Notes Levin Going Pro Benepes Back

By Associated PressJune 13, 2005, 4:00 pm
PINEHURST, N.C. -- California amateur Spencer Levin earned a spot in the U.S. Open by tying for 13th last year at Shinnecock Hills, where he made an ace in the first round.
This time, he can expect a check if he makes the cut.
Levin will announce Tuesday that he is turning pro at Pinehurst, signing a deal with MacGregor Golf. Other players on MacGregor's tour staff include two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal, Greg Norman and Aaron Baddeley.
Levin, who turns 21 the day before the U.S. Open begins, won the California State Amateur last year, as well as the Porter Cup and the Scratch Players Championship by 10 shots. His tie for 13th at Shinnecock was the best finish by an amateur in the U.S. Open in 33 years.
U.S. Amateur champion Ryan Moore said he will turn pro after the U.S. Open. Moore would have had to qualify for the U.S. Open if he had turned pro any earlier, because his spot was reserved as the U.S. Amateur champion.
Derek Brown is the only North Carolinian in the U.S. Open field, and the mini-tour player from the small town of Walnut Cove got a surprise Monday.
When he showed up on the first tee for his practice round, John Daly asked to join him. Tour veteran Tim Herron later made it a threesome, giving Brown the round of his professional life.
``It was pretty cool,'' he said. ``They showed me where the pins were going to be over the next few days, and gave me some pointers on how to play the course. I had a lot of fun.''
Of course, Brown has some game, too. He was the medalist in sectional qualifying at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, finishing 9-under 131 total after getting through a six-man playoff in the local stage in Sheboygan Falls, Wis.
This season hasn't worked out that well for Brown, who is 80th on the Hooters Tour money list with slightly less than $5,500. A swing change a couple of weeks ago led to the solid play at East Lake, and his goal is simply to make the cut at the Open.
``I just want to make it to the weekend,'' he said. ``I eventually want to play out here on the PGA Tour, and that would give me two more rounds of experience.''
His caddie for the tournament, John Calarco, was a teammate at UNC-Wilmington and also plays on the Hooters Tour. Calarco thoroughly enjoyed his day on the course Monday, taking time after the round to have Daly sign a ball for him.
``In 1999, I was hiding under those bleachers over there by 18 watching Payne Stewart make his putt to win,'' Calarco said. ``Being out on the course and walking up the fairway today to the green was something else.''
Jim Benepe won on the PGA Tour faster than Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and almost everyone else. Nearly 17 years later, his next victory probably would be even more surprising.
In 1988, as a 24-year-old pro, Benepe made his debut at the Western Open with a sponsor's exemption. He edged veteran Peter Jacobsen by one shot that week to secure his status for the next two years, and his career suddenly appeared set.
It didn't work out that way. He made the cut only 31 times in 89 tournaments over the next three seasons to lose his playing privileges. Now, Benepe is back in the U.S. Open for the first time since 1991, advancing through local and sectional qualifying to get to Pinehurst.
``When I entered the tournament, I felt like I could make it, so it's not a surprise,'' the 41-year-old said Monday, standing by his locker. ``I've been playing pretty good the last couple of years.''
He's played in three tournaments on the developmental Nationwide Tour this season, with a tie for 39th his best result. Last year, Benepe snapped a 14-year cut drought on the PGA Tour at the B.C. Open, and he also played on the weekend at the Texas Open.
Maybe the solid play will continue this week.
``As a past champion, I can get into some tournaments, and my goal is to play well enough so I can play in some more,'' Benepe said. ``And the U.S. Open is one of those tournaments.''
At this stage of his life, he's mostly a part-time golfer, splitting his time with his job as a salesman for a jet fuel company. Jack Nicklaus is one of his customers.
But for now, Benepe is back on the course, looking for a good week at No. 2.
``If you hit the ball in the fairway here, you can have a chance,'' he said. ``Hopefully, I can do that.''
Related links:
  • Full Coverage - 105th U.S. Open

  • Tee Times - U.S. Open

  • Photo Gallery from Pinehurst

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    Rahm (62) fires career low round

    By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

    The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

    Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

    What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

    Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

    Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

    Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

    Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

    Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

    Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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    Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

    Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

    "Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

    Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

    Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

    "That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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    Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

    By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

    There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

    Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

    Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

    Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


    A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

    The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

    It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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    Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

    Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

    The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

    It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

    "It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

    Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

    Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

    Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

    "This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."