Notes Bad Round Good Memories

By Associated PressJune 14, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 U.S. OpenOAKMONT, Pa. -- U.S. Senior Open champion Allen Doyle took quadruple bogey on his last hole for an 81, but the 58-year-old had no regrets playing the toughest test in golf against players young enough to be his son.
The Senior Open winner traditionally gets a spot in the field, although not all of them take it. Doyle was encouraged to play by his daughters, and one of them, Erin, caddied for him the second straight year. He missed the cut at Winged Foot a year ago.
'This can't take away from what I've done,' Doyle said.
The memories go beyond his Champions Tour career, which has been stellar. Doyle was devoted to amateur golf in his prime, although he rarely tried to qualify for the U.S. Open because he had limited resources. It was a good life, though, and he ran in fast company, such as a World Amateur Team event with Tiger Woods.
He also recalls playing with a young Phil Mickelson at the Sunnehanna, a prestigious amateur event in Pennsylvania.
'Phil wanted to play a practice round with me,' he said. 'We get to the fourth hole, a par 3, and I told him, 'Don't fool with the pin.''
He said he was paired with Lefty for 36 holes on a Saturday, and both times Mickelson tried to go at the flag, only to make bogey.
'I said, 'What didn't you understand about me telling you in the practice round not to go at the pin?'' Doyle remembered. 'He said, 'I thought I could hit the shot.' These kids were just kids. We had course knowledge. They had strong wills.'
Boo Weekley and Bubba Watson, alumni at tiny Milton High School in the Florida Panhandle, were in the same group for their U.S. Open debut and acquitted themselves nicely. Watson shot an even-par 70, Weekley a 72.
'We're not big with these bright lights and these big tournaments, so for us to be able to talk and see a familiar face, it's fun,' Watson said. 'We've never played together, I don't think.'
They live 20 miles apart, Watson claiming Bagdad as his residence, Weekley in Jay. Watson describes his hometown as having a post office, a few stop signs, an elementary school and 'good ol' Southern people.'
Did they make the home folks proud?
'A lot of people are rooting for us,' Weekley said. 'And a lot couldn't give a flying donkey about us.'
Bob Rittberger was on the practice green waiting for a miracle that he knew would never arrive. The assistant pro at Garden City Golf Club knew his hopes for playing in the U.S. Open ended 10 days ago with the worst kind of luck.
Rittberger was the fourth alternate at Oakmont. It should never have come to that.
He needed a par on the final hole of sectional qualifying at Century Country Club in New York, and his approach was so perfect that it hit the flag and ricocheted off the green. Unaware there was a sprinkler beneath his ball in the rough, he chipped poorly, then compounded the problem with a three-putt double bogey.
That allowed Ricky Barnes to capture the third and final spot.
As if he needed a reminder, when Rittberger pulled up at his hotel in Pittsburgh this week, Barnes was in the car in front of him.
'I've thought about it,' Rittberger said. 'But there's not a whole lot you can do.'
Alternates are not allowed to play practice rounds until they are in the field, and Rittberger really never had a chance. David Howell of England was the only player to withdraw this week.
Rittberger wound up settling for the driving range and the putting green. He also signed about 300 autographs, which is about 300 more than he has ever signed. And he kept a good attitude.
'You're dying to get out there,' he said. 'But it's just not your turn.'
No, Ben Curtis didn't lose a bet. Wearing that Steelers shirt and visor was his choice.
The lifelong Cleveland Browns fan makes no secret of his allegiance. But he knows better than to wear orange and brown in Pittsburgh, whose Steelers have as bitter a rivalry as they come with the Browns. So Curtis, who has a deal with Reebok to wear NFL team gear, broke out the hometown colors for the first round.
'You get used to it,' he said, sounding resigned. 'They were chanting 'Steelers' all day out there.'
Curtis made the mistake of wearing a Browns shirt a few years ago at the 84 Lumber Classic, which is played at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, about 75 miles outside Pittsburgh. He got booed everywhere he went.
Last year, he bowed to the fans' wishes and wore a Steelers shirt. Lo and behold, he won the tournament.
'I might put Browns (gear) on Saturday,' he said. 'But not Sunday.'
There weren't many Oakmont Country Club members more excited about the U.S. Open than Bob Heltzel.
Heltzel, a longtime steel company executive, used to coach the golf team at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio. One of his former players, amateur Jason Kokrak, is in the field this week, and they played Oakmont together before tournament week.
'Being the father of five daughters and no sons, it was special playing a practice round with Jason at the U.S. Open,' Heltzel said, breaking into a smile. 'He's a young man with a lot of ability and a bright future as an individual and young man, let alone the golf aspect.'
Kokrak, the Ohio prep golfer of the year in 2003, just finished up at Xavier, where he was honorable mention All-America. He tied for first in his qualifying group to earn a spot in the Open, where he shot a 6-over 76 Thursday.
'When I first came to Oakmont, I played at the U.S. Amateur in 2003 and missed the cut,' he said. 'I walked off the golf course and said, `I guess I'm just going to have to make the Open in '07.'
And he's making the most of it. Heltzel walked the course with him during practice rounds, pointing out little trouble spots that players might not be aware of. Because Warren is a mere 90 minutes from Pittsburgh, Kokrak has a large cheering section. When the ball lipped out from the fairway on the par-4 17th, costing him an eagle, the cheers were as loud as if it had gone in.
'I have so much support here,' he said. 'I couldn't even tell you how many.'
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    LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

    The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

    The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

    The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

    The LAAC was founded by The Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

    The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in The Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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    Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

    An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

    It was too much “socializing.”

    “I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

    Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

    “Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

    Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

    His plan for doing that?

    “Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

    Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

    McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

    Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

    So much for easing into the new year.

    So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

    McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

    “It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

    McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

    If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

    After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

    “It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

    McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

    “That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

    It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

    “When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

    A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

    A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

    Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

    To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

    Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

    McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

    “I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

    A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

    “I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

    A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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    Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

    By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

    SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

    The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

    Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

    Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

    ''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

    The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

    Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

    ''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

    Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

    ''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

    Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

    He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

    Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

    Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

    He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

    Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.