Soldiers Honored by TPC
White was one of five Army soldiers honored Thursday at the Tournament Players Club after they created a golf course in Iraq and dubbed it TPC Mosul.
Gov. Jeb Bush and professional golfers Jim Furyk, Fred Funk and Frank Lickliter surprised the soldiers during the ceremony.
'It was awesome, just awesome,' said Maj. Spencer Smith, of Sterling, Va.
The soldiers and their families have spent the week at the TPC at Sawgrass as guests of the resort, playing a course much different than the one they constructed at the 101st Airborne's base near Mosul, Iraq.
White, from White Church, Tenn., carried three golf clubs with him when he was deployed to Iraq and created a three-hole course at the base. The course, set on hard ground in the desert, was later expanded to six holes.
The fairways and green are desert of course, and the only water hazard is an outhouse. To play nine holes, soldiers play the first six and then the first three again. White owns the nine-hole course record with a 31.
After several rounds, White and the others dubbed the course the TPC Mosul. When PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem heard about it last September, his staff adopted the battalion, sending e-mails, care packages, 1,300 pounds of food, plus clubs and hundreds of balls.
'We were so flattered Lt. White thought to name his course after ours that we had official 'TPC of Mosul' hats made and sent them to the soldier and his battalion,' Finchem said. 'We are honored to have Lt. White and his foursome here at Sawgrass for the week. It is our way of showing our appreciation for their service to our nation and to golf.'
Also honored were: Capt. Kate Blaise, of Macon, Mo.; Maj. Kirk Whitson, Rolla, Mo.; and Lt. Col. Jeff Kelley, of Signal Mountain, Tenn. All five soldiers are stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky.
'We are so proud of all of you. We are so proud of our military,' Bush said.
The PGA Tour's production department created a video showing the soldiers in Iraq, and even a few scenes of them playing at the TPC Mosul.
The video also highlighted some of their worst shots at the TPC Sawgrass, including shots from deep sand traps and thick rough and several balls dunked at the famed No. 17 island green.
White and the others returned home in February and expect to return to Iraq - and hopefully the TPC Mosul - in 2005.
Each of the soldiers was given TPC Mosul golf shirts and golf bags with three clubs. Blaise, a new golfer, was given a full set of clubs. They also received a framed picture of President Bush wearing a TPC Mosul golf hat.
In return, the soldiers gave Finchem a set of clubs with the 'Screaming Eagle' logo of the 101st Airborne on them.
'I don't know if I can play with clubs with screaming eagles,' Finchem said.
'It's better than a screaming bogey,' someone yelled from the crowd.
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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might
Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.
“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”
Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”
“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”
Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)
Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”
Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.
“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"
As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.
"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.
Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”
McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks
The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.
McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.
“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”
At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.”
And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.
“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.
“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic
No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.
Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.
With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.
“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”
Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.
Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas
Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.
Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.
Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.
McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.