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5 things we learned: Friday at the Travelers Championship

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If things do change, sometimes, they stay the same. In the case of the PGA Tour, one thing hasn’t changed: going low, then staying there, is mighty difficult. Four rounds of 63 or better were posted on Thursday. On Friday, all four golfers soared to 68 or higher. 68 and 69 aren’t bad scores, but they don’t serve to separate a golfer from the field. Their purpose is to keep the golfer in the midst of the fray, with the anticipation that another of those low numbers will return, on Saturday or Sunday. One golfer did manage to follow a 64 with a 63, and that’s the reason that he finds himself in first place after 36 holes. We did learn five things on Friday at the Travelers Championship, and it is our pleasure to share them with you.

1. Let’s begin with Phil

Philip Alfred Mickelson is six feet three inches tall, and just turned 50 years of age. He is in the best shape of his adult life, and has no desire to join the next tour just yet. There can be no doubt that he wishes for one more victory, and that it be a US Open. To come at Winged Foot, where he once came agonizingly close, would be too much to ask. For now, he desires to prepare himself for that fall weekend in September. His work at TPC River Highlands has been stellar, and has granted him a lead of a single shot. Mickelson rests at 13-under par, with a solitary bogey standing between him and perfection. He followed that second-hole plus-one on Friday with eight birdies over the next 16 holes. His driving has been long and accurate enough, according to statistics. As for the money categories, he is firing on both cylinders. Mickelson has given himself a birdie putt on over 80 percent of holes played, and putted extremely well. Can phifty-year old Phil keep it up? We shall find out on Saturday, when he pegs his pelota with…

2. Gordon & Hughes …

should probably have an LLC  or a pair of esquire after it. Will Gordon is the type of player that the Travelers loves. He is a recent graduate of a division 1 school, with a golfing pedigree that makes aficionados envious.  Gordon matriculated at Vanderbilt, and earned first-team All-American status. His Friday round tied for low of the day, a 62 matched only by Brendan Steele, who sits close by, in a tie for 4th. Gordon was out in minus-three, and returned home in minus-five. Like Mickelson, he had one bogey on Friday, else a 61 might have tied him at the top. As for Hughes, a one-time winner on tour (four years back, at the RSM Classic), his return toward the top has been slowed by second-guessing and awareness. What matters is, he tees off today in the final group. No one could have expected the Canadian pride to match his back-nine 29 from Thursday, and he did not. Hughes came home in 34 on Friday, with one birdie and eight pars on the card.

Hughes and Gordon have the difficult task of keeping up with Phil Mickelson, yet not focusing solely on the lefthander. Plenty of hungry, birdie machines lie in pursuit, and will seize every opportunity to steam past the final trio, into the lead.

3. McIlroy

This day will be an important one for the north Ulsterman. His talent is immeasurable, comparisons with the greatest of the greats are inevitable, and McIlroy underperforms when he should not. He opened with 63, and lurched to a 68 on Friday. As noted above, not a bad round. However, pay attention to the pair of par-three bogeys that he made on the outward nine. Give a pro the opportunity to tee the ball up to his liking, and the chance to putt for birdie should be realistic, if not guaranteed. At the fifth, he played to 45 feet and three-putted. At the eighth, he played to the water, and showed grit in making a 16-feet putt for bogey. McIlroy needs to be in command of all of his skills. Saturday will reveal if this is the case.

4. Ancer to answer?

It would be easy to write about Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, and Xander Schauffele. Each has earned our attention, and follow them we shall. It is Abraham Ancer who deserves our focus, at least for these few minutes. His quiet confidence, his desire to immerse himself in the heat of the cauldron, is enviable. Many think that they want this, but shy away from total immersion. Ancer had an ace in round one, at the 16th, and has posted four bogies over two days. Nothing says that this is the guy, except for his downward trend. He had 67 on day one, followed by 65 on day two. He will need a 63 on day three, and some help from those with the advantage. Keep an eye on the Presidents Cup surprise of 2019.

5. Prediction Time

Most likely to make an early run: Viktor Hovland. It’s his style. If he closes as well, he’ll be in the final group on Sunday.

Most likely to make a Saturday exit: Dustin Johnson. His focus is not there yet, not razor sharp, like it was in the mid-2010s.

Most likely to sneak into the final threesome: Brendan Steele. Also, in his nature. A quiet assassin.

Most likely to paint the round for what it was: Bryson DeChambeau. Until someone takes the title, he is the best interview on tour. Honest and well-spoken.

Most likely to take massively-deep breaths: Jon Rahm. Working on composure. Has a barrel chest and still has the look of frustration

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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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5 things we learned: Thursday at the Rocket Mortgage Classic

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This week’s PGA Tour event caps the first month of professional golf’s return. The Rocket Mortgage Classic is in its second year, and offers a classic course in an urban setting. Detroit Golf Club is a quintessential, Donald Ross golf course. The holes bend gently this way and that, appointed by bunkers cuffed with manageable rings of rough. The greens vary in size and shape, but typically trick even the professional into attempting to delicate an approach. With only a one-year sample size, it’s hard to predict who will play well this week in Detroit. Put your money on golfers with history at a similar club, or success on traditional golf courses. That’s my primer for year two at the RMC, meaning it’s time for five things we learned on Thursday.

5. Doc Redman is at home at DGC

Redman was the second most surprising participant in last year’s event. The 2017 US Amateur champion posted 62 in last year’s Monday qualifier, and advanced to the tournament proper, where he finished solo 2nd. If not for Nate Lashley, who missed qualifying on Monday, received a sponsor’s exemption, then won the tournament, Redman would have been the story of the week. The former Clemson golfer began this year where he left off 2019, although no one saw it coming through ten holes. Remand paired one birdie with one bogey, holding steady at even par as he reached the 11th hole. From that point forward, it was 4th of July fireworks. Doc parred the 14th hole, missing an 11-feet birdie putt. Why focus on 14? It was his only par over the closing stretch. Three consecutive birdies from 11 through 13, and four more, from 15 to 18, brought him to 7 under on the day, into a tie for first at 7-under par. Redman has yet to shoot above 68 at DGC.

4. Stallings and Kisner join Redman at the top

Scott Stallings, like Redman, played the course in traditional order. Kisner, in turn, began on the inward half and finished at the par-three ninth. Both golfers closed with three birdies over their final four holes, to reach seven deep. Like Redman, Stallings had eight birdies and one bogey; Kisner was clean on the day, with seven birdies and eleven pars. Unlike Redman, neither Stalling nor Kisner had a particularly memorable, first go-round at Detroit in 2019. Each made the 36-hole cut, but neither finished inside the top 45.

3.  Seven golfers lie in wait

The Big Bang Theory, aka Bryson DeChambeau, reached minus-seven with one hole to play. He drove the ball in perfect position at 18, then inexplicably missed the green with wedge in hand, and dropped back to minus-six with a bogey. He is joined by Chase Seiffert, Peter Malnati, JJ Spaun, Emiliano Grillo, Chris Stroud and Matt Wallace. Beyond Bryson, Wallace is the most accomplished of the septuplets. He has 4 European Tour victories, and came within an eyelash of qualifying for the 2019 Ryder Cup team. Spaun led the field with nine birdies on the day, but he also had three bumbles along the way. Spaun tied for 13th in 2019, so his affection for the course is viable.

2. Mr. Rocket Mortgage is tied for 11th

Rickie Fowler, the PGA Tour pitchman for the tournament host, acquitted himself well with seven birdies for 67. His mid-round hiccough came at the 18th (his 9th), where he never saw the fairway, played chunk-and-run around the putting surface, and ultimately tapped in for 2 feet for double bogey. Fowler isn’t first on my list for Best Player To Never Win A Major, but he is the top guy for Should Win More With The Talent He has. In my mind, he’s an affable Sergio Garcia, save for the fact that Sergio has a major title on his record. This seems like the type of event that Ricky could win, but 2nd and 3rd-round lapses are his specialty. It will take 36 holes of solid play to keep him close to the top.

1. The predictions are in

Most likely to go from Triple A to the Majors: Chris Kirk. Two weeks ago, he won on the Korn Ferry tour. He sits at -5 after round one.

Least likely to have two golfers inside the top 50: Norway. Siri, search Kristoffer Ventura and Viktor Hovland.

Least likely Norwegian to be born in Puebla, Mexico: Ventura

Most likely to go low on Friday: Brendan Todd. Gassed away a win last week in the final round. Made double on a par five on Thursday. Watch out.

Most likely to move inside top five from way back: Tyrrell Hatton. This guy is freakishly good. Might be best on European Tour.

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Tour Photo Galleries

Photos from the Rocket Mortgage Classic

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GolfWRX is live from Detroit Golf Club for the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf!

And while COVID-19 restrictions mean we can’t bring you in-hand shots at present, we’re still doing our best to deliver tour equipment shots. And there were plenty of interesting things to be seen on the equipment front, including an iron and driver shaft switch from Rickie Fowler and some cool National Custom Works irons for lord of the golf hipsters, Zac Blair.

General galleries

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Special galleries

Check out the discussion thread here!

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Morning 9: U.S. Open leaving Fox for NBC | Harris English positive for COVID-19 | Feinstein: Why the Ryder Cup must be postponed

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1. U.S. Open returning to NBC…this year.
In case you missed the news yesterday, here’s Golf Channel’s Ryan Lavner…“NBC is once again home to the U.S. Open and the USGA’s full slate of championships.”
  • “The USGA announced Monday that, effective immediately, the broadcast rights for its championships have transferred from Fox Sports to NBC.”
  • “Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed, but NBC will assume the remainder of the contract, through at least 2026.”
  • “NBC televised the U.S. Open from 1995 through 2014 before Fox won the rights with a 12-year deal that was reportedly worth about $1 billion.”
And the AP’s esteemed Doug Ferguson, who broke the story, writes…“One person said NBC would pay for just under half of the rights fee through the rest of the contract.”
  • “Two other people said the deal began to take shape this month, especially with the U.S. Open being moved to September during the opening month of the NFL.”
  • “One person said Fox was contemplating moving the U.S. Open to FS1, an idea that was rebuffed by Mike Davis, the CEO of the USGA. That led to deeper conversations about the contract and how it could be resolved.”
2. Harris English tests positive for COVID-19
Golfweek’s JuliaKate E. Culpepper…“A fifth PGA Tour player has tested positive for COVID-19.”
  • “The Tour announced Monday Harris English tested positive for the virus and has withdrawn from the Rocket Mortgage Classic. The 30-year-old did not compete during last week’s Travelers Championship.”
  • “Harris is the second player to test positive ahead of this week’s event at Detroit Golf Club. The Tour announced Sunday Dylan Frittelli also tested positive for the virus.”
3. Watney on coronavirus quarantine…
AP report…”Monday marked the 10th day of self-isolation for Nick Watney, the minimum required for PGA Tour players who test positive for the coronavirus.”
  • “He said he is feeling good except for some minor fatigue, perhaps brought on by a major case of boredom, and except for the distinction of becoming the first of what now is five players and two caddies who have tested positive since the PGA Tour returned amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • “I will say, it’s not the greatest feeling being the first to get it,” Watney said in his first interview since he was notified June 19 at the RBC Heritage of his positive test.
  • “Some things are so vague around this thing,” he said. “The symptoms … some people get this, some get that. I haven’t had a fever or cough the whole time, no shortness of breath. Maybe that’s the reason it’s so scary. I still don’t know how or where I got it.”
4. Feinstein on postponing the Ryder Cup
John Feinstein for Golf Digest…“You can play any event in golf-including the four majors-without fans. You can’t do it at the Ryder Cup. Oh, sure, you might miss the roars coming down the stretch at Augusta, but the Masters will be fine come November if the green jackets decide they can’t allow their “patrons” on to the hallowed grounds. The same will be true for the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in August and the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in September.”
  • “If the last three weeks have proved nothing else, it’s that quality golf can be played without having to endure “get in the hole!” shouts when someone is teeing off on a 550-yard par 5. The absence of fans has also helped immeasurably with pace of play.”
  • “Don’t get me wrong: I want to see fans back on golf courses as soon as it’s safe, and I’ll be fascinated to see what will happen if the Memorial goes ahead with its plan to let 8,000 fans onto Muirfield Village next month. But the presence of fans-even when they go over the top at times with boorish behavior-is as much a part of the Ryder Cup as the 17-inch-high gold trophy.”
5. ICYMI: Special temporary membership for Will Gordon
Golf Channel’s Will Gray…”A little more than a year ago, Gordon was playing for Vanderbilt, where he was once the SEC Player of the Year. But Sunday he was contending against the game’s best, making the most of a sponsor’s exemption at the Travelers Championship. Gordon played his way into the mix with a second-round 62, and he closed with a 64 that gave him a share of third place along with Mackenzie Hughes.”
  • “In addition to a six-figure payday, Gordon’s finish earned him special temporary membership on the PGA Tour. He had had some success in other spot starts this season, including a T-10 finish at the RSM Classic and a T-21 finish at the Farmers Insurance Open.”
  • “I knew something in the top five would maybe have a chance,” Gordon said. “I knew the higher the better, so I was watching the leaderboard coming in. I knew if I got up there, T-1, T-2 by the end of 18 holes, that I might finish in the top three.”
6. How courses can be more welcoming to LGBTQ community
Golf Digest’s Keely Levins offered a number of guidelines, including…”Train employees on inclusive terms and language”
“As a golf club, it’s important to educate your staff members, to make sure they know to be inclusive and nonjudgmental,” says LPGA Tour pro Mel Reid. “Educating and communicating with their members is another big thing.”
  • “Part of that education is in how players are greeted when they arrive at a course. For example, asking a woman if she’s going to be playing with her husband when she arrives at a course reveals the assumption that she is straight. Simple substitutions, like using the word “partner” instead of “husband” or “wife,” can make a big difference…”
  • “Put a Pride symbol at your course…Fitzgerald talked about this idea with us first at the Pride Open in 2019, and we spoke about it again for this story. “The LGBTQ community is finally feeling accepted in the golf industry, getting out and about and playing and practicing,” Fitzgerald says. “What’s really helping is feeling accepted and seeing there’s some show of invitation or acceptance from golf courses, public or private-things like a little sticker in the window or a Pride flag on their websites do wonders to make LGBTQ golfers feel welcome. We’ll be active and looking for those symbols at golf facilities.”
7. Tee sheets filling up in Ireland
Simon Lewis for the Irish Examiner…“Golf courses moved into the next phase of their roadmap out of pandemic with a leading club general manager talking optimistically of a strong future for the sport in Ireland.”
  • “Clubhouses reopened on Monday for the first time since courses, clubs, and driving ranges were shut down due to the Covid-19 outbreak on March 24. Though play did resume for members living within five kilometres of their clubs on May 18 under Phase 1 of the Irish Government’s lifting of restrictions, Monday marked the first day in which visitors were welcomed alongside members, travel restrictions within Ireland were lifted, and competition golf could resume.”
  • “The Golfing Union of Ireland and Irish Ladies Golf Union has also allowed a shorter interval for fourballs on timesheets, bringing the gap between tee-times down from 14 to 10 minutes and clubhouse restaurants and bars operating as restaurants are open under strict guidelines outline by Fáilte Ireland, all good news for golf club treasurers and general managers such as Cork GC’s Matt Sands.”
8. North & South Am 
Golf Channel’s Brentley Romine...”Though many international players remain limited by travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, for those players in the U.S., a month-and-a-half-long stretch of elite amateur tournaments begins Tuesday at Pinehurst.”
  • “Think of it as amateur golf’s version of the FedExCup Playoffs, with four high-profile events setting the stage for the U.S. Amateur at Bandon Dunes in mid-August.”
  • “The North and South Amateur will feature two of the world’s top-10 players, Georgia’s Davis Thompson (4) and Texas’ Cole Hammer (7), as well as defending champion Cooper Dossey of Baylor and two semifinalists from last year’s U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst, William Holcomb and Cohen Trolio.”
9. PGA Professional Championship scratched 
John Strege at Golf Digest…“The PGA of America announced on Monday that it has canceled the PGA Professional Championship, rescheduled for July 19-22 at the Omni Barton Creek” “Resort & Spa in Austin, Texas. Originally, it was to have been played April 26-29, though it was postponed on March 16.”
  • “Despite a deep desire to stage our signature Member Championship on behalf of its talented field, it became apparent after consultation with local health authorities in Austin last week that this could not be done responsibly,” the PGA wrote on its website.”
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