Fall Series producing some big moments

By Doug FergusonOctober 27, 2010, 12:57 am

PGA TourJonathan Byrd hit one of the greatest shots hardly anyone saw, himself included.

In the gloaming of Las Vegas, the last Byrd could see was his ball drawing toward the flag on the 204-yard 17th hole at the TPC Summerlin in a three-man playoff. What followed were cheers, the kind usually heard Thursday morning on an empty golf course.

“I didn’t see it, so I didn’t know I made it,” Byrd said Tuesday. “There was hardly anybody at the green. All the fans were behind us on the hill, or back on the 18th green.”

The size of the crowd – in Las Vegas or in front of a TV – doesn’t minimize the magnificence of the finish. It was the first time in PGA Tour history that a sudden-death playoff had been decided by a hole-in-one.

That it happened during the Fall Series makes it no less special.

Only a week earlier, Rocco Mediate played before a less-than-full house at CordeValle and produced his own amazing finish. He made an eagle with a full swing for the fourth straight day, this one a wedge on the 17th hole, that led to victory in the Frys.com Open.

Either makes a strong candidate for shot of the year on the PGA Tour.

The more likely selection will be Phil Mickelson hitting a 6-iron through a gap in the pine trees on the 13th hole at Augusta National, over Rae’s Creek to about 5 feet. Never mind that he missed the eagle putt. It sent him to a green jacket, which trumps a photo op with Justin Timberlake just about every time.

“Mine was the most dramatic to win a tournament a hole-in-one, something that had never been done,” Byrd said when asked to pick between the two shots. “But it’s a different deal trying to win a major. I would say in the whole scheme of golf, it’s more meaningful to hit a shot like he did through the trees … to win a major.”

It’s not like Byrd’s shot will have an asterisk.

That’s a word that first came up when Tiger Woods didn’t play the last two majors of 2008, and one that Charles Howell III brought up as the Fall Series was gaining traction at Sea Island this month.

Some look at this time of the year as irrelevant to everyone except the players trying to keep their jobs.

The fields are not as strong. The TV networks are done for the year except for the Chevron World Challenge that Woods hosts in December. The galleries are small enough to be counted.

It wasn’t much different before there was such a thing as the FedEx Cup or the Fall Series. Woods didn’t play then, either, except for the World Golf Championship that was held somewhere between the old 84 Lumber Classic and Greensboro.

There has always been different tiers of the tour, and that hasn’t changed.

“You’ve got the top 50 world-ranked guys playing a certain schedule, guys who have somewhat of a full schedule and rookies playing a limited schedule with limited purse sizes, who have a little tougher road to keeping their card,” Byrd said.

The schedule one keeps is directly related to the scores he shoots. That hasn’t changed, either.

Byrd had to rally in the closing holes to get into the three-man playoff, and the emotions he faced felt similar to when he had the lead on the back nine at the Memorial last year.

“Every tournament has a different feel to it based on how many fans are out there, whether it’s a hometown tournament,” Byrd said. “The Fall Series is not going to draw the same crowd as Memorial. For me as a player, I didn’t feel different. It was the same emotion as Memorial. With not as many people out there, it has a different vibe.”

Keep in mind, these are not glorified Nationwide Tour stops. For the second straight year, 12 players at the Tour Championship have played at least once in the Fall Series. That’s a little less than what tour officials anticipated when the FedEx Cup began, and it’s understandable in a Ryder Cup year.

The field for the McGladrey Classic, a boutique tournament held at tony Sea Island, was stronger than three tournaments where the winners received an automatic invitation to the Masters.

“Somehow they got classified as an invisible asterisk besides them,” Howell said of the Fall Series. “If you win some of these tournaments, you should get in the Masters.”

The emphasis on the Fall Series is trying to finish in the top 125 to keep a tour card, get into the top 70 to qualify for some of the elite invitationals (such as Bay Hill) or to get into the top 30 and earn a trip to the Masters. Others simply like to play, for that’s what they do. And for some, it’s a time to test new equipment or work on their swings.

That doesn’t make the competition – or some of the shots – less compelling than it was in February or July.

Sea Island and CordeValle stack up nicely with most courses on consecutive weeks during the “regular season.” The TPC Summerlin offers three eagle opportunities on a four-hole stretch on the back nine. That’s fun.

Byrd, meanwhile, didn’t see his historic ace until he got back to his hotel room to shower before his red-eye flight home to Sea Island in Georgia. His caddie pulled up the replay on his cell phone. They gave each other high-fives.

Since then, Byrd’s cell phone has filled up with voicemail from friends telling him it was the greatest shot to end a tournament. So at least someone was watching.

Getty Images

Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

Getty Images

Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm