The Most Amazing Place I Never Saw
We here at Big Break headquarters go to great lengths to ensure the secrecy of each series' location until the time comes to announce it publicly. But privately, family and friends are always concerned to know which general direction you’re headed for the next few weeks. (They're funny that way.) My answer is usually a cryptic reference to the geographic area in question—in this case, 'The Bahamas'—and their response is always the same: 'Must be nice!'
This time, 'nice' barely scratched the surface. So I hear.
The Atlantis, Paradise Island is, as a certain dolphin might tell you in episode 3, 'more amazing than the myth'. The Big Break invaded the resort for a little under a month, but in truth it would probably take more to fully explore all that Atlantis has to offer.
If Willy Wonka was a beach bum instead of a candy connoisseur, this would be his place.
I was told you can not leave Paradise Island without exploring the Aquaventure water park and its 20 million gallons of thrills and refreshing chills. Marcela, Kelly and Aubrey were fortunate enough to play their way into Aquaventure, and it certainly appears they made the most of their afternoon!
Atlantis boasts myriad swimming areas, and based on what I've heard they make most resort pools look like chlorinated rain puddles. Then there's The Dig, a staggering underwater recreation of the lost city of Atlantis which should be on any visitor's to-do list. (No shovel required.)
In addition to the aquatic adventures found all over Paradise Island, there's a vast network of restaurants, spas, shops, bars and, of course, the casino – home to hundreds of table games, slot machines and, proudly, zero of my dollars.
Alas, swimming, dining and shopping were not the reasons we came to Atlantis. It was all about the golf. We covered every inch of the incredible Ocean Club Golf Course in search of this season's worthy Big Break champion, and the action did not disappoint.
Unless your name happens to be Zakiya Randall.
This particular day was long, even by Big Break standards, but arguably no one had a longer day than 'Z'. She discovered that, while Big Break golf is unlike any you'll ever play, some golf axioms still vividly apply. Like this one: it's a game of inches.
Zakiya was sitting pretty in the first Immunity Challenge and looking like the third member of the Aquaventure excursion team until Aubrey so deftly knocked her off her perch – by two inches. Rumor has it that's thinner than the glass at The Dig.
Pity, really. That spandex would have transitioned nicely to the water park.
Even in the midst of Big Break's 17th season there's a palpable sense of surprise and intrigue on set when such a game-changing moment occurs. The ensuing chain of events ultimately landed Zakiya in the Elimination Challenge. The rest is Big Break history, and a perfect example of what's at stake on each swing.
Try playing Jenga at gunpoint, or doing surgery on your favorite pet during an earthquake. That only begins to depict the pressure that the ladies of the Big Break are feeling over every shot. And even when you rise to the occasion, somebody else might be two inches better.
Being a part of the planning, development and production of such a series is almost as exhilarating as the sheer drop down the 'Leap of Faith', the watery plunge from Atlantis' Mayan Temple. Or so I'd imagine.
With so much excitement on the course and a dedicated, professional crew putting it all together the long days somehow tend to fly by. Then it's back on a plane headed home a mere 43 shades lighter than the tanning mom.
Upon my return, when family and friends give me the standard 'must be nice' reaction, I return serve with my old stand-by response: The hours are brutal, but the office is amazing.
And I definitely plan to go back to Atlantis, to finally see what I was missing the whole time I was there.
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.