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Tour Rundown: When Brooks Koepka is on (and healthy)…

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The first weekend in February brought touring golfers to distinct desert locations: Phoenix and Saudi Arabia. The Phoenix Open and the Saudi International featured powerhouse fields, affording viewers across the world an opportunity to watch tension build and greatness triumph. In neither case were the viewers disappointed. Until the spring truly arrives, the world’s other major tours (LPGA, Korn Ferry, Champions) will have staggered starts. Get comfortable for now with the potent, one-two punch of US and Euro PGA Tours.

PGA Tour: Phoenix Open is Koepka’s 8th Tour title

Brooks Koepka now has as many non-major, PGA Tour titles as he does majors. His second Phoenix Open arrived six years after his first, and it came by the slimmest of margins for a second time. Koepka and other chasers benefitted from spotty play by overnight leaders Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele. The inability of the final tandem to separate from the field offered great hope, and the pursuers took advantage. The first to fire, and fall back, was James Hahn. Remembered for his Gangnam Style dance at the 16th hole last decade, Hahn reached six-under on the day, and 19-deep for the week, until the limelight reeled him in. Four bogies from the 11th hole on, including both par-five holes and the pitch’n putt 17th, relegated him to a 10th place finish. Next came Carlos Ortiz, whose six birdies and one eagle brought him to first place, on the strength of a 64. Alas, Ortiz began too far back, and made one bogey too many, to reach Koepka-ville. It was the West Palm Leviathan who seized the event late, but with a soft touch, not a disintegrating strike.

When Koepka is on…

No one plays better. Koepka combines the raw power of a long-drive champion with the surgeon’s touch  of a short-game wizard. When they pair, he is unstoppable. How else to consider the beautiful pitch and run that he played from nowhere at the 17th hole? His tee shot brought him within feet of the green, but left a swale between him and a tucked hole location. Eschewing a safe play, the four-time major titleist took dead aim at the flag, landed his lofter just past the fringe, and smiled as it rolled, obediently, toward the promised land. As if its destiny had always been to find the bottom of the cup, the ball diverged not one iota. The eagle two jumped Koepka to 19-deep, the number that would ultimately hold Xander Schauffele and Kyoung-Hoon Lee at bay.

When others falter

Oh, the list is long for this one. Begin with Jordan Spieth, who had everyone in a time capsule headed for 2014. His third-round 61 preceded a last-day 72, and a tumble from first to fourth. Spieth was tentative, and his putter cooled off significantly from Saturday. The good news is, he made it 75% of the way back; the bad news is that he had the hard 25% to go. Xander Schauffele, Spieth’s playing partner, played uninspired golf as well … until he stopped … then restarted. Schauffele stood two-over on the day when he reached the 15th tee. Birdie there and birdie at 16 brought him to the leader’s doorstep, until he went hard-left at 17 and found the water. A closing birdie at 18 brought him into a tie for 2nd with Lee, and reminded him what might have been, had he played 17 better.

And others leave with optimism

Steve Stricker, that old guy from Wisconsin, that Ryder Cup captain, has put aging on hold for a bit. Stricker challenged all week long, and snuck into a tie for fourth with Spieth and Ortiz. Dude can always pick himself for September at Whistling Straits, if not enough US guys impress him. Lee and Ortiz have one PGA Tour title between them, and top-four finishes offer encouragement toward the next one. And meet Matthew NeSmith, a junior phenom who had a decent college career at South Carolina, but appeared to pause in development over those four years. His time on the Korn Ferry Tour reaped benefits, and this week, NeSmith lead after 18, and hung around for a seventh-place tie.

European Tour: Johnson claims ninth European Tour title

All right, nine might be a bit misleading. Five of those wins are WGC events, co-sponsored by every tour under the sun. Two of them are major titles, which leaves two more. Both happen to be Saudi International titles, spaced two years apart. In other words, Johnson has never won on European soil, but who really cares beyond this writer? The big man from coastal South Carolina seized the lead on day three and withstood resurgent challenges from Justin Rose and Tony Finau, and also held on to his world number-one ranking.

Over the course of 72 holes, Johnson stumbled twice. His double-bogey on Saturday shrunk his lead, and his bogey at the 16th gave others hope. Rose has rediscovered his accurate iron play, since dropping a set of Mizunos into his bag. Finau, he of the Tongan and Samoan heritage, he of the fire dances, he of myriad close calls and runners-up, finished runner-up again. Some say, if you hang around long enough, you’ll break through. Others say, if you finish runner-up enough times, you’ll make a career of it. Hard to say which will come to pass for Finau. As for Rose, well, he has US Open and Olympic titles on his resume, so he’s just fine, thank you.

The golf world needs the Rose Motel

Life is good when Justin Rose is winning. Don’t ask me to define the why of that statement. We’re talking about a guy who endeared himself to us as an amateur, overcame the most horrendous start to a professional career of all, represented his country in Brasil, when others opted out with little justification, and most recently, funded a tour for European lady professionals, to help them through the Pandemic. Now that he has Mizuno irons in his bag, things seem to be looking up for the Englishman.

Hatton down the hatches

I’m still big on Tyrrell Hatton to shine in 2021, but he did himself no favors with a bogey-bogey start on Sunday. He needs to challenge each time that he’s in the mix, and for a time, he looked to do that on Sunday. Birdies at four and five returned him to level par for the day, but that was it until a third birdie arrived at the 18th hole. Twelve consecutive pars will not do the job for the expressive Englishman.

Hov game, will travel

Viktor Hovland won’t be mistaken for Gary Player just yet. For one thing, he’s taller. Nevertheless, Hovland is making a name as one whose game travels well. Norway’s finest golfer missed not a beat as he moved from challenging last week in San Diego, to finishing top ten in the middle east. The combination of fitness and positive demeanor wear well for the 23-year old, Oklahoma State product.

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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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Morning 9: McIlroy, Conners on top at Bay Hill | Nelly surging again | Digging into the Golf Channel allegations

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By Ben Alberstadt
For comments—or if you’re looking for a fourth—email me at [email protected].
You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.
March 5, 2021
Good Friday morning, golf fans. I’ve gotten a handful of requests for a physical version of the coffee mug in the header graphic above. Should we make a Morning 9 coffee mug available for purchase?
1 McIlroy, Conners ahead at Bay Hill
The AP’s Doug Ferguson…”Bay Hill was bustling Thursday, just like golf before the pandemic. The fans were limited in numbers, but they all wanted the same dose of entertainment provided by Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau.”
  • “First it was McIlroy, slowly feeling better about his game, and with good reason. Starting with a 55-foot putt on the par-3 second hole, he ran off five straight birdies for a share of the lead with Corey Conners in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at 6-under 66.”
2. Nelly!
AP report…”Nelly Korda didn’t miss a beat four days after her first LPGA Tour title on U.S. soil, outplaying her sister and the world’s No. 1 player for a 5-under 67 to share the lead at the Drive On Championship.”
  • “Former NCAA champion Jennifer Kupcho managed a 67 despite playing most of the back nine with a migraine that blurs her vision. Austin Ernst also had a 67 at Golden Ocala.”
3. Sheriff: No probable cause for search warrant for Woods’ blood work
Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard…”Villanueva, who said last week that deputies determined Woods wasn’t impaired during the time of the accident, was also asked about a USA Today report that deputies did not seek a warrant for samples of Woods’ blood to determine if he had any drugs or alcohol in his system.”
  • “In order to seek a search warrant, you have to have evidence of impairment. Absent the evidence of impairment, you’re not going to get a search warrant, period. It’s not going to get signed by the judge,” Villanueva said. “Investigators will determine what is needed to determine the cause of the collision. The first step in obtaining a search warrant is you have to have evidence of impairment to continue going down that vein. Without that you just don’t get the search warrant. You have to establish probable cause for that.”
4. Are the Kordas the LPGA Tour’s best sibling duo ever?
Tony Jesselli for WomensGolf.com…”Jessica and Nelly Korda became the third sister act to both win on the LPGA when Nelly won in October of 2018. Nelly’s victory this past week was her fourth on the LPGA, while her sister Jessica has won six times. They have become the only sister act where both players have won more than once.”
  • “Why do I think the Korda sisters are the greatest golf sister act ever? The answer to that in my opinion is easy. While Annika Sorenstam is a World Golf Hall of Famer, her sister only won once. That brings us to the Jutanugarns. Ariya is only 25 years old and is a ten time winner, but she has not won since 2018 covering over 50 starts. Can she win again? Sure she can, but she is not trending in the right direction. Sister Moriya has just one victory in well over 200 LPGA starts. Ariya, a former No.1, has fallen to No.23 in the Rolex World Rankings, while her sister is No. 43.”
5. Digging into the Golf Channel sexual harassment, sexism allegations
Ben Strauss dives into reports of sexual harassment and sexist behavior at for the Washington Post…”In interviews with The Washington Post, 16 former and two current employees echoed Cornwell’s concerns, describing sexism, misogyny and harassment they have endured at the network.”
  • “Golf Channel disputed Cornwell’s claims in a response to the EEOC. An NBC spokesman, Greg Hughes, said in an email that the network is “vigorously defending this matter.”
  • “Presented with a list of allegations made by other women, Hughes disputed many of their claims and said “the vast majority” had been investigated and that “appropriate action was taken.” Others, he said, the network was only now hearing of and would investigate “promptly and thoroughly.” The network declined to make any employees available for interviews.”
  • “Many of the women spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of breaking the nondisclosure agreements they signed in exchange for severance…”
  • “Golf Channel is committed to providing a workplace where all employees are treated equitably and respectfully, and regularly conducts training to support that goal,” Hughes said.
  • “Former employees agreed that many of the men they made complaints about did eventually leave the network. But the culture, they said, remained.”
6. Study: Golf fans are the angriest fans of social media
Our Gianni Magliocco…”Hop on to social media during a live sporting event, and emotions are spilling over, but when it comes to golf, the prominent feeling is often anger and frustration.”
  • “That is down to gambling, and according to a new study from OnlineGambling.Ca, golf supporters are the angriest on social media, with 42% of all tweets about the sport being classified as an angry comment.”
  • “The study also found that cricket and ice hockey fans show the most love for their team, with 38% of their social media posts being filled with love. Basketball fans seem to be the saddest with their teams’ results, with 38% of reactions being unhappy.”
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Morning 9: Search warrant executed for black box in Tiger crash | Man makes 3 aces in 5 days

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By Ben Alberstadt
For comments—or if you’re looking for a fourth—email me at [email protected].
You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.
March 4, 2021
Good Thursday morning, golf fans.
1. Sheriff’s department seeking “black box” from Woods’ SUV
  • ESPN staff…”The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department executed a search warrant Monday to get data from the so-called black box in the SUV that Tiger Woods was driving when he was seriously injured in a crash last week.”
  • “To get a warrant, probable cause that a crime was involved has to be determined, even if it’s just a misdemeanor. A sheriff’s deputy downplayed the warrant as routine to USA Today Sports on Tuesday, saying he considered it due diligence.”
  • “We’re trying to determine if a crime was committed,” Sheriff’s Deputy John Schloegl said. “If somebody is involved in a traffic collision, we’ve got to reconstruct the traffic collision, if there was any reckless driving, if somebody was on their cellphone or something like that. We determine if there was a crime. If there was no crime, we close out the case, and it was a regular traffic collision.”
2. Status update on “Operation Drive the 6th”
Golf Channel’s Brentley Romine…”For those wanting to see Bryson DeChambeau drive the sixth green this week at Bay Hill, his two water balls Wednesday probably didn’t inspire much confidence. But the weather forecast does provide a glimmer of hope.”
  • “While there was about a 15-mph wind humming in off the right and slightly into him, DeChambeau came up well short on both attempts during his practice round for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.”
  • “The par-5 sixth is listed at 555 yards, but from the back tee box it requires about a 350-yard carry to safely clear the water. On Wednesday, DeChambeau teed his ball up at the very front of the back tee box, about 10 yards in front of the markers.”
3. C.T. Pan saw COVID-19 on the horizon
Dave Shedloski for Golf Digest…“But, again, they [C.T. Pan and his wife] had been exercising extraordinary caution for more than a month.”
  • “Obviously, with family at home in Taiwan, my wife and I have a better idea of what goes on in Asia,” Pan, 29, explained. “Taiwan is only about 80 miles away from China, so from our family and from the Taiwan government we heard about this unknown virus that could be very deadly and spreads fast, and while we didn’t know that much about it, we knew in January that people could be asymptomatic but still have it and might spread it.”
  • “We were being really careful. The last time we were in the restaurant dining was in San Diego [during the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines], but after we started getting the news about this virus we didn’t go in any more restaurants. We really tried to not go anywhere except for golf. Unfortunately, the rumors were true.”
4. How everything changed for Tiger
ESPN’s Bob Harig and Ramona Shelburne frame the Feb. 23 Tiger Woods crash in compelling fashion…”RIVIERA COUNTRY CLUB in Pacific Palisades, California, is a special place for Tiger Woods — even if it is the venue he has played the most without a victory on tour.”
  • “It is the PGA Tour stop — known back then as the L.A. Open — closest to Woods’ boyhood home in Cypress, California. It is where he made his debut in a professional tournament, playing as an amateur in 1992 at age 16. And it is where, in 2017, his TGR Foundation became the beneficiary of tournament proceeds, with Woods as tournament host.”
  • “That’s why he traveled by private jet from Stuart Aviation near his home in Jupiter, Florida, to Los Angeles on Feb. 19.”
  • “Woods wasn’t playing in the event. He was just eight weeks removed from his fifth back surgery in seven years. There was still plenty for him to do, though: meet and greet tournament sponsors, converse with foundation employees, catch up with other players and preside over the trophy presentation.”
5. Three aces in five days
Wild stuff! Viva Jim Wolklin! Greg Hardwig, Naples Daily News…”Golf has been pretty wild for Wolklin since he got back into the game in the 1980s. The three holes-in-one at Heritage Bay gave him a total of 11.”
  • “When you least expect them, they go in the hole,” said Wolklin, 68. “It’s when you’re not thinking about it, and you’re just trying to make par.”
  • “Wolklin’s wild stretch started on Feb. 12 on No. 13 on the Cypress Course, holing out with an 8-iron from 144 yards with Gary Bradbury, Brad Kroll and Randy Johnson witnessing. Three days later, Wolklin made his second on the 148-yard No. 21 Oak with a 7-iron, with David Foltz, Anthony Nizzardo and Michael McCarthy witnessing. The third was the next day, with his wife Cheryl, Steve Kosek and Mary Kosek witnessing the 9-iron from 130 yards on No. 26 on the Oak Course.”
  • “It’s regular rounds playing with friends,” Wolklin said. “I hit a good shot and then it’s one or two bounces right in the hole.”
6. Your top-ranked golfer in the API field? Tyrrell Hatton
Golf Channel’s Brentley Romine…“Asked on Wednesday how that all feels, Hatton replied: “Standing at 5’8, I wish I could walk onto the range a little taller (laughing), but sadly that’s out of my control.”
  • “Hatton, who boasts six worldwide top-5s (including two wins) since last year’s API triumph, the continued.”
  • “No, I mean, I feel confident when I go to a tournament if I know that my swing’s in a good place and I can kind of, if I manage my emotions well throughout the week then, sure, I’ll give myself a chance,” said Hatton, who is coming off of a T-22 at the WGC-Workday last week. “I felt last week that I was, I didn’t feel like I was swinging it that good and I was getting a bit frustrated and my golf got a little bit better each day. I actually played really good on Sunday … so I take confidence from that, that my swing kind of feels like it’s getting into a good place again and I guess we’ll see exactly tomorrow how it is.”
7. Tiger’s best shots at Bay Hill—and the clubs he used
Our Gianni Magliocco—for PGATour.com—rounded up Tiger Woods’ best shots from his incomprehensible career at Bay Hill…”5. 2012 (final round): Approach to No. 8”
  • “At the 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, Tiger was looking to end a two-and-a-half-year winless streak, on what was a windy Sunday with greens and pins that Woods would afterwards describe as the most difficult he had ever experienced at this event.”
  • “On the treacherous eighth hole, Woods held a two-stroke lead. Sitting in the middle of the fairway with the pin on the left side guarded by the pond in front of the green, Woods, who would often lean on his cut shot during his time working with Sean Foley, struck a high draw. The ball landed softly on the front portion of the green and rolled to within 5 feet of the cup.”
  • “The bold shot paid off and gave Woods a three-stroke advantage, and he would go on to secure his 72nd PGA TOUR win and begin his ascension back to World No. 1.”
  • Club Used: Nike VR Pro Blade 8-iron with a True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shaft.
8. Why Claude Harmon III was dismissed
Our Gianni Magliocco…”Brooks Koepka and Claude Harmon III’s split was a surprise when it was announced in January, and the swing coach has given his view on the break up this week on The Filthy Lipout Golf Podcast.”
  • “On the podcast, Harmon III stated that he believed that Brooks “wanted to hear something different”, bringing an end to their highly successful 8-year spell.”
  • “I just got fired by Brooks Koepka. I was with Brooks for eight years. You know, I think you get players that say ‘Listen, I’m just tired of hearing the same thing’ and I’ve always been one that would say, ‘Well listen, I’m not gonna make stuff up, I can try and tell you something different but we kind of know what you do as a player and if you’ve had success.’”
9. Arnold Palmer Invitational Tour Truck Report: Rickie’s iron experiments continue, MMT train rolls on, Rose tests a ton
Yours truly took a stab at the Tour Truck Report…”The fleet of tour trucks arrived southwest of Orlando this week for the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge.”
“It’s an appropriate place to be digging into the nuances of pro golfers’ gear, given the club building, tinkering, and general gear junkie-hood of the tournament’s namesake, Arnold Palmer, whose 10,000 club-filled workshop is gear nut’s cave of wonders.”
  • “Let’s dig into the tweaks and wholesale switches we’re hearing about at the King’s place.”
  • “Byeong Hun An plugged a Mitsubishi MMT Utility 125 TX shaft in his Titleist U500 2-iron.”
  • “Bernd Wiesberger is testing a Graphite Design Tour AD DI 9 TX shaft (tipped 1.5 inches) in his TSi2 3-wood as he searches for more of a consistent cut ball flight. His current gamer features a Graphite Design Tour AD IZ 8 TX shaft with the same tipping.”
  • “Denny McCarthy, Robert Streb, and Byeong Hun An are all testing new Project X EvenFlow RipTide shafts (which began tour seeding in late January)”.
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“We know exactly the optimal launch and spin you should be chasing” Ping’s Marty Jertson – On Spec podcast

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On this week’s episode of the “On Spec” podcast presented on the GolfWRX radio network, host Ryan Barath had the opportunity to speak with Ping Golf’s VP of Fitting and Performance Marty Jertson about their new virtual fitting platform along with a whole bunch of other topics related to club fitting and beyond.

One of the key point made by Marty on the topic of optimization was

“…we now have the ability to pass information to the golfer on what exactly the optimal launch and spin you should be chasing “

You can listen to the full show below, the above quote starts at 17:30

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