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7:42PM

Mickelson: From Ryder Cup pond to 6 straight birdies at the Safeway

By Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — So it’s back to the PGA Tour, the Safeway Open, where golf once again is a game of strokes and not words. And America’s failure in the Ryder Cup remains in that other wine country, France.

What surfaced again at the Safeway was Phil Mickelson’s game — or at least the most important part, putting.

Phil’s last shot at the Ryder Cup, six days ago, plunked into a pond and gave Europe the winning points. But Thursday, in the first round of the first tournament of the 2018-19 season, the Safeway at Silverado Country Club, Philly Mick birdied six straight holes, 9 through 14, and shot a 7-under 65.

He was two behind rookie Sepp Straka, who is making his first Tour start and shot a spectacular 63, one back of Chase Wright.

Mickelson, reminding us he’s 48 and not quite able to handle monster courses with narrow fairways and high, thick rough, as he encountered during the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National near Paris, was asked about the apparent bickering among American Ryder Cuppers.

Patrick Reed’s wife whined that he was blindsided by, presumably, U.S. captain Jim Furyk, when Reed was separated as a playing partner from Jordan Spieth, with whom he formed a winning pairing in the 2016 Cup.

Then, wham, another anonymous golfer said Reed was full of spit, or something, and the U.S. players were very much involved in the pairing decisions.

If that weren’t enough, then came a report that two of America’s literal big men, the 6-footers Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka — who together have won the last three U.S. Opens — had a punch-out. Fiction, Koepka insisted.

“I don’t know what to say,” Mickelson responded, “because I didn’t see any of that stuff happen. I only saw one of the best weeks and team unities that we’ve had in a long time.”

There’s an adage that you can learn more about a person in a single round of golf than in a month of dialogue. What we seemingly learned about some of the members of the U.S. team is they didn’t so much need a captain as a nursemaid.

“Well, we got outplayed,” a candid Mickelson said Thursday, discussing the result of his 12th Ryder Cup. “I thought we had a great week in the sense we worked really well together as a team in deciphering some things and over the course of 20 years we’re looking at this as a big-picture thing.

“We were 2-8 the last 20 years (the Ryder Cup is biennial). Our goal is take the wins and losses and build on them. We’re having the opportunity to build something special, and so we’ll be judged on how we do the next 20 years. Our goal is to go 8-2, but after losing this time that might not be possible.”

Anything’s possible in golf. Mickelson flew 11 hours to his San Diego-area home from France on Monday, rested, came north to Napa on Wednesday, hit the ball poorly in warm-ups Thursday and shot 34-30.

“I hit it terrible,” Mickelson said, “one of the worst warm-ups of the year. I was hitting the fence on the range. To the left, not straight ahead. But I’ve been putting well, like I can putt. The big thing is making the short ones. Don’t let the good round fool you.”

The real question is: were we fooled by the tales of disaffection among the U.S. Ryder Cuppers? Or is it that the Euros care more about winning the Cup, while the Americans care about winning the majors?

Fred Couples has done both, his major the 1992 Masters. He is 59 and playing the Champions Tour, but as a spectator attraction — Fred always has been one of the more popular golfers — he is entered in the Safeway, where Thursday he shot a 1-over 73.

“I wish they would just leave it alone,” Couples said about the Ryder Cup complaining. “We got smoked, give it a rest. You go down as a team. … Why did they (Europe) win? They played better. They’re not better friends or attached more. They just flat beat us.”

Fortunately, Justin Thomas, the son and grandson of pros, and the 2017 PGA Champion, had the proper approach after playing in his first Ryder Cup. “To the fans and people of France,” Thomas tweeted, “y’all were amazing. So loud, supportive and classy to both the Europeans and US team. They are what makes the @rydercup so special…”

Thanks, Justin.

 

6:59AM

Los Angeles Times: Justin Thomas wins his first major by claiming victory at the PGA Championship

By Art Spander
Los Angeles Times

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was inevitable that Justin Thomas would win a major golf championship. His talent had been apparent since he was in grammar school. Sooner or later he would win a big one like his pal Jordan Spieth.

Sooner arrived on a humid Sunday at the 99th PGA Championship, when player after player, five in all, held or shared the lead until there was the 24-year-old Thomas holding it for good.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2017, Los Angeles Times

8:53AM

‘Errant’ Hills gets what it needed, a 63 by Justin Thomas

By Art Spander

ERIN, Wis. — They were calling it “Errant” Hills, saying it was the most forgettable course in U.S. Open history. But that changed on an historic Saturday, changed when a kid who’s been touted as one of the next greats went out and shot the lowest score in relation to par in the 117 years that the championship of American golf has been held.

If you didn’t know the name Justin Thomas, didn’t know he was destined to what was done on a warm, humid afternoon in the pastureland of Wisconsin, shoot a 9-under-par 63, well, you do now.

That’s been a magic score in majors, 63, since Johnny Miller, the kid from San Francisco, shot it the final round at Oakmont near Pittsburgh to win the 1973 Open. Since then, there have been numerous 63s, including one by Phil Mickelson last year in the British Open.

But none was at a par-72 course, like Erin Hills. Until Saturday.

“It was an awesome day,” said Thomas. ”I’m not sure when it’s going to sink in or when I’m going to realize what I did. I know one thing. If it happened (Sunday) and the result is what I want it to be, then I’d probably have a different feeling.”

Then he’d be a U.S. Open champion like his longtime pal and rival, Jordan Spieth.

But until Sunday it’s just a score to place in the record books, a score that verifies what sort of talent a 24-year-old who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs only 145 pounds can offer.

All that 63 was worth on the leaderboard was as part of a cumulative 11-under-par 73-69-63—205, tying Thomas for second with Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood, after Fleetwood double-bogied 18. Brian Harman holds the lead by a shot at 12-under 204.

Thomas had an eagle three on the 637-yard 18th, reaching the green in two and then holing the putt. “I was just trying to take advantage of the opportunities I had,” said Thomas.

More accurately, the opportunities he created.

The grandson and son of tour pros, Thomas, who grew up in Louisville, was a star before his teens. He once won two junior tournaments in a single day. At 16, he played in the Greensboro Tour event and shot 65.

“I was completely unconscious,” Thomas told Mark Whicker in 2015. “But I remembered how it motivated me. I was sitting in the players’ dining room and looking at all the food they get. They were making us omelets, and I was grabbing candy and ice cream. It was the coolest experience ever.”

That statement is up for amendment.

“I don’t know what I’m going to feel tonight,” he said. “I know I’m not going to sleep in. I’m going to be nervous, but it will be a good nervous.”

On Saturday, Thomas was saying how proud he was of his home town and the state of Kentucky, but he played his college golf at Alabama, helping the Crimson Tide win an NCAA title.

He has four PGA Tour wins, two in Malaysia in the CIMB and two in Hawaii. His friends, including Spieth, chide him, saying he’s never won on the American mainland.

“I mean, it would be special,” he said of this possibility. “It would be special, because it’s the U.S. Open, not because it’s on the mainland. I mean that’s kind of funny to me.”

The way Thomas plays golf is not at all funny, it’s exciting. At the Sony Open in January, he became the seventh player overall and the youngest to shoot a sub-60 round, a 59. Yes, he won.

Whether he wins this Open won’t be determined for another 18 holes, but obviously he’s in a great position after a great round. Then again, so are many others, including last year’s PGA champ, Patrick Reed, a star of the U.S. Ryder Cup team last year, and at 10-under the first-round leader, Rickie Fowler.

“As long as it’s a good tournament,” said Thomas, “I don’t think the USGA cares what the score is. They want a good tournament and an action-packed leaderboard. I mean, to be selfish I hope it isn’t, and I have a day like (Saturday).

“But you don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s the thing.”

Someone could even go out and shoot 63 like Justin Thomas.

12:31PM

Global Golf Post: Thomas Already Has Big-Time Game

By Art Spander
Global Golf Post

PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIFORNIA — This is Hogan's place, actually "Hogan's Alley," a label that stands as surely as does the statue of Ben adjacent to the practice green at Riviera Country Club.

History counts here. History and reputations. Justin Thomas seems destined to create both. "Justin Thomas," said Graham DeLaet, "is part of the future of golf."

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2015 Global Golf Post