After Historic Season, Jordan Spieth Has Officially Changed Golf

jordan6You say you want a revolution?

Golf has been there, done that.

Just as Tiger Woods changed the game with his power and fitness more than a decade ago, Jordan Spieth changed golf this year with less glamorous but no less effective concepts–putting, wedge play and preparation.

The secret of golf is not making bogeys. Woods exemplified that during his peak when his short game and putting was near best-ever levels but it was his long drives and precise iron play that got most of the attention.

Sure, Spieth won the Tour Championship here at East Lake by four strokes over Stenson, Justin Rose and Danny Lee, but his great contribution this year was in using all facets of his game and in placing the game’s emphasis back where it belongs, on scoring instead of monster drives and bomb-and-gouge golf.

Spieth ranks No. 1 in one-putts per round and No. 2 in percentage of putts made from 15-25 feet and it was no coincidence that he racked up his fifth victory of the season.

The look on challenger Henrik Stenson’s face was priceless at the par-3 11th green. Spieth’s tee shot came up short, caught a mound mid-green, and rolled back down the slope. Stenson had hit it to three feet. Spieth poured in the up-and-over-and-barreling-right putt from 45 feet like it was a simple.

“That was a dagger,” Spieth admitted.

Stenson keeps a good poker face normally but his that-figures smirk was unmistakable and, gamesman that he is, he gave Spieth a modest fist-bump and a nod, then rolled in his own short birdie putt.

“It’s been a phenomenal year for Jordan,” Stenson said later. “I watched it first-hand in the first two rounds in Augusta and he played phenomenal and putted phenomenal and it was the same putting display today. It was just an exhibition on the greens.”

Struggling to bring home a three-shot lead on the closing stretch, Spieth rolled in par-saving eight-footers at 14 and 15, showing his emotion with a clenched-hand fist pump at the 15th. There was also an 18-footer for birdie at the ninth, which brought a roar from a big gallery jammed around the green.

“His putting and his mental focus is the best in the world,” Stenson said. “He’s a very tidy player and every time he’s in trouble, he saves himself. When he gets the chance, he rolls it in for birdie so he’s hard to beat.”

His chipping and pitching are as good as anyone on tour. The same may be true of his work ethic. Think about the little things. Even though Jason Day outran him at the PGA Championship—and had to shoot the lowest score in major championship history to do it—Spieth holed out an important bunker shot at Whistling Straits’ 18th hole in the second round because he’d talked to local caddies who’d told him about that bunker (and another one) were firmer and played differently than all the rest.

For the British Open, Spieth played simulator golf so he could learn some of the nuances of the Old Course at St. Andrews since he didn’t go over early because he wanted to defend his title at the John Deere Classic.

At Chambers Bay, of course, his caddie Michael Greller used to work there so Spieth already had an edge over the rest of the field.

His edge at the Tour Championship, an event that Woods and Phil Mickelson were known to skip, was that he valued it and prepared accordingly. It’s safe to say that few players have treated this event as a must-win in the past when most saw it as a cash reward for a good season. Spieth recognized the Tour Championship for what it is—the most important part of the FedEx Cup series, if not the only important part. The FedEx Cup champion and the man who gets the $10 million bonus is usually the Tour Championship winner. So those three FedEx Cup events leading up to it, they’re sort of just the warmup act.

“We approached Atlanta like a major championship,” Spieth said earlier. “The whole year has been about majors and I consider this to be a fifth one at the end. I said in New York (before The Barclays), Everything now is to prepare to peak in Atlanta.”

Spieth wasn’t implying that the Tour Championship really is the fifth major, a silly thought for a 30-man field, just that he decided to treat it like one in his mind and perform his usual due diligence.

Peak for Atlanta? Those are words that have seldom, if ever, been heard in regard to the Tour Championship over the years.

Spieth and Greller—they’re the “we” Spieth usually refers to—will be beaten on occasion but not because they’ve been outworked.

I think we were the first ones out here on that Monday morning,” Spieth said. “At Chambers Bay, I went in Saturday and had been there the Saturday before. When you change grass types, it’s a bit of an adjustment. I love this bermuda here but we don’t normally see it on the tour this time of year. We mainly did short game work and then getting my body right. My trainer was here. “I can’t speak about us compared to other players but I will say that I noticed it very, very lonely out here on that Monday, which was kind of nice.”

Who preps for regular tour events? Nobody. There isn’t time. The Tour Championship, however, isn’t a regular tour event. There are only 29 other players to beat—27 this week after two withdrawals—and the big prize is $11.8 million in prize money, including the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus money. That, plus capping off a great season with a feel-good win, is what made it worth the extra effort that Spieth and Greller spent.

Whether Day and Rory McIlroy and the rest of golf realizes it yet, Spieth and Greller have raised the bar on being ready and being motivated, just the way Tiger’s strength sent almost every PGA Tour player scurrying to the fitness van for weight work to get stronger.

You don’t believe this is a revolution? Spieth’s accomplishments say otherwise.

He’s the first player to win more than $12 million in one season. Tack on the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus and he’s over $22 million.

At 22, he’s the youngest player to win five times in a season since Horton Smith in 1929.

This win reclaims the No. 1 world ranking, clinches the Vardon Trophy for best scoring average and obviously the money title. Player of the Year? That was never truly in doubt. Even before this week, would Jason Day have traded his PGA Championship and four other wins for Spieth’s two majors and two other victories. Damn right he would. Would Spieth have traded with Day? Not a chance.

NBC golf analyst Johnny Miller expressed the appropriate amount of awe at the end of Sunday’s telecast. “You’ve got to keep reminding yourself that this guy is 22 years old,” Miller said of Spieth. “That’s what is amazing. This is a great year for a guy in his prime at 26 or 28 or 30. At 22, where does his progression end? Are we seeing the best he’s going to play and putt or is he going to get better?”

Knowing how hard Spieth and Greller work, you’ve got to believe he—sorry, they!–will get better.

This revolution has only just begun.

courtesy of Gary Van Sickle (golf.com)

Michael Greller Made Almost as Much Cash as Phil Mickelson in 2015

caddieWe know it’s excellent to be Jordan Spieth, but it’s pretty good to be his caddie, too.

The 22-year-old Spieth earned his age in money (just over $22 million) on the PGA Tour this season, shattering Vijay Singh’s previous yearly record of $10.91 million by taking home the Tour Championship and an $11.4 million prize Sunday. Spieth’s right-hand man, caddie Michael Greller, cashed in as well.

Back in July, we explored just how much Greller made for his much-appreciated expertise, advice and counseling up to the John Deere Classic. That figure, approximately $867,000, was more than 159 other PGA Tour members made up to that point.

Then came the British Open, the PGA Championship and the FedEx Cup Playoffs, which put Greller into a whole new stratosphere of high-earning caddies.

Typically, caddies receive 5 percent of a player’s earnings for making the cut, 7 percent for finishing top-10 and 10 percent for a win. So let’s break down the last few events that Spieth has done, well, very well at.

  • The Open Championship: T4, earned $460,377
  • WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: T10, earned $149,500
  • PGA Championship: 2nd, earned $1,080,000
  • The Barclays: CUT
  • Deutsche Bank Championship: CUT
  • BMW Championship: T13, earned $173,250
  • Tour Championship: 1st, earned $1,485,000 + $10 million FedEx Cup bonus

Assuming Greller earned the typical tip, he brought home $1,275,453 in just those last five events where he would be receiving a payout. Add that to his previous earnings up to the Open Championship, and he’s brought in a cool $2.14 million this year. Not bad for a caddie!

That squeezes Greller into a tight spot between Russell Henley ($2.11 million) and Phil Mickelson ($2.15 million), 39th on the 2015 PGA Tour money list — more than 220 other PGA Tour players. When you’re making almost as much as Lefty, you’re in a good spot.

We don’t know what kind of arrangement Spieth and Greller have, as most players and caddies have specific agreements and some could receive random bonuses (see Billy Horschel from last year). But judging by their close relationship, their contract is probably far from typical. And by the way they celebrate, it’s clear to everyone that Greller’s earned every penny.

courtesy of Marika Washchyshyn (golf.com)

Report: Tom Watson Declines Offer to Join PGA of America Hall of Fame

tom watsonTom Watson has turned down an offer to join the PGA of America’s Hall of Fame, according to a Golf World report.

The 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, chosen by former PGA of America President Ted Bishop, wrote the following in a text to Golf World: “While I was very flattered by PGA President (Derek) Sprague’s honoring me to be inducted into PGA Hall of Fame, I couldn’t accept in good conscience because of how the PGA mishandled the firing of my friend and immediate past president of the PGA, Ted Bishop.”

Bishop had the following to say Monday afternoon to GOLF.com about Watson’s decision when reached by telephone:

“I didn’t know anything about it myself until 7:30 a.m. this morning. It wasn’t anything that Tom discussed with me. I probably was as surprised as a lot of other people were.

“[Watson] had my total support as the Ryder Cup captain, and in turn I think I had his total support as president of the PGA of America. There was a lot of mutual respect for what the other guy did. We’ve had a great relationship and I’ve enjoyed it both leading up to and after the Ryder Cup.

“In my time as president of the PGA of America one of the things I feel really proud of is the relationship I have with Tom Watson. He stands for all the things that are great about this game.”

After sending multiple tweets in response to an Ian Poulter critique of Nick Faldo–calling Poulter a “lil girl”–Bishop was removed from his position as president of the organization in October 2014 only three weeks before his contract was set to expire.

Watson is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. The 66-year-old captained the U.S. Ryder Cup team for the second time in 2014 and lost to the Europeans 16.5 to 11.5. In the wake of the loss, Watson was widely criticized for his decision making during the matches.

courtesy of Brendan Mohler (golf.com)

Spieth Takes the Lead at East Lake, 1 Round Away From $10 million

Henrik Stenson gets a free drop on the first fairway due to course conditions in the rain during the third round of the Tour Championship golf tournament at East Lake Golf Club, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)  MARIETTA DAILY OUT; GWINNETT DAILY POST OUT; LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; WXIA-TV OUT; WGCL-TV OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT

Henrik Stenson gets a free drop on the first fairway due to course conditions in the rain during the third round of the Tour Championship golf tournament at East Lake Golf Club, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Already with the best year in golf, Jordan Spieth is one round away from having the richest year in golf history.

Spieth battled his way through a tough, rainy Saturday at the Tour Championship and finally overtook Henrik Stenson with a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 2-under 68 and a one-shot lead. Spieth also had an 8-foot birdie and a 20-foot par over the closing four holes.

Stenson had a three-shot lead going to the back nine until back-to-back bogeys. He dropped one more shot on the 17th and had a 72, his first time over par at East Lake in seven rounds. It also was the first time he was not in the lead at the Tour Championship in his two appearances.

Spieth was at 8-under 202.

A victory Sunday would push Spieth over a record $12 million for the year, along with the $10 million bonus for winning the FedEx Cup.

As tough it was in the third round, the FedEx Cup finale might be even more difficult – if not because of the course, then the competition and what’s at stake.

Rickie Fowler shot a 31 on the back nine for a 67, the low score of the third round, and was four shots behind. Spieth, Stenson and Fowler are among the top five seeds in the FedEx Cup and only have to win the Tour Championship to capture the FedEx Cup.

Zach Johnson had a 71 and was five shots back. A victory would give him the FedEx Cup, provided Jason Day isn’t the runner-up. Day had a 70 and was tied for 10th.

Relatively quiet during the postseason, Spieth looks to be in mid-summer form.

He has made only two bogeys all week, and he has delivered four amazing par saves. He was four shots behind and in the front bunker on No. 8, a flat lie facing a steep hill, and he had resigned to make bogey. Stenson was about 10 feet away for birdie. Spieth picked it clean and got up-and-down from 5 feet, while Stenson missed.

Spieth also saved par with a long bunker shot on the par-3 second and on No. 5 with an up-and-down from 70 yards.

”I could have easily been 3 over through eight,” Spieth said.

The other big save was on the 16th, when Spieth blocked it so badly off the tee he called out, ”Holy, right!” It missed by a foot going into the bushes, he drilled a line drive through the pine trees to the first cut, hit wedge to 20 feet and holed it for par.

”A miracle save on 16,” Stenson called it.

Stenson had another day of ordinary ball-striking, normally his strength, but he managed it fine. The difficult part was a wet East Lake, which made the course feel like a beast. No hole was more difficult than the 520-yard fifth hole, a par 4 that only three players reached in two. Stenson it a pair of 3-woods and couldn’t get there. Spieth hammered a driver and a 3-wood and was still some 70 yards short of the flag.

Stenson hit a fairway metal on the 10th hole out of the rough, just through the green and down a slope, leading to bogey. He also three-putted the 11th when the final group was warned to pick up the pace.

”Kept it together fairly nicely and we’re still at the races,” Stenson said. ”I would have liked to have gone a few better, but we’re still up there and yeah, it’s all going to be decided tomorrow.”

Paul Casey had a 71 and was tied with Fowler at 4-under 206, while Rory McIlroy lost momentum with a double bogey on the 18th from a terrible lie around a bunker. That capped off a wild finish for McIlroy – four birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey over the last seven holes. It added to a 70, and he was five shots behind at 207.

Only nine players remained under par, a big contrast from the opening three FedEx Cup playoff events where the winners were a combined 56-under par.

And now it comes down to one last day in the season.

Spieth effectively put an end to any debate about PGA Tour player of the year, especially with Day struggling this week in his debut at No. 1. Spieth also is all but assured the Vardon Trophy. But there’s a bigger prize that’s worth more than $10 million.

Spieth said even before the postseason began that his goal was to peak at East Lake, much like he tried to get his game just right for the majors. Here he is, leading by one shot going into the final round on a course that he believes is easier to play in front because of the premium on par.

But he spent all day in the rain with Stenson, one of the power players in golf who won the last time he was at East Lake.

”I’m very pleased with where we stand going into tomorrow, and Henrik’s going to come back very strong,” Spieth said. ”This was his off day, and so I’m going to have to play even better.”

courtesy of AP NEWS

Holly Sonders to Debut as Fox Sports NFL Reporter This Sunday

Sonders2Fox Sports golf analyst Holly Sonders will make her debut as an NFL sideline reporter during this Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Houston Texans.

The 1 p.m. game from NRG Field in Houston is scheduled to air in seven markets in Florida and Texas (Ft. Myers, Gainesville, Houston, Orlando, Panama City, Tallahassee, Tampa), but will only reach about 5 percent of the nation’s television viewership. Sonders will work with Kenny Albert and Daryl Johnston.

Sonders left Golf Channel at the end of 2014 and signed a deal with Fox Sports, part of which included the opportunity to work NFL games. Since the beginning of 2015 she has served a variety of roles in Fox Sports’ golf coverage of USGA events. On Fox Sports’ press site Sonders is listed as a “rotating analyst” for 2015 NFL coverage.

courtesy of Brendan Mohler  (golf.com)

Jordan Spieth, Jason Day Highlight Tour Championship Tee Times

Jordan Spieth celebrates after sinking his final putt to win a three-hole playoff in the fourth round of the 2015 Valspar Championship

Jordan Spieth celebrates after sinking his final putt to win a three-hole playoff in the fourth round of the 2015 Valspar Championship

The 2014-15 PGA Tour season finale is here, and the tee times have been set based on current rank in the FedEx Cup standings. That means that arguably the two hottest players in golf–Jason Day and Jordan Spieth–are paired together for at least the first two rounds at East Lake.

The first group, off at 11:40 a.m. Thursday, consists of Louis Oosthuizen and Harris English. Among the other highlighted pairings are Rory McIlroy with Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler alongside Henrik Stenson. Hideki Matsuyama was slated to play with Jim Furyk, but he will now go solo after Furyk withdrew due to a wrist injury.

11:40 a.m.—Louis Oosthuizen, Harris English

11:50 a.m.—Kevin Na, Sangmoon Bae

12:00 p.m.—Brooks Koepka, Bill Haas

12:10 p.m.—Brandt Snedeker, Steven Bowditch

12:20 p.m.—Matt Kuchar, Paul Casey

12:30 p.m.—Danny Lee, Scott Piercy

12:40 p.m.—J.B. Holmes, Kevin Kisner

12:50 p.m.—Hideki Matsuyama, Jim Furyk (WD)

1:00 p.m.—Jimmy Walker, Robert Streb

1:10 p.m.—Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose

1:20 p.m.—Daniel Berger, Patrick Reed

1:30 p.m.—Dustin Johnson, Charley Hoffman

1:40 p.m.—Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson

1:50 p.m.—Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson

2:00 p.m.—Jason Day, Jordan Spieth

Henrik Stenson Jokes About How Hard It Is to Win the FedEx Cup

Henrik StensonJust how difficult is it to win the FedEx Cup Playoffs and earn the $10 million bonus?

Let Henrik Stenson explain.

During his Tuesday press conference prior to the start of the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta, Stenson was told he still had a chance to win the FedEx Cup by finishing third this week–no matter he hasn’t won a tournament all season.

Here’s his response:

“…I mean, it shouldn’t be too hard to wipe the floor with these guys this week, right? There’s no one that’s playing great and is sky high on confidence and no one with a bunch of majors and no one else that hits it 330 off the tee, so it shouldn’t be that hard.”

If you couldn’t tell, Stenson was being quite sarcastic.

courtesy of Josh Berhow (golf.com)

Jason Day Becomes World No. 1 for First Time Following BMW Victory

jason dayAfter winning his first career major at the PGA Championship last month, Jason Day has now crossed another career goal off his bucket list, becoming the World No. 1.

Day’s 6-stroke victory at the BMW Championship this weekend vaulted the 27-year-old Australian from third in the ranking to the top spot for the first time in his career. He is the youngest Australian to ever hold the number one spot, joining Greg Norman and Adam Scott as fellow countrymen to be ranked No. 1.

It was Day’s fifth victory of his 2015 season. Four of them have come since the beginning of July, which means they retain their full value now while Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy’s respective victories from spring have progressively lost value in the ranking system. As of this week, Day’s world ranking average sits at 12.64, but his two predecessors at No. 1 still remain less than a full point behind.

McIlroy and Spieth entered last weekend as the top-two golfers in the world, separated by the narrowest margin that Nos. 1 and 2 have ever been. After they both finished in the top 15 Sunday, very little has changed as McIlroy still has a slim edge (.03 points) over Spieth.

With just one tournament remaining on the PGA Tour schedule, the Tour Championship at East Lake is the last significant strength event for the next month. With three players stuck in proximity to each other, next week may very well bring another player to the top of the ranking.

courtesy of Sean Zak (golf.com)

Epic Golf Course Police Chase Dash Cam Video Released

It has been more than a year since Kendall Feist took his pickup truck barreling through a golf course while being chased by local police in Moorhead, Minnesota. On Wednesday, the police finally released the dash cam video of the incident.

Police were chasing Feist, 34, for a drug-related arrest, and had tracked him well enough to move within range. When the car sirens were turned on, Feist decided to run, taking his truck throughout the town. He eventually turned onto Village Green Golf Course (around the 2:30 mark). The police followed.

What ensued was a fairway-ruining rundown that forced helpless golfers to scramble out of the way as Feist eluded the squad car. Luckily no one was hurt.

Feist was later found and arrested, while four policemen were disciplined for taking the chase onto the course and unnecessarily putting civilians in danger, according to The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. Feist would eventually plead guilty and is currently serving 11 years in federal prison.

There’s a good chance his runaway video remains popular long after his sentence is through.

courtesy of Sean Zak (golf.com)

Rory McIlroy Has Already Lost His Grip on Golf’s Next Era

Rory2PGAThey don’t make eras like they used to.

This time last year the golf world was busy feting Rory McIlroy, who had established himself as the game’s undisputed boy king. McIlroy, now 26, was such a dominant force that the big question was whether any other young players would step up to challenge him, or if he’d run roughshod over the sport. We now know the answer.

What’s stunning about golf’s current state of affairs is how much McIlroy’s standing has been diminished. Even though he made a brief cameo atop the World Ranking a few weeks ago, he is plainly only the third-best player in the game right now. (Fowler loyalists might say Rory is only the fourth best, but we’re not gonna go there just yet.)

Jordan Spieth began altering the landscape by doing what McIlroy has famously been unable to — solve Augusta National. His win there, and at the dust bowl that was Chambers Bay, highlighted the primary difference between these two awesome talents: Spieth’s superiority around the greens, which allows him to conquer firm, fast setups. Such speedy conditions have never quite agreed with McIlroy, which is inconvenient given that the lords of Augusta, Far Hills and St. Andrews all strive to achieve them for their championships. (The dons of Palm Beach Gardens have reluctantly accepted that August is not ideal for pushing a golf course to the limit, especially given their predilection for hot-weather venues.)

There was a pleasing contrast in the budding Jordan-Rory rivalry: an intense scoring machine versus an insouciant ball-basher. But Jason Day has of late added a new wrinkle by putting like Spieth while driving it like McIlroy. Just when Jordanmania had taken hold, and it looked like this could be his era and not Rory’s, Day has arrived as a man in full. In his Sunday showdown with Spieth at the PGA Championship, the 27-year-old Aussie simply had more firepower. He’s been too injury-prone for anyone to declare this the beginning of the Day Era, but he’s certainly a tantalizing addition in the rarified air at the top of the World Ranking. Day also has the advantage of being more settled off the course. Marriage and kids, and all the associated complications, are likely in the future for both Spieth and McIlroy. Day, an old soul thanks to a hard-knock upbringing, has already mastered the juggling act of being a touring pro and doting dad and devoted hubby.

If we can assume that the relentless Spieth is going to keep doing more of what he’s been doing, the really interesting question is where McIlroy goes from here. While he is physically recovered from the worst-timed kickabout in golf history, mentally it looks like he’s just not that into it. The front-nine 40 on Friday at Augusta was dispiriting, but he rallied with a strong spring, taking the Match Play and then, lest we have all forgotten, waltzing to a seven-shot victory in Charlotte, thanks to a Saturday 61.

But McIlroy played indifferently at the U.S. Open and seemed just the tiniest bit offended at how quickly the golf world forgot about him, as Spieth chased the Grand Slam. Missing the British Open was the worst luck imaginable. A golfer gets only two or three chances to tackle the Old Course in his prime, and to spend this Open on his couch was surely wrenching for McIlroy. Since he’s returned to action, he’s been scratching around for his old confidence and a little bit of form. Both have been slow in coming. At the Deutsche Bank — where a Friday 74 ruined his chances at victory — McIlroy said he was taking the long view and that the ascension of Spieth and Day will only help him by forcing him to raise his game. “When [I’m] playing [my] best and everything sort of clicks together,” he said, “I don’t feel like there’s anyone that can beat me.”

That was surely true a year ago. Now? We shall see. McIlroy remains a preeminent talent, and there’s no doubting his drive to become one of the all-time greats. Yet this rough season has made it clear that, going forward, it won’t be quite so easy for him to own the game.

courtesy of Alan Shipnuck (golf.com)

David Feherty Signs With NBC Sports, Golf Channel

David-FehertyLongtime on-course analyst and reporter David Feherty has agreed to an exclusive deal with the NBC Sports Group, which owns Golf Channel, where he will continue covering golf but dip into entertainment as well.

GolfChannel.com announced Tuesday that the 57-year-old will continue as an on-course analyst for the network’s golf coverage. Besides being used in regular season PGA Tour events, the move to NBC means Feherty will be on the scene at next year’s Ryder Cup and Olympics.

“I’m really looking forward to the next step in my career,” Feherty told Golf Channel. “But I’ll miss a lot of people who have had my back for nearly 20 years.”

Feherty spent 19 years with CBS, but the two sides were unable to come to a new agreement regarding Feherty’s continued role with the network’s golf coverage.

His new deal will allow him to continue hosting his Golf Channel show, “Feherty,” but also contains a clause with Universal Television for entertainment show purposes. The “first look development deal” does not guarantee he will get any screen time in such an entertainment show, but shows an interest in him as a host.

courtesy of Sean Zak (golf.com)

Can Phil Mickelson Reclaim His Game at the Presidents Cup?

The Presidents Cup - Singles MatchesWhen Jay Haas used his final captain’s pick to add Phil Mickelson to the U.S. Presidents Cup team, he cited Mickelson’s vast experience in team events and the outpouring of support from other pros on the squad. Phil’s reputation and popularity may have been enough to punch his ticket to Korea next month, but can he recapture his old form when it counts?

Between 2004 and 2008, Mickelson won three major championships and nine other PGA Tour events, finishing in the top six in scoring average every season. During this peak from age 33 to 38, Phil was clearly one of the three best golfers in the world, and while he fell to 10th between 2009 to 2013, he still won two majors and six other tournaments over those five seasons and remained an obvious contributor to team competitions. But since his 2013 Open Championship victory, Mickelson hasn’t won a single event in 45 attempts and rarely finds himself in the hunt.

A good way to measure overall performance is to look at how often a golfer beats the field average by 15 or more strokes over the course of an event. Past research indicates that players win an average of roughly a third of tournaments in which they play that well. Between 2009 and 2013, Mickelson reached this elite level fifteen times on both the PGA and European Tours (about 13 percent of his starts). In 2014 and 2015, he only played that well twice in 40 events (about 5 percent of his starts) and both of those performances came in majors — at the 2014 PGA Championship and 2015 Masters.

Of course, this level of decline is not uncommon among golfers in their 40s, as the average player tends to lose one full stroke between ages 35 and 45. Mickelson’s scoring average has gone from 69.3 between 2004 to 2008 to 70.4 in 2014 and 2015. Thus, his decline with age has been exactly what we would expect based on the career trajectories of other golfers.

Phil%20Mickelson%20-%20Scoring%20Average

Also typical of most aging players, Mickelson’s decline has been concentrated in his long game (approach shots and drives). Based on Mark Broadie’s Strokes Gained stats from PGATour.com, Mickelson declined from +0.9 strokes gained per round on tee to green shots in 2009-11, to +0.7 strokes gained per round in 2012-13, to +0.4 strokes gained per round in 2014-15.

Mickelson’s touch with his irons and wedges has also failed him lately. The PGA Tour’s proximity to the hole stat measures how close, on average, each approach shot comes to the pin. Phil’s numbers have declined across every distance (wedges, short irons, and long irons) between 2009-13 and 2014-15. He struggles to control his approach shots more than he once did, resulting in fewer birdie opportunities and tougher two putts for par.

What’s worse, Mickelson’s ability to recover from drives into the rough, the talent that bolstered the legend of “Phil the Thrill,” has all but disappeared. In fact, in each of the last six seasons, his rank in proximity to the hole from the rough has been better than his rank in proximity to the hole from the fairway. But that magic seems to have escaped him this year, as he is now one of the PGA Tour’s worst players coming out of the rough. Simply fixing that part of his game might provide the spark he needs to be a positive contributor in Korea.

There are reasons for optimism. Evidence suggests that Mickelson can raise his game in the most important events. He has clearly reversed his poor career record in team events over the last three Presidents Cups and last three Ryder Cups — winning 16 points over 25 matches. He also remains one of the best at raising his play in major championships. Over the last eight seasons, only Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy have a better scoring average in majors than Mickelson.

He’ll have to rediscover that big-game magic in Korea, or his most important contributions will come in the clubhouse.

courtesy of Jake Nichols (golf.com)

Tiger Woods, Lydia Ko and Michelle Wie in This Week’s Heroes & Zeros

When Horace Rawlins won the inaugural U.S. Open, in 1895, we’re pretty sure no one pounded him on the back and said, “Congrats on your first major championship victory, old boy.” History shows it takes a long time for tournaments to be accorded that august status. The first little invitational in Augusta was held in 1934, but it wasn’t until the early ’60s, when Arnold Palmer and color TV arrived together, that the Masters became a big deal. So who GettyImage1

2. Silverado. A sleepy little season-opener is suddenly big-time with Tiger and Rory committing at the point of a bayonet. I’m already stocking up on pens, notebooks and bottle openers.

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3. Tiger. Pros are flocking to his new restaurant, and his mere presence at Sunday Night Football relegated Jordan Spieth to an afterthought. That’s star power, baby.

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4. Annie Park. With her third Symetra Tour win in nine starts this talented 20-year-old has punched her ticket to the LPGA. Golf’s youth movement goes on and on and on.

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5. Thomas Pieters. He earned his second victory in the span of three weeks on the Euro tour. Keep your eye on this 23-year-old Belgian for next year’s Ryder Cup. As if the European team isn’t stacked enough.

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Zeros

1. Lexi. Maybe no one was going to hold off Ko this time around, but Thompson’s chip-yipped double bogey on the 14th hole certainly made it easy on her callow challenger.

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2. The U.S. Walker Cup team. I know these guys look up to the pros, but do they have to play like it’s the Ryder Cup, too?

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3. The World Ranking. It might’ve just usurped the BCS rankings as sport’s most annoying algorithm.

PGA Championship - Round One

4. Michelle Wie. I’m a big fan, but you simply can’t sport aviator shades, high-top pink shoes and rainbow-colored hair and then go out and shoot 75.

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5. Presidents Cup outfits. Lucky golf fans, we now get to choose the clothes for day one of the competition, thanks to a just-unveiled PGA Tour promotion. I’m opting for a paper bag in a distressed-khaki color so I can wear it over my head in shame as I vote.

The Presidents Cup - Singles Matches

courtesy of Alan Shipnuck (golf.com)

Poll: How Many Top 100 Courses Have You Played?

Bandon-Dunes_Wood-Sabold_0GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 Courses in the World were just revealed this week, and to no surprise, Pine Valley leads the way once again as the greatest course on Earth.

The debate over which course deserves the top spot will rage on forever, but in the meantime, playing these courses is a goal for many people.

For those who have, we want to know: How many courses have you played? Are you still waiting for your first Top 100 experience? Or are you out there on a private jet, chasing down the next spot on your bucket list?

Take a run through the Top 100 rankings and keep tally of how many tracks you’ve had the pleasure of playing. You might just surprise yourself.

Not pleased with your Top 100 pedigree? Take a look at our score predictor to see what you would shoot at the Top 100. Maybe that will help decide on which course fits your game best.

courtesy of Sean Zak (golf.com)

Lexi Thompson Tied For Lead at Evian Championship

Lexi Thompson, of USA, follows her ball after playing on the 15th hole during the first round of the Evian Championship women's golf tournament in Evian, eastern France, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

Lexi Thompson, of USA, follows her ball after playing on the 15th hole during the first round of the Evian Championship women’s golf tournament in Evian, eastern France, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

Lexi Thompson picked up five shots in four holes in a 5-under 66 to claim a share of the lead with Mi Hyang Lee in the opening round of the Evian Championship on Thursday.

The American made a superb start to the final major of the season at the picturesque resort above Lake Geneva, then managed to stay bogey-free.

Thompson, who was given an early morning start on the back nine in perfect weather conditions, was the sole leader for most of the day until Lee made up for two bogeys with seven birdies to tie for first place.

Thompson’s stunning period started when she birdied the 12th hole. Paired with Sandra Gal and former Evian champion Paula Creamer, she hit a 7-iron to 20 feet and sank an eagle putt on the 13th, and birdied Nos. 14 and 15.

Her day was capped by a remarkable bunker shot on her final hole.

”Ended up trying to go for the green, came up short in a bunker that was about 40 yards away, and chipped it short and had about 15-footer for par,” she said.

She and the up-and-coming South Korean Lee have a one-shot lead over a group of three players: Former U.S. Open champion Eun-Hee Ji, Gerina Piller of the U.S., and Pornanong Phatlum of Thailand.

The 20-year-old Thomson has won a major before, the Kraft Nabisco last year, but she went through a one-year drought before winning the Meijer Classic in July. She has three top-10 finishes in her last five starts.

Looking to complete a career Grand Slam, top-ranked Inbee Park could not find the accuracy that characterized her recent majors, and had to be content with an opening round of 1-over par. Park, who claimed the Women’s British Open last month to become the seventh female to win four different majors, won the Evian in 2012, a year before the U.S. LPGA Tour made it the fifth and final major on its calendar.

Paired with No. 2 Lydia Ko and No. 3 Stacy Lewis, Park bogeyed four holes to finish the day one shot ahead of Lewis, who carded a 2-over 73.

Ko was the best of the elite trio, shooting a 2-under 69. She’s bidding to become the youngest major champion this weekend.

Ko said she was impressed by Thompson.

”I saw her score. I kind of realized it was going pretty low, especially at the start of the round and she was only a couple of groups in front of us,” she said. ”I was on the par-3, 14th or something, and that was only her fifth hole of the day. And I saw her to my left, and it showed her scorecard. I saw some birdies, some eagles, so that’s a pretty consistent scorecard there.”

Michelle Wie’s opening round was not as flamboyant as her aviator shades, new high-top pink shoes, and multicolored hair, as the 2014 U.S. Open winner headed into the clubhouse posting 75.

Although Wie and Paula Creamer (74) endured a bad day, Thompson’s and Piller’s bright openings were good news for the U.S. team for the Solheim Cup next week in St. Leon-Rot, Germany.

courtesy of APNEWS (golf.com)

 

Mickelson, Haas Picked for Presidents Cup

U.S. skipper Jay Haas used his Presidents Cup captain’s picks on his son Bill and Phil Mickelson on Tuesday.  There’s already some controversy when it comes to the Presidents Cup, and it centers around Phil Mickelson.

On Tuesday U.S. captain Jay Haas used one of his two captain’s picks to select Mickelson, putting Lefty on the team for the 11th time. He used the other pick on his son, Bill Haas, who was the highest-ranked player not to automatically qualify.

Thing is, Mickelson has just four top 10s in the past two years and hasn’t won since July 2013. With the addition of Bill Haas, the U.S. has the top 11 players based on points followed by an outlier in Mickelson, who is 30th.

So was keeping Mickelson around, perhaps for his experience and leadership, the right choice? Or should other players–JB Holmes, Brooks Koepka, among others–have been picked? Cast your vote below!

Was Phil Mickelson deserving of Jay Haas’ Presidents Cup captain’s pick?

courtesy of Golf.com Staff

This Isn’t the PGA Tour’s First Youth Movement — And It (Probably) Won’t Be the Last!

The biggest story in golf over the past few years has been the emergence of young stars – Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day, among others – to fill the void left by Tiger Woods’ decline. These 20-somethings are clearly dominating the game right now, having won six of the last eight major championships and claiming four of the top five spots in the latest Official World Ranking. In fact, Fowler’s win this week at the Deutsche Bank Championship marked the 22nd victory by a golfer in his 20s through 41 2015 PGA Tour events, eclipsing the total from 2014 with nine tournaments left on the schedule. In other words, 2015 could soon become known as the best season ever for golfers under 30.

But this recent surge of young stars is not the first time the Tour has been overtaken by a youth movement. Looking at the historical data, the last era dominated by 20-somethings stretched from 1950s to the early 1980s and was headlined at first by the rivalry between the original “Big Three” – Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Arnold Palmer – and later by the emergence of Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros. Nicklaus, Player, and Palmer combined for twelve major championship wins while in their twenties, Watson would add three more in the 1970s and Ballesteros won four between 1979 and 1984.

Prior to 2015, the last season to feature as many wins by under-30 golfers was 1974 (23), when Johnny Miller led the Tour with eight wins and Tom Watson won his first professional tournament.

Starting in 1960, golfers in their 20s have won an average of 32% of PGA Tour tournaments played in any given year. The chart below shows how young players have fared relative to that average, and what’s immediately clear is that 2015 marks a new high-point for 20-somethings, narrowly eclipsing the Nicklaus-Player spike of the 1960s and the Watson-Ballesteros-led bump in the 1970s.

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But what this graph also shows is the extreme lack of success by golfers in their 20s in the 1990s and 2000s. Despite the unprecedented dominance of Tiger Woods at a young age (46 victories in his 20s), this era consistently lagged behind the 1960s and 1970s in terms of winners under 30. As is clear from the chart below, when judging by age alone, the so-called Tiger Woods era was also dominated by players in their 40s, when vets like Vijay Singh, Steve Stricker, and Kenny Perry all won at least nine PGA Tour events after hitting the Big 4-0.

Win_rate_over_40

What truly sets this current youth movement apart, however, is how broadly the success has been shared. Just six years into the decade, fifty different golfers in their 20s have won PGA Tour events (an average of more than eight different winners per season). Only the 1980s saw more different golfers under 30 win events. That suggests that the recent success of young players is less about an elite handful of superstars rising to the top and more about the overall emergence of several highly-skilled young players. For example, in the 1960s, Nicklaus was responsible for 17% of wins by golfers under 30 while Woods won 33% of those events between 1996 and 2005. Meanwhile, since 2010, McIlroy has accounted for just 11% of those victories.

The surge in young success is even more striking when you look at the majors. Thirteen major championships over the last six seasons have been won by golfers in their 20s (54%). That marks the largest youth winning percentage since a combination of 20-year olds like Nicklaus, Player, and others won 43 percent of the majors contested in the 1960s.

Majors_by_decade

And considering the sheer number of young players at the top of their games, it’s hard to imagine that percentage declining anytime soon. After all, ten of the top-25 players in the world are currently under 30, and others like Tony Finau, Justin Thomas, and Patrick Rodgers have already contended for PGA Tour wins as rookies. So while 2015 is the first season in more than 40 years that’s seen more than half of all Tour events won by golfers under 30, there’s no telling what 2016 will bring.

courtesy of Jake Nichols (golf.com)

Rickie Fowler Wins Deutsche Bank Championship Over Henrik Stenson

rickie2One big putt for Rickie Fowler. One big mistake for Henrik Stenson.

The turned out to be the difference Monday when Fowler rallied from a two-shot deficit with five holes to play, making a 40-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole and playing flawless the rest of the way for a 3-under 68 and a one-shot victory in the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Fowler won for the third time this year and moved to No. 5 in the world, not quite in the conversation for the new “Big Three” but perhaps on the cusp of it. The victory assures he will be among the top five players in the FedEx Cup that has a clear shot at the $10 million prize in the Tour Championship.

“It’s pretty special to fight it out like that,” Fowler said.

Stenson was a runner-up in a FedEx Cup playoff event for the second straight week, and this one figures to sting.

He grabbed a three-shot lead with a 15-foot birdie putt on the 10th, and after a two-shot swing in Fowler’s favor at No. 11, the Swede drilled a 35-foot birdie putt on No. 12 to restore his lead to two shots.

Stenson never trailed until his tee shot on the par-3 16th came up short, bounced off the front of the green and down into the rocks and the water. That led to a double bogey, and Fowler never gave him a chance to catch up.

Stenson had a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole for a tie, but it slid by on the right and he closed with a 70. Fowler two-putted for par from 10 feet.

“I obviously pulled the wrong club on 16 and was trying to get the most out of a 7-iron into the wind and ballooned that one a little bit and that was the crucial mistake. Making double there was really a killer,” Stenson said. “I tried to get those two shots back or at least one to force a playoff on the last two holes and couldn’t manage to do it.”

The final hour was every bit as tense as The Players Championship in May, except instead of five players having a chance to win, this was a duel with Stenson the entire back nine. Fowler didn’t make any birdies after his long putt on the 14th, but he didn’t have to. Where he thrived was off the tee and his iron play into the greens. Swinging freely, he was never really out of position until he went just long of the green on the par-5 closing hole with his second shot.

He played it safe with a putter to 10 feet, putting pressure on Stenson to the very end.

Fowler finished at 15-under 269 and moved to No. 3 in the FedEx Cup behind Jason Day and Jordan Spieth, with Stenson at No. 4 and Bubba Watson at No. 5.

Charley Hoffman bounced back from a 76 to close with a 67 and finish alone in third.

One of the loudest cheers was for a player who had no chance to win. William McGirt was on the verge of being eliminated from the FedEx Cup when he holed a 7-iron from the fairway on No. 17 for eagle. A par on the 18th hole allowed him to sneak into the top 70 and advance to the third playoff event north of Chicago in two weeks.

Hunter Mahan kept his streak going by closing with a 70 to tie for fourth, moving him from No. 91 to No. 52. Mahan is the only player who has never missed a FedEx Cup playoff event since this series began in 2007. Jerry Kelly made birdie on the last hole for a 72 to narrow get into the top 70. Keegan Bradley also got in.

Two other players imploded on the back nine to end their season.

Kevin Streelman appeared to be safe until he shot 42 on the back nine for a 77. He was at No. 65 and dropped to No. 75. Carlos Ortiz of Mexico had four straight birdies and was making a late bid for Chicago until he took triple bogey on No. 9 and then shot 41 on the back nine for a 71.

There were no changes to the Presidents Cup, though Matt Jones of Australia squandered a great chance. He only needed third place to make the International team, but he made two double bogeys in three holes to start the back nine and finished in a five-way tie for fourth.

Stenson now has been runner-up four times this year without winning, and this was every bit as good a chance to win as Bay Hill.

courtesy of AP NEWS (golf.com)

Tiger Woods Watches U.S. Open Tennis Match With Daughter Sam

Tiger-TennisHaving failed to qualify for the PGA Tour’s season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs, Tiger Woods turned free time into family time, taking in a U.S. Open tennis match with his daughter Sam at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York Friday night.

Woods watched his fellow 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal’s wild third-round tilt against Fabio Fognini from Nadal’s family box. The Spaniard coughed up a two-set lead for the first time in his career, falling to the unheralded Italian in five sets.

Nadal’s early exit snapped his 10-year streak of winning at least one major title per season and brought his dreadful 2015 campaign to an end.

Woods didn’t fare any better this year. Struggling with a surgically repaired back and a swing change, Woods went winless in 2015 and missed the cut in the season’s final three majors.

He will tee it up next at the Frys.com Open, the first tournament of the wraparound 2015-2016 season, in October.

courtesy of Golf.com Staff

David Feherty’s 11 Best One-Liners: From Tiger Woods to Dancing

David Feherty's Ryder Cup WoesOn Tiger Woods: “I just stood there watching him walk past and thinking, ‘I don’t know what that is, but I know there weren’t two of them on Noah’s Ark.’”

On his caddie, Rodney Wooler, and him being on the same page: “Not only was Rodney never on the same page as me, he was seldom in the same book and often not even in the same library.”

On quitting drinking: “I didn’t quit drinking because I was a bad drunk. I quit because I was a spectacular drunk. It got to be like a video game, where you get to the highest level and it’s not even a challenge anymore.”

On an errant shot: “That ball is so far left Lassie couldn’t find it even if it was wrapped in bacon.”

On a beautiful day of weather: “The only way to ruin a day like this would be to play golf in it.”

On golf: “One minute you’re bleeding. The next minute you’re hemorrhaging. The next minute you’re painting the Mona Lisa.”

On Phil Mickelson: “Watching him play golf is like watching a drunk chasing a balloon near the edge of a cliff.”

On watching Tiger Woods hit a great shot: “Never has my flabber been so completely gasted.”

On Jim Furyk’s swing: “It looks like a one-armed man trying to wrestle a snake in a phone booth.”

Again, on Furyk’s swing: “It looks like an octopus falling out of a tree.”

On dancing: “I don’t dance. The Irish don’t dance, we hold each other up.”

courtesy of Sean Zak (golf.com)