Big Breaks Tucker Flies Under the Radar
But while the low-key player -- whose lithe 5-foot-9 frame belies either her physical strength or love of candy -- has approached each level of competition in the shadow of others, Tucker has finally emerged from her own shadow. And while her biggest steps have been far from flashy, if you ask any who have known her, none are surprised that the fifth-year pro has finally found her place in America, and in particular, in womens professional golf.
When we were juniors back in Sweden, she was always the best player and everybody looked up to her, said Duramed FUTURES Tour player Caroline Larsson of Stockholm. When she won, it made me want to win, too. When she left home and to play for Duke, I thought that was really cool and I wanted to go play college golf in the States, too. I have looked up to her for a long time.
Of course, when she arrived at Duke, this two-time Swedish Girls Champion and Swedish National Team member found herself fighting for a spot on the travel squad against such players at Brazils Candy Hannamann, Thailands Virada (OUI) Nirapathpongporn, All-American Beth Bauer of Florida, Spains Maria Garcia-Estrada, and U.S. Girls Junior champion Leigh Anne Hardin Creavy of Indiana.
We had the best players from at least five countries on the team at Duke, but dont let her fool you, said (Hardin) Creavy. She won her very first college tournament.
Still, that first year wasnt easy for Tucker, who admits she picked Duke off the Internet as a teen when she was searching for colleges with womens golf programs. She had heard of Harvard and Yale, but she didnt know the names of any other American universities.
I saw that Duke had good academics and golf, so I wrote the coach a letter, she said. I had no idea how lucky I was when I got to go there.
The first semester at Duke was tough. Tucker regularly stayed up deep into the night studying difficult concepts in a completely different language. But she was just as determined in her academics as she was in golf, improving her GPA every semester in all four years as a sociology major.
Of course, Tucker would often surprise her teammates. Sometimes in team practices, she would burst out singing ABBAs Dancing Queen, or she would suddenly chirp out Ha-ha, I won that one! in team chipping contests, or she would crack up the team by innocently ordering a wedgie sandwich at a golf course, rather than a veggie sandwich. It took the team a while to realize that Swedes pronounce the letters V and W the same way.
But the one thing they could always count on was for Tucker to produce on the golf course. She recorded 14 top-10 finishes in collegiate competition and three wins at Duke. She was a member of Dukes winning 2002 NCAA Division I Championship team, and was on the NCAA runner-up squad in 2001. Even when Hannemann and Bauer moved on to the Duramed FUTURES Tour and LPGA Tours, Tucker was still fighting for her spot on the Duke team as a senior when new talent, such as Liz Janagelo of Connecticut, arrived as a hungry freshman.
I played against great players every week and it made me want to improve, she said. We were pretty intense out there, but we were all the best of friends.
Tucker, now 27, met Paul Tucker, a member of Dukes mens golf team, when he was a junior and she was a freshman. The two dated throughout her college career and eventually married. Tucker, who had played on the mens mini-tours for a few years, encouraged his wife to pursue her golf career. He was there as her caddie at the 2006 U.S. Womens Open Championship when she tied for 20th.
She just plugged away at it, said Paul. The whole experience of coming down the last nine holes and hearing people yelling her name with her playing well really opened her eyes to how good she can be.
The 2007 season was more difficult. Tucker earned non-exempt LPGA Tour status and bounced back and forth between the LPGA and Duramed FUTURES Tours. She would play in LPGA Monday qualifiers, miss winning a spot in the tournament field, then would hustle to make new travel plans to either get back home or fly to wherever the Duramed FUTURES Tour was holding its event that week. When she missed regaining her LPGA card by one shot last fall at LPGA Q-School, Tuckers reaction was nearly expected.
In a way, it was almost a relief because I knew where I would be playing this year, said Tucker, who now lives with her husband in Pageland, S.C. I learned a lot last year playing in seven LPGA events, but it was a tough year.
With husband Paul practicing alongside, the Swede regrouped in the off-season from the disappointments of 2007. She worked hard on her swing and her putting. And she was charged up when fellow Swedish National Team member Louise Friberg won on the LPGA Tour in Mexico earlier this year, as well as when another fellow Swede, Linda Wessberg also posted solid results. Both now play on the LPGA Tour.
I was so happy for Louise when she won and to see her fulfill one of her dreams, said Tucker. Even though I have improved, I havent gotten to that same level, but it was really motivating to see people I have played with do well.
However, five tournaments into the 2008 Duramed FUTURES Tour season, Tucker used her accuracy to earn her own first professional victory in El Paso, Texas. As has been her typical progression, Tucker finished 12th in El Paso her first year, sixth in another visit and capped off this years visit with a long awaited win.
I couldnt hit the Refresh button fast enough on the Tours Real Time Scoring that day, admitted her husband Paul, who had to watch his wifes progress over the Internet while she was in Texas and he was in South Carolina. I was nervous all day.
But the Swede closed the deal on the tight-playing desert course to win by three shots. The toughest thing was to outsmart her when she returned home with a surprise party at the South Carolina course where she and Paul play. Paul had to first convince her to go with him to the club to look at his swing, then he had to lure her into the clubhouse ballroom where 75 well-wishers were gathered to toast her win in Texas.
It took me a few seconds to realize the party was for me, said Tucker, still blushing with embarrassment. It used to feel so strange, but Ive come to love the American culture because its so open and friendly. Here, they want to celebrate with you and when they ask you how your day was, they really are interested in your answer.
Tuckers final day in El Paso was a splendid hint at what the rest of her season could be. And for the precise Swede -- whose father had her perform 200 practice swings at age 9 before she could hit her first shot with a ball ' the anticipation of playing her best was everything she thought it could be. That first struck ball flew 50 yards for the youngster. And that first win for the pro moved Tucker up the Tours money list and into range to get her LPGA Tour card once again. Most of all, it reminded her of why she left home in Sweden in the first place.
Ive learned so much about myself, said Tucker, almost shyly. Because of golf, Ive been to 20 different countries and five different continents, traveled all over the U.S., got my education, met my husband and made so many friends. Ive seen the world and I am grateful for it, but what I have done and what I am doing is not just about results.
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.