Comfortable Vegas finds a home in Houston

By Associated PressMarch 31, 2011, 12:26 am

2007 Shell Houston Open

HUMBLE, Texas – Jhonattan Vegas could barely speak English when he made his first appearance in a PGA Tour event, as an amateur at the 2003 Houston Open.

He was 18 then, and qualified less than a year after moving from his native Venezuela to Houston to fine-tune his game with Franci Betancourt, an instructor who had taught him as a boy.

Vegas missed the cut, but felt secure enough to make the city his adopted hometown. He’s back at Redstone for the Houston Open this week, now a fast-rising tour rookie with a victory already under his belt.

The big-hitting Vegas is one of 33 players in the field who have already qualified for next week’s Masters. But a win in Houston would have additional meaning to Vegas, a former University of Texas star who now lives only 20 minutes from the course.

“That first Tour experience was this one here and since that time, it’s great to be back,” Vegas said. “I think just the whole state of Texas, I’ve been in a pretty ‘home’ feeling. When I’m here, I feel really comfortable. I like everyone around.”

Vegas earned his invitation to Augusta when he won the Hope Classic in January in just his fifth career start on the tour.

“I knew that I could win here – I didn’t know it was going to be that quick,” he said. “You never know when things are going to happen. That’s kind of what I do and just try as hard as I can every single time and hope for the best.”

Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and Fred Couples are also in the field, using the tournament to tune up for the season’s first major. Anthony Kim is the defending champion.

Organizers have embraced the Houston Open’s distinction as the run-up to the Masters, setting up the Tournament Course with conditions similar to those at Augusta. The fairways are wide and mowed toward the tees, the rough is light, the greenside mounds are shaved and the greens themselves are lightning-fast.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen is playing the course for the first time after hearing positive feedback about it.

“A lot of the players said it’s as close as you can get it to the Augusta setting or grass,” Goosen said. “That definitely made me decide to play this year.”

The course can also boast one of the tour’s toughest holes, the water-lined, 488-yard 18th. It ranked as the 20th most difficult hole on tour last year, with a 4.317-stroke average, and usually yields final-round drama.

In 2007, Adam Scott had a one-shot lead, but pulled his tee shot into the water. He took his drop, hit his approach safely away from the water, then holed a 48-foot par-saving putt to win.

In 2009, Paul Casey bogeyed the 18th on the final day to slip into a playoff with J.B. Holmes. The players returned to the 18th tee, Holmes found the water with his drive, and Casey won with a conservative bogey.

Last year, Vaughn Taylor rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 18 in the final round to tie Kim and force another playoff. Taylor then hit the greenside bunker to the right off the tee, while Kim made a routine par for the victory.

“It’s a tremendous hole,” Kim said. “When the wind blows, it’s as tough as it gets. You can’t bail out anywhere. Right is no good. The second shot is actually harder if you’re in that bunker than if you’re right of the bunker.

“You have to hit a couple of quality golf shots,” Kim said, “and the green’s not very easy, either.”

Westwood tied for eighth in 2010 and finished second to Mickelson at the Masters the following week, bolstering the notion that Redstone works as a suitable tuneup. Westwood is playing at Houston for the fourth time in five years.

“The main point is they try to get the greens as quick as possible which, when you get to Augusta next week, it’s not as big a shock,” Westwood said. “They’re pretty immaculate this week and run at a great pace.”

But Westwood is looking for more than just a few practice rounds this week. Now No. 2 in the world behind Martin Kaymer, Westwood has failed to crack the top 10 in six starts.

His routine of playing the week before a major has served him well, though it has yet to produce a breakthrough victory. He was the runner-up to Louis Oosthuizen at last year’s British Open, and tied for third at both the British Open and PGA Championship in 2009.

“I like to be competitive going into the week of a major,” Westwood said. “You look at all the major championships, I’m playing the week before. Like if I come into it, have another couple of weeks (without playing a tournament), I could be rusty for even nine holes, and that’s too much in a major championship.”

Shell Oil Company has sponsored the tournament since 1992. On Tuesday, the oil giant extended its title sponsorship through 2017.

Getty Images

Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.



It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.



Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.



Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.



Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.



After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.



Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

Getty Images

Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.


Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters


Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.