This morning started out as every other one, an early morning wake up call, followed by breakfast. To no one's surprise, we were greeted with yet another envelope detailing what today's events would be, but at least this time we could see some cards.
Once we were all fed, Mark had the dubious task of reading the letter. The letter detailed that today, we would playing in teams of three based on what cards we picked. Fair enough, let's get to picking. In the end the teams were as follows: Brian, Mark, Chan. Anthony, Rick and Isaac. Ray, Mike and James. On paper, I thought these were all pretty fair teams.
Once on the course, we found out the first challenge was going to consist of three locations, where each player would pick a yardage and play out the hole. The teams' total score for all three locations would be the team score. Yardages varied from 142-220. Our team decided - or should I say Chan decided - that he was playing from the shortest location (I have my own personal theories on this) so Mark and I discussed the final two locations, 172 and 220. Mark said he felt really comfortable at the longer location cause it was a perfect 3 iron, so that made it easy for me. I was playing from 172, no problem.
First location: Chan hit a great shot to about five feet and let’s not kid ourselves, Mark and I were thrilled. The other two teams managed par and that left Chan with a putt to give us a one stroke lead. Calmly enough, Chan made the putt. One stroke lead for the good guys.
Second location: I was up first and when I hit the shot, I thought it was perfect. It carried just to the top of a mound and then trickled all the way to the bottom. At the same time, my heart sank because I had two other guys' destinies in my hands. I had to play since the other two hit the green and my chip was not an easy one. Grain into me, tight lie and of course, the pressure. I nipped the chip perfect and snuggled it up to about two feet. The other two guys made par and all I had to do was make that putt. I did and we maintained a one stroke advantage with one to play.
Final location: This was a tough location. A long shot, water down the right and immense pressure. Rick led off and tugged his shot left and into the water. That sucked, because in competition, you don't want to win by default and that ultimately was his team's end, because he was going to suffer a penalty. Ray hit his shot a little right and Mark hit it just short on the front right. Ray hit a great chip to about three feet and all there was left was to see what Mark was going to do. He snuggled his putt to about three feet. Once that putt went in, jubilation for our team. We were safe and on to the next show. Thank The Lord.
For some of you who watched the show, you could tell by my interview that I was a little irritated by Chan's continued celebrating. What you didn't see was the constant talk after the challenge about being safe, almost boisterous to a degree. That's what pissed me off. I understand that for Chan, being safe and not having to face another elimination challenge was great, but what he has to understand is there are several other players - now friends - facing another immunity challenge and possible elimination. We need to respect the pressure that they still must face. Be happy, celebrate for a few minutes, then let it go. Act like you've been in the winner's circle before.
I thought the second immunity challenge was a great one, three locations and again, a somewhat call out session. You play from three locations and if after your shot, you think you can hole your putt, then have at it, but if you think your opponent can't make his, then you make him putt it. The best thing here was watching James and the saucer shot. And boy did he pull it off. Great shot. The second location was a pretty basic bunker shot. Ray hit first, decent, but clearly not his best. Anthony followed with one that just got away from him and ran off the green. Smartly, Ray made Anthony play. He had to chip it in. He didn't. It was all tied and coming down to Mike vs. Isaac with a green side flop shot. Isaac went first. From the bench, we thought his shot was perfect, but it checked hard and left him 10 feet or so. Mike hit an awesome shot to about 3 feet and we all figured it was over. But that's why you play the game. Mike chose to putt his - as we all figured - but not without much deliberation. That surprised many of us, and we were not sure what happened, because Mike missed what we all assumed was a gimme. That meant that Ray, Mike and James were up for elimination and that also meant another top player was going home.
When it was all settled, it was Mike and Ray going at it. They were playing the par 5 16th on the Snead Course. What a great hole. The highest elevation point on the entire golf course, and man, what a view. Mike teed off first and found the fairway bunker. Ray followed with a tee ball down the right that almost found the water but held up in the hay. Ray, as strong as he is, slashed one back into play. Mike decided to lay up out of that fairway bunker. It was going to be a wedge contest. Neither hit specifically great shots. Ray hit a good shot but it trickled off the back and Mike left himself a putt. However, seeing this green, he did not get a real great look. They tied when Ray made a clutch 8 foot par save and back to the tee they went. This time Mike carried the bunker but still in the rough. I thought that put more pressure on Ray to hit a great - maybe aggressive - tee shot. He backed off, hit 3 wood and found the left fairway bunker. To everyone's amazement Ray, from 234 yards, ripped an iron out of this bunker and almost got it on the green. Talk about shifting momentum. Now the pressure was clearly on Mike. Mike responded well and hit one up the left side, about pin-high. This time, it was a chipping contest. They both hit decent chip shots. Not sure if everyone saw this on TV, but right before he putted, he shot called his putt, saying it was in. He stepped up and boom, it went in. Now the pressure was on Mike to advance the challenge to another hole. He missed and that was the end to Mike's journey on Big Break Greenbrier.
You hate to see your friends leave, but in the end, we are all here to win and every show, someone MUST go home. Mike is a great guy and I'm thrilled that I had the pleasure of meeting him and learning more about his son. He'll do great things with golf. He's a class act.
Every Putt Counts
McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School
One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.
McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.
It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.
McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).
Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).
Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.
Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award
The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.
The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.
Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.
The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.
A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.
Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4
Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.
Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.
South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.
Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.
The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.
Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout
It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.
Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.
Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.
"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."
Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.
Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.