Am Tour: Hilgers doesn't let cancer stop Nationals run

By Brandon TuckerSeptember 18, 2014, 7:38 am

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - John Hilgers’ life in golf would be the envy of most who have ever taken up the game.

Hilgers, 64, grew up in Austin, Texas, where his father was a founding member of Austin Country Club and his junior golf rivals included Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite. He'd often spend mornings on the first tee of ACC beside legendary instructor Harvey Penick.

"By osmosis you've gotta be able to pick up something," laughed Hilgers, who now lives west of Austin in Wimberley. "Somebody who grew up with Ben Crenshaw and Harvey Penick ought to be able to shoot in the 70s."

This week Hilgers, competing in the Hogan Flight (handicaps 8-11.9), played in his first Golf Channel Am Tour Senior National Championship. He shot 77-77-85-84--323, good for a tie for sixth place. He had hoped for a top-5 finish, but he was happy nevertheless, especially after making a birdie on his final hole. "I had the best week of my life," he said. "The camaraderie, the relationships you get to build over a competitive sport. Where else can you do that?"

Hilgers has had a busy golf campaign in 2014, competing in 25 events leading up to nationals, winning six times.


Am Tour flight winners: Championship, Snead | Hogan, Sarazen | Jones, Palmer


And did it all despite having terminal cancer. Multiple myeloma, according to the American Cancer Society, is "a cancer formed by malignant plasma cells," mainly in bone marrow. The disease is incurable, but treatable. Median survival rates range from 62 months for Stage I to 29 months for Stage III.  

Hilgers was diagnosed five years ago, after he became overheated on the golf course. Since then he has lost 90 pounds and three inches of height and has had five compound fractures in his back. His immune system is decimated. In spite of all that, he's playing as much golf - competitive golf - as he can.

Earlier this year, golf had grown painful and his game suffered. Fearing there was no way he could play well four days in a row, he canceled his Am Tour Nationals registration.

Then, an unexpected turnaround: His doctors prescribed stronger painkillers - morphine, plus a patch of synthetic heroin he wears 24 hours a day.

And just like that, Hilgers' game took off. He won three Am Tour events in a row, including the two-day Dallas Tour Championship at The Tribute.

Suddenly, the national championship was back in his mind.

"I thought, I better try and enter and see what I can do," Hilgers said.

"I think I can win this thing."

To help defray his medical bills as well as tournament entry fees, his Wimberley-based fan club, "Team Little John" held a golf outing in July to raise $12,000. The event included an auction of two Masters pin flags signed by two-time winner Crenshaw.


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Hilgers won the River Place Challenge in April, one of his six wins on the Golf Channel Am Tour this year.  


Once a 200-pound, scholarship football player and a big hitter off the tee, Hilgers is now the little guy in the group. In order to reduce the stress on his back, he cut his swing in half.

It means Hilgers is deadly accurate off the tee - any scramble team's dream - even if he's stuck hitting woods on most approach shots. He also gets around the course so fast it's tough to keep up.

"He's very steady," said Chris Phillips, from Houston, also a competitor in the Senior Hogan Flight. "He's a great competitor. He very rarely leaves the fairway and is always around the greens."

After back-to-back 77s at Talking Stick's North and South courses, Hilgers shot an 85 on the Talon course at Grayhawk, which left him tied for ninth and eight off the lead. He hadn't played 18 holes three days in a row since he was diagnosed.

"If I have to crawl through 18 to finish," he said after his third round. "I'm going to finish this off." That he did, closing with an 84 at Grayhawk's Raptor course.

Hilger's persistence hasn't been lost on one of the friends he met on the local Texas tour, a former high school athletic director in the Houston area, L.P. Jones. The two were paired together at a local event in Round Rock, and Jones was so blown away by Hilgers' determination he wrote him a letter afterward.

"The physical pain he's had to deal with," Jones said, "the loss of flexibility, muscle deterioration - it's just amazing. He's a heck of an athlete."

In addition to Hilgers' strong play this year, his nationals highlights have been meeting David Feherty, and running into a lot of the folks he's played with throughout the year in Texas.

"I've met some of the highest quality people I've ever met," Hilgers said of his year on the Texas Am Tour. "They almost spoil me out here, even though we're competing against one another. I just love these guys."


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Hilgers and Michael Walker watch Kevin Smith putt out during Round 3 of the Golf Channel Am Tour Senior National Championship.


Hilgers says he plans on playing golf until it's not fun anymore, which, when you watch him in action, doesn't seem like anytime soon. But he keeps a full schedule beyond the golf course already. He speaks with church groups about preparing for life with cancer, and spends as much time as he can with friends and family. 

Also, he's in the middle of starting up a new venison ministry, which prompts Hill Country ranchers to donate excess game meat to a processing plant in Kerrville to feed the homeless.

It won't just be his fellow golfers who are inspired by Hilgers' indomitable spirit.

"[Hilgers] energizes you," said Phillips, a melanoma survivor himself. "It's very clear talking to John over the last year or two, his tremendous energy, a lust for life. He's using his time to the maximum."

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.


Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.