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Rahm re-emerges with Spanish Open win

By Will GrayApril 15, 2018, 7:45 pm

It may have been one of the quietest top-five finishes at the Masters in recent memory.

With no shortage of storylines entering the season's first major, Jon Rahm didn't get much attention despite entering as one of the top-ranked players in the world. His fourth-place showing was then largely lost in the shuffle amid a final round that included a furious Jordan Spieth rally, a near-miss from Rickie Fowler, a collapse from Rory McIlroy and a breakthrough performance from Patrick Reed.

In the era of short attention spans, Rahm's playoff victory at the CareerBuilder Challenge may as well have happened in 2012. The weeks since consisted of largely solid but unremarkable performances, and his title hopes in Augusta were sunk in a matter of hours as he opened with a 75.

But with a stirring victory Sunday at the Spanish Open, Rahm became the latest Spanish golf phenom to win on home soil while re-establishing himself as a premier player worthy of attention heading into the heart of the summer.

Beginning with the second round of the Masters, Rahm has now carded seven straight rounds in the 60s. That run was highlighted by a final-round 67 in Madrid that turned a two-shot deficit into a two-shot win over Paul Dunne.

"It's such a satisfying feeling," Rahm told reporters. "When I made the decision to come straight from Augusta, it wouldn't be just to show up and walk around. I wanted to win this tournament."

Rahm went three months this spring without a top-10 finish before the Masters, left to watch as ever-increasing portions of the spotlight drifted toward other elite players who racked up trophies and picked up major buzz. But Rahm's victory is his third in a fledgling European Tour career, and he now has five titles in only 45 overall starts as a pro.


Full-field scores from the Spanish Open


Still only 23 years old, Rahm has now joined an eye-catching list of players over the last 30 years who have won three times in Europe and twice on the PGA Tour before age 24: Spieth, McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia.

It's proof once again that while others may receive more attention on a weekly basis, Rahm has the game to win anywhere in the world - and just might demonstrate that prowess again this season.

The U.S. Open will mark Rahm's return to a major where patience is tested more than any other, and one where he failed miserably in that effort last year at Erin Hills. Clearly frustrated and allowing his temper to erupt all over the brutish layout, he missed the cut after receiving ample pre-tournament hype.

While the Spaniard still wears his emotions on his sleeve, he has missed only one cut since leaving Wisconsin in June. Over that same span, he has now won tournaments in Ireland, Dubai, California and Spain while adding a runner-up showing in Hawaii and three top-5s during the PGA Tour playoffs.

The maturation process continues, but Rahm has already proven himself to be a quick study on a global scale.

"Mainly I just feel a little bit more experienced than I was last year," Rahm said at the Masters. "So you would say it's almost kind of like repeating the class and kind of like when you fail a class in college and you get to do it again. I mean, something sounds familiar, right? So it's a little easier."

Rahm made six final-round birdies to overtake Dunne, including three on the back nine. He closed things out with a birdie on the final hole, which clinched the trophy and ended an emotionally draining fortnight.

"It's truly been the hardest Sunday I've ever had in any tournament that I've won, because the crowd wanted it so much and I wanted it so much," Rahm said. "You can tell how excited everybody is. I felt that tension; I felt that stress. I felt everything magnified."

Rahm's latest victory won't improve the No. 4 world ranking he had to start the week. He's still on the outside looking in for the brewing No. 1 battle between Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas, and when Shinnecock Hills rolls around he likely won't receive the attention of other peers who already have major titles to their credit.

But as the partisan crowds in Madrid can attest, Rahm possesses every skill and shot you'd expect from an elite player. He's likely flying a little less under the radar after racking up yet another win, but his most recent performance proves once again that his ascent to even more rarified air is only a matter of time.

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Putting prepared Park's path back to No. 1

By Randall MellApril 26, 2018, 12:13 am

Inbee Park brings more than her unshakably tranquil demeanor back to the top of the Rolex Women’s World Rankings this week.

She brings more than her Olympic gold medal and seven major championships to the Mediheal Championship on the outskirts of San Francisco.

She brings a jarring combination of gentleness and ruthlessness back to the top of the rankings.

Park may look as if she could play the role of Mother Teresa on some goodwill tour, but that isn’t what her opponents see when she’s wielding her Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball mallet.

She’s like Mother Teresa with Lizzy Borden’s axe.

When Park gets on one of her rolls with the putter, she scares the hell out of the rest of the tour.

At her best, Park is the most intimidating player in women’s golf today.

“Inbee makes more 20- and 30-footers on a regular basis than anyone I know,” seven-time major championship winner Karrie Webb said.

All those long putts Park can hole give her an aura more formidable than any power player in the women’s game.

“A good putter is more intimidating than someone who knocks it out there 280 yards,” Webb said “Even if Inbee misses a green, you know she can hole a putt from anywhere. It puts more pressure on your putter knowing you’re playing with someone who is probably going to make them all.”

Park, by the way, said Webb and Ai Miyazato were huge influences on her putting. She studied them when she was coming up on tour.

Webb, though, believes there’s something internal separating Park. It isn’t just Park’s ability to hole putts that makes her so intimidating. It’s the way she carries herself on the greens.

“She never gets ruffled,” Webb said. “She says she gets nervous, but you never see a change in her. If you’re going toe to toe with her, that’s what is intimidating. Even if you’re rolling in putts on top of her, it doesn’t seem to bother her. She’s definitely a player you have to try not to pay attention to when you’re paired with her, because you can get caught up in that.”


Full-field scores from the LPGA Mediheal Championship


Park has led the LPGA in putts per greens in regulation five of the last 10 years.

Brad Beecher has been on Park’s bag for more than a decade, back before she won her first major, the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open. He has witnessed the effect Park can have on players when she starts rolling in one long putt after another.

“You have those times when she’ll hole a couple long putts early, and you just know, it’s going to be one of those days,” Beecher said. “Players look at me like, `Does she ever miss?’ or `How am I going to beat this?’ You see players in awe of it sometimes.”

Park, 29, won in her second start of 2018, after taking seven months off with a back injury. In six starts this year, she has a victory, two ties for second-place and a tie for third. She ended Shanshan Feng’s 23-week run at No. 1 with a tie for second at the Hugel-JTBC LA Open last weekend.

What ought to disturb fellow tour pros is that Park believes her ball striking has been carrying her this year. She’s still waiting for her putter to heat up. She is frustrated with her flat stick, even though she ranks second in putts per greens in regulation this season.

“Inbee Park is one of the best putters ever,” said LPGA Hall of Famer Sandra Haynie, a 42-time LPGA winner. “She’s dangerous on the greens.”

Haynie said she would rank Park with Kathy Whitworth, Mickey Wright and Nancy Lopez as the best putters she ever saw.

Hall of Famer Joanne Carner says Park is the best putter she has seen since Lopez.

“I thought Nancy was a great putter,” Carner said. “Inbee is even better.”

Park uses a left-hand low grip, with a mostly shoulder move and quiet hands.

Lopez used a conventional grip, interlocking, with her right index finger down the shaft. She had a more handsy stroke than Park.

Like Lopez, Park prefers a mallet-style putter, and she doesn’t switch putters much. She is currently playing with an Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball putter. She won the gold medal with it two years ago. She used an Oddysey White Ice Sabertooth winged mallet when she won three majors in a row in 2013.

Lopez hit the LPGA as a rookie in 1978 with a Ray Cook M1 mallet putter and used it for 20 years. It’s in the World Golf Hall of Fame today.

“I watch Inbee, and I think, `Wow, that’s how I used to putt,’” Lopez said. “You can see she’s not mechanical at all. So many players today are mechanical. They forget if you just look at the hole and stroke it, you’re going to make more putts.”

Notably, Park has never had a putting coach, not really. Her husband and swing coach, Gi Hyeob Nam, will look at her stroke when she asks for help.

“When I’m putting, I’m concentrating on the read and mostly my speed,” Park said. “I don’t think mechanically about my stroke at all, unless I think there’s something wrong with it, and then I’ll have my husband take a look. But, really, I rely on my feel. I don’t think about my stroke when I’m out there playing.”

Hall of Famer Judy Rankin says Park’s remarkably consistent speed is a key to her putting.

“Inbee is definitely a feel putter, and her speed is so consistent, all the time,” Rankin said. “You have to assume she’s a great green reader.”

Beecher says Park’s ability to read greens is a gift. She doesn’t rely on him for that. She reads greens herself.

“I think what impresses me most is Inbee has a natural stroke,” Beecher said. “There’s nothing too technical. It’s more straight through and straight back, but I think the key element of the stroke is that she keeps the putter so close to the ground, all the time, on the takeaway and the follow-through. It helps with the roll and with consistency.”

Park said that’s one of her fundamentals.

“I keep it low, almost like I’m hitting the ground,” Park said. “When I don’t do that, I miss more putts.”

Beecher believes the real reason Park putts so well is that the putter brought her into the game. It’s how she got started, with her father, Gun Gyu Park, putting the club in her hands as a child. She loved putting on her own.

“That’s how she fell in love with the game,” Beecher said. “Getting started that way, it’s played a huge role in her career.”

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Teams announced for NCAA DI women's regionals

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 25, 2018, 10:50 pm

Seventy-two teams and an additional 24 individuals were announced Wednesday as being selected to compete in the NCAA Division I women's regionals, May 7-9.

Each of the four regional sites will consist of 18 teams and an extra six individual players, whose teams were not selected. The low six teams and low three individuals will advance to the NCAA Championship, May 18-23, hosted by Oklahoma State at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

The four regional sites include Don Veller Seminole Golf Course & Club in Tallahassee, Fla., hosted by Florida State; UT Golf Club in Austin, Texas, hosted by the University of Texas; University Ridge Golf Course in Madison, Wis., hosted by the University of Wisconsin; TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, Calif., hosted by Stanford University.

Arkansas, Duke, UCLA and Alabama are the top seeds in their respective regionals. Arizona State, the third seed in the Madison regional, is the women's defending champion. Here's a look at the regional breakdown, along with teams and players:

Austin Regional Madison Regional San Francisco Regional Tallahassee Regional
Arkansas Duke UCLA Alabama
Texas USC Stanford Furman
Michigan State Arizona State South Carolina Arizona
Florida Northwestern Kent State Washington
Auburn Illinois Oklahoma State Wake Forest
Oklahoma Purdue North Carolina Vanderbilt
Houston Iowa State Colorado Florida State
Miami (Fla.) Virginia Louisville Clemson
Baylor Wisconsin N.C. State Georgia
Texas A&M Campbell Mississippi Tennessee
BYU Ohio State Cal UNLV
East Carolina Notre Dame San Diego State Kennesaw State
Texas Tech Old Dominion Pepperdine Denver
Virginia Tech Oregon State Oregon Coastal Carolina
UTSA Idaho Long Beach State Missouri
Georgetown Murray State Grand Canyon Charleston
Houston Baptist North Dakota State Princeton Richmond
Missouri State IUPUI Farleigh Dickinson Albany
       
Brigitte Dunne (SMU) Connie Jaffrey (Kansas State) Alivia Brown (Washington State) Hee Ying Loy (E. Tennessee State)
Xiaolin Tian (Maryland) Pinyada Kuvanun (Toledo) Samantha Hutchinson (Cal-Davis) Claudia De Antonio (LSU)
Greta Bruner (TCU) Pun Chanachai (New Mexico State) Ingrid Gutierrez (New Mexico) Fernanda Lira (Central Arkansas)
Katrina Prendergast (Colorado State) Elsa Moberly (Eastern Kentucky) Abegail Arevalo (San Jose State) Emma Svensson (Central Arkansas)
Ellen Secor (Colorado State) Erin Harper (Indiana) Darian Zachek (New Mexico) Valentina Giraldo (Jacksonville State)
Faith Summers (SMU) Cara Basso (Penn State) Christine Danielsson (Cal-Davis) Kaeli Jones (UCF)
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Leach on grizzlies, walk-up music and hating golf

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 25, 2018, 10:47 pm

He's one of college football's deepest thinkers, and he has no time to waste on a golf course.

Washington State head football coach Mike Leach created headlines last week when he shared his view that golf is "boring" and should be reserved for those who, unlike him, need practice swearing. The author and coach joined host Will Gray on the latest episode of the Golf Channel podcast to expand on those views - and veer into some unexpected territory.

Leach shared how his father and brother both got bitten by the golf bug as he grew up, but he steered clear in part because the sport boasts an overly thick rule book:

"First of all, the other thing I don't like is it's pretentious. There's a lot of rules. Don't do it this way, don't do it that way. You walked between my ball and the hole. This guy has to go first, then you go after he does. I mean, all these rules, I just don't understand."

Leach also shared his perspective about what fuels the vibrant fashion choices seen on many courses:

"You can tell there's a subtle, internal rebellion going on with golf, and where that subtle, internal rebellion manifests itself is they really liven up the clothes. I mean, they're beaten down by all the little subtle rules, so they really liven up the clothes. Maybe have knickers, maybe they'll have a floppy hat or something like that."

Leach on the advice he would sometimes offer when friends explained their rationale for hitting the links: 

"They say, 'Well I don't go there to golf or go to take it seriously. When I go golf, I just like to have some beers.' And I'm thinking, 'You know there's bars for that? There's bars for that, and at those bars they have, often times, attractive women and music going on?'"

Leach is heading into his seventh season at Washington State, and he also described a unique hazard that can sometimes pop up at the on-campus course in Pullman, Wash.:

"In the spring the grizzlies come out, and the grizzly preserve is right across the street from the golf course. So they’ll be out, you’ll see them running around on the hills inside the preserve there. But there is this visual where, all of a sudden you drive up this hill on your golf cart, and you’re at the tee box and you’re getting ready to hit, and on the hill just opposite of you it’s covered with grizzly bears. And as you’re getting ready to hit your ball, it occurs to you that the grizzly bears are going to beat you to your ball."

Other topics in the wide-ranging discussion included Leach's proposal for a 64-team playoff in NCAA Division I football, his chance encounter with Tiger Woods before a game between the Cougars and Woods' Stanford Cardinal, his preferred walk-up music and plans for "full contact golf."

Listen to the entire podcast below:

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Post-Masters blitz 'exhausting' but Reed ready for return

By Ryan LavnerApril 25, 2018, 8:24 pm

AVONDALE, La. – After briefly suffering from First-Time Major Winner Fatigue, Patrick Reed is eager to get back inside the ropes this week at the Zurich Classic.

The media blitz is an eye-opening experience for every new major champ. Reed had been told to expect not to get any sleep for about a week after his win, and sure enough he jetted off to New York City for some sightseeing, photo shoots, baseball games, late-night talk shows, phone calls and basketball games, sitting courtside in the green jacket at Madison Square Garden next to comedian Chris Rock, personality Michael Strahan and rapper 2 Chainz. Then he returned home to Houston, where the members at Carlton Woods hosted a reception in his honor.

With Reed’s head still spinning, his wife, Justine, spent the better part of the past two weeks responding to each of the 880 emails she received from fans and well-wishers.

“It’s been a lot more exhausting than I thought it’d be,” he said Wednesday at TPC Louisiana, where he’ll make his first start since the Masters.

It’s a good problem to have, of course.

Reed was already planning a family vacation to the Bahamas the week after Augusta, so the media tour just took its place. As many directions as he was pulled, as little sleep as he got, Reed said, “We still had a blast with it.”


Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos


There are few places better to ease into his new world than at the Zurich, where he’ll partner with Patrick Cantlay for the second year in a row.

Reed wants to play well, not only for himself but also his teammate. After all, it could be an important week for Cantlay, who is on U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk’s radar after a victory last fall. That didn’t earn him any Ryder Cup points, however – he sits 38th in the standings – so performing well here in fourballs and foursomes could go a long way toward impressing the captain.

“There’s maybe a little extra if we play well,” Cantlay said, “but I’m just trying to play well every week.” 

Reed got back to work on his game last Tuesday. He said that he’s prepared, ready to play and looking forward to building off his breakthrough major.

“A lot of guys have told me to just be careful with your time,” he said. “There will be a lot of things you didn’t have to do or didn’t have in the past that are going to come up.

“But first things first, you’ve got to go out and grind and play some good golf and focus on golf, because the time you stay and not focus on golf will be the time you go backward. That’s nothing any of us want. We all want to improve and get better.”