In final season, Furman's golf team hopes to finish strong

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 13, 2014, 8:45 pm

Heading into last week’s Board of Trustees meeting, Furman men’s golf coach Todd Satterfield was expecting a status update, not a death sentence.

He knew the Greenville, S.C., school – not just the athletic department – was in a dire financial situation, estimated to lose about $6.3 million in the 2014-15 fiscal year. And the board faced a simple economic question: Would it bring in more or spend less?

So last Thursday, a day before the board was scheduled to meet, Satterfield received a call from his athletic director, Gary Clark. He wanted to talk, in his office, now.

“I was so taken by surprise,” Satterfield said by phone Thursday, “that I couldn’t even process the information.”

Just last weekend Satterfield was on Hilton Head, recruiting at a junior tournament. Now, less than a week later, he would have to round up his 10-man team and tell them that this spring season would be their last together. The university’s board voted that the men’s golf program – which dates to the 1930s – would be discontinued.

Dazed, Satterfield didn’t sugarcoat the message to his players later that afternoon. The university is in trouble, he said. They need to make cuts, he said. And our team, he said, was merely “caught in the crosshairs.”

The players’ reaction was predictable. Some were angry. Many were upset. Everyone sat in disbelief.

This, after all, was a proud program that had fallen on hard times.

The Paladins have won 13 Southern Conference titles since 1970, seven more than any other school, but have failed to reach the NCAA Championship since the mid-1980s. After making regionals in 2010, Furman won a tournament in each of its next two seasons but is currently No. 122 in Golfstat’s team rankings.

In attempting to justify the decision, the school said in a statement that it conducted an “extensive evaluation of criteria, including public visibility, attendance, competitiveness and overall costs.”

Satterfield, however, admits that the decision “still doesn’t make any sense.”

• In terms of visibility, what more can a school with 2,700-plus students truly do? Furman has one home tournament, and the players are visible in the community and on campus. Satterfield is one of the most well respected voices in college golf, the president of the Golf Coaches Association of America. Todd White, a Furman alum, was a member of the 2013 Walker Cup team.

• From an attendance standpoint, well, the golf team will never be as big of a draw as the basketball team, and it’s fair to wonder how the school’s other sports stack up, too.

• Facing a $6.3 million deficit, the school decided that the only varsity sport it would eliminate was men’s golf, despite the fact that its budget – including salaries, travel and scholarships – is just $400,000.

“That’s like an eyedropper in a bucket full of water,” Satterfield said.

As for the competitiveness of the team?

“I know as well as anyone we’ve been down the last couple of years,” Satterfield said, “but we were starting to get some traction and get going in the right direction. Our finishes weren’t great, but our stroke average was getting better. I had some good recruits coming in next year.”

The reality, of course, is that men’s golf probably wouldn’t have been axed had it been a top-50 program. But it’s not, not this year at least, though the players seem hell-bent on making this last semester count.

That, in fact, has been the least surprising development of the past week. A day after the announcement, the Paladins were supposed to have a qualifying tournament for their spring opener. The outlook seemed bleak.

“You guys have the heart to play tomorrow?” Satterfield asked them.

The answer was a resounding yes, and the players have attempted to move on the best they can. They still rise for 6 a.m. workouts. They still work on their games despite the unseasonably cold winter.

“These guys are super resilient,” Satterfield said. “I’m hoping there’s some added motivation there.”

Away from the course, an unexpected groundswell of support has developed.

One of Satterfield’s former players, T.J. Blandford, a 2006 graduate, has started an online petition to appeal the decision. “The decision to end this program hurts me deeply,” he wrote. “It feels like a poorly considered decision that trivializes the efforts of so many people. We all deserve better.”

As of this writing, the petition has signatures from more than 2,300 former players, supporters and fans – nearly the population of the entire school.

Some of Furman’s most notable alums – PGA Tour winner Brad Faxon for the men, Betsy King, Dottie Pepper and Beth Daniel on the women’s side – also have voiced their disappointment with the decision.

Yes, Satterfield reads your messages, and he is warmed by your support. But when so many things still don’t make sense, when the emotions are still so raw, the school’s 18-year head coach simply wants to spend the remaining three months with his players, not be the face of some political movement.

“I hold out a lot of hope that something can be reversed,” he said, “but I’m not totally optimistic.”

When the spring season is over, the players likely will go their separate ways. Some have already been contacted by other schools. A few will probably need to sacrifice academics to pursue their dreams of being a professional golfer. These are the casualties of bottom-line decisions.

The Paladins aren’t moping. They’re not quitting. They’re not coasting through their final semester.

No, they’re inspired to do something incredible.

“I wouldn’t expect anything else,” Satterfield said.

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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.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.

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Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

“Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

“I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.