Disappointed, But Grateful

By Big BreakNovember 29, 2012, 7:30 pm

First and foremost, I must thank Big Break, Golf Channel, NBC, The Greenbrier and everyone who had a hand in making the greatest golfing experience of my life a reality. One can only dream of being given such an opportunity and for that, I am forever indebted. To Paul Schlegel, Jay Kossoff and TJ Hubbard, you are all gifts to me and forever a part of my extended family.

Second, I must congratulate James Lepp on a well-played match. You played great and you deserved to advance. I wish you continued success my friend. I feel honored to have met you and forged the friendship that we have.

Ok, onto what people want to hear, my thoughts on what turned out to be my last show on Big Break Greenbrier. Just like any morning, there were nerves about the upcoming day. Today was no different, but I made sure to focus on what was most important, I was still here and I had a chance to continue this journey. When the time came I reminded myself to play each immunity challenge to the best of my ability and let the chips fall where they may.

The first immunity challenge brought memories of playing basketball horse as a kid with the Bendel boys, just this one was called ‘Break’ for obvious reasons. I liked how the challenge was going to play out. Best shot would not be awarded a letter and that same player could assign a letter. I wasn't too thrilled about that part because it was like calling out other players, which wasn't what I thought the challenge should be about. Maybe the worst shot should have just been awarded an extra letter, but you know Big Break. It was already a tough enough challenge considering you had no idea where players would pick shots. Most immunity challenges are spelled out, this one was anything but.

When Mark picked the bunker shot with the first shot, I was happy because I would consider myself a very good bunker player. Turns out that my feelings were correct and I won location one, but that's where the fun ended. I picked James for no rhyme or reason to assign a letter to. I was second to choose a location and looking at this hole, there were so many fun locations. I chose a 'trouble' semi-blind shot over a huge mound. I thought it would make guys think more than just execute the shot. I was pretty happy about my shot and thought it really had a great chance to stand up. Wrong! James won and there was no surprise who would get the extra letter. Touché. This is where the challenge, in my opinion, got very bland. The third location was played from around the 130-yard area. I wasn't thrilled with this number because it's a 'tweener' for me. I wasn't carrying a gap wedge so it was either a very hard sand wedge or taking a little off a pitching wedge.  The sand wedge was the right play, but it brought so many variables into play for me.  The main variable was I had to hit it very hard and perfect to carry that distance. Going to pitching wedge was tough because, although it was plenty of club, there would be very little spin.  With already very firm greens, getting close was going to be pretty tough. This shot didn't turn out well for me in the standings.  I was really disappointed because there was the opportunity to use so much imagination here. Regardless of how it turned out for me, I was eventually eliminated when Isaac gave me my last letter, but afterwards he paid me a great compliment. He simply said, 'I gave you the last letter because you're probably the best wedge player.'  Thanks Squatch.

Going into the second part of immunity, we found out it was going to be another driver test. And anyone who watched the last show knows that I struggled with my driver. Why? I now know, but had no idea then and then was when it mattered. Four guys remained and it was a mano-a-mano match. I drew James and Mark vs. Isaac. Mark beat Isaac and really made it look easy. James and I were a different story. I finally turned a drive over but let's be honest, it was more of a toe hook than my natural draw. Regardless, I was in the trees, albeit with a shot, but James was perfect in the middle of the fairway. James chose to hit his shot, which I would have done as well.  When he missed the green, I was shocked. It was now Mark and I playing for safe city and the final four. I knew I had to hit a good drive because Mark had been playing great from day one. I even considered clubbing down to a 3-wood, but in the end I had faith in my swing and knew I could hit a good drive. I didn't hit it great but didn't hit it poorly and it hit in the bunker, popped out and landed in the rough, inches away from the fairway. Those few inches are what Big Break is all about. When Mark hooked his ball way left, I knew that missing the fairway was a big opportunity lost. On the redo I basically hit the same hanging right shot.  When Mark hit a great drive, I knew the elimination challenge was my next destination. Well done Mark, congrats.

Heading into to elimination versus James, I felt confident and maybe even more so since neither of us had performed very well today. On our first hole, my thoughts were simple, play smart and as aggressive as I could. I didn't hit a great tee shot on the first elimination hole. I think I was too pumped.  I wanted to hit too good of a shot, and pulled it into the left fairway bunker. James hit a good fairway wood shot into the right side of the fairway and followed that up with a shot that landed on the green.  Not very close, but the message was received. The bunker yardage I had was a great one for a fairway shot, 119 yards.  However, it was a little awkward for a bunker shot. I usually like to usually add a half club from fairway bunkers, and this shot wasn't one that I was comfortable doing so with. I chose a hard sand wedge and just caught a little thin.  It sailed to the back and then over. I wasn't frazzled and actually thought I played a pretty good chip shot to give myself a chance to save par. When I didn't, I knew I had to make something happen with only two holes remaining. We both hit decent shots into the par-3, but when James dropped that bomb, I couldn't do anything but smile and laugh inside. It was a great putt. I still had a chance to keep the distance to only one stroke and when my putt slid by the left, I have to admit I was deflated. However, I knew that anything could happen on the par five last hole. After my drive hit the fairway bunker, I knew my work was cut out for me, but there is no quit in this guy from Pittsburgh. I said screw it, let's do a 3-wood. I didn't hit it great or crisp but it managed from some bounces to get pin high left in the rough. There was nothing left to do but hole it.  I had to.  I tried very hard, but it just slid by. When James finally made his final putt, my time at Big Break Greenbrier was over.

I don't think you realize what a gift your given until it's time to have that last talk.  Anyone who knows the 'emotional' side of me, knew that I would not hold back my emotion and would let my feelings be known. What a truly amazing experience. I have been so blessed to have been a part of this and will treasure every memory made here for the rest of my life. You know, I'm disappointed that I didn't win, but I left Big Break Greenbrier a better player, a better person and with new found friendships that I will hold dear to my heart for a lifetime.

I wouldn't be here today without the continued support from my Mom, you are the best and I can't wait for you to meet your grandson. My brothers, thanks for your unwavering support, especially Dana, who I've looked up to since I was a baby although he's never known it. With Dad no longer here, you've become my hero. My in laws, the Almquist family (David included), you've all been a blessing and thank you for everything. To my best friend Bill 'rip', you know me like no other and you are truly my brother from a different mother of another color. I love you bro. And lastly, to Bruce Lange, I think you know how I feel about you and all the privileges that you've afforded me at The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa. Kipp Bates and the staff and Kierland Gold Club, my love, respect and appreciation for how you make me feel is unquestioned, thank you. Jason Boyd Williams, Aarik Greenley and Jake Puglielli at Adams Golf, thank you for your support. Cairo Salvatierra  at TaylorMade Adidas, your help and support are more than appreciated.

I would be remiss if I didn't say that although winning would have been amazing, I've had a pretty amazing and blessed year. I married the greatest gift ever given to me this past December, my best friend and wife Shelley. I was selected to be on Big Break Greenbrier in May and the greatest gift of them all, my wife Shelley and I are expecting our first born, a son, on April 23, 2013. So, to win would have been something to write a book about, but you know what, who needs a book when you have the best that life can offer already.

Thanks for watching,

Brian Cooper

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)