Amateur wins cause for celebration and questions

By Associated PressMay 19, 2009, 4:00 pm
IRVING, Texas ' So much about Shane Lowrys victory in the Irish Open was surprising.
The burly, 22-year-old Irishman was only the 16th-ranked amateur in the world, hopeful of making the Walker Cup team, when he teed it up for the first time on the European Tour. His 62 in the third round matched the lowest score ever by an amateur on the tour. His playoff victory moved him up to No. 168 in the world, 14 spots better than Colin Montgomerie.
That Lowry won a European Tour event as an amateur?
Not so surprising.
As much as his victory in the wind and rain on the links of County Louth was cause for celebration, it raised questions about how the strength and depth of fields on the European Tour.
Lowry became the third amateur in the last two years to win on the European Tour. He joins Pablo Martin, who won the Portugal Open in 2007 a week before the Masters; and 18-year-old Danny Lee, who captured the Johnnie Walker Classic in Australia three months ago to become Europes youngest champion in history.
That raises questions when compared with the PGA Tour, which is going on its 19th consecutive year without an amateur winner.
The last amateur champion in America was Phil Mickelson in 1991.
On this Tour, a lot of it has to do with the depth of the fields, said Scott Verplank, who preceded Lefty when he won the 1985 Western Amateur as a junior at Oklahoma State. Not to take a sideswipe at the European Tour, but I think theres something to that.
Mickelson was a junior at Arizona State when he won the Northern Telecom Open in Tucson, Ariz., making an 8-foot birdie on the final hole for a one-stroke victory over Tom Purtzer and Bob Tway.
Its not so much that Mickelson was the last amateur to win a regular PGA Tour event.
No amateur has even come close.
A year after Mickelsons feat, David Duval was a 20-year-old junior at Georgia Tech when he had a two-shot lead over Tom Kite going into the final round of the BellSouth Classic in Atlanta. He closed with a 79.
I was naive and young and didnt know what it was entirely about, Duval recalled Tuesday morning. I just knew I was playing well. I remember that I got asked if I thought I could beat Tom Kite, and I said, I dont know. Ive beaten him so far. I got in trouble for that one for being arrogant. But I was beating him. Was that a bad answer?
Ty Tryon was 16 when he spent more time chasing the leaders than the cut line at the 2001 Honda Classic, eventually tying for 39th. Most recently, Tadd Fujikawa was 16 when he entered the final round of the Sony Open six shots out of the lead and tied for 20th.
The Nationwide Tour has been around 20 years with only one amateur winner ' Daniel Summerhays in 2007.
Theres a lot of good, young kids coming along, Verplank said. That it happens three times in Europe over the last couple of years, you could construe that as another show of strength of our tournaments compared with everyone elses. But thats nothing against the amateur players. The best amateurs from around the world are as good as the best in the United States.
He certainly had no qualms with whom Lowry beat ' Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood were among those who teed it up in the Irish Open, the highest-rated tournament in golf last week.
Likewise, Lee beat a group of players in Australia that included Westwood, Anthony Kim, Camilo Villegas and Ian Poulter.
Verplank and Mickelson were among the best amateurs when they won as amateurs. Martin and Lee have a similar pedigree.
Martin first showed his stuff at age 17 when he was the 54-hole leader at the Spanish Open. He played at Oklahoma State and was named the top college golfer by winning the Jack Nicklaus Award and Fred Haskins Award.
Lee was born in South Korea and groomed for golf in New Zealand. After supplanting Tiger Woods as the youngest U.S. Amateur champion, he made his PGA Tour debut in Greensboro and shot four rounds in the 60s to tie for 20th.
Lowry might have been the most unheralded of the three, although he was well-known in European golf circles. The Irishman now has to decide whether to stay amateur and compete at the Walker Cup, or cash in by turning pro.
Verplank and Mickelson both returned to college and won an NCAA title in their senior seasons.
But times have changed. The money wasnt what it is now.
Martin has not had a top 10 since he turned pro and now is No. 527 in the world. Lee has missed four cuts in the six times he has played since winning in Australia.
Perhaps Lowry should consider what Mickelson told The New York Times a few days after he won as an amateur.
It was unbelievable to me how, as soon as the tournament was over, everybody was hurrying to catch a flight for Hawaii, Mickelson said. I was so drained and so tired. There was no way I would have been able to play this week. Thats why right now I dont feel that Im ready to turn pro and play every day, week after week.

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  • Ryu, S.H. Park among winners at Rolex awards

    By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 5:51 pm

    NAPLES, Fla. – The Rolex Player of the Year and Vare Trophy winners won’t be determined until Sunday’s finish of the CME Group Tour Championship, but seven other awards were presented Thursday during the LPGA’s Rolex Awards dinner at the Ritz Carlton Golf Resort.

    The awards and winners:

    William and Mousie Powell Award – Katherine Kirk won an award given to the player “whose behavior and deeds best exemplify the spirit, ideals and values of the LPGA.” Kirk won the Thornberry Classic this year, her third LPGA title. “Some people ask me if I feel obligated to give back to the game,” Kirk said. “I think it’s a privilege.”

    Heather Farr Perseverance Award – Tiffany Joh, who had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma earlier this year, thanked the Farr family and all those who supported Joh through her diagnosis and recovery.

    “I found a great quote from Ram Dass, `We are all just walking each other home,’” Joh said. “I’ve really come to understand the value of all my relationships, no matter how fleeting or profound they seem.”

    The Commissioner’s Award – Roberta Bowman, outgoing chair of the LPGA Board of Directors, was honored for her service the last six years. LPGA commissioner Mike Whan called her “my friend, my boss and my hero.” Bowman deflected the praise for her back on to the tour, thanking Whan, LPGA staff, players, sponsors, fans and the media.

    “The world needs more role models for little girls,” Bowman said. “And they don’t need to look much farther than the LPGA.”

    Ellen Griffin Rolex Award and Nancy Lopez Golf Achievement Award – Sandy LaBauve, who founded the LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf program, was honored as the first person to win both these awards.

    The Griffin Award honors golf teachers and the Lopez Award honors an LPGA professional who emulates the values Lopez demonstrated. LaBauve is the daughter of Jack and Sherry Lumpkin, both teachers of the game.

    “This program doesn’t belong to me,” LaBauve said of LPGA-Girls’ Golf. “I merely planted the seed. The fruit belongs to all of us.”

    Rolex Annika Major Award – So Yeon Ryu won the award, named for Annika Sorenstam, for the best overall performance in women’s major championships this year. She won the ANA Inspiration and tied for third at the U.S. Women’s Open.

    “It’s such an honor to win an award named after Annika Sorenstam,” Ryu told Sorenstam during the presentation. “It’s a special award for me.”

    Rolex Rookie of the Year Award – Sung Hyun Park won the honor, telling the audience in a message translated from Korean that she was disappointed failing to win the KLPGA’s Rookie of the Year Award and was grateful for a dream come true getting the chance to win it on the LPGA.

    Def. champ Fitzpatrick grabs lead at Euro finale

    By Associated Press, Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 1:50 pm

    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a second straight 5-under-par 67 to secure a one-stroke lead halfway through the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship on Friday.

    At 10 under after two rounds on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estate, Fitzpatrick leads English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton, whom he beat by one shot to win the title last year.

    Hatton moved into contention with a brilliant 9-under 63, a round soured only by a closing bogey on the par-5 18th hole.

    In the Race to Dubai, main protagonists Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose experienced contrasting emotions to their opening rounds. Fleetwood boosted his chances by rising into a tie for 11th at 6 under after a 65. Rose endured a three-putt bogey on the 18th to finish with a 70, and dropped on the leaderboard so he's just two shots ahead of Fleetwood.

    Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit, stayed in contention by adding a 69 to his opening 70 to be one shot behind Fleetwood.

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    Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

    Fitzpatrick made two bogeys but eagled the 14th, and five birdies contributed to his 67.

    Overnight leader Patrick Reed is now three back following an even-par 72. Reed is in the field thanks to a European Tour regulation that allows the Presidents Cup to count as an official event, thus allowing him to meet his quota of tournaments played.

    Fitzpatrick was helped immensely also by the 18th, where Hatton, Rose, and Reed all made bogeys. Fitzpatrick birdied the hole for a second straight day with a 25-foot putt.

    ''I said to my caddie, we were putting really, really well all week so far,'' Fitzpatrick said.

    ''The thing is, you get so many fast putts around here, even uphill into the green, they are still running at 12, 13 (on the stimpmeter) even. You've just got to be really sort of careful. Every putt is effectively a two-putt. You've got to control your pace well and limit your mistakes, because it's easy to three-putt out here.''

    Rose, hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey, was disappointed with his finish despite playing solid golf from tee to green.

    ''To make six (on 18) just ends the day on the wrong note, but other than that, I played really well on the back nine,'' Rose said.

    ''I was aware of the scores and who had done what today. But listen, halfway stage, I'd probably have signed up for that if somebody said on Wednesday you would be in this position after two rounds. It's a position you can build on the weekend.''

    Fleetwood resurrected his chances of winning the Order of Merit with a 65, eight shots better than his opening round. His only bogey of the day came on the seventh after an errant drive, but that was the only mistake on a solid day that saw him make eight birdies.

    Fleetwood spent hours on the putting green after his first round.

    ''I needed a low one today for (a tournament win and the Order of Merit),'' he said. ''Luckily, I got a good score.''

    Closing eagle gives Kirk 1-shot lead in RSM

    By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 12:16 am

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Chris Kirk holed an 18-foot putt for eagle on his final hole for a 9-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the RSM Classic.

    Kirk played the par 5s on the Plantation Course at Sea Island Golf Club in 5 under.

    ''I kind of hit my putter on the fringe a little bit and I wasn't sure it was going to get there, but that was just kind of the day that it was,'' Kirk said. ''Even when I thought it wasn't quite going to work out, it still went in the middle of the hole.''

    The seven lowest scores of the opening round came on the Plantation Course during a picturesque afternoon on the Golden Isles. Sporting a University of Georgia hat Thursday, Kirk won at Sea Island four years ago for the second of his four PGA Tour victories.

    ''It's a big Georgia territory out here on St. Simons,'' Kirk said. ''Hopefully, my hat will bring me some luck the rest of the week.''

    The tournament is the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, and Kirk is sorting out equipment changes.

    ''I'm still trying to get it all worked out and figure out what I want to do going forward,'' Kirk said. ''But keep shooting 9 under, so I won't have to worry about it too much.'

    Joel Dahmen had a 64.

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    ''I think it played a little easier today,'' Dahmen said. ''The wind was down, greens were a little softer over here on the Plantation side. But just kept the ball in front of me and made a bunch of 8- to 10-footers.

    ''I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

    Sea Island resident Hudson Swafford was at 65 at the Plantation along with Jason Kokrak and Brian Gay.

    ''I feel like I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

    He played alongside fellow former Georgia players Bubba Watson and Brian Harman.

    ''We are right in the heart of Dawgs' territory, mine and Harman's backyard, so it's kind of nice,'' Swafford said.

    Though, his caddie wore an Auburn shirt.

    ''We don't need to talk about that,'' said Swafford, not needing to be reminded that Auburn beat Georgia in football last week.

    Nick Watney and Brice Garnett each had a 5-under 65 on the Seaside Course, which will be used for the final two rounds.

    Brandt Snedeker opened with a 67 in his first return from a sternum injury that sidelined him since the Travelers in June.

    Harman shot 69, and Watson had a 71.

    Co-leader Smith credits Foley's influence

    By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:33 pm

    NAPLES, Fla. – Sarah Jane Smith is making the most of the devoted efforts of Sean Foley this week.

    Foley’s prize pupil, Justin Rose, is in the hunt at the World Tour Championship in the United Arab Emirates, looking to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, but Foley isn’t there with him.

    Foley promised to help Smith this week, and he’s living up to the pledge, making the trip to Naples.

    “At 33, Sarah is in her prime,” Foley told “She is going to hold a trophy at some point. She is too skilled not to win.”

    Foley's extra attention is paying off for Smith.

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    With a 6-under-par 66, Smith moved into early contention to make her first LPGA title memorable at the CME Group Tour Championship. She’s tied for the first-round lead with Taiwan rookie Peiyun Chien.

    “I just seem to play my best with him,” Smith said.

    Foley, the former coach to Tiger Woods, was No. 10 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 teacher rankings released this fall.

    Foley sees a lot coming together in Smith’s game. She is a 12-year veteran building some momentum. She tied for third at the Women’s Australian Open earlier this year and is coming off three consecutive top-15 finishes in Asia. She is sixth on tour in birdies this season. 

    “As a coach, you try to get a player to see something in themselves that is already there,” Foley said.

    Rose, by the way, opened with a 6-under-par 66 in Dubai and is one shot off the lead.