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No simple answers for routed Internationals

By Will GrayOctober 2, 2017, 12:47 am

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Sitting on the far side of the dais and surrounded by an International team that just endured a four-day drubbing at the Presidents Cup, Ernie Els struggled for answers.

Brought in as an assistant captain and seen by many, including current captain Nick Price, as the probable skipper for the 2019 event in Australia, he will likely be tasked with turning around a trend that only grew more lopsided this week in the shadow of Lady Liberty.

“The future of the cup is important. We want to have it as competitive as we can,” Els said. “So we have to go back to the drawing board.”

It’s a common goal, one shared by the other 16 men sitting at the podium who at times seemed helpless in the face of an American juggernaut that won 19-11 and nearly clinched the biennial matches a full day in advance. The International team’s overall record now drops to 1-10-1, and 21 years will have passed since their lone victory the next time the cup is up for grabs at Royal Melbourne.

In all likelihood, it’s also a goal shared by many PGA Tour executives. This event, after all, is the Tour’s property, created as a complement to the PGA of America-run Ryder Cup. Blowouts like the one seen this week do little to alter the perception that this event pales in comparison to the high-octane spectacle played in the even-numbered years.

But while the goal is shared by several parties, creating productive change for the International squad is easier said than done.

Consider the uphill battle Price faced simply to get the total points trimmed from 34 to 30. It took nearly two years of lobbying to Tour officials before the change was administered for the 2015 matches, leading to a narrow American victory. It appeared to be a step in the right direction for an event desperate to create any hint of a truly back-and-forth rivalry.


Presidents Cup: Articles, video and photos

Presidents Cup: Match-by-match scoring


But this week at Liberty National, the cup could have been contested across three points or 30, and the outcome likely wouldn’t have wavered. The Americans were the better team, playing the better golf, from the first man on the roster to the 12th.

“I think we went up against one of the best teams that’s been put forward,” said Adam Scott, who has now been on eight squads without tasting team victory. “I think we have to do even more before we play again in two years.”

What’s more daunting for the likes of Els, Price, Scott and others is the fact that this U.S. team likely won’t slow down anytime soon. The youthful nucleus of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler have decades ahead of them and should only gain more experience and poise in the intervening years.

The International core, by comparison, is only getting older. Scott will be 39 for the matches at Royal Melbourne while veterans like Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman will all be on the wrong side of 35.

Reflecting on his third straight loss as captain, Price went back to familiar refrains: shortening the available points, putting lineups in secretly rather than allowing captains to plot one matchup at a time.

“We play these team events every second year, and the U.S. team plays every year. So they are a little bit more, I don’t want to say prepared, but they kind of – there’s not as big surprises on their team,” Price said. “I think to put pairings together with a very diverse group as we have, is our challenge.”

Unfortunately for Price, or whoever takes the earpiece from him, that challenge likely won’t get any easier in the coming years. The language barriers in play, especially with Hideki Matsuyama who struggled this week despite being the top-ranked player on his team, won’t disappear overnight.

The depth issues aren’t going away, either. While all 12 on this year’s team are PGA Tour regulars, captain’s pick contenders like Hideto Tanihara and Yuta Ikeda play most of their golf elsewhere, making it difficult to rely on any qualification system beyond the Official World Golf Rankings.

While the Americans have promising prospects on the horizon like Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Ollie Schniederjans, the International cupboard seems much more sparse in comparison. It’s unlikely that any of the players ranked in the top 100 left off this year’s squad – a diverse group that includes guys like Haotong Li, Byeong-Hun An and Dylan Frittelli – would have done much to slow down the American onslaught.

“That’s the hardest task for us, new guys in and out every two years with less and less experience in this kind of format is hard,” Scott said. “We struggled in the team aspect of the matches this week. But we also played maybe the most on-form United States team that I can remember.”

Team golf tends to be a cyclical venture, and after the competition closed many compared the current International struggles to those faced by U.S. Ryder Cup teams earlier this century. But there is no infrastructure in place to create an International task force, nor could they easily identify one singular factor that might unite a diverse contingent in the face of an opponent that seems only to be growing stronger.

As a result, a table full of players and assistants sat next to Price and talked about the need for change and reform, the ethereal desire to make this thing competitive after yet another lopsided loss. But they also struggled to pinpoint the concrete factors that might spark formative change.

At one point, Els was again asked what could be done to turn around the fate of the Internationals. But before he could answer, Scott cut him off.

“Win,” Scott said.

Perhaps it is that simple. But the Internationals won’t get another crack at the cup for two more years, and right now they certainly seem further from victory than they appeared to be when they first boarded a ferry for Liberty National.

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Rahm ready to bomb and gouge around Colonial

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 3:40 pm

Faced with one of the PGA Tour's most traditional layouts, Jon Rahm has no plans to take his foot off the gas pedal.

Rahm is one of four players ranked inside the top six headlining the field at this week's Fort Worth Invitational, where the Spaniard dazzled with bookend rounds of 66 to share runner-up honors in his tournament debut a year ago. Set to make his return, Rahm explained that Colonial Country Club is similar to the narrow, tree-lined course in Spain where he first learned the game with driver in hand.


Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


So while many other players in the field will play for position, Rahm plans to employ the same strategy he did on his boyhood course by letting it rip off the tee and taking his chances.

"I felt like if I am going to miss the fairway, I would rather be 60 or 70 yards away than laying up and having 130, especially with this rough being unpredictable and these small greens," Rahm told reporters Wednesday. "The closer you are to the green, the easier it will be to hit the green. That's kind of the idea I have."

Rahm struggled in his most recent start at The Players, but otherwise has had a strong spring highlighted by a win in Spain and a fourth-place showing at the Masters. The 23-year-old added that he feels "a lot more comfortable" off the tee with driver in hand than a fairway wood or long iron, so expect more counterintuitive strategy this week from a player who had no trouble solving one of the Tour's oldest riddles a year ago.

"I like traditional golf courses," he said. "You know, everything that says it shouldn't be good for me, in my mind, is good for me."

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Power Rankings: 2018 Fort Worth Invitational

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 2:54 pm

The PGA Tour stays in Texas this week, heading across town for the Fort Worth Invitational. A field of 120 players will tackle venerable Colonial Country Club, where Ben Hogan won a record five times.

Be sure to join the all-new Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge - including a new One & Done game offering - to compete for prizes and form your own leagues, and log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to submit your picks for this week's event.

Kevin Kisner won this event last year by one shot over Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Sean O Hair. Here are 10 names to watch in Fort Worth:

1. Jordan Spieth: When it comes to Spieth at Colonial, throw out the stats. He has gone T-2, Win, T-2 over the last three years and hasn't finished worse than T-14 in five career trips. While his putter has continued to hold him back, including last week in Dallas, Spieth lists Colonial among his favorite venues on Tour and plays accordingly.

2. Webb Simpson: Simpson is making his first start since a decisive win at TPC Sawgrass, one that capped a string of impressive play this year. Now he returns to a course where he finished fifth last year and T-3 the year before, with nine of his last 10 competitive rounds at Colonial in the 60s.

3. Zach Johnson: Johnson is a two-time champ and the tournament's all-time leading money winner, having averaged almost a $300,000 payday in 12 prior appearances. Like Spieth, he speaks openly about his affinity for the type of golf Colonial demands and his fifth-place finish last month in San Antonio proves another win may be on the horizon.

4. Jimmy Walker: Walker has finished T-6 or better in each of his last three starts across three pretty different tracks: TPC San Antonio, TPC Sawgrass and Trinity Forest. While he doesn't have the best history at Colonial, Walker did tie for 10th in 2014 and clearly has momentum on his side now that he's feeling healthy for the first time in months.

5. Jon Rahm: The Spaniard impressed in his Colonial debut last year, missing out on a possible playoff by a single shot. While many other top-ranked players have received more acclaim in recent weeks, Rahm has quietly gone about his business including a fourth-place showing at the Masters and a win in his home country. He struggled at The Players, but a similar result didn't impact him much last year once he got to Fort Worth.

6. Kevin Kisner: Don't discount the defending champ, who has now cracked the top 10 each of the last three years at this event. Kisner thrives on the "small ball" style of layouts like Colonial and Harbour Town, and he would be higher on this list were it not for missed cuts in each of his last two starts.

7. Rickie Fowler: Fowler's missed cut at Sawgrass, largely the result of a slow start and a lost ball in a tree, can be discounted since his play up until then this year has been largely strong, highlighted by his Masters runner-up. Fowler hasn't played Colonial since a missed cut in 2014, but he did finish T-16 and T-5 in 2011-12.

8. Adam Scott: Once again equipped with the long putter and with his sights set on qualifying for the U.S. Open, Scott's game is starting to turn around. A T-11 finish at Sawgrass was followed by a T-9 finish last week, his first top-10 anywhere since June. Now he heads across town to a course where he won in 2013 and where his stellar tee-to-green play should again be rewarded.

9. Matt Kuchar: A frustrated Kuchar saw his consecutive made cuts streak end last week at Trinity Forest, but he'll likely start a new one this week on a course where he has missed the cut only once in 10 appearances. Kuchar was a runner-up at Colonial in 2013 and has finished T-16 or better in four of his last six trips to Fort Worth.

10. Justin Rose: The Englishman opted out of the European Tour's flagship event to make his return to Colonial for the first time since 2010. While his T-13 finish back in 2005 remains his best result in four prior appearances, Rose has cracked the top 25 in four of his last five individual starts and seems likely to continue that run on a course that should play to his strengths.

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Rosaforte Report: What makes Wise so good, while so young

By Tim RosaforteMay 23, 2018, 2:39 pm

Is Aaron Wise the real deal?

It may be too early to answer that question – or even make that proclamation; after all, the baby-faced 21-year-old had zero top-10s in his first 15 starts as a PGA Tour rookie. Now, one month after a missed the cut in the Valero Texas Open, Wise is being associated with phrases like “phenom” and “It kid,” thanks to a strong showing at Quail Hollow and a victory at Trinity Forest.

But that’s how it works in this transient time of golf, where there’s always room to join the party and become one of the guys hanging out with Rickie Fowler. You watch: Next we will see Wise playing practice rounds with Tiger Woods, next to Bryson DeChambeau. It would be the wise thing to do.

We really won’t know about Wise until he’s played some majors and established himself beyond this two-tournament stretch. Had he not turned pro, he would have been a college senior leading Oregon into the NCAA finals.

But what we do know, based on the opinions of those closest to him, is that Wise has the “instinctual” and “emotionally strong” qualities of a great one – the “real deal” qualities, so to speak.

From “knowing how to win” (college coach Casey Martin), to “being a natural in picking the right shot” (swing instructor Jeff Smith) to “the way he embraced mental training, very much like Tiger.” (sports psychologist Jay Brunza), Wise ranks high in all the nuances required of greatness.



Asked if he was surprised with Wise’s second-place finish at the Wells Fargo Championship and win at the AT&T Byron Nelson, Smith said without hesitation, “Not at all. The tough part as a coach was tempering expectations. I have to keep reminding him over and over and over, you’re only 21 years old.”

This week’s Fort Worth Invitational will provide further opportunity to gauge where Wise ranks in the spectrum of potential greatness. One of the elements that surfaced in his last two starts: While not physically imposing, the kid’s athleticism is a noticeable byproduct of the tennis he played during middle school and early high school growing up in Lake Elsinore, Calif. Wise was good enough to be “pretty highly ranked,” and was torn between a golf coach that wanted him to quit tennis, and a tennis coach that wanted him to quit golf.

Golf won out, but what we have seen recently is Wise’s hand-eye athleticism at work, the ability of knowing what shot to hit and how to hit the off-speed and stroke-saving shots that are necessary under the gun. “He’s like a natural in the feel side of the game,” says Smith.

In the mental game, there are even some intuitive comparisons to Woods drawn by Brunza, who started working with Tiger when he was 13. The best example, thus far, of those qualities was the fifth shot Wise holed for bogey to close out his third round at Wells Fargo. After whiffing his third shot and blading his fourth, it was the most meaningful shot in Wise’s short time in the big leagues.

It was what Brunza would so aptly describe as “managing the nervous arousal level within.” Instead of being rattled, Wise chipped in for bogey. He would call it “huge,” and “awesome,” and made the promise that it would carry him into the final round – which it did.

Wise closed with a 68 that Sunday and lost by two strokes to Jason Day, never appearing to be nervous or out of place. After a week off for not qualifying for The Players, that relaxed confidence carried over to Dallas, to the point where closing out a PGA Tour win for the first time felt like it did at the NCAAs, Canada and the Web.com Tour.

“To not only compete, but to play as well as I did, with all that pressure, gave me confidence having been in that situation (with Day at Quail Hollow),” Wise said on “Morning Drive.”

Wise was accompanied at Trinity Forest by his mother, who engaged in what Wise characterized as a joking conversation Sunday morning of just how much money Aaron would make with a win. It was a reminder of the short time span was between winning on Tour, at 21, and not being able the handle costs of playing on the AJGA circuit. Showing poise and patience with the last tee time, Wise did the smart thing and went back to sleep.

Wise didn’t come on radar until he won the 2016 NCAA Men’s DI individual title and helped lead the Ducks to the team title.

Playing mostly what Oregon coach Martin calls local events in Southern Cal hurt his exposure, but not his potential. “He came on really fast,” Martin remembers. “He was a very good junior player but wasn’t the greatest and he didn’t come from a ton of money so he didn’t play AJGA [much] and wasn’t recruited like other kids.”

Instead of pursing pre-law at Oregon, Wise went to the tour’s development schools and won the Syncrude Oil Country Championship on PGA Tour Canada and the Air Capital Classic.

Before Quail Howllow, there was nothing to indicate this sort of transcendent greatness. Statistically, none of numbers (except for being ninth in birdies) jump off the stat sheet. He’s 32nd in driving distance and 53rd in greens hit in regulation. But there are no strokes saved categories for the instinctual qualities he displayed on the two Sundays when he’s had a chance to win. “He’s a really cool customer that doesn’t get rattled,” says Martin. “He doesn’t overreact, good or bad.”

Lately, it’s been all good.

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NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 23, 2018, 11:00 am

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals were contested Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live finals action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.

Scoring:

TV Times (all times ET):

Wednesday
4-8PM: Match-play finals (Click here to watch live)