Joy’s three tips to win The Open

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Ahead of The Open Championship which gets underway on Thursday, Sport360’s Joy Chakravarty shares his predictions and player to watch at Royal Troon.

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Joy of Golf: Johnson's athletic ability could change golf

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Physical specimen: Dustin Johson.

Several years ago, in one of the many enlightening chats I have had with Gary Player, he spoke about his pet peeve in golf – the distance generated by the modern-day golf ball.

While making his impassioned plea to the world’s governing bodies to rein in the golf ball, Player mentioned something very interesting. He said: “The golfers are only going to get bigger and stronger. The other day, I saw this Long Driving Championship, and there were these well-built players hitting the ball miles.

“Imagine a basketball player deciding to take up golf. He is going to be six-and-a-half feet tall, well built, athletic. How long will he hit it? It will be a nightmare. Most golf course designs will be obsolete because of them.”

Player really could have been talking about Dustin Johnson. The American has won on the PGA Tour every season since making his debut in 2008 (except for 2014 when he took that much talked about six-month leave of absence). And yet, he is only recently starting to live up to his potential.

His two wins in last two starts – the US Open at Oakmont and the World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational – could really be the start of something special.

Johnson is 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 87 kilos. But he is not just brute strength.

In a 2011 Sports Illustrated interview his trainer Randy Myers revealed that Johnson’s standing long jump would put him in the 93rd percentile among NBA players, and his three-cone drill (used to measure speed and agility) was in the 80th percentile among NFL skill-position players. Myers concluded: “I’ve been doing this for 23 years, and he’s the best athlete I’ve ever seen.”

Most experts agree that Johnson would have made a career in whichever sport he chose, simply because of his immense physical abilities. Johnson refuses to talk about his 2014 absence from the game, but whatever he did, seems to be working for him.

He had a reputation for being a party animal before that (a video of him caught by police while DUI went viral), but has looked like a change man following the birth of his first child with Paulina Gretzky in January 2015.

Going back to Player’s fear, the one stat that jumped out of his stupendous effort at Akron was the average driving distance – 342 yards! That really is bad news for any golf course. Most course designers would put their hazards around the 270 to 300-yard area on the fairway.

But given Johnson’s exceptional length of the tee, he has taken almost everything out of play. So, should we be wary of Johnson and the effect he can have on professional golf? Perhaps. But at the same time, we have two amazing examples in Jordan Spieth and Lydia Ko which reinforces the belief that there is so much more to golf than brute strength.

Spieth is constantly 40-50 yards shorter than guys like Johnson and Rory McIlroy, and yet, he has won two majors in the past two years and was the world No. 1. On the LPGA Tour, Ko ranks 117th in driving distance at 248.4 yards, way behind the phenomenally talented and athletic Alexi Thompson (driving distance leader at 284.2 yards). And yet, Ko is the women’s world No. 1.

Piercy’s problem

Golf course designers are the not the only ones who must be complaining about Dustin Johnson. The man who has really suffered from his recent exploits is Scott Piercy.

The 37-year-old American, a three-time champion on the PGA Tour, is clearly playing the best golf of his life. He was runner-up to Johnson at Oakmont in the US Open by three shots, and then was left the bridesmaid once again in Akron as he finished one shot behind the same man.

Piercy has now made $1.76 million in his last two starts, improving to 17th in the PGA Tour Money List and 22nd in the FedEx Cup points list. More importantly, in these two weeks, he has jumped from 66th in the world ranking to No. 25.

Obviously, not many fans remember the second-hottest player on the Tour, but Piercy can take heart from the oldest adage in sport – if you keep knocking on the door, it is bound to open one day.

Stat of the week

$706 million – the total sales of Nike Golf for the year ending May 31. That represents a drop of nearly six per cent in sales despite the fact that the golf market grew overall, and in America, Nike Golf’s biggest market, the number of rounds played have increased by 5.5 per cent (according to National Golf Foundation).

A part of the problem for Nike is the growing influence of Under Armour and Cobra-Puma Golf, and the recent success of TaylorMade’s M1 and M2 clubs.

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Joy of Golf: Bill Hurley III provides golf with feel-good story

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Bill Hurley receives his trophy from Tiger Woods.

As far as the feel-good story of the year in golf is concerned, it will be extremely hard to beat Bill Hurley III winning the Quicken Loans National.

In a tournament that aims to honour and raise funds for soldiers, Hurley’s win at the fabled Congressional Country Club in Washington was the best possible script.

The 34-year-old American, as we all know by now, is a US Naval Academy graduate and served the country for several years before achieving his dream of becoming a professional golfer.

The Quicken Loans National, hosted by Tiger Woods, an unabashed fan of the military having grown up with his soldier dad, has played a major role in Hurley’s life. It was in this tournament last year that he experienced some of the darkest days of his life.

On July 30, 2015, Hurley made an impassioned plea for the safe return of his father, who had gone missing. He was found a day later, but two weeks after the incident, Willard Hurley shot himself dead.

A former Walker Cup player and one-time world No. 6 amateur, Hurley’s game suffered and he lost his card. Then came some incredible bad luck when he played well in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals, only to miss a full membership for 2016 by a mere $394.

Playing on sponsors’ invitations and events his low category could give him a start in, Hurley continued to struggle this season, missing eight cuts in 13 starts with his best finish being tied 41st at AT&T Byron Nelson Classic. There were time he thought of quitting the sport, but for someone who had the famous dying command of James Lawrence ‘Don’t give up the ship’ drilled in him, that wasn’t an option.

It all changed last week on a golf course that is just a short drive from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he graduated from. Hurley shot 17-under par and played like a champion.

One of the best stats of his win was that he became the lowest ranked player in the world to win on the PGA Tour this season. He had started the week as world No. 607, the previous lowest was No. 513 Brian Stuard at Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

But even after the tournament, the legend of Hurley continues to grow. The win had earned him a place in the Open Championship at Royal Troon in two week’s time. Giving up on an Open spot is not the easiest thing for a professional golfer, but Hurley did just that on Wednesday, preferring to be present for his sister’s wedding which is scheduled the same week as The Open.

Bill Hurley III…truly, an Officer and a Gentleman.

RAHM’S SENSATIONAL DEBUT

Hurley hogged the entire spotlight at Congressional, but spare a though for Jon Rahm.

Enjoying pro life: Jon Rahm.

Enjoying pro life: Jon Rahm.

The Spaniard, who was the low amateur the week before at the US Open, turned pro at Quicken Loans National and showed his enormous potential once again by finishing tied third in the tournament.

Rahm, a former amateur world No. 1, had earlier played in the Waste Management Phoenix Open last year and finished tied fifth. The 21-year-old is already up to No. 285 in the world and while a dream Ryder Cup spot at Hazeltine in two month’s time would be asking for too much, he could be Europe’s star in 2018.

THE DREADED WEEK IS HERE

We are in the midst of what has been the most contentious week in the recent history of professional golf.

At one stage, June 27-July 3, 2016, was threatening to tear through the fabric of world golf. The 100th Open de France was always scheduled for this week by the European Tour, and when forced to change their calendar to accommodate Olympics, the PGA Tour pushed up the dates of WGCBridgestone Invitational to this week.

Given the importance of the French Open – France is hosting the 2018 Ryder Cup and the French Open is the biggest and oldest tournament in continental Europe – the European Tour threw a hissy fit and when all failed, they withdrew their sanctioning of the WGC event.

A lot of additional perks were given to the European Tour members who are playing in Paris, including double Ryder Cup points.

Shane Lowry, the defending WGC champion, decided to go to Akron and defend his title, but a majority of other stars have shown their support for European Tour by either playing the French Open, or missing both the tournaments.

STAT OF THE WEEK

1 – Maverick McNealy, son of Sun Microsystem founder Scott McNealy, is now the best-ranked amateur golfer in the world.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“I promise you, I would have thrown a fit. I wouldn’t have hit another shot. I would have sat there.”

– Jordan Spieth when asked what he would have done if he were in Dustin Johnson’s position during the US Open rules fiasco.

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