Am Tour: Seniors impress with low scores, fast pace at Talking Stick, Grayhawk

By Brandon TuckerSeptember 17, 2014, 7:09 am

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It takes a lot of entities working in concert to move over 1,200 golfers a day thru four golf courses in a timely fashion.

Halfway through the Senior National Am Tour National Championship, golfers are having a little more time to spend at the 19th hole than expected.

This is the first National Championship held in Scottsdale and at Talking Stick and Grayhawk. Both 36-hole facilities are vastly different designs and showcase the diversity of courses in the East Valley. Grayhawk features two more modern, desert designs from Tom Fazio and Gary Panks, while Talking Stick's North and South courses are more minimalist throwback design with wide playing corridors by the team of Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw.

Despite their differences, they've managed to serve as fine venues, both in exceptional condition and, perhaps more importantly, fast play.

During a spin around Talking Stick this afternoon, where both courses were hosting 150-plus amateurs, groups were walking off their last hole of the round consistently under four hours. That's despite a little bit of breeze (which has a way of slowing pace at PGA Tour to a crawl) and some light rain.

On both the North and South courses at Talking Stick, groups were coming in regularly 30 minutes ahead of expected pace or more. Meanwhile, Grayhawk, while not as fast as Talking Stick, has been consistently under 4.5 hours over the first two days -- even though they've hosted two flights with the highest handicaps this week.

Staging a national tournament, where the rules are strict, keeping a pace faster than your average weekend round at a muni, is a testament to many things: design, conditions, setup -- and player vigilance. Am Tour officials said this has been among the best weeks, pace-wise, in nationals history, despite the fact it's the largest Seniors field ever.

It's partially due to design. Talking Stick's fairways are wide (meaning less ball hunting and more confident swings off the tee), have no rough and lots of room around the greens for recovery. It also helps they are walker-friendly with greens and tees close to one another.

Attentive marshaling is another component. One competitor, Bruce Addleman, is competing this week, but he's also the director of the local Minneapolis tour and worked last week's National Championship. He's proud of how course marshaling has helped players be more aware of their times, as well as their on-course assistance.

"We've got a lot of marshals who understand how to spot trouble places [on the course]," he said. "And they spend some time there and help players through it."

A benefit to good pace is, often times, lower scores. There have been a lot of great rounds thus far in spite of the pressure of the big stage.

Jeff Hanser, playing in the Sr. Hogan flight, recorded a one-under 70 at Talking Stick South. He worked a hot putter and some savvy up-and-downs to record his best round in memory.

"Pace was great," said Hanser. "No one was ever in front of us or behind us. I like to play fast, it was just a fun round."

Hanser said the round afforded him a little more time to have some post-round drinks with one of his playing partners and other fellow competitors. It's a simple formula: less time on the course equals a little more time in the bar.

Meanwhile, at Grayhawk, which is a former host of the Open among other PGA Tour events, Championship flight medalist Mike Harkins went low with a 68. After a first-round 81, which he says was a result of "running out of gas," he found a nice groove throughout the breezy round with six birdies.

"Today went really well," he said. "The course setup was good. People can keep the ball in play."

Some also had some theories as to why today's rounds were faster than day one, ranging from the fact that the threat of showers were prevalent most of the afternoon. Also, some say nerves aren't as high on day two. Regardless, expect pace to improve as golfers find their grooves as the week goes on.

Kirby nets week's first ace

The Senior National Championship has its first hole-in-one. Robert Kirby, from Vero Beach, Fla., aced the 13th hole at Talking Stick South. Playing into a stiff breeze, he hit a 7-iron to the 133-yard hole.

Kirby says while his playing partners saw it go in from the tee, he didn't want to celebrate prematurely.

"I kept quiet because I'm pretty superstitious," he said. "But then when I got to the green and looked in the hole I put my hands up in the air."

Kirby used the ace, his third ever but first in competition, to score an 80 for the round. Playing in the Sr. Hogan flight, Kirby finds himself tied for 32nd place halfway through the competition. He plans on celebrating tonight by going out to dinner with some fellow players competing in nationals.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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."

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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.