Monday, February 19, 2018
Golf

Young Masters rookies confident

AUGUSTA, Ga. —Since 1935, only one golfer has won the Masters in his first appearance: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

The reason? It takes years of experience to unlock Augusta National's secrets: the best angles into greens, the subtle pull of Rae's Creek on putts, the places to miss shots and still have a chance to save par, the swirling wind in Amen Corner.

That's why first-time Masters participants wind up in straitjackets, not green jackets. Usually, they leave the place shaking their heads — often after 36 holes — after struggling with the nuances of the course and the magnitude of the occasion.

At least, that's the conventional wisdom, reinforced by the Fuzzy stat.

But pro golf is skewing younger and younger. The kids are better prepared coming out of college, hit the ball a mile and do not quake in their spikes when Tiger Woods walks by.

A record 24 first-time Masters participants tee it up in the first round today, but several already are PGA Tour winners and four are ranked among the top 25 in the world. Each is thinking the same thing: "Why not me?"

"It's getting younger," said Jordan Spieth, 20 and in his first Masters, and who last summer became the youngest tour winner since the Depression before he turned 20 in July.

"The game is getting better, younger, and vastly spreading to different and more places. I think that we'll continue to see younger and younger players step up and be able to win early, such as we have."

In the not-too-distant past, a young golfer would show up at Augusta National unprepared for the challenge that awaited him. It was up to him and his caddie to figure out the course.

Now, golfers show up with teams. Their practice is choreographed to the minute. They huddle with nurturing advisers. They get positive feedback. No one around them tells them they're too young or inexperienced to play well.

"These days, kids have a mental coach, a strength coach, a swing coach, maybe a short-game coach," said Jason Day, a grizzled veteran of 26. "They have so many people around them that are in place to make sure they are improving and competing.

"These kids are coming out confident. They're coming out stronger, faster. Their games are a lot tighter and every year that goes by they are just coming out tougher to compete and play against."

Patrick Reed, 23, is as confident as anyone. He has won three times in seven months going back to last season, including a World Golf Championships event in which he declared on national television that he already feels like one of the top five players in the world.

The Masters is his first major.

"It doesn't matter if you've played here once or if you've played here 50 times," Reed said. "When it comes down to it, it's just going to be one of those things that whoever is playing the best is going to walk away with the trophy."

Comments

Dustin Johnson, Ted Potter Jr. tied for lead at Pebble Beach National Pro-Am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Dustin Johnson overcame a sloppy back nine in the stiffening breeze by making a 10-foot birdie on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach for 2-under 70 that gave him a share of the lead going into the final round of the Pebble Beach Nat...
Published: 02/10/18
Tiger Woods at the Valspar Championship? Maybe

Tiger Woods at the Valspar Championship? Maybe

PALM HARBOR — Every year at this time, Valspar Championship officials release a list of players committed to the tournament, those likely to commit and those who have not definitively said no. For the first time since it became a PGA Tour event in 20...
Published: 02/08/18
Gary Woodland rallies to win Phoenix Open in playoff

Gary Woodland rallies to win Phoenix Open in playoff

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Gary Woodland was surprised to see infant son Jaxson with wife Gabby late Sunday afternoon at the Phoenix Open. "My wife kind of surprised me with him," Woodland said. "I didn’t think he was going to be there. I thought it would j...
Published: 02/04/18
Record crowd watches Rickie Fowler take Phoenix Open lead

Record crowd watches Rickie Fowler take Phoenix Open lead

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Rickie Fowler birdied the last three holes in front of the largest crowd in golf history Saturday to take the lead in the Phoenix Open. Fowler shot 4-under 67 to reach 14 under with a round left at TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course,...
Updated one month ago
Fowler back in contention in Scottsdale

Fowler back in contention in Scottsdale

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Rickie Fowler took a share of the lead into the weekend in the Phoenix Open. He knows from experience the party is just getting started. "Just keep the gas pedal down," Fowler said. Fowler has had a lot of success at TPC Scottsdal...
Updated one month ago

Bill Haas takes first-round lead at PGA’s Phoenix Open

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Bill Haas’ 9-iron landed to the right of the pin and spun left, settling 3 feet away for birdie on the par-3 16th in the Phoenix Open. "I just tried to play the hole like I would any other hole, even though it’s not like any other...
Updated one month ago
Jason Day wins playoff at Farmers Insurance Open

Jason Day wins playoff at Farmers Insurance Open

SAN DIEGO — Jason Day calmly sank an 18-inch birdie putt at 8:17 a.m. Monday in front of empty grandstands on No. 18 at Torrey Pines for his first PGA Tour win in 20 months. There were no roars, just cheers from Day’s family and a handful of mates. I...
Updated one month ago

Seminole’s Brittany Lincicome defends title at Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Brittany Lincicome beat darkness — with help from floodlights Sunday on the Ocean Club’s 18th green — to win the Bahamas LPGA Classic for the second straight year. The Seminole resident birdied the final two holes and four ...
Updated one month ago

Nine-time European champion Alex Noren takes lead at Farmers Insurance Open

SAN DIEGO — A nine-time winner on the European Tour, Alex Noren of Sweden gave himself a chance to make his mark in America with 3-under 69 Saturday for a one-shot lead going into the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open. Noren finished strong, ...
Updated one month ago
Ryan Palmer leads Farmers Insurance Open; Tiger Woods barely makes cut

Ryan Palmer leads Farmers Insurance Open; Tiger Woods barely makes cut

SAN DIEGO — Ryan Palmer is the 36-hole leader in the Farmers Insurance Open. Jon Rahm is right behind, poised to reach No. 1 in the world. And for the first time in 29 months, a PGA Tour event will feature Tiger Woods on the weekend. Palmer finished ...
Updated one month ago