Driving to Make the Final Four

By November 16, 2004, 5:00 pm
Big Break II LogoEditors Note: The Golf Channel aired the seventh episode of The Big Break II Tuesday night, where 10 highly skilled golfers compete to win an opportunity to play in four Nationwide Tour events televised on The Golf Channel in 2005.

With just five players remaining, co-hosts Kelly Swanson and Rick Smith opened the show and the skills challenge asking the players to attempt one of the hardest shots in golf - the long iron approach.

Starting at 185-yards out, each player would try to hit it closest to the pin. The player furthest from the flagstick would be eliminated from the skills challenge and the rest would then hit again from five yards further back.

The Big Break IIAfter Don Donatello, David Gunas Jr. and Kip Henley bowed out, John Turk and Bart Lower were left to battle for the all-important exemption from the elimination challenge. And sure enough, Lower got the better of the two as his approach on the final shot came to rest just inside Turks ball, relieving Lower from the stress of both the mulligan and elimination challenges.

Lets see, weve had six skills challenges and I have gotten to sit out three of them. So thats not to bad, said Lower about his good fortune.

But for Turk it was just another day at the office.

Ive been in every elimination challenge here so far, so why not? said Turk with a smile. Nothing ever changes.

With Lower looking on, the other four took part in the Top-Flite mulligan challenge, where an extra shot is rewarded to the winner to use in the elimination round that would follow.

Having to hit wedge shots from 60-yards out, the four players split into two groups. Donatello stuck his approach to edge out Henley, and then Gunas Jr. topped Turks poor shot to meet Donatello in the final.

David is a very interesting character because hes got very, very good hands, said Donatello, sizing up his opponent.

Having to knock his wedge to within 5 feet 1 half inch to win the mulligan, Donatello hit his approach close but had to wait for the official measure.

Pull the tape tight, pleaded Donatello as they calculated the distance. Youre giving me a heart attack!

It had to be one of the funniest things I had ever seen in my life, recalled Turk on watching Donatellos antics.

His fears turned out to be warranted, as Gunas Jr. nipped Donatello by a mere 1 inch giving him the hard earned mulligan.

It was now on to the elimination round and a long yet straight drive was the key to staying around in the penthouse in Vegas for at least another night.

A 5-yard wide strip was painted down the middle of the fairway and each contestant had three tee shots that would be measured for total length minus the yardage that they were off line. A drive that came to rest 280-yards from the tee but was 20-yards off line would be measured at 260-yards.

Again, the players were divided into pairs and whoever had the most totals yards in his three attempts would stave off elimination, leaving the other two to battle for the last spot.

Henleys overall length took out Donatello in one semi-final, forcing the angst-ridden Donatello into the final elimination round.

No one lives and dies with each shot more than that guy, said Henley laughingly about Donatello.

The other semi-final saw Turk beat Gunas Jr., setting up a showdown between two of the shorter hitters on the Big Break II.

I said to David before the challenge, You know what? Im sorry it has to come down to the two of us because I like you a lot and you like me a lot, but one of us has to go home, said Donatello on the days final showdown.

With his opponents scores already posted, Gunas Jr. needed three high quality tee shots to oust Donatello from the show. His first two were solid but not spectacular and he needed an almost perfect final swing to remain in Vegas.

I honestly bent down and said a prayer to the Lord to help me get through this so I could make a better life for my family and myself and give me a chance to win this thing, said Donatello about his wait for Gunas Jr.s final attempt.

The Big Break IIAs the Las Vegas sun quickly disappeared below the horizon, so too did Gunas Jr. and his hopes of sticking around for another day. His final drive plugged in the fairway and it wasnt enough to overtake Donatello.

Great, no roll. Bye-bye! Thanks Big Break, gotta go, said a good-natured Gunas Jr. about his departure.

Hes like the little kid that keeps you laughing, keeps it funny and the guy who breaks the ice all the time, offered Turk on the outgoing Gunas Jr. I knew he had a kind heart.

Be sure to watch The Golf Channel every Tuesday at 9:00PM (ET), as the battle for survival comes down to the final four on The Big Break 2.

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    Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 1:00 pm

    Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.


    Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.

    Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.

    Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.

    Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.

    Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.


    Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.

    Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.

    Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.

    Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.

    Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.

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    What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

    Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

    Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

    Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

    While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

    As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

    Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

    And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

    And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

    McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

    The Ryder Cup topped his list.

    Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

    When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

    “Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

    McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

    Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

    “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

    European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

    And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

    The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

    Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

    And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

    Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

    The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

    The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

    More bulletin board material, too.

    Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.