Am Tour: Family matters at National Championship at Innisbrook Resort & Club

By Brandon TuckerSeptember 15, 2016, 2:29 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- As families all over the country know well, few better bonding activities are better than a round of golf. While many of us have casual games with loved ones of varying and sometimes vastly different skill level and interest, each year, Am Tour Nationals brings serious families out to compete together.  

We've told the story of Kody Conover and his father Clifford Conover, a three-time national champion, in several ways over the years. Well, they're back once more for another crack at Nationals, and in the past year, Cody, now 21, has improved his golf game enough to jump a flight to Hogan this year. And if you think he's just in the middle of the pack, you're wrong: After two days, he finds himself T-27 out of 149 golfers and eleven shots off the leaders Troy Slate and Todd Nelson.

It's fairly common for sons and daughters to compete in the first week of Am Tour Nationals and then stick around for the second week for their parents to compete in Senior Nationals. That's the case with one of the youngest competitors in the field this week, Ben Soicher, 14, from Mill Valley, Calif., whose father Barry Soicher will compete next week.

Meanwhile, 2014 Hogan flight national champion Jeff Blackwood was set to compete, but was forced to have back surgery three weeks ago and withdraw. Instead, he's here supporting his son Daegan Blackwood as well as his brother Brack Blackwood, both of whom are competing in the 150-person Hogan flight. Rick Burton, who won the 2015 Snead flight at PGA West, has returned to nationals with his son John Burton, who is competing in the Sarazen flight. 

One father-son tandem is not only competing this week but are competing in the Hogan flight: Matt Love and his son Ryan, from Greenbrier, Tenn.

Matt, 45, learned the game from his family growing up, but didn't start playing seriously until about ten years ago, which was about the same time Ryan began to play as well. The two have played a lot together, and Ryan has since found golf to be his favorite sport, eschewing baseball in order to play more.

Ryan, 17, is one of the handful of teenagers competing against a field of predominantly middle-aged men. He's used his big drives to help offset any experience shortcomings. Ryan says he also likes the change of pace of competing in all-ages tournaments on Am Tour compared to junior events.

"Sometimes you learn from playing with older people," said Ryan. "They're a lot more light-hearted, and joking about kids my age."

Ryan hopes to play in as many events as he can throughout his senior year of high school, which doesn't have its own golf team, and see if any strong results can earn the attention of any colleges. Halfway thru Nationals, the Loves find themselves pretty close to one another on the Hogan leaderboard, with Ryan (T-10) holding a six-shot advantage over his father.

The whole Love family has made the trip down to Florida this week for Nationals for sunshine and to visit relatives in the area. But Matt has relished the fact that golf has been able to allow he and Ryan to spend so much time together. It certainly helps the competitive nature that the two players are so close in ability they don't have to give each other shots when playing against one another.

"It's definitely given us a go-to activity," said Matt. "That, regardless of what's going on or how bad the day is, you can say 'hey let's go play' and make a good day out of it."

Lightning strikes twice in the same place

There were two hole-in-ones in round two on Wednesday, a feat that isn't particularly unusual at Am Tour Nationals. The rarity was the fact they happened on the same hole on the North Course at Innisbrook in the Palmer flight. First, Eric Newsome, from Land O' Lakes, Fla. aced the 120-yard shot on the 7th. Not much later, Jean Piwinskii, from Puerto Rico, aced the very same hole.

Newsome used the ace to card a second-round 78 and find himself T-15, while Piwinskii shot 80 and is currently T-61.

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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.