Am Tour: Former pro athletes Babineaux, Figgins find new competitive edge in golf 

By Brandon TuckerSeptember 14, 2016, 10:06 pm

In what has become an annual tradition of sorts at the Golf Channel Am Tour National Championship, we ran into some ex-pro athletes you likely know well, having hung up the spikes on the big stage to now compete in amateur golf.

The most notable past pro-athlete of recent memory, Mark Mulder, has since moved on from his days competing on Am Tour to turn pro and win the American Century Celebrity Classic in Lake Tahoe. This year at Innisbrook, two well-known ex-pros are competing in this Hogan flight (8.0-11.9 handicaps).

Making his way all the way from the Pacific Northwest is former NFL safety and cornerback Jordan Babineaux. Babineaux spent his career with several teams and was most notably known for his time with the Seattle Seahawks from 2004-2010.

Known on the gridiron for a handful of game-changing plays at the end of games, he’ll be the first to admit he was "clutch" coming down the stretch of his first Am Tour major championship victory this summer at the Turning Stone Classic. After a first-round 77 that put him solidly in the lead, he went five-over over the final two holes in the final round to win by just one shot. Babineaux admits he felt a new kind of pressure during the experience. 

"This is different," said Babineaux. "You can’t hit anybody in golf. In football, you can make a big hit and feel jacked up.

"It's different pressure when you're not depending on anyone else."

Babineaux grew up in Port Arthur, Texas and played competitive golf. He continued to play a little bit during his football career, but didn’t start getting the itch for golf competition until last year. He joined the Golf Channel Am Tour last year and qualified for Nationals, but didn’t make the trip to PGA West. This year, after an eight-event campaign capped by his major win at Turning Stone, he decided to make the trip cross-country from Seattle during football season to Innisbrook Resort. He enlisted in the services of caddie Eric Meller, a PGA Tour caddie for Jerry Kelly, for the event.

"When I tell people I’m playing on the Am Tour," said Babineaux, "I tell them I’m not a professional golfer. I’m a professional competitor."

Desmond "Chone" Figgins tees off at Innisbrook Resort & Club during Round 1. 

While Babineaux is rekindling his competitive golf spirit, the game is a new endeavor for former Major League Baseball player Desmond “Chone” Figgins.

Figgins, 39, who played for the Angels, Mariners and Dodgers during his baseball career, now resides in Florida. His Am Tour schedule in 2016 has been a busy one: 27 events, most of which having taken place throughout the state. 

Figgins qualified for this year’s nationals in his first event of the year, placing T-3 at The Grand Cypress Challenge in Orlando last fall. But since then, he’s been moved up a flight to Hogan and has won two local events but hasn’t placed as high in the majors. He comes to Nationals

Figgins didn’t get into golf until later into his MLB career, when he went out to play on an off-day spring training with Garrett Anderson

"The more competitive golf you play,” said Figgins. "The more you understand how to play golf."

Figgins, who was an all-star in baseball on the strength of his hits and base running, isn’t sure how much further he’ll be able to take his competitive golf game, but he’s excited for the new ride.

"I just want to to get better," he said. "I’m young enough, you never know what could happen."

Halfway thru Nationals competition, Figgins (T-17) and Babineaux (T-27) find themselves in pretty good shape in the 153-person Hogan flight.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.