An effort to qualify for the U.S. Open

By May 17, 2012, 1:54 pm

BEALLSVILLE, Md. – All I wanted to do was prove to myself that I could hit blades.

A simple journey that began this past winter with a set of Mizuno MP-69s turned into a quest to qualify for the U.S. Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco (pictured above). That adventure ended Tuesday when I played in a local qualifying tournament at the Members Club at Four Streams.

Long story short, I didn't make it. I shot 85. It wasn't even close. In another way it was a lot closer than I first thought.

Last fall, my wife and I joined Argyle Country Club in Silver Spring, Md. I had never belonged to a club but joined Argyle so I could get in nine holes here and there. When I played a nine-hole preview round, I loved the course but loved the pace even more. I was done in 1 hour, 10 minutes. Sign me up. A 70-minute, nine-hole round sounded like an amazing lunch break. 

I took advantage – and I learned – a lot.

U.S. Open local qualifying results

With the blades in hand, I realized what a good shot felt like and how to overcome bad ones. As the repertoire grew, my handicap index shrank from 12 to 6, then from 6 to 3. Then I began to threaten par.

At first, it was breaking par for nine holes. In one round, I was under par for 16 holes until succumbing.

One day, though, it all clicked. I birdied four of the last five holes to break par by a shot. My 1-under 70 was a lifetime best, beating the 71 I carded when I was 16 – and had the summers to play 36 holes per day.

I punched in the number into the handicap computer. Bam! My index was down to 1.4. I could empathize with that scene in 'The Social Network' where the Facebook user counter tops a million. Who knew it would happen, or so quickly.

I signed up to qualify for the U.S. Open. They ask you to plunk down $150 and to start dreaming. They also ask you to pick a local qualifying site. I picked May 15 near my Virginia home, because I figured I could return from covering The Players Championship with a day to pretend I was Vijay Singh and practice until my hands bled. Then they ask you to pick a sectional site.

More than 9,000 people sign up to qualify for the Open. Maybe 5 percent get to sectionals. About 1.7 percent make it all the way. The odds are long.

I told people, proudly, I was going to try to qualify. They wished me luck. I even got Sergio Garcia to give me advice from his experience last year. What he said was essentially to not focus on each shot as though your life depended on it – a very Spanish attitude.

As the week progressed at The Players my chances to practice grew less frequent. I had lost my touch with the driver almost immediately after sending in my application. I needed work. Learning by osmosis watching the world's best at TPC Sawgrass was not going to work.

Perhaps the indication of doom came when I arrived home on Monday to pouring rain. A last-minute revelation from the dirt was not in the cards. It had turned to mud.

On Tuesday, I woke up, showered, dressed the part and headed for a course I had never seen.

I walked into a light-filled dining room in the clubhouse, whose windows were blocked with long sheets bearing the names of the 90-plus people in the tournament. I recognized a guy who was a freshman on my high school golf team in my senior year and a guy from my club who plays on the Canadian Tour. Both, I knew for a fact, were better than me.

As I was completing a decent warm-up, I noticed a lot of competitors shaking hands and acknowledging each other. In a sense, this was like a fraternity in futility. They had all chased the same dream so long, it had become like the Breakfast Club.

The on-site U.S. Golf Association official announced that the afternoon tee times were backed up 20 minutes. Lovely. Was it a malfunction with the electric chair or an 11th-hour reprieve from Mike Davis?

I got to the par-3 10th tee, introduced myself to my playing partners and took a look at the yardage book I had bought for $10. The shot was simple – 165 yards to a fairly tucked right pin. With the honor, I pulled 7-iron. As nervous as the day I saw my wife walk down the aisle, I had no problem pulling the trigger. Green in regulation. Easy par.

The real moment of truth came with the fourth shot of the day. It was a blind, downhill tee shot to a 496-yard par 4. I hooked my driver. The ball landed in deep rough, requiring two massive hacks to get out. That was going to be all, and I knew it in six shots.

Sergio, I didn't have to worry anymore.

Perhaps most indicative of my day was my 10th hole, the first on the course. I cracked my best drive of the day about 310 yards down the middle to a 570-yard par 5. With 260 to go, I took out 3-iron. Thinking of a 3, I fanned my shot like Dustin Johnson did at the Open Championship last summer. Since we both are sporting beards these days, we now have two things in common.

For every good shot I hit, I could not piece together more than five in a row. At this level, on a course of that length, there is no faking it. Bad shots can rarely be struck in isolation. They lead to what I'd call 'subsequent strokes' – the ones that happen because of the first error. I tacked on a dozen shots that way.

Even still, that would have left me three shots out of a likely playoff for one of the nine spots allotted to the field. It sounds like a lot to overcome, but it wasn't. A half-dozen mistakes could mostly be attributed to one 460cc problem. Fix that and I still would have been a couple of shots short of qualifying.

One guy in my group had a real chance. Bryan Jackson is a regional rep for Cobra-Puma. He's a PGA member, but rarely practices or plays many tournaments.

With two holes to go he was even. As we walked to our 17th hole, he said he needed one more birdie to make it. Having qualified for sectionals on three other occasions, I believed his Spidey Senses.

He short-sided himself with his approach, 20 yards away and 10 feet below the green. Par would have been an outstanding save. As he chipped, the ball seemed to fly in slow motion. It was a well-executed shot – low and lots of spin to an uphill pin. The ball clipped grass, skipped once and fell into the cup. There was his birdie.

All Bryan needed was a par at the 440-yard finisher. He hit the fairway with his tee shot and the green with his approach. The uphill first putt from 40 feet, however, did not have enough muscle. He needed a 6-footer to shoot what he thought he needed.

He missed. It was good enough for a playoff for one spot, but Jackson would not prevail.

That's the difference at this level. A shot. One putt.

A process like this can either destroy or inspire. In my case, it was the latter.

Next time – and there will be one – I'll have a plan. I'll know how to prepare. I'll know what to expect. It'll seem somewhat familiar. Maybe there's room for one more in the club.

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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."

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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

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

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