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Tour Rundown: Sony Open Twilight Zone, Grace under pressure

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The 2nd weekend in January of 2020 marked the return of multiple events during a single week. Granted, one was rescheduled from 6 weeks past, another began on Saturday (and will conclude tomorrow), a third was an unfortunate swamp…DOESN”T MATTER! Televised golf that counts is back, and we’re watching! One of the world’s finest percussionists, Neil Peart of RUSH, left this world last week. In a salute to his mastery, find tributes to his songs scattered throughout this piece. With a heavy, non-golf heart, let’s read Tour Rundown for Monday, January 13th, 2o2o.

Sony Open’s Twilight-Zone ending leaves lots of head scratching

Not all comebacks end in victory, nor do all golf tournaments end in logic. Consider the 2nd part before the first: squeegees on the 18th green, golf balls ricocheting off bleachers, delays of over 10 minutes for the final group. It’s really no surprise that Brendan Steele had trouble navigating the closing stretch at Waialae Country Club. Some of it was his undoing, but much of it wasn’t. Steele came into the week in a massive slump, and led until the final putt, when he suddenly didn’t. And yet, to come so close to victory and not drink from the cup, is still a comeback. And perhaps that can suffice for now.

Steele had a one-shot lead, and was standing in the middle of the 18th fairway, iron in hand. Exuberance gave way to a snapping hook, and his approach sailed over the grandstands. After a drop area was decided, the leader was unable to pitch far enough, to avoid the casual channel of water that traversed the final putting surface. Steele could only 2-putt, and hope that Smith would not make birdie (spoiler alert: he did.)

The victor, Cameron Smith, was able to make up 2 shots on Steele over the inward nine. He birdied the 18th to reach 11 under par, and off the two golfers went to the 10th tee. Why not 18, you ask? Recall, if you will, the condition of the closing hole. It was quite messy, with sloppy turf along most of its 551 yards. The 10th is a wee drive and pitch, but it gave Steele fits. He drove his ball in the fairway, while Smith missed wide right. The Aussie played a remarkable recovery, onto the green, not far from the hole. With a tiny wedge in his hand, Steele gunned his approach far beyond the green, precisely where he didn’t need to be. Unable to get the ball up and down, Steele’s bogey was no match for Smith’s 2-putt par, and the Aussie had his first PGA Tour title.

Webb Simpson and Ryan Palmer found themselves in contention, in the penultimate group. Simpson made a par to total -10, one putt shy of the playoff. Palmer’s finish was as bizarre as Steele’s. Palmer slammed his approach, from a fairway bunker, off the video board, over the grandstands, straight into a bogey. In one swing he went from potential playoff participant to 4th place tie. Can golf on the mainland possibly equal this? Doubtful.

South African Open victory completes journey of Grace under pressure

Within his home country of South Africa, Branden Grace had won every event of note but one: the Open championship. On Sunday, the 31-year old closed the trophy cabinet with a 3-shot victory over Louis Oosthuizen, winning his country’s national title at the Randpark golf club in Johannesburg. The victory moved him into the early lead in the 2020 Race To Dubai, the European Tour’s season-long points race.

Inspired, perhaps, by the sublime 62 of Marcus Armitage on Saturday, Grace teed off on Sunday and posted a 62 of his own. Two items stand out from that performance: he was actually +1 through 2 holes; and he did all his damage in an eleven-hole stretch. Grace made bogey at the 2nd to fall a stroke farther behind the overnight leader. Then, in a 2.5 hour bottle, Grace caught lightning. Birdies at holes 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11 through 14, in addition to an eagle at the 4th, lopped a massive 10 shots off his tally, pushing him beyond 20-under par.

Oosthuizen had an eagle of his own. A perfectly-judged tee shot on the par-3 8th hole, played dangerously close to disaster, found the bottom of the cup. The 2010 Open champion had, incredibly, zero bogeys on the day. Unfortunately, he was able to pair just one birdie with the ace, finishing at a frustrating 18-under par. As for Armitage, had he visited a fortune teller before the start, he would have learned that he would stand over a critical putt on the week’s last green. No, not for the title, but for an automatic bid to the 2020 Open Championship, at Royal St. George’s in July. The Englishman drained a 20-feet putt for birdie, finished in solo 3rd position, and punched his ticket to the south of England this summer.

Hong Kong Open decided after 6-week delay

Wade Ormsby of Australia began his 2020 in the most proper way; he claimed the Asian Tour’s Hong Kong Open with a 4- shot triumph. The journey to conclusion began in November of 2019, when the tournament was originally scheduled. Anti-government protests were sufficient enough for tournament organizers to authorize a postponement. 1.5 months later, the event was contested at the Hong Kong golf club.

No one was more on-form this week, than the soon-to-turn-40 Ormsby. He opened with 65, for a share of the lead, then stitched a quilt of 66s the remainder of the week. Gunn Charoenkul of Thailand stood 2 back of the Aussie on day four, and closed to within a shot when the leader made bogey at the first on Sunday. Right the ship? Indeed. Ormsby birdied holes 2-4 and added another at the 9th, to turn in 31 and remind followers that it had always been his week. Charoenkul admirably stood strong, finishing in 3rd place 5 behind the champion.

It was the 2019 Champion Golf of the Year, Shane Lowry, who provided the fittest challenge of the day. Lowry closed within 1 of the week’s low round (63) with a 64 of his own. Standing 6 under on the day through 14, the Irishman had closed with a pair of strokes of the leader. Ormsby and Lowry each had bogeys at the daunting, par 4 15th hole. The 5 effectively ended Lowry’s challenge, as Ormsby was unlikely to fritter away his lead.

The title was Ormsby’s 2nd Hong Kong Open win in 3 years. Among notable competitors, American Tony Finau finished 5th at 10 below par. Rashid Khan of Indonesia, compiler of the aforementioned 63, claimed 6th place after closing with 70. The Asian Tour resumes play this week at the Singapore Open, at the Sentosa golf club. Enter the warrior, today’s Wade Ormsby.

Tournament of Champions to Thomas in energy-crackling finish

Although it took place last week, the PGA Tour’s annual TOC earned a look this week, thanks to its unanticipated and dramatic finish. It’s rare when a PGA Tour player misses a driving range, but that’s what Justin Thomas did with his 2nd at the par-5 18th hole on Sunday. From certain victory in regulation, Thomas tugged his fairway metal (which he didn’t need to hit) on the widest fairway in golf, into the native gunge left. The ensuing penalty forced him to get up and down from 75 yards for par and victory. Well, that didn’t happen, either. Off went Thomas and equal-parts-stunned-and-delighted Xander Schauffele and Patrick Reed to the 18th tee. Thomas and Reed negotiated birdies, which eliminated Xander’s par. Playoff part two at the same hole dealt pars from the middle of the deck to the survivors, so back to the hilltop they went, for a 4th go (including regulation) at the long yet reachable par five. Thomas made birdie and watched as Reed could only make par. The win was Thomas’ 12th on tour, and 3rd in a playoff.

Much was learned with the resumption of the 2019-2020 PGA Tour season in Kapalua: Brendon Todd’s incredible run of top-five finishes came to an end (he placed 29th); Joaquin Niemann can play better than he did at Royal Melbourne (where he didn’t help the International Team a lick); and for Kapalua’s Plantation course to truly defend itself against the pros, it needs backward winds (which it got); brand-new greens (with new breaks, to stump the gods); and fairways that don’t run out (that will change as the redone turf firms up.) In other words, by 2022, Kapalua should be Kapalua again.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

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GolfWRX’s 2020 PGA Merchandise Show coverage: What’s ahead

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GolfWRX staffers are presently scouring the range at the Orange County National Golf Center for PGA Show Demo Day. You can snack on some photo and video morsels—including the “3-Shot Challenge”—on our Instagram and in our Instagram stories.

Johnny Wunder testing the new Titleist T100-S irons (video in our Instagram story)

The crew have also gotten quick demos of the Cobra SZ Extreme driver, Titleist T400 irons, and an impressive new driver from Tour Edge so far as well as the new Callaway Mavrik and Mizuno ST200G drivers.

This evening, we’ll begin loading up the forums with photos from Demo Day.

We’ll post our daily recap pieces, along with takeaways from the crew on the ground, and when we see an absolute showstopper, we’ll do a deeper dive in article form.

Brian Knudson checking out a new Ping G710 iron.

Stay tuned!

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Morning 9: Gaby! | Happy 80th, Jack | Pace of play picking up on Euro Tour? | Tiger in 2020

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By Ben Alberstadt
Email me at ben.alberstadt@golfwrx.com and find me at @benalberstadt on Instagram and golfwrxEIC on Twitter.
January 21, 2020
Good Tuesday morning, golf fans. The equipment buffet that is PGA Show Demo Day is today!
Also: Happy 80th birthday, Jack Nicklaus!

 

1. Gaby!
Golf Digest’s Keely Levins…“The 18th hole at the Tranquillo Golf Club is so hard to birdie, it felt like the playoff at the LPGA season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions might go on forever. And it sort of did. Mexico’s Gaby Lopez and Japan’s Nasa Hataoka played the No. 18 five extra times on Sunday evening (Inbee Park played it with them twice, eventually getting knocked out by a bogey on her third try) until darkness made it impossible to go any more.”
  • “So Lopez and Hataoka returned to the tricky 197-yard, downhill, water-to-the left, windy par 3 on a chilly Monday morning. After the pair made pars again on their sixth try, Lopez, who had birdied the hole twice in regulation-two of just five birdies made for the entire week-was able to do it one more time on the seventh playoff hole. It was enough to best Hataoka, securing Lopez, 26, her second career LPGA Tour victory.”
2. A legacy of character
John Feinstein reflects on how we’ll remember the Golden Bear, who is turning 80…
“Nicklaus turns 80 on Tuesday and there isn’t any doubt that just about everyone who has crossed his path during his remarkable life would agree with Alliss-and then some.”
  • “What you need to remember when you talk about him is that he wasn’t just the greatest winner in golf history, he was also the greatest loser,” says David Feherty. “Every time he finished second in a major [19 times], he went out of his way to make sure the winner got to enjoy what he had accomplished. He wasn’t just gracious, he was more than that. He was willing to humble himself-to always say, ‘The best man won.’ That may have been true on that occasion, but it was never true over the long haul. There was never any real reason for Jack Nicklaus to be humble. And yet, he was.”
  • “…It is that generosity of spirit that sets Nicklaus apart. During his Memorial Tournament each spring, he sits in the player dining area on Tuesday and Wednesday and welcomes the players, asks how they like the golf course, and if they need anything to make their week more enjoyable. When you ask players about that, most just shrug and say, “That’s Jack.”
3. “What Jack means to me”
Rory McIlroy’s perspective, via Golfweek, which has a collection of players offering their perspectives on the 18-time major champion.
  • “Jack has meant so much to me. That week we had lunch at the Bear’s Club and he gave me some advice then. Over the years, I live at his golf course, I practice at the Bear’s Club, I’ve lived there for nine years, and I see him a lot. And I’ve met Barbara and his children, as well. They are such a nice family. I think more so than anything else, they’ve kept who Jack Nicklaus is and all the stuff he’s done on the golf course and they’ve kept this normalcy about them. It’s endearing. They take an interest in other people, they do so much for charity, they are the epitome of being a class act and how you want to be. Jack and Barbara are great role models for me and Erica (McIlroy’s wife) in what they do for the community and charity. They are such a wonderful family.
  • “He has been the best at giving advice on how to play golf. Not how to swing, but how to play the game. He’s talked to me about his strategy and how to play the golf course and how to play the game and what he thought. The common denominator for him and Tiger is they are the best thinkers in the game. Just to pick Jack’s brain about that, and about preparation, and how he got himself around a golf course, that’s the best advice you can get. He was a master at playing the game.”

Full piece.

4. First slow play data is quickly here
The BBC’s Ian Carter…”This was the first event under the Tour’s new protocols on pace of play. More draconian rules mean two bad times during the entire competition – not just a single round – can lead to penalty”
  • “…Officials analysed timings from the Abu Dhabi first round compared with last year when similar weather conditions prevailed”
  • “Interestingly, the first round was actually 10 minutes quicker this year,” McFee stated.
  • “And the second round was about six minutes quicker, so both rounds were quicker.”

 

5. Daniel Tosh’s nephew leads
Golf Channel’s Brentley Romine…“Mickey DeMorat fired a second-round, 7-under 65 on Monday to take the 36-hole lead at the Korn Ferry Tour’s Bahamas Great Abaco Classic.”
  • “The 24-year-old DeMorat birdied seven of his first nine holes to card a front-nine, 7-under 29 at Baha Mar’s Royal Blue Golf Course in Nassau, this year’s host of the tournament after the Abacos were devastated by Hurricane Dorian last September. At 11 under, DeMorat leads Scott Gutschewski by a shot.”
  • “….DeMorat, who lives in the quiet intracoastal community of Merritt Island on the east coast of Florida, is the nephew of comedian Daniel Tosh, who tweeted non-stop support of his nephew during that U.S. Open at Shinnecock.”
6. Sam Torrance recovering after stroke
Martin Dempster at The Scotsman…“Ryder Cup legend Sam Torrance is hoping to make a full recovery after suffering a stroke.”
  • “The 66-year-old had a stent inserted in his neck on Boxing Day after being admitted to hospital.”
  • “He is now back home in Sunningdale, where the man who holds the record for most appearances on the European Tour is making good progress.”

Full piece.

7. On Rory’s equipment switch
Golf.com’s Andrew Tursky talked to to Keith Sbarbaro, VP of Tour Operations at TaylorMade, about the Ulsterman’s equipment changes ahead of the Farmers Insurance Open. McIlory is bagging the company’s SIM driver, woods, and, interestingly, hybrid.
  • “The rescue is really consistent,” Sbabarbo told GOLF.com. “I think with the rescue compared to the 5-wood, he feels like he has more control. He can hit it low and he can hit it high. He’s getting perfect numbers; perfect launch, perfect spin. He can hit it as high as the 5-wood and as low as his 790 2-iron…he can actually tee off with (the rescue) and keep it down. It’s just way more versatile.”
  • “…With the driver, McIlroy has gone up in loft slightly compared to last year, and he’s finding more speed and forgiveness”
  • “The driver has been incredible,” Sbarbaro said. “He’s been able to go into more loft with the SIM, so it should be more forgiving. He’s got more loft and the spin is more consistent. He’s not getting the low spins or the high spins. His speeds are obviously… everyone is getting more ball speed (with the SIM drivers). They’re picking up a minimum of 1-1.5 mph of clubhead speed. You pick up club head, you’re going to pick up ball speed; it’s as simple as that.”
8. What to expect from TW in 2020
An ESPN roundtable discussion concerning one Tiger Woods…
“Did the end of 2019 set expectations too high for 2020?”
“Bob Harig: No doubt. But it’s understandable. Expectations were extremely low after the summer, when Woods seemed like a guy who had sold his soul to win the Masters. The poor form, the bad back, a withdrawal due to an oblique injury. Woods never looked right. And then he had knee surgery, which suggested he’d have even more issues with his game. And yet, that unlocked all of the issues. Woods, after a shaky start, won in Japan. He played well enough to win in the Bahamas. And he was the best player at the Presidents Cup. It’s hard not to think everything is moving in the right direction as 2020 begins for him.”
  • “Michael Collins: Didn’t matter. Let’s be honest, even if Woods had finished last at Zozo and gone 0-3 at the Presidents Cup, all everyone would do is make excuses for why those didn’t matter and “blah blah blah” is why Tiger is going to shatter 2019. It’s Tiger Woods — when do all of us not overreact? Or does everyone forget “experts” picking him to win the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla after back surgery and a WD at the Bridgestone Invitational two weeks earlier?”

Full piece.

9. Moment of Zen: Smoltz’s standing putter
Geoff Shackelford…”I’m guessing the folks who didn’t like pro golfers leaving the flag in to putt-remember those days!-won’t be approving of the Bloodline putter use on grand stages…The look has always been of genuine hacker who watched an infomercial, but now with John Smoltz doing this en route to the Diamond Resorts win, might it have received a vote of legitimacy?”

 

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2020 Ping Heppler putters

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Say hello to the all-new 2020 Heppler putter family from Ping Golf.

Ping has always pushed the technology envelope, especially when it comes to putters and manufacturing techniques. The Heppler putters are no exception and are a combination of (big breath in)

  • State of the art manufacturing processes
  • Acoustically tuned high MOI shapes
  • Multi-material construction
  • Analysis-driven alignment tools
  • Fully customizable—including off-the-shelf length adjustability

Beyond just the technology, the new putters are also a tribute to Ping’s long-standing commitment to honoring heritage, family, and the individuals that helped build the company from a garage startup to one of the world’s largest golf club manufacturers.

From Ping:

The Heppler putter family is named in honor of Rick Heppler, a longtime Ping employee who began his career with the company as a teenager in 1966. The son of a General Electric co-worker of Ping Founder Karsten Solheim, Rick was hired by Karsten to help John A. Solheim build putters in the family garage. Rick eventually held several management positions at Karsten Manufacturing Corporation before passing away in a motorcycle accident in 2013.

“Rick was part of the Ping family for almost 50 years,” said John. “He was a dear friend who contributed greatly to our success in all that he did. Naming this putter series after him is a tribute to his dedication to our company and its employees.”

Solid-face technology

Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch to call a flat putter face “technology,” but if we look past whether it is or isn’t, the reasoning behind the Heppler series departing from the TR (True Roll) face makes sense. The first being louder audible feedback for players that struggle with distance control. The second: to provide more options.

“We saw a high percentage of testers improve their ‘Strokes Gained’ results with a Heppler model, indicating that many golfers prefer the firmer sound and feel of a solid-face design,”
said Solheim. “We see the new putters as an appealing alternative to our Sigma 2 series, which offers a softer feel and sound through its dual-durometer insert and TR face technology. Our primary goal is to provide golfers a custom-fit putter with their desired feel and sound while delivering the performance and consistency they need to hole more putts.”

Multiple materials, multiple faces

To boost the MOI of each model in the Heppler Series, Ping used a combination of steel and aluminium parts to push weight to the perimeter of the designs. To create precise geometry, the engineers at Ping decided to use a high-pressure casting technique to better position weight around the heads to increase performance, which was especially useful when creating the highest MOI Tomcat 14

“The advantage of pressure casting is we can achieve highly precise design details while allowing our engineers much greater freedom to position weight where it benefits the putter’s performance the most,” said Solheim.

Let’s touch on the face for a moment. You’ll quickly notice the face material changes throughout the putter line, from either aluminum or steel, depending on the model. The reason behind the shifting face materials is based on positioning mass in each head to maximize forgiveness and optimize the center of gravity.

Adjustable-length shaft and grip options

As with the Sigma 2 putter, Ping is continuing to offer the adjustable length shaft in the Heppler; giving golfers the ability to customize length between 32 and 36 inches to fit their stroke and posture. The difference between previous versions of the shaft is the new Heppler putter shafts are finished in black chrome. For the consumer, Ping has made adjusting length a quick and simple process by simply placing the included adjustment tool into the top of the grip and turn until the putter reaches the desired length.

The are four Ping stock grip designs available to allow golfers to find their optimal fit and feel.

  • The PP59 is the standard grip, and its shape is inspired by the popular PP58.
  • The Midsized PP60 is lightweight and designed to fit comfortably into the contours of the hands with flats on the top and sides.
  • The PP61 is slightly heavier than the P60 and has a more exaggerated pistol shape.
  • The PP62, is larger and more rounded to reduce hand movement during the stroke while still remaining lightweight.

Price, availability

Starting today, January, 20 the Heppler putter are available for pre-order.

The designs include; Anser 2, ZB3, Piper C, Tyne 3, Fetch, Ketsch, Floki, Tomcat 14, and Piper Armlock.

Depending on the model, the putters range from $245 for the blade styles to $270 for the higher MOI Designs.

 

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