Having Hit Bottom Verplank Strives for Pinnacle

By Associated PressAugust 10, 2007, 4:00 pm
PGA ChampionshipTULSA, Okla. -- Scott Verplank was signing autographs after a practice round at the PGA Championship when a young boy pulled out an unusual item for him to sign: an insulin pump.
 
It was the kind of moment that gives the diabetic golfer a lift.
 
Verplank has had his share of downers too, fighting through three elbow surgeries that derailed a career seemingly destined for greatness when he came out of Oklahoma State. That made it so much more sweet for him to claim the early clubhouse lead Friday after 36 holes at the year's final major.
 
He ended up two shots behind Tiger Woods, who matched the major championship record with a 63.
 
'I've been so far down at the bottom of the barrel, I know what that's like,' said Verplank, who shot a bogey-free 66 to move to 4-under 136 for the tournament. 'And you can only beat yourself up so much.'
 
Verplank seemed like a surefire star when he became the first amateur in 29 years to win a PGA Tour event by beating Jim Thorpe in a playoff at the 1985 Western Open. A year later, he entered the final round of the U.S. Open one stroke behind leader Ray Floyd but went out and shot a 74. Two decades later, he still considers that his best chance at winning a major -- until now.
 
'My mind-set is maybe I'm a late bloomer,' said the 43-year-old who lives in Edmond in suburban Oklahoma City. 'I was a very early bloomer. I was probably a top-10 player in the world when I was 21 years old ... I've had a lot of landscape in between. Maybe I'll be a late bloomer here.'
 
Verplank's path to stardom was interrupted by the surgeries, two on his right elbow and then one on his left. It was after the second surgery on his right elbow that Verplank thought he had bottomed out. He drove from his home at the time in Orlando, Fla., to Vero Beach for a checkup, believing that it would be only a few more months before he could play again.
 
Dr. Frank Jobe told him it would be an entire year.
 
'I had a two-hour drive back to Orlando, and I'll remember that. That was a pretty tough time,' Verplank said. 'I remember I was feeling pretty sorry for myself for a couple hours. I needed tissues.'
 
Three years later -- just before the 1996 U.S. Open -- he hit another low when he was told he'd have to have surgery again, this time on his left elbow.
 
'That was very disheartening to me because I'd been through a lot of junk and I'd come through it,' Verplank said. 'That took me about a year mentally to overcome that. That just gutted me when I had to go have surgery again.'
 
With what he's been through, Verplank takes joy in giving others a lift. That's why it was so meaningful for him to sign the autograph for the youngster dealing with the same disease Verplank was diagnosed with at age 9.
 
'If it helps that kid, if it gives him some inspiration or it just makes him feel better for a little while, then it's well worth it,' Verplank said.
 
After his third surgery, the 1986 NCAA champion came back to win the 2000 Reno-Tahoe Open and the 2001 Bell Canadian Open to reach four career victories. After that, he didn't win again until this year's Byron Nelson Championship in his native Dallas. He's finished in the top 10 in five of his eight events since.
 
Earlier in the week, Verplank felt more like an accountant, sorting tickets into 15 envelopes to leave at will call for family and friends. Oklahoma State fans called out 'Go Cowboys!' and 'Go Pokes!' to cheer him on at Southern Hills.
 
'My emotions are fine. I've decided I was going to really try to enjoy this week, have a good time here because there's a lot of extra demands that could really wear you out if you let them,' Verplank said.
 
He started with eight pars before charging into the lead with birdies on the ninth, 11th, 15th and 17th holes. He saved par on No. 13 after his 3-iron from the fairway clipped a tree and found the water.
 
'I'm kind of the guy that I only have to hit a couple decent shots to start thinking I'm pretty good again,' Verplank said.
 
By the end of his round, he was atop the leaderboard at a major -- a place many thought he'd reach years earlier.
 
'I didn't think I was going to come out and win every golf tournament because I have other things that I deal with that most other people don't deal with,' Verplank said. 'I'm happy that I've won five times on the tour. I'm disappointed that I haven't won more.
 
'You know, if you can make heads or tails out of that, good luck.'
 
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  • Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

    This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

    The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

    Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

    The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.


    Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


    A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

    And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

    The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.


    Masters victory


    Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

    Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

    Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative


    Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ


    Green jacket tour

    Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

    Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

    Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket


    Man of the people


    Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

    Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

    Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief


    Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together


    Ace at 17th at Sawgrass


    Growing family

    Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

    Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018


    Departure from TaylorMade


    Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade


    Squashed beef with Paddy

    Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

    Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'


    Victory at Valderrama


    Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

    Getty Images

    Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm
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    Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

    By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

    Well, this is a one new one.

    According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

    “No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

    Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

    “If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

    The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

    “I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

    The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

    Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

    Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.

    PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

    Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

    The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

    The statement reads:

    The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

    Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Web.com Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

    The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

    The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

    The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.