Caddie Cowan set for 10th Ryder Cup
The competition is as intense as ever. The biggest difference might be his suitcase.
“We got next to nothing back then – a couple of sweat shirts, I think,” Cowan said. “We certainly get treated better than we did at my first one. Now we get all kinds of clothes. We fly over on the charter. They pay us nicely. Some guys say it isn’t enough, but I think it’s enough. The competition … there’s nothing like it.”
No other American brings as much experience to the matches as Cowan, and few have seen so much through so many players. Jim Furyk, his current boss, will be the fourth player for whom Cowan has caddied at the Ryder Cup.
He was on the bag for Peter Jacobsen in 1985 at The Belfry and for Fred Couples four years later (Couples hired Joe LaCava the following season). Jacobsen returned to the Ryder Cup in 1995, and Cowan worked for Tiger Woods at Valderrama in 1997. This will be his fifth consecutive Ryder Cup working for Furyk.
The biggest regret is playing on only two winning teams – the comeback at Brookline in 1999, and last time at Valhalla.
His favorite memory was two years ago at Valhalla, when Furyk won the cup-clinching point on the 17th hole, the matching ending with a handshake when Miguel Angel Jimenez conceded Furyk a short par putt.
“It was a matter of circumstances, but having Jim actually be the clincher, that was pretty much a nice memory – a thrill,” he said.
As for the worst?
Cowan went back to the 18th hole at The Belfry in 1989, when Couples was in a pivotal match against Christy O’Connor Jr. All square on the 18th, with Couples having blasted a 300-yard drive, O’Connor hit 2-iron to about 3 1/2 feet for a birdie he never had to putt.
“One of the most phenomenal shots in the history of the game,” Cowan said. “Freddie had a 9-iron and flared it out to the right. I felt awful for him. That was probably my worst memory, although I got to witness one of the greatest shots in the history of the competition.”
That wasn’t the only stunning loss. Cowan was with Woods when the world’s No. 1 player lost to Costantino Rocca in 1997. And he was with Furyk when Paul McGinley made a 6-foot par in 2002 at The Belfry to halve the match and give Europe the outright victory.
As for the most bizarre moment, consider a fourballs match between Jacobsen and Brad Faxon against Seve Ballesteros and David Gilford at Oak Hill in 1995.
Thinking that Faxon was in for par, Jacobsen rapped his long birdie putt about 4 feet beyond the hole and picked it up. Only then did he realize Faxon had taken a penalty drop from behind a willow tree in the fairway.
“That might be my worst memory, now that I think about it,” Cowan said. “I don’t even want to go into it.”
But he’ll go to Celtic Manor looking forward to these matches as much as he did 25 years ago.
“It’s always been an intense competition,” he said. “I guess just like the rest of the world of golf, it’s gotten bigger. But it’s the same intensity. The players treat it the same way.”
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: The race for PGA Tour player of the year has only widened since the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Matt Kuchar’s win at The Barclays was a reminder how consistently well he has played this year. He is leading the PGA Tour money list and has the lowest adjusted scoring average.
Dustin Johnson is getting more attention with his victory at Cog Hill. That’s his second win, along with a chance at two majors. The notion of a “sympathy vote” for Whistling Straits is silly. What resonates with players is not that Johnson failed to win, but that he put himself in position to win. Johnson and Phil Mickelson are the only players this year to be in serious contention on the back nine of two majors.
A win at the Tour Championship by Mickelson, Johnson, Kuchar, Steve Stricker or Ernie Els might wrap it up. Don’t forget that Hunter Mahan, Jim Furyk and Justin Rose also have two wins.
Meanwhile, the PGA of America’s award is based on points and shows just how close this is. Stricker is atop the standings with 52 points, followed by Mickelson and Matt Kuchar at 50 points, and Els at 47 points.
Kuchar nudged ahead of Stricker for the Vardon Trophy last night, although that might not be decided at the Tour Championship. Kuchar is likely to play a Fall Series event or two, while Stricker is likely to strap a bow over his shoulder and go looking for deer.
HUNTER’S RIBS: Hunter Mahan makes it sound as though his pre-round routine is eat, stretch, hit balls and pop his ribs into place.
Mahan appeared to show discomfort in his back during the third round of the BMW Championship. He revealed after the round that a couple of ribs on the lower left side were out – and that this wasn’t the first time it happened.
“It happens almost every week, but this time it was in a little different place,” Mahan said. “It’s usually a little higher up. This one was a little low. Usually, it doesn’t hurt that much.”
Mahan said the ribs popped out of place when he drew a deep breath.
He said all this in such a matter-of-fact manner that when someone asked if it would affect the Ryder Cup, he laughed. Then, he tried to figure out where to put himself on the list if the Ryder Cup had an injury report like in the NFL.
“Doubtful. No, questionable,” he said. “Isn’t Tom Brady always questionable?”
MASTERS: Kevin Streelman and Jeff Overton are among five players in the Tour Championship who will be making their Masters debut next April. What sets them apart is that they have yet to win on the PGA Tour.
Streelman is getting a lot of attention for only having one good week against a strong field to get to East Lake.
As for being without a tour victory and going to the Masters. It happens more than one might think. There were six PGA Tour members at Augusta National who had never won on tour – John Merrick, Ricky Barnes, Kevin Na, Marc Leishman, Steve Marino and Jason Dufner.
There were five such players each of the previous two years.
DIVOTS: The Tour Championship will only have 25 of the top 50 players in the world ranking, and six of the top 10. … Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan are the only players to reach the Tour Championship all four years of the FedEx Cup. … The LPGA does not resume until the week after the Ryder Cup.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Since securing a spot on his first Ryder Cup team, Jeff Overton has not finished in the top 50 and has a scoring average of 72.8 in his past four tournaments.
FINAL WORD: “I was beating myself up. I wasn’t playing against anyone else, I was only playing against myself. And that’s probably worse than playing against everybody else.” – Robert Allenby on his bid to make the Tour Championship.
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.