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.
Rahm (62) takes early lead at CareerBuilder
The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:
Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)
What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.
Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.
Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.
Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.
Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.
Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.
Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta
Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.
The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.
It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.
"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."
Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.
Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.
"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."