Wheres Hal Sutton Choses to Lay Low

By Associated PressSeptember 9, 2006, 4:00 pm
FREDERICKSBURG, Texas -- In his final act as the Ryder Cup captain, Hal Sutton rose before dawn to meet the European team in its hotel lobby, giving the winners a gracious send-off by shaking the hand of every player.
That was two years ago.
Sutton has barely made a peep in public since then.
It's almost as if he put on his cowboy hat and rode into the sunset, tail between his legs, after being at the helm of an 18-9 loss that ranked as the worst ever for an American team in the Ryder Cup.
Hal Sutton and Bernhard Langer
Hal Sutton talks with Bernhard Langer during the 2004 Ryder Cup matches.
He used a one-time exemption for career money to keep his PGA TOUR card this year, but only because he wanted to play the Nissan Open at Riviera, one of his favorite courses. Sutton missed the cut in February, sticking around long enough to see a lot of strange faces, wondering who they were and what were they doing in the locker room.
'Or maybe they were wondering who I was and what I was doing in their locker room,' Sutton said with a belly laugh, the sure sign he's living large again. 'I'm OK with that.'
Sutton can count on one hand the number of players who have called him in the last six months.
He's OK with that, too.
Sutton has moved on to what he calls the second stage in his life, things he wanted to do as a younger man but never took the time because he thought golf was all that mattered, that success was measured only by the score on his card.
He opened Sutton Children's Hospital in May, an 80-bed facility in Shreveport, La. The project was inspired by the death five years ago of 7-year-old Reagan Little, the daughter of longtime manager and friend Gilbert Little.
'I chose to think golf was everything, that I had to perform, that that's where your self-worth came from,' Sutton said. 'That was your identity, and you protect that. But the last five years taught me that's not nearly as important as I thought it was.'
When he isn't at the hospital, Sutton can be found at Boot Ranch, the opulent golf club he is building in the Hill Country of Texas, a rugged piece of nature about 60 miles north of San Antonio and 60 miles west of Austin.
Sutton has spared no expense. The name plates on the lockers are made of sterling silver. The benches are covered with hides of ostrich, alligator and longhorn. Each member -- former President Bush among them -- gets customized boots to be worn on property, much like members in their green jackets at Augusta National.
The only evidence of his Ryder Cup captaincy is in the far corner of a garage below the clubhouse, where the red golf cart he drove around Oakland Hills is collecting dust.
The Ryder Cup is a distant memory, not necessarily a good one. That much was clear when Sutton was asked whether he enjoyed his two years as captain, and the answer was prefaced by a long pause.
'I'll look back on it as a positive experience,' he said. 'I think it's the greatest marketing event in the world. It's a big to-do. And if somebody thinks you did something wrong, well, that's why it's a big to-do. If somebody badmouths something I did, if in some people's minute opinion they think putting Tiger and Phil together was a mistake ...'
His voice grew loud, thick, determined, just as it was that Thursday before the matches when he announced Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson would be partners for the first time.
They lost both matches, setting the tone for a European rout.
'Here's the truth,' Sutton continued. 'Do you think they were going to get through their whole career on the same team and somebody wasn't going to put them together? You think the world wanted to see it? Absolutely! I wanted to see it. You wanted to see it. You had your opinion whether it would work, whether I was right or I was not. And it's easy to talk about now.'
He was lampooned for wearing a cowboy hat, a gift from the caddies whom Sutton had made feel like part of the team. He buried Chris Riley for complaining about being too tired after winning a key match with Woods. He was so irritated with Mickelson that he benched him Saturday morning and told the press the Masters champion would be a cheerleader.
Did that cost the Americans the Ryder Cup?
Or was it because it took seven shots before an American hit the first fairway in the opening session? Or that no one could make a putt? Or that his team was tight, as usual, trying desperately not to lose instead of playing to win.
No matter.
Sutton suddenly was captain of the Titanic, the latest line of U.S. captains who get blamed for defeat.
Now the burden falls to Tom Lehman, who leads the American team Sept. 22-24 at The K Club in Ireland, trying to stop Europe from winning the Ryder Cup for the fifth time in the last six matches.
'Am I prepared to get abused if we lose?' Lehman said with a wry smile.
It has been so long since Lehman has spoken to Sutton that he thought it was six months ago at Bay Hill, not a year-and-a-half ago.
'We talked a long, long time,' Lehman said. 'At the end of the day, he doesn't have great feelings about his experience. I can't speak for him, but I think it hurts him.'
Paul Azinger might be the next U.S. captain after Lehman.
'I've thought about whether it's worth it, and I've decided it probably is,' Azinger said. 'But there's a lot of experts out there that don't know squat.'
Azinger called Sutton about two months ago when he had not seen him and wondered if his absence was voluntary. He was happy to hear about Sutton's hospital and about Boot Ranch, and he checked up on Sutton's wife and his four children.
'He doesn't need this,' Azinger said. 'He's got a killer ranch, he's building a golf course. There's not anything he can do out here that will change the way he is perceived.'
And how is Sutton perceived?
Is he the guy who won The Players Championship and the PGA Championship in only his second year on tour? The player who lifted himself from a deep slump and beat Woods in a gutsy showdown at Sawgrass? The winner of 14 tournaments?
Or the Ryder Cup captain of a humiliating loss?
'There's a feeling I disappeared because I was embarrassed by what happened?' Sutton asked. 'Embarrassment has never driven me off. You're not trying if you haven't failed. I'm not afraid to fail, and I don't consider that a failure. I didn't hit a single drive or a hit a single putt all week. At the end of the day, failure is about whether the ball goes in the hole when it comes to golf.
'I think there's a much bigger picture out here.'
For all he has done in golf -- a career that began by beating Jack Nicklaus at the PGA in 1983 and culminated with a victory over Woods at The Players Championship in 2000 -- Sutton asked his father not too long ago what he thought was his favorite memory. The answer was the NCAA tournament when Sutton was at Centenary, losing to Jay Don Blake of Utah State in a four-hole playoff.
'The reason it was my fondest memory is my dad put his arm around me and said, 'You did the best you could,' Sutton said.
Did his father say anything to him after the Ryder Cup?
'He told me, 'Everybody is going to have an opinion. You did what you thought was right. Don't look back,' Sutton said.
The hospital now has a 7,000-square-foot outpatient clinic that opened two weeks ago. A pediatric emergency department is expected to be ready this fall.
Indeed, Sutton is moving on.
Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.