SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Here in the middle of golf’s biggest party, somewhere within the maelstrom of debauchery and frenzy and madness, amongst the inebriated masses and around the overzealous partygoers, a shocking contradiction sits atop the leaderboard. Bubba Watson is a favorite of these jam-packed galleries. He’s a former resident of the area, a Masters champion, an absurdly long hitter, an outwardly emotional soul and – let’s face it – who doesn’t like rooting for a dude named Bubba? And yet, if the thousands of fans loudly chanting his name think they’re simply cheering a guy like them, one who would join the party if he weren’t performing in front of it, they’re highly mistaken. That’s because as the festivities rage on, Watson has used this week as his own personal paean to their antithesis. On Monday, there he was at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, checking out the state’s first pediatric gait lab, for which Ping Golf had donated $250,000 last year from a campaign developed around Watson. When it was found the project was still $110,000 short of its goal, Watson chipped in the remainder of the funds. Waste Management Phoenix Open: Articles, videos and photos On Thursday, while tipsy fans crowed for his autograph nearby, he cited Bible verses as reasoning for being, as he called it, content with his circumstances. On Friday, he met with two families, winners of the “Bubba Fan Flyaway” contest on Twitter, each – like Bubba and wife Angie – with an adopted child, their stories serving as inspiration to him as much as the other way around. After that, he was off to the Phoenix-based Desert Mission Food Bank, where along with friends and relatives he would put together snackpacks for schoolchildren whose families didn’t have the means to feed them nutritious meals during the weekends. “Instead of giving money,” he said after hearing about the program, “I wanted to do it, too.” In between all of these charitable endeavors, Watson also played a little golf, following an opening-round 64 with a 66 to grab a share of the Waste Management Phoenix Open lead alongside Matt Jones. While it’s easy to spot the contrast between the legions of spectators using the tournament as just a warm-up act for the Birds Nest nightlife and Watson’s contributions, he points out that they’re all part of the same end goal. “I think if you really look deep into it and not worry about what people are doing, the money that is being raised for charity at this event equals out to the same thing I’m doing,” he said. “I think this is one that’s giving away a pretty good lump sum of money for charity.” “That’s why the Thunderbirds do all of this; I think a lot of people lose sight of that,” agrees Angie. “What goes on at 16 raises more money for charity than any other hole on the PGA Tour. That’s really what it stands for.” Maybe the abundance of off-course diversions this week has helped on the course for Watson, who has confessed a self-diagnosis of attention deficit disorder. In Friday’s second round, he carded seven birdies against just two bogeys in his continuing search for another victory following the Masters triumph of two years ago. That’s what happens when you pair leading the field in driving distance (at a whopping 340 yards per drive) with a second-place position in putting average – a symbiotic combination if ever there was one. “Everything is clicking right now,” he explained. “I played really well last week, just didn’t make the putts. This time I’m playing well and some of the putts are dropping.” “He’s doing everything well, honestly,” concurred Ted Scott, his longtime caddie. “There’s really no weakness in his game right now. He’s thinking well, hitting well, chipping well, putting well. Those two bogeys we had, we thought both of them were great shots. Good chips, good putts – sometimes they just don’t go.” As Watson ruminated on his place on the leaderboard, he appeared fatigued, melancholy, maybe even a bit agitated. “No, I’m just tired,” he allowed. “Very happy where I am. Who would not be happy? There’s a lot of guys going home who wish they were right there. I’m very happy with that. Just tired.” It’s a feeling with which plenty of people here at golf’s biggest party can relate. As the debauchery and frenzy and madness swirls all around him, though, the man who shares the midway lead is keeping himself busy in much different ways.
Month: May 2021
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Ben Crane estimates he slept less than three hours in a night spent praying and thanking God that his game finally has come back around. Then he played 30 holes Sunday in winning the St. Jude Classic for his first PGA Tour title since 2011, setting off a celebration that included hugging his caddie and high-fiving a reporter. Crane also choked back some tears as he looked at text messages filling his phone. ”Oh my gosh, it just keeps going,” Crane said, looking at his phone. ”How many can a phone hold? This is so much fun.” Crane closed with a 3-over 73 for a one-stroke victory, going wire to wire for his fifth career win. Rain delays forced him into the marathon session Sunday at TPC Southwind, finishing 12 holes in the morning in a third-round 69 to take a three-shot lead into the final round. He two-putted for bogey on the final hole to finish at 10-under 270, days after failing to qualify for the U.S. Open. That marked a low point for the 38-year-old player who spent the past six months reworking his swing to protect his back wondering if his career was over. He spent time with a coach picturing the right way to hit shots. FedEx St. Jude Classic full-field scores FedEx St. Jude Classic: Articles, videos and photos Everything clicked Thursday with an opening 63. ”I did not expect the hole to open up like that and just start making putts from everywhere,” Crane said. ”Just hit a lot of quality shots and obviously built a nice lead to start out with.” Troy Merritt was second after a 71. Webb Simpson (65), Matt Every (70) and Carl Pettersson (69) were 8 under, and Ian Poulter had a 64 to tie for sixth at 7 under. Merritt credited the best finish of his career to an improved short game. ”Ben played great,” Merritt said. ”Hats off to him. Well deserved. He’s been struggling for a little while. Very happy for Ben.” Phil Mickelson, among those tuning up for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, left winless in his 20th event since the British Open. He tied for 11th at 6 under after a 72. Consecutive birdies on Nos. 11 and 12 put Mickelson at 8 under. But he bogeyed the next two, including the par-3 14th where he hit a 7-iron into the water in front of the green. He still finished much better than his tie for 49th at Memorial last week after an early visit from FBI agents and lingering questions about an insider-trading investigation. ”The way I drove the ball last two rounds I had an opportunity to shoot really low,” Mickelson said. ”My iron play was poor, and my putting was pathetic. I’ll have to make some changes and to get ready for next week. But the game is not far off because I’m driving the ball very well and putting it in play.” Wind, thunderstorms, lightning and fog delayed play each of the first three days. With more storms forecast, players started the final round almost immediately after concluding the third. They finished without a single delay Sunday as the sun even came out as this tournament finished its 57th year without being shortened because of weather. Crane had three bogeys in the final round, one more than he had through 54 holes. He became the first winner on Tour without a birdie in his final round since Justin Leonard did it at Southwind in 2005. He cruised along before two-putting for bogey on No. 6, dropping his lead to two strokes over Brian Harman and Merritt. Crane bogeyed No. 9 after hitting his tee shot into the rough. He couldn’t clear the rough with his next shot, and his third bounced to the rough behind the green. Crane said he only glanced at the leaderboard a couple times. ”I just knew I was leading, and I knew Phil Mickelson was out there too,” Crane said. ”And Phil’s a good friend, and he kind of gave me that, ‘I’m coming after you.”’ Merritt was the closest, within a stroke for six holes before putting his tee shot on the par-4 15th into the rough. He couldn’t roll the ball in from 15 feet to save par. Crane strung together eight straight pars before going to the par-4 No. 18 with a two-stroke lead needing to avoid the water down the left side of the fairway. He did, though he did find the greenside bunker. Crane two-putted from 12 feet for the win. He earned $1,044,000. Divots: Crane is the eighth player in this event’s history to win after having at least a share of the lead after every round. Lee Westwood was the last in 2010. … Crane also won the 2010 CIMB Classic before it became an official Tour event.
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Billy Casper, one of the most prolific winners on the PGA Tour who was overshadowed at the height of his career by the ”Big Three,” died Saturday at his home in Utah. He was 83. Bob Casper said his father died quickly and peacefully with wife Shirley at his bedside. They had been married 62 years. Casper passed out in the clubhouse at the Masters last year, had work on his heart and recovered from a bout of pneumonia over Thanksgiving. His son said Casper was going to cardio rehab for the last four months and was doing well until he started to feel badly in the last week. In any other era, Casper might have commanded more attention than he did. He won 51 times on the PGA Tour, putting him at No. 7 on the career list behind only Sam Snead, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Byron Nelson. His three major championships include the 1966 U.S. Open, one of golf’s most remarkable comebacks. He rallied from a seven-shot deficit on the back nine at Olympic Club to tie Palmer, and he beat him in an 18-hole playoff. Casper also won the 1959 U.S. Open at Winged Foot and the 1970 Masters. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1978. But he was overshadowed by the ”Big Three” – Palmer, Nicklaus and Gary Player, whose rivalry sparked a revival in golf in that era. Part of that was the marketing of Mark McCormack at IMG. Casper originally signed with IMG and then left. But he kept winning. From 1962 through 1970, Casper and Nicklaus won 33 times on the PGA Tour. Palmer won 30 times. According to Golf Digest, Casper’s winning rate of 9.2 percent trails only Nicklaus (12 percent) and Woods (26 percent) of all golfers who began their careers after 1950. Casper was a genius with the short game, considered one of the best putters in golf. He won his first PGA Tour event in the 1956 LaBatt Open over Jimmy Demaret, and Casper won at least once each season for 16 straight years, a streak only surpassed by Nicklaus and Palmer at 17. But it was that U.S. Open title at Olympic that finally brought him acclaim, even at the expense of Palmer. ”I watched Arnold play such magnificent golf on the front nine. I really felt that he was going to win the tournament,” Casper said in 2012 at Olympic Club. ”I had checked the scoreboard and I found that I was two shots ahead of Jack Nicklaus and Tony Lema, and so I wanted to finish second and informed Arnold of that. And he said, ‘I’ll try to do everything to help you.”’ More than golf, Casper was devoted to family. He had 11 children, six of them adopted, and became a Mormon just as career was taking off. ”Everything became easier,” Casper told Golf Digest in 2012. ”I began to live much more for others, and my life fell into balance.” Casper was born June 24, 1931, in San Diego and began to caddie at San Diego Country Club. He was among the first of the great lineage of golfers in San Diego that included Gene Littler and Mickey Wright. ”Gene was so much better than me. I never beat him as a teenager,” Casper told Golf Digest in the 2012 interview. ”But I had a lot of inner confidence. I had such a tie with my eyes and my hands. I could look at a telephone pole 40 yards away, take out a 7-iron and hit it 10 times in a row. I had something special. And somehow, I really understood the game, all without having a lot of guidance.” Casper won the PGA Tour money title twice and was player of the year in 1966 and 1970. He won the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average five times and still holds the American record in the Ryder Cup for most points. He played on eight teams and was the winning captain in 1969.
Some likened it to golf on the moon. Others compared the greens to some of their favorite vegetables. Like it or not, the USGA’s decision to send its most prestigious championship to Chambers Bay was certainly a grand experiment. Forged out of a former rock quarry along the Puget Sound, the course didn’t have the history of most other major venues. It also didn’t have much green grass – or any grass at all in some parts – as more than a few players were quick to point out. USGA executive director Mike Davis was seen as the visionary behind bringing a U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, and he certainly didn’t release the reins once tournament week arrived. The course offered Davis a malleable setup and he took full advantage, creating a layout that was part golf, part pinball. In his most-discussed setup move of the week, Davis flipped the par on Nos. 1 and 18 from round to round, drawing the ire of many in the field in the process. Beyond the quirks and the browned-out aesthetic that had viewers adjusting their television sets, the tournament got one thing right: it provided a deserving champion. While we may have been within one errant drive of “Branden Grace, U.S. Open champion,” in the end it was Jordan Spieth who walked away with the hardware, a result that in many ways validated the choice of Chambers as host venue. The best rose to the top, just as it had there in 2010 when top-ranked Peter Uihlein won the U.S. Amateur. Top 10 Newsmakers of 2015: The full list But more so than most tournaments, this Open was arguably marked more by who lost than who won. Spieth captured his second straight major, sure, but this will forever be known as Dustin’s Folly. It seemed from his opening-round 65 that this place was ideally suited for Dustin Johnson, a brawny layout that matched his game and accentuated its strengths. He seemed in great position deep into the weekend, well beyond the point at which he had fallen away in previous majors, and carried a share of the lead into the final round. And it was still his tournament when he strode to the 72nd green, surveying an eagle putt to win and assured of a playoff with Spieth had he simply two-putted from inside 20 feet. But his first putt missed, and the next one did too, and suddenly Johnson hurried off into the sunset, his fiancée and newborn son at his side, without even bothering to collect his runner-up medal. It all made for a memorable conclusion, but Chambers Bay earned a spot on this list for more than just the tournament’s final stanza. Player criticism over the course layout, somewhat of an annual tradition at the season’s second major, was louder and more pointed than at any venue since the water hoses were spotted at Shinnecock Hills 11 years ago. Billy Horschel became the poster boy for anti-Chambers vitriol, capping his final-round press conference by proclaiming that he had “lost respect” for the USGA. Those sentiments were also echoed by Chris Kirk, while Henrik Stenson said the splotchy, barren greens were like “putting on broccoli.” Rory McIlroy went one step further, likening them to cauliflower – according to McIlroy, they weren’t green enough to be broccoli. Even local favorite Michael Putnam – who played the first-ever round at Chambers Bay – derided the putting surfaces, adding that the greens should be switched entirely to poa annua before the tournament ever returns. And it probably will return, too. Future Open venues are booked through 2024, but all signs point to Chambers Bay being seriously considered as the host in 2025. Aside from an eventful final round, the course also provided plenty of highlights – and lowlights – throughout the week. There was Louis Oosthuizen’s closing 29, a furious rally that allowed him to earn runner-up honors despite a disastrous opening round. And there was Jason Day, felled by a mid-round bout of vertigo and pushed to his limit while playing some of the best golf of his career. Day’s watershed moment came months later at the PGA Championship, but it was here – parked for the week in an RV just steps from the driving range – that the Aussie steeled his nerves in the face of an intense physical battle. And of course there was Tiger Woods, who was the last man on that range Wednesday evening, trying to dig answers from the pseudo-lunar dirt. He found none, bowing out with an opening 80 that was perhaps a worse round than even the score indicated. Woods capped it off by cold-topping a 3-wood into the “Chambers Basement,” a bunker Davis had explained just days earlier would not be in play all week. But Woods found it, although he found little else en route to a missed cut that became emblematic of his lost season. Entering the week, few knew what to expect from this unseen layout carved far from the sport’s familiar path. By many metrics, it exceeded expectations. According to others, it was woefully underwhelming. But regardless of personal opinions about Chambers Bay, one thing is certain: the course, and the tournament, were memorable.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – First-time major winners are supposed to bask in the glory of their accomplishments, to vacation in tropical locales, to chug anything and everything out of the trophy. But someone forgot to tell Danny Willett. Sure, over the past four weeks he has enjoyed the spoils of winning the Masters, but only when he’s not auditioning for a role in the next “Daddy Day Care” movie. Seriously, when Willett was asked Tuesday about the most interesting thing that’s happened to him over the past month, he offered this: “Changed a lot of nappies.” No, sorry, we must not have been clear: The most interesting thing that’s happened. “That is interesting,” he said with a smile. “Depends on what he’s doing.” Willett, 28, became a father for the first time in late March, and it was Zachariah’s early arrival that allowed the Englishman to play in the year’s first major. Willett was the last man to enter the tournament, and he also was the last one to leave, after he shot a flawless 67 in the final round and took advantage of Jordan Spieth’s missteps on the back nine. The Players Championship: Articles, photos and videos When he flew back home to England two days later, Willett was mobbed by fans and cameramen eager to congratulate Britain’s first Masters champion in two decades. The media crush continued once he arrived home – when taking out the garbage, he noticed paparazzi camped outside his house. It was his first glimpse into a life that is forever changed by his Masters victory. Though Willett was at one point the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, he has climbed the rankings with relative anonymity, known only by the most ardent golf fans, especially here in the States. Now, he said, “you can’t go and have a nice quiet drink with the missus. At nighttime you get people asking for pictures, autographs. It comes with the territory. You can’t really complain about signing a few autographs and taking a few pictures, because you’ve just won the Masters.” Fortunately, his home life has proven to be plenty humbling. “Coming back down to reality was literally the first day you get back home, you open the door, (wife) Nicole’s there, and the dog jumps up and licks you and you’ve got your little man to change,” he said. “That was straight back down to reality, just being a dad and a husband.” Willett has watched the final-round replay only once, his first night home. He settled on the couch with a cold beer in his hand, his wife and dog nearby, and the green jacket hanging on the door. “It’s still not sunk in, to be honest,” he said. “I could still re-watch it now and we could still smile with the shots that we hit and how things unfolded.” Willett doesn’t wear the green jacket much, or not as often as we’d probably think. He’ll slip it on for interviews. Photo shoots. Sponsor outings. The jacket travels with him, in case he’s booked for some fancy dinner that he wasn’t invited to before. “I don’t want to get it dirty or spill anything on it,” he said. Since arriving at Sawgrass, Willett has received polite congratulations from his Tour brethren. A stack of flags awaits in his locker, ready to be signed for various charity outings. The next phase of his career begins Thursday, when he looks to knock off a month’s worth of rust at one of the most demanding tests in golf. Since the Masters, Willett has played 18 holes only once, last Saturday. He’s been busier than anticipated. Willett had always planned to take a few weeks off after Augusta, to reset before a busy summer schedule, to get away and spend time with his family. But, he said, “it hasn’t really been the quiet four weeks I was expecting.” No surprise there. Life is different now. Now the ninth-ranked player in the world, Willett is a virtual lock for both the European Ryder Cup team and England’s Olympic squad. He figures to be judged harshly by what he does next, how he backs up his major breakthrough, but he seems unfazed by the added expectations. “I’ve got my own set of expectations of what I want to do for myself,” he said, “so I’m not really too fussed about what everybody else thinks. I’m trying to do my bit.”
NAPA, Calif. – Of the 70 players who made the cut in the PGA Tour season opener, Nicholas Lindheim easily could have been mistaken for a college kid who Monday qualified. He had a carry bag. He was not wearing a cap with a logo. He didn’t have an equipment deal. He didn’t have an agent. Lindheim, who turns 32 next month, is the oldest of the 25 rookies on the PGA Tour. And there aren’t many like him. The California native made it to the big leagues without going to college, and without having much game in the first place. ”I played my sophomore year in high school, and I was terrible,” he said. ”Being as competitive as I am, I just couldn’t put it down. I knew I could do it. I wouldn’t say I knew I could play on the PGA Tour, but to do it competitively.” The competitive side of him, not to mention the athleticism, comes naturally. His dad was a swimmer, his mother ran track. His sister, Bryttani, played softball at Florida State. Lindheim was into skateboarding, soccer and baseball until he threw his arm out. As for golf? ”Watching it on TV, I was like, ‘How hard is it to put a ball in the hole?”’ he said. ”I just had this fixation. My play is more unorthdox. I’ve been self-taught my whole life. I’m just really competitive. Just get the ball in the hole as fast as you can.” Turns out it was plenty difficult, though not enough for him to stop trying. He worked in the cart barn at Mission Viejo Country Club, then moved to Menifee Lakes Country Club in Murrieta, California, where he would play every day after work until he got better. He tried Q-school for the first time in 2011. He qualified for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2014, made the cut and played with Jim Furyk in the final round (Lindheim closed with a 77 and tied for 56th, Furyk shot 67 and tied for 12th). He finally got some status on the Web.com Tour, and Lindheim won on the Latin America circuit in 2014 and 2015. And then he was ready to quit. ”I thought maybe at one point this year I wasn’t good enough,” Lindheim said. ”It was my daughter’s third birthday. I was in Springfield, Illinois, and had just missed the cut by a shot. I missed an 8-footer on the last hole. I called my wife and said, ‘This isn’t fun.’ I was missing out on life at home.” His wife, Gracie, an attorney in Satellite Beach, Florida, told him to finish up the year and take stock. Lindheim won the next week in Utah and was on his way to the big leagues. ”That’s how crazy this game is,” Lindheim said. Others seem more impressed than Lindheim that he was still learning to play when his fellow rookies on tour were in the NCAAs, the U.S. Amateur or the Walker Cup. ”That’s what my wife says,” Lindheim said with a laugh. ”She says I don’t realize the level I’m at. I just expect a lot out of myself.” AMATEUR HOUR: A policy change on the PGA Tour involving amateurs has a historical footnote involving Tiger Woods and Matt Kuchar. Woods’ record of 142 consecutive cuts made on the PGA Tour would have been only 117 in a row if not for Kuchar. At the Bay Hill Invitational in 1999, Woods opened with rounds of 74-72 and went into the weekend in a tie for 71st. The cut policy for years had been top 70 ”professionals” and ties. Kuchar shot 73-69, but because he was an amateur, Woods made the cut. He went six more years before the streak ended at the Byron Nelson Classic. Starting this season, the cut is top 70 and ties, with no distinction between amateur and professional. LPGA PROMOTION: Madelene Sagstrom led the list of 10 players from the Symetra Tour who earned cards on the LPGA Tour for next year. Sagstrom, a 23-year-old Swede who went to LSU, won three times and had 11 finishes in the top 10. Among the LPGA newcomers is Nelly Korda, whose tie for sixth in the Symetra Tour Championship allowed her to get into the top 10 on the money list and join big sister Jessica Korda in the big leagues next year. Six of the 10 were playing the Symetra Tour for the first time – Sagstrom, Korda, Ally McDonald, Wichanee Meechai, Dana Finkelstein and Peiyun Chien. FEDEX CUP: The PGA Tour has adjusted its point distribution for the FedEx Cup to put more emphasis on higher finishes. It essentially uses a similar model to how the money is paid out at tournaments. What tour officials discovered was that a player who finished ninth one week and missed the cut the following week earned roughly the same amount of FedEx Cup points was someone who finished 31st at both those events. But in the money distribution, ninth place and a missed cut was worth at least twice as much money. As an example of the change, a player last year received 40 points for finishing 31st. This year he gets 26.5 points. DIVOTS: Bank of Hope, the largest Korean-American bank in the United States, with more than $13 billion in assets, has become title sponsor of the Founders Cup on the LPGA Tour. The event, which celebrates the LPGA founders, will still be played at Wildfire Golf Club in Phoenix. … Golfweek magazine reports that Lydia Ko has split with her caddie of two years, Jason Hamilton. She won 10 times with him on the bag, including two majors. … Justin Thomas has pledged $250 for every birdie (or better) he makes at the Safeway Open, the CIMB Classic and HSBC Champions to Convoy of Hope, which aids those affected by Hurricane Matthew. Thomas made 23 birdies and one eagle at the Safeway Open, totaling $6,000. STAT OF THE WEEK: Patton Kizzire has been runner-up in each of his two PGA Tour season openers. FINAL WORD: ”I don’t think I’m a fast player. I just think I’m usually ready to go.” – Bill Haas on pace of play.
SAN DIEGO – Phil Mickelson pretty much warned everyone to duck. Standing in the shadow of the 18th grandstand Sunday about a half hour before Jon Rahm ignited bedlam there winning the Farmers Insurance Open, Mickelson warned the world what kind of knockout punch the 22-year-old Spaniard is capable of delivering. Mickelson said he took one of Rahm’s mighty blows not so long ago, at Whisper Rock in Scottsdale, Ariz., a course Mickelson designed. “I thought I played OK, shot a solid 66, and I lost like 4 and 3,” Mickelson said. Rahm shot 62. So Mickelson was waiting for something spectacular like this. He was waiting for Rahm to show the world how special he can be. Rahm did just that blitzing the back nine of the brutish Torrey Pines South Course, making eagle at the 13th to move into a four-way share of the lead before separating himself with a birdie at the 17th. He slammed the door on his maiden PGA Tour title holing a mesmerizing 60-foot eagle putt at the final hole to win by three shots. After that last putt fell, Rahm let his inner Seve out, the great Seve Ballesteros, a fellow Spaniard Rahm said he idolized growing up. From the archives: How Rahm turned into a star Rahm showed a lot of Seve-like bravado on the back nine, especially making that eagle at the 13th, where he cooked his drive right into the fairway bunker. Instead of laying up at the par 5, Rahm grabbed a hybrid 4-iron and looked at his caddie, Adam Hayes. “Right at it all day,” Hayes told him. So Rahm did what Seve would have done. He went for it, blistering his approach to 18 feet to set up the eagle. “It’s a Spanish mindset,” Rahm said. “I feel like we are pretty aggressive, right? I think that’s the mindset probably thanks to Seve, right?” Sunday’s rendition of the Farmers Insurance Open was a wide open free-for-all early. Seven different players held or shared the lead until Rahm took charge on the back nine. He did so playing the final six holes in 5 under par, posting a 7-under-par 65 with a 30 on the back nine. Rahm conjured memories of yet another icon. Rahm is the first player to win the Torrey Pines Tour stop in his first start since Arnold Palmer in 1957. “To be able to get my first win on Tour here, it doesn’t get much better than that,” Rahm said. None of Rahm’s bold plays Sunday surprised Mickelson. “I’ve played a couple times with him, and let’s just say I will only be his partner from now on,” Mickelson said. “I haven’t been able to beat him.” Rahm played at Arizona State, Mickelson’s alma mater. He played for Tim Mickelson, Phil’s brother. Tim is now Rahm’s manager. A lot of folks will say they saw Rahm’s breakthrough coming. He was, after all, a former World Amateur No. 1 and a two-time Ben Hogan Award winner as the best collegian in the land. But those folks didn’t see what Rahm had to overcome acclimating to life at Arizona State. They didn’t see the challenges outside golf. “I grew up in a small town,” Rahm said. “The language barrier was hard.” When he first arrived at Arizona State, Rahm barely spoke English. The small-town kid from Barrika, Spain, said he was bewildered when he walked into his first class at Arizona State and there were 375 students in an auditorium-style classroom. “I thought it was a movie theater, and I was in the wrong place,” Rahm said. “It was a macroeconomic principles class. I’ll never forget it. “I came from a high school where the biggest class was 30 people.” Rahm adapted quickly with some unusual tactics. Tim Mickelson would make him do “burpees” when he caught him speaking Spanish in a team setting. That’s an exhausting kind of push up. And there was this other odd thing. “Memorizing rap songs in English actually helped me out a lot,” Rahm said. Rahm memorize Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools” and Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie” and other songs. “You can look them up, they’re good,” Rahm said. Rahm bonded quickly with Tim Mickelson. “I kind of treated him as my dad in the United States,” Rahm said. Tim said Rahm’s talent isn’t all that wowed him when he was recruiting Rahm. In the media center after Sunday’s victory, Tim said he watched Rahm as a 16-year-old finish second at the European Boys’ Championship in Stockholm, Sweden. What Tim saw off the course sold him. “Jon was disqualified,” Tim said. “He played with 15 clubs in his bag, but he didn’t realize that until after he got back to his hotel room. Now, as a 16-year-old kid, he probably could have gotten away with it, but he went and told his coach. I knew just what kind of quality kid he was. “He’s one of the most genuine guys you’ll meet.” And a golf star in the making. Again, Phil Mickelson will attest to that. “Jon doesn’t have weaknesses,” Phil said. “Every part of his game is a strength. I think he’s one of the best players in the world. There’s an intangible that some guys have, where they want to have the pressure put on them, they want to be in that tough position. They want to have everything fall on their shoulders. He has that.” Rahm showed the world Sunday he’s got that.
Steve Stricker always thought it was a long shot, and he recently was reminded that the USGA is tight when it comes to special exemptions for the U.S. Open. ”I wrote them quite a while back and asked for one, and they politely called me and declined,” Stricker said. The U.S. Open will be played in Wisconsin this year for the first time, June 15-18 at Erin Hills, a little more than an hour east of where Stricker lives in Madison. Stricker is a 12-time winner on the PGA Tour who reached as high as No. 2 in the world. He didn’t think that was enough to warrant a special exemption, but his brother-in-law and agent, Mario Tiziani, told him it was worth a shot. The U.S. Open gave an exemption last year to two-time champion Retief Goosen. Before that, it gave exemptions to Vijay Singh and Tom Watson in 2010 at Pebble Beach. The last player awarded an exemption without having won a major? That would be Aaron Baddeley in 2000 when he was a 19-year-old amateur at Pebble Beach. Stricker, the U.S. captain for the Presidents Cup this year, still hopes to be at Erin Hills. He’s just trying to figure out the best path. Stricker turned 50 in February and has been splitting time on both tours. He has top-10s in his three starts on the PGA Tour Champions, including a runner-up finish to Tom Lehman in Arizona. He tied for 16th in the Masters earlier this month, his best finish in four starts on the PGA Tour. If nothing else, Stricker has entered U.S. Open sectional qualifying in Tennessee. That’s where he played a year ago, missing out on qualifying by one shot. But at No. 94 in the world and the bare minimum divisor because of his limited schedule, he still can reach the top 60 by May 22 or by the Monday of the U.S. Open. Stricker is playing the Zurich Classic this week with Jerry Kelly (they tied for eighth last week at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf), which won’t help his cause toward the U.S. Open because no world ranking points are awarded. After a week off, he will be at The Players Championship and then the Regions Tradition, the first of five majors on the PGA Tour Champions. And then he’s undecided. The following week is the Senior PGA Championship, which is the same week as Colonial. ”I’m leaning toward Colonial,” Stricker said. ”I still want to be relevant. I can still compete out there, it’s a good course for me and I won there.” Stricker is new to this 50-and-older circuit and still trying to figure out the importance of its five majors. He would like to win the Senior PGA or any other senior major, although it’s not quite the same as a regular major. ”And that’s why I’m having a hard time,” he said. ”It’s a major out there, and I feel like it’s an important tournament. But I feel like Colonial is important, too. And I’m feeling that pull to the PGA Tour, and that’s the dilemma I’ve been having. And I haven’t come up with any good solutions.” Whatever he decides, Stricker said he plans to be at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, which follows the U.S. Open qualifier. He also is on the fence about Memorial, where he is a past champion. To play Muirfield Village, however, would be five straight tournaments – six if he finds his way to the U.S. Open.
BEDMINSTER, N.J. – Shanshan Feng led the U.S. Women’s Open as she stepped on to the 15th green Friday at Trump National, but she couldn’t help pausing to take in the historic spectacle unfolding there. President Donald Trump was settling in to his private box aside the 15th green and behind the 16th tee. Leaning on her putter, Feng couldn’t resist turning to sneak a peek with the president looking down behind bullet-proof glass. “I heard people kind of screaming, so that’s what I was trying to find out, why they were screaming,” Feng said. Feng wasn’t alone. Inbee Park couldn’t make out the president behind the glass as she stepped onto the 18th green, but her caddie, Brad Beecher, spotted him. “It was kind of funny walking up to the green,” Beecher said. “Everybody was turned the other way, away from us, with their cellphone cameras pointed up at the president. We heard the yelling, and then we saw him get up and wave.” Lexi Thompson, Stacy Lewis and Brooke Henderson were in the first group that passed through the 15th green after Trump arrived. “I shot a glance,” Thompson said. “Honestly, I was just trying to focus on my shot.” Trump first rolled onto his private golf club, Trump National, at 3:41 p.m. in a black SUV as part of a presidential motorcade. Love or loathe this president, it was a historic moment. Trump is the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open. Lewis felt the weight of that history back at the ninth hole, where her group was held back from crossing to the 10th tee so that Trump’s motorcade could pass. Controversies aside, Lewis appreciated the history being made. U.S. Women’s Open: Articles, photos and videos “That was kind of what intrigued me to start the week, was that we had never had an active sitting president at one of our events,” Lewis said. “So I was kind of excited, regardless of who it is, of the prospect that he came here to watch us. “He tweeted about coming to the U.S. Women’s Open. Some people didn’t know it was going on. It’s kind of a historic and cool moment to have our president here.” While more than one activist group was protesting down the road from Trump National, Trump’s arrival was embraced by enthusiastic golf fans inside the club’s gates. There was an electric crackle outside Trump’s private box as he ascended the staircase to the entrance at 5:22 p.m. A chorus of “wooo-hoos” and cheers went up as president waved. Once inside his private box, Trump answered the call of spectators beckoning him to the window. He waved, shot a pair of thumbs up and balled his fist in a triumphant salute. There were no jeers or signs of disapproval. “Make America great again!” one fan shouted. “You’re doing a great job,” another shouted. Outside the gates, there were harsher things being said. “For months we urged the USGA and LGPA to move this tournament,” Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of UltraViolet, a group formed to fight sexism and expand women’s rights, said in a statement. “They ignored us. Now, they are allowing Trump to use this tournament, and sadly the players, to benefit his own self-interests. “The USGA and LPGA could have made a clear and unequivocal statement against sexual assault by moving this tournament. Instead they chose to embrace the man who is a walking, talking example of a sexual predator. Shame on the USGA. Shame on the LPGA. This is a stain on your brand that will not wash away.” Players got a completely different vibe from the adoring fans huddled around Trump’s private box. Henderson, a Canadian, felt the excitement building around the 15th green as she approached. “It was really exciting,” Henderson said. “It’s really amazing that the president of the United States is here to watch us play golf and on a tremendous golf course. “It’s pretty incredible. I never thought that would happen. To be in my fifth U.S. Open and to have it happen is really cool.” Security staff was lined up beneath Trump’s box, keeping spectators from getting too close. A pair of Secret Service members in bullet-proof vests with assault rifles stood watch nearby. Trump spent about an hour watching from his box. Thompson was probably more prepared to play in front of the president than anybody else in the field. She has playing privileges at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm and has played with the president. “I’ve gotten to play with him quite a bit,” Thompson said. “He plays very fast. It’s a good time. Definitely entertaining.” Trump made Friday as historic inside the gates as it was controversial outside the gates.
As a catalyst for change, India’s Aditi Ashok didn’t exactly look as if she’d been plucked from Central Casting. Golf’s return to the Olympics last fall for the first time in over a century was billed in some circles as the ultimate grow-the-game initiative, a chance to transform a sport that had long been considered the realm of the wealthy in many parts of the world into a bona fide competition worthy of a nation’s best. In theory, the proponents explained, a chance to compete for medals at the Olympics would elevate golf in the eyes of many, which would generate interest and potential funding. In practice, it was the shy, rail-thin Ashok who stood as the standard-bearer when the then-18-year-old carded a second-round 68 to move into contention at the Olympic women’s competition and became an example of golf’s Olympic reach. “Prior to golf coming back to the Olympics, there was very little that the [Indian Golf Union] got from the sports ministry in India,” said Dilip Thomas, the executive vice chairman of the Indian Golf Union. “Golf was also categorized as an elite sport and supposedly played by wealthy people. After the Olympics and following Aditi’s performance in the early part of the event, the Indian government has started to look at golf through different eyes and now consider it to be a medal prospect for the country in the future.” Full golf coverage from the Rio Olympic Games But if Ashok’s impact on golf in India, where an estimated 1 in 10,000 people play the game, was predictable, a year removed from Olympic golf’s return, it has resonated beyond the Rio leaderboard. In underdeveloped golf countries the Olympics provided a unique opportunity to educate the public, which a recent International Golf Federation study suggests goes beyond the reach of even the game’s majors and other marquee events, as well as a chance to leverage the game’s newfound status as an Olympic sport. From China to Chile, national golf organizations have enjoyed an influx of interest and support that is unprecedented. “In Argentina they’ve been able to gain funding from their national Olympic committee for their elite amateurs, which they wouldn’t have had,” said Antony Scanlon, the IGF executive director. “China has changed, now they have primary schools and high schools that have golf-specific development programs to create an elite pathway right up to professional golf.” Prior to the ’16 Games, Scanlon explained that golf was a part of the sports ministry in China called the “small balls” department, which was mainly for non-Olympic sports. Now that it’s under its own umbrella, the opportunity for growth and support has increased dramatically. That’s the power of a potential Olympic medal in countries where coming in third at the Games – which China’s Shanshan Feng did – could generate more interest than winning a major. “Getting a medal is huge and it doesn’t make much difference, bronze, silver or gold, it’s a medal,” said Miguel Leeson, the former president of the Argentine Golf Association. “The Olympic movement has a lot of traction financially, so for countries like ours it’s really important. We get support from the high-performance center and we are a role model for other sports. We got into the Olympic movement and other sports are copying what we are doing.” Although many of the gains golf has made in places like Argentina and China are anecdotal since last year’s closing ceremony, it’s the potential for support and recognition that has created optimism among administrators. “The IGU secretariat has had discussions with the sports ministry and we have been told that a much larger level of financial assistance will be available in the years leading up to the 2018 Asian Games and the 2020 Olympics,” Thomas said. Hoggard: One year later: Olympic course defies the odds Even in places that didn’t send golfers to Rio, the Games have created opportunities that weren’t there before the Olympics, like in Puerto Rico, where the island’s Olympic committee has provided about $25,000 in funding for its golf association. “It’s not a lot but it helps offset some of the expenses we have to travel to championships and prepare ourselves,” said Sidney Wolf, the president of the Puerto Rican Golf Association. “We have seen the funding that we didn’t see before. We are encouraged.” But if the financial benefits created by the Games are encouraging, the interest among a largely non-golf public has generated the most optimism. “We think it will be a good start and grow after this Olympic Games. We are making a lot of communication and marketing with [Fabrizio Zanotti and Julieta Granada, who both represented Paraguay in the Olympics],” said Hugo Fernandez, the president of the Paraguay Golf Association, who has created a marketing campaign called “Finding Olympic dreams” that targets school children. The spike in interest in golf around the Games surprised even those who preached the mass appeal of the game’s return to the Olympic stage. According to a recent study, there were more than 650 hours of golf coverage globally that reached more than 285 million households. More telling, however, was an IGF study that measured “fan engagements” via social media. Golf ranked as the seventh-best Olympic sport in fan engagements with more than 190,000, just ahead of boxing and behind diving. Swimming was first with more than 780,000 engagements. (Engagements were defined as any social media post specific to a particular sport and included a four-month window, two months before and a month after the Games.) To put that in context, that put Olympic golf ahead of every major played since 2013 and behind only the 2014 Ryder Cup. “I knew we’d have new fans coming to watch, but that really surprised me,” Scanlon said. “That vindicates why we wanted to be a part of the Olympic program … to expand the reach of the game, and it certainly proved that.” Scanlon also points to the expansion of the IGF, which leads golf’s efforts in the Olympics. In 2009, the foundation included 116 member organizations, but that has grown to 150. Each of those new members can now become part of their country’s Olympic committees. Unlike at the Rio Games, the actual logistics of the Olympics becomes easier for golf moving forward, with established courses already in place for 2020 in Tokyo and in Paris, which will likely be named the site of the 2024 Games in September at the IOC’s Executive Board meeting in Peru. But for Scanlon and those tasked with turning golf’s Olympic dream into reality, the challenge moving forward is how the game leverages that unparalleled attention into more resources and grassroots interest in underdeveloped countries. “How do we convert that sort of three- or four-month window of excitement about golf in the Olympics and put a golf club in hand?” Scanlon asked. “That’s the challenge for me working through to Tokyo.” With golf now firmly established in the Olympic rotation, officials now recognize that the key to continued change will come from the most unlikely places, like an 18-year-old who captivates a nation with her play.