers are sick. I mean, it’s amazing. I’ve probably went through 20 putters since then, just in doing the search, but today felt unbelievable.”

In a sport with endless variables, there’s never a shortage of options for players looking to point the finger of blame. For some, the focus is off the course. Bubba Watson explained after a 3-under 67 that a shift in diet has boosted his energy levels and helped him lose 18 pounds since November from his already slight frame.

Others look to the man carrying the bag as a possible solution. Rory McIlroy’s first round with friend Harry Diamond looping went well, but his departure from J.P. Fitzgerald was clearly an effort to turn around his season before it’s too late. Adam Scott has had Steve Williams on the bag for each of the first three majors this year, but for this week and next the job is back in the hands of David Clark.

For many, though, the greatest temptation – and the change that’s easiest to make mid-season – is to tinker with the 14 clubs in the bag.


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When it comes to changes on the fly, few can match the passion or frequency of Phil Mickelson. Whether it’s two drivers, no drivers, wedges of variable loft or a new putting grip, Mickelson is not shy about making adjustments.

“I’ve always sided on doing it rather than not, because I feel like if there’s something that gives me a chance to play better, gives me an advantage or an opportunity to shoot a lower score, I want to do it,” Mickelson said.

While all players inevitably swap out old equipment, the question of timing remains a very personal one. Some are willing to make tweaks up until the eve of the tournament, while others like to run their sticks into the ground.

“I hate it,” said Dustin Johnson. “I don’t like to change clubs ever. So when I find stuff I like, I play with it as long as I can.”

Of course, the world No. 1 made a notable exception to his longstanding philosophy this week, swapping in a new driver with higher loft to help him better hit a fade around Firestone. The results, including a 439-yard bomb on No. 16, speak for themselves.

While Jordan Spieth dabbled with a new putter at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May, he explained after a 3-under 67 that such actions for him are more the exception than the rule when the results have dried up.

“For me, that adds another thing with what I have to do and what’s already going wrong with myself,” Spieth said. “I actually would rather figure it out with my stuff, and if I feel like I’m on, then at certain times where I get plenty of time to put something new into play, then it’s the time to do it. It’s rare.”

Amid a busy two-month stretch that kicks off this week and includes a WGC, a major, four playoff events and the Presidents Cup, the range was buzzing early in the week. Even the PGA Tour’s elite, those who have earned entry into this limited-field event, sometimes believe that the secret could be unlocked with one more slight change.

According to Mickelson, this is actually the best time of the year to do your tinkering.

“A lot of guys like to wait until the season’s over to do stuff, but the problem with that for me is [that] I usually stop practicing those last two months of the year. My game isn’t sharp,” Mickelson said. “I can’t really tell the difference, the subtle differences of a club because I haven’t been playing. So it’s actually easier for me to do it in an off week during the year.”

The search continues, even among the best players and even after a good round, because golf is a game that simply can’t be solved. The maddening beauty of such a proposition makes the wins all the sweeter, and it can frustrate indiscriminately when the chips are down.

For Knox, it’s one round on the good side of the ledger, the first in a while. And it comes knowing full well that a race through another 20 putters in search of inspiration may not be that far away.

“You always blame your equipment rather than yourself,” Knox said. “So maybe I just have to take the blame and say I sucked and the putter worked.”

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Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.


Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship


Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told LPGA.com at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told LPGA.com last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”

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Rose hasn't visited restroom at Colonial - here's why

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 12:20 am

In case you're unaware, it's pretty hot in Texas.

Temperatures at Colonial Country Club have approached 100 degrees this week, leaving players to battle both the golf course and potential dehydration.

With the help of his caddie Mark Fulcher, Fort Worth Invitational leader Justin Rose has been plenty hot himself, staking himself to a four-shot lead.


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


"Yeah, Fulch has done a great job of just literally handing me water bottle after water bottle. It seems relentless, to be honest with you," Rose said Saturday.

So just how much are players sweating the heat at Colonial? Well, it doesn't sound like all that water is making it all the way through Rose.

"I haven't even seen the inside of a restroom yet, so you can't even drink quick enough out there," he shared.

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Up four, Rose knows a lead can slip away

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 11:21 pm

Up four shots heading into Sunday at the Fort Worth Invitational, Justin Rose has tied the largest 54-hole lead of his PGA Tour career.

On the previous two occasions he took a 54-hole Tour lead into the final round, he closed.

And yet, Rose knows just how quickly a lead can slip away. After all, it was Rose who erased a six-shot deficit earlier this season to overtake Dustin Johnson and win the WGC-HSBC Championship. 

"I think I was in the lead going into the final round in Turkey when I won, and I had a four-shot lead going into the final round in Indonesia in December and managed to put that one away," Rose said Saturday, thinking back to his two other victories late last year.

"I was five, six back maybe of DJ, so I've got experience the other way. ... So you can see how things can go both ways real quick. That's why there is no point in getting too far ahead of myself."


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


Up one to start the third round Saturday, Rose extended his lead to as much as five when he birdied four of his first six holes.

He leads the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green (+12.853) and strokes gained: approach-the-green (+7.931).

Rose has won five times worldwide, including at the 2016 Rio Olympics, since his last victory in the United States, at the 2015 Zurich Classic.

With a win Sunday, he'd tie Nick Faldo for the most PGA Tour wins by an Englishman post-World War II, with nine.

But he isn't celebrating just yet.

"It is a big lead, but it's not big enough to be counting the holes away. You've got to go out and play good, you've got to go out positive, you've got to continue to make birdies and keep going forward.

"So my mindset is to not really focus on the lead, it's to focus on my game tomorrow and my performance. You know, just keep executing the way I have been. That's going to be my challenge tomorrow. Going to look forward to that mindset."

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Grillo still hunting follow-up to debut win

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 10:53 pm

Following a round of 1-under 69 Saturday, Emiliano Grillo will enter Sunday's final round at Colonial four shots behind leader Justin Rose.

Grillo is hunting his first win since he took the 2015 Safeway Open in his rookie debut as a PGA Tour member. 

The young Argentinian finished 11th in the FedExCup points race that season, contending in big events and finishing runner-up at the 2016 Barclays.

In the process, Grillo had to learn to pace himself and that it can be fruitless to chase after success week to week.

"That was a hot run in there," Grillo said Saturday, referring to his rookie year. "I played, in 2016, I played the majors very well. I played the big tournaments very well. I was in contention after two, three days in most of the big events.


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


"I think, you know, I wanted to do better. I pushed for it. Some of the tournaments I ended up being 50th or 60th just because I wanted to play. I wanted to play well so badly. That played against me, so I learned from that. In that rookie year, I learned that."

Grillo was still plenty successful in his sophomore season, advancing to the BMW Championship last fall.

But now he's beginning to regain some of that form that made him such an immediate success on Tour. Grillo has recorded four top-10 finishes year - a T-9 at Mayakoba, a T-8 at Honda, a T-3 at Houston, and a T-9 at Wells Fargo - and will now look to outduel U.S. Open champs in Rose and Brooks Koepka on Sunday at Colonial.

"Well, he's top 10 in the world, so everything he does he does it pretty well," Grillo said of Rose. "You know, he does his own thing. Like I say, he's top 10 in the world. Nothing wrong with his game. ...

"He's in the lead on a Sunday. Doesn't matter where you're playing, he's got to go out and shoot under par. He's got 50 guys behind him trying to reach him, and I'm one of those. I've just got to go out and do what he did today on those first five or six holes and try to get him in the early holes."