Am Tour: Senior competitors prepare for and embrace four rounds of golf at Nationals

By Mike BaileySeptember 22, 2016, 2:40 am

It's one of the oldest cliché's in sports: It's not a sprint; it's a marathon, and it's certainly apropos when it comes to describing the Golf Channel Amateur Tour Senior National Championship.

For most of the nearly 600 competitors this will have been their only four-round tournament of the year, maybe even their lives, if this is the only time they play in Nationals. Some prepare beforehand, while others try to pace themselves while they're here. And it's not only physical, but mental as well. It's hard to keep the proper level of focus for four straight days.

That was evident on Wednesday after round three where many players shot some of the highest scores of the week. The reception that night wasn't as crowded either as many players probably felt like they needed to get a little extra rest after three days in the heat and humidity of southwest Florida.

"We're used to playing one or two days, and that's it," said Richard Stein, of Cheektowaga, N.Y. "But it's nice to do this once a year, and it's something you work all year to do. It's also nice to play four different courses."

Indeed, playing four different courses, including the famed Copperhead Course at Innisbrook, home of the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship, is part of the appeal of this event. But it's also a challenge. While the tour pros get to know a course better and better with each day, players in the Golf Channel Am Tour Nationals must adjust from course to course.

You can't play four practice rounds (the Open Nationals precede the Seniors), so Cliff Capps, who is playing in his third national championship, did a little homework prior to making the trip from Enterprise, Ala. Playing in the Jones Flight (12-15.9) Capps scoured the internet tofound out as much information as he could about the three courses at Innisbrook as well nearby Fox Hollow Golf Club. But he took a step further when at the nightly receptions when he sought feedback from players in the other flights on the courses he would be playing the next day."

"Of course they all said, 'stay out the rough,'" said Capps, a retired Army aviator. "But you learn a few other things, like how the greens are."

For John Juntilia, who was tied for 19th after three days in the Championship Flight, his regular routine back home in Spring Park, Minn. (Twin Cities area) has served him well this week.

"I play a lot of golf and practice a lot, so I'm in fairly good shape," said Juntilla, who is playing in his fourth Senior National Championship.

Juntilla's routine at Island View Country Club in Waconia, Minn., includes practicing twice a week (mostly chipping and on the course) as well as playing three times a week. It still doesn't make him immune to pitfalls that all golfers can have in tournament golf, especially over the course of a 72-hole event.

"It can be tough, especially if you don't have your swing and you can't find it," he said. "You just have to go back to fundaments – posture, grip, etc., and stick with it."

Jim Kass lives in the Ocoee, Fla., near Orlando, which pretty much has an identical climate to the Tampa area.

"I've been doing endurance biking in 100-degree heat and 100 percent humidity, about 35 miles a week," said Kass, who is playing in the Hogan Flight (8-11.9).

He also worked hard on his putting and played tree-lined Orlando area courses that he thought would prepare him well for Innisbrook.

And while he's here, he scheduled massages after the first and third round to work out the soreness.

Of course, the mental grind can be just as taxing. Stein remembers what it was like in 2013 when he won the Sarazen Flight (12-15.9).

"That was a grind, both in terms of pressure and nerves," said Stein.

Like many players, Stein's spouse comes with him. He and Debbie Stein go out to eat together, attend functions and like to explore the area.

"It's a nice balance while we're here, not all golf," said Stein.

Are four rounds too much, too tiring?

"Not if you love golf," Alabama's Clapp said.



Getty Images

Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

Getty Images

Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

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

Getty Images

Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

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 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.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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."

Getty Images

Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

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.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

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.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.