Am Tour: Championship, Palmer flights crowned at 2016 National Championship

By Brandon TuckerSeptember 17, 2016, 2:01 am

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- It came down to a final putt on the 18th hole in the Championship flight. Gant Bills, from Plano, Texas had a five-shot lead going into the final round at the Copperhead Course, but watched it deteriorate to nothing at the 8th hole.

By the time they reached the start of the Snake Pit at No. 16, he was two up on Earl Morley, from Palm Desert, California. Morley and Bills were tied for the lead halfway thru the event before Bills pulled away in round three. But Morley made his presence felt in the final round. 

On the 18th, with a one-shot lead, Morley striped it down the middle and Bills found the bunker. Facing 205 yards in the sand to an uphill green, his 3-iron found the putting surface. Morley had about 20 feet for birdie to tie, but missed, and Bills' two-putt was enough.

Morley, despite falling short, can take comforta in the fact that his final-round, one-under 70 meant he was the only golfer to break par on the Copperhead Course in the entire Nationals field and finished ten shots clear of third place, held by Eric Condry of Fresno, California.

Bills played on the golf team at Texas Tech for two years in 1997-98, but following his college career, he walked away form the game for awhile.

"I didn't pick up a club for seven years," he said. "I kinda lost the love for the game.

"Then I started playing on the weekends, starting having fun, then I just kinda got back into it."

Bills, 37 years old with two small kids, is a member at Prestonwood Country Club in Dallas. He doesn't practice like he used to back in college, and admits his game isn't quite grooved like back in his hayday, but was able to play four rounds at Nationals in 287 (3-over par). While he had a few top 10 finishes in events in college, he admits this nationals win is his first true victory since back in his AJGA days.

This isn't the last big event for Bills. He'll ride this wave of confidence into his club championship in October and then consider some other national qualifying amateur events next season along with his Golf Channel Am Tour schedule.

Steady Prok takes home Palmer flight

Many of the golfers in the Palmer flight (4.0-7.9 handicaps) certainly show flashes of golf good enough to flirt with scratch. For Joshua Prok, from Baberton, Ohio, a recent 67 shot during a casual round revealed he may very well have scratch game in him somewhere. Now 31, he didn't pick up golf until his baseball career ended in high school due to a throwing injury.

"It was addicting," he said, liking the fact that unlike baseball, golf is a sport you can play and practice by yourself.

He joined the Golf Channel Am Tour in 2013 as a player who normally shot in the high-80s.

Fast forward to 2016 and Prok found himself close to the lead all four rounds in his first national championship. Early in the final round, he was two shots back, but made a 25-footer for bogey on the 5th hole and birdied the next two holes to take the lead.

With a two-shot lead in the final round heading to the 18th tee. A brief lightning delay of 30 minutes forced him to sit and think about a tough tee shot coming up on Innisbrook's Island course.

"I was a bit nervous," Prok said. "The 18th tee shot is kinda tough, sitting there, dwelling on everything that can go wrong.

"But I got up there and I hit it good."

Prok shot 76 and won by two shots over Cole Phillips, from Phenix, Alabama, who bounced back from a 3rd round 84 on the Copperhead course with a 76 of his own. Greg Bubela, from Whitby, Ontario, Canada, placed third. Also in the final group was Michael Rizarri, who won the National Championship in 2015 in the Hogan flight. Now in the thick of the race for the Palmer crown, he found himself in the lead heading to the back nine thanks to largely to great scrambling around the green. But ultimately his ball striking wasn't up to snuff, hitting just one green all day. 

"They just started throwing darts," said Rizarri of his playing partners. "[Prok] didn't have a putt outside ten feet.

"It shows what I have to improve on. But I'm up for the challenge and doing it again."

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x