Alls Right in the World of Sammy
What is Sammy Rachels doing making a living playing professional golf? Hell never know. The pride of DeFuniak Springs, which is a little community in the panhandle of Florida, Rachels is a 50-year-old who still believes he will wake up someday and find he was just dreaming.
I keep looking over my shoulder expecting to see the FBI, Rachels says. I mean, this is a great life. I know this cant be legal.
Sammy Rachels has had the same P.O. box all his life. He is married to Pia, whose father delivered him. He played the PGA Tour a little some 20 years ago, but a bad back eventually knocked him out for good. He took a club pro job close to home in Florida and discovered it was just what he had been looking for.
As he closed in on 50, he began thinking the what ifs of a million other guys. Suddenly, hes on the tour, won two tournaments, and last week played in the Senior Tour Championship as one of the top 31 money-winners this year.
Hes the guy down the street in a pair of jeans, old Chevy cap, and a beard. He won in Nashville, then at Napa Valley, and he can hardly believe its happened to him. The Nashville win alone paid him $240,000.
First of all, they have a pro-am and I took home free shirts, free balls, free seats, all kinds of stuff, said Rachels. I said, I just won a quarter of a million dollars. I dont need this stuff now. Where were you guys a year ago?
Rachels has a hard time believing it. He never will. Hes a country boy, and he never will get used to the champagne-and-caviar life.
Never, he said emphatically. I mean, I am not a secure player. Im not a confident player. I think Im a fairly confident person with who I am ' if that makes any sense.
But I think I could win five tournaments in a row, and the sixth tournament Im afraid Im going to duck-hook my tee ball. And thats the way I feel.
Rachels still doesnt have a club contract. This particular day, he was wearing a white shirt with an Adams Golf logo and a Titleist cap. He isnt paid to wear any certain brand, the shirt just happened to be clean ' not necessarily a prerequisite - and he grabbed it.
I use their irons, he said of Adams. But I dont get paid to play anything. Not a dime from anybody. They gave me shirts, and Im glad to wear them. Tour motto: if its free, get three.
His nearest neighbor lives in the Florida panhandle a mile from him. Its a quiet life, a good life, one not prone to make him supremely self-confidant in the world of big-time athletics. He thought the hillbilly life would be his life until he breathed his last. And then
I made myself not think of doing this until I was well past 49, he said. Im sure I was afraid I would fail. In a little pond, I could still be a big fish if the pond were small enough.
A couple of little club pro things there, I was still the guy to beat. But sustaining play for a whole week? My first tournament when I went back out to play for a week, I nearly died. Thats just because I played so little golf for so long. There were a lot of years when I would play 20 rounds in a year.
Rachels paused a moment to reflect on the good fortune that has befallen him this year. Could it really be? Naw, it couldnt really be ole Sammy.
Its not like I thought I couldnt win, but I just never entertained the thought that I could win a tournament on the Senior Tour, much less two of them, he said.
He didnt think he could win, but he thought he could earn lots of money by panhandle Florida standards. That would be, oh, about $50,000 or so a year. If he could make $100,000, he could live life like a king. So he would take the leavings for a couple of years and steal away into the night with whatever earnings he could before returning to the life of a little club pro.
I did think I could $10-20,000 em to death, said Rachels. Thats the prime area of motivation for doing it to begin with, was a mercenary attitude. I knew how much money I was making working. And I could make more than that very, very easily out here. You could come out here and make $400,000 a year and they would call you a failure. That was a lot of the logic I used to make me practice and play hard.
So he was shocked beyond belief to win not just once, but twice, against the Hale Irwins and Tom Kites and Tom Watsons. This is Sammy Rachels, gentleman hillbilly, not S. Tindol Rachels III, golfer extraordinaire.
You do that thing where you can be silent and thought a fool ' or you can speak up and confirm it. As long as I wasnt playing, I could still be real good. It gets easy not to play. You get a lot of respect, as long as you dont come out here shooting 80s all the time, he said.
Sammy and Pia turned and left Gaillardia Country Club and its rows of million-dollar homes. They had things to do. It was time to find a place to park the motorhome. Life is good when you dont require many things to clutter it up.
Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead
New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.
The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.
"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."
Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.
It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.
Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.
Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore
SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.
Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.
He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.
Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.
The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.
''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''
Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.
He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.
Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.
Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.
''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''
13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest
Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.
Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.
“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”
Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.
Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings.
McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi
It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.
Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.
Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.
“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”
Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.
“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.
This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.