Welcome to another edition of The Grind, where we are still trying to wrap our brain around the finish of the European Tour’s Maybank Challenge. Nacho Elvira (whose name is a trip in itself) had a huge clap of thunder disrupt his crucial pitch on the 72nd hole, posing an important philosophical question: Was that the doing of the golf gods or the real gods? The plot thickened when play was suspended for an hour and 40 minutes before he could putt and when action resumed, this happened:
Nacho! Overcoming all the universe’s governing bodies! Well, until the playoff, in which he still wound up losing to Scott Hend. Whatever forces were in play really had poor Nacho twisting in the wind. Anyway, that made for a fun Sunday morning, but there was so much else going on in golf around the world. And unlike the Mueller report, you can read all about it here, so let's dive in!
Paul Casey: For a second consecutive year, Casey slithered out of the Snake Pit with a Valspar Championship victory. Once again, it wound up being a one-shot win over a pair of chasers, but this time, Casey closed the deal as the 54-hole leader to move up to No. 11 in the Official World Golf Ranking (And No. 10 in the much more important Golf Digest Masters ranking). Not surprisingly, he seemed to have a great time all week.
And we’re happy for Paul, because last year absolutely no one other than his wife (maybe) was rooting for him to top Tiger Woods.
Ernie Els’ career: Lost a bit in the Maybank Championship craziness/theological discussion was Els notching an incredible milestone with his 300th career top 10. In fact, Els, who turns 50 in October, is the first golfer since the inception of the Official World Golf Ranking in 1986 to reach this remarkable feat.
In the Tiger (and Phil) Era, it's sometimes easy to forget how good the Big Easy was. Don't do it.
Akshay Bhatia: From an aging legend, we move onto this junior phenom, who made his PGA Tour debut at the Valspar Championship. Despite missing the cut by three shots after posting rounds of 74 and 72, Bhatia showcased the physical skills (a 343-yard drive and positive strokes gained putting both days) to go along with a confident mental approach (he even trash-talked Jon Rahm in a practice round) that have many believing he’ll be a star.
Golf fans will be seeing a lot more of this kid soon. He plans to turn pro when he turns 18 next January.
Justin Thomas’ TV setup: JT was living like a king during his off week:
That new condensed PGA Tour schedule really worked out for him.
Robert Garrigus’ suspension: While marijuana continues to become legal in more places across the country, the PGA Tour cracked down on Garrigus for failing a drug test after using the substance. And it cracked down hard, handing out a three-month suspension to a man who needs all the starts he can get to maintain his tour card. Here was Garrigus’ statement on the matter:
Hopefully, this was just a minor relapse for a man who has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction in the past. And hopefully, the tour will adjust to make the punishment better fit this “crime."
Patrick Reed’s Masters chances: On Tuesday, Patrick Reed said he was “in a better mental state” heading into the Masters than he was last year. By Friday, he was working with a new instructor on the range following rounds of 78 (Sunday at the Players) and 77. Life comes at you fast, huh?
Also, how about his wife, Justine, calling up David Leadbetter and asking for help? Considering I can’t even get my wife to read anything I write, I’m impressed. But yeah, even at 40-to-1 odds as the defending champ, I’m not too keen on a guy with more swing coaches than top 10s this season.
The Johnson brothers on stairs: Just under two years from Dustin Johnson’s famous stairs mishap on the eve of the Masters, his brother and caddie, Austin, broke his hand on the stairs of another rental house, this time following the conclusion of the Players. To Austin’s credit, he showed a lot of grit and went to work wearing a cast:
So many questions like, seriously, what is going on?! These guys are supposed to be great athletes! And again, is this something under the jurisdiction of the golf gods or the real gods? And are there gods in other sports like basketball? Considering how that Duke-UCF game ended, I’m inclined to say no. Sigh. . .
It’s time for the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, AKA that event where Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez nearly came to blows four years ago. This clip never gets old:
And great news, everyone! Keegan is back in the field and he’s got a couple Europeans (Matt Wallace and Lucas Bjerregaard) to tangle with. Plus, there are so many new rules this year that could spark a fight!
Random tournament fact: European golfers have a chance to win a PGA Tour event for the fourth consecutive week (Francesco Molinari, Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey) for the first time in modern tour history. And match play is kind of their bread and butter. . . Ole, ole, ole, ole?
RANDOM PROP BETS OF THE WEEK
— Dustin Johnson will be amping up any stair-related workouts ahead of the Masters: 1 MILLION-to-1 odds
— A European golfer will win this week’s WGC-Match Play: 2-to-1 odds
— If another European wins, European golf writers are going to be really annoying about it: LOCK
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Houston-area golfers kept on hitting balls at the range while a chemical fire burned around them:
Hey, it’s been a long winter.
VIRAL VIDEO OF THE WEEK
Phil Mickelson is now giving fitness “tips” on how to get calves like his:
Not mentioned, of course, is that Phil has been walking golf courses for nearly five decades. But either way, well played, Phil. And I promise this is the last time I talk about Phil’s calves this year. I think. Those things are pretty spectacular. . .
VIRAL VIDEO(S) OF THE WEEK (NON-PHIL DIVISION)
How about the hole-in-one prank pulled by the University of Oklahoma golf team on freshman:
That's worse than any hazing.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Andre Iguodala’s love of golf runs DEEP:
"I'm almost there. So, I had it and I kind of lost it. It was raining a little bit and the sun’s back out. If I get on the golf course, my basketball game is a direct reflection of how many rounds of golf I can get. So, the more rounds of golf the better I play.” And he wasn’t kidding.
So the key to the Warriors three-peating is sunshine. Check your Farmer's Almanacs and make your bets accordingly.
THIS WEEK IN CELEBRITY GOLFERS (OTHER THAN ANDRE IGUODALA)
Andre's Warriors teammate Steph Curry looks pretty locked in with his putting right now:
And George W. Bush made his first hole-in-one at 72:
Congrats to the former President, but I hope I don't have to wait that long. I mean, I will. But it would be nice for it to happen before I'm at the point of my life when I'm buying a celebratory round of Ensure.
THIS WEEK IN "PROS ARE JUST LIKE US!"
Just a couple weeks after Diane Donald posted of a video of Luke Donald being dragged to the mall, Luke led a PGA Tour event. And yet another video posted by Diane still made him relatable to dads everywhere:
“Do you want to watch daddy play on TV?” “No.” And then eventually one of the girls says, "maybe an hour.” Classic.
THIS WEEK IN "PROS ARE NOT JUST LIKE US!"
Eventual Maybank Championship winner Scott Hend played a bank shot off a grandstand on Saturday. On purpose.
These guys are good.
THIS AND THAT
Iowa State’s women’s golf team won its first tournament since 2012 and its first since the tragic death of former Aztec star Celia Barquin Arozamena last year. May the golf gods continue to shine on a program in desperate need of some good news. . . . It took 15 years, but Vince Covello finally has his first pro title after winning the Web.com Tour’s Louisiana Open. That won’t erase the Eagles fan’s pain of losing Nick Foles, but it should help. . . . Nelly Korda is the new top-rated American female golfer at No. 6 in the Rolex Rankings. Incredibly, she barely has family bragging rights with older sister Jessica lurking at No. 12. . . . And finally, those crafty people at Coca-Cola slipped a change into the greatest beverage in the world:
Fortunately, upon my initial taste test, this appears to just be a rebranding and not a tinkering with the recipe like they did for Coke Zero. But I need to get a Cherry Coke Zero lineup going, including cans, to make sure. Stay tuned.
RANDOM QUESTIONS TO PONDER
How many Cherry Coke Zeros have I had in my life?
How many miles has Phil Mickelson walked in his life?
How did those last two shots not drop against Duke?