Gustafson carries bag, helps lift Allen to LET win

By Randall MellJuly 6, 2015, 7:33 pm

Sophie Gustafson blurted out her frustration to friends.

Gustafson, Felicity Johnson and Beth Allen were sitting in a bar in Hainan, China, consoling each other after all three missed the cut this spring at the World Ladies Championship on the Ladies European Tour.

“I’m not sure I want to do this anymore,” Gustafson told them.

Shooting 80 and 81 in China were hard numbers for Gustafson, who was the Ladies European Tour Player of the Year three times and competed on eight European Solheim Cup teams. She won 16 LET events and five LPGA titles, but she has been struggling as a player for a few years now. Knowing how Gustafson loves the game, Johnson and Allen asked what she would do if she weren’t playing.

“I’ve always wanted to caddie, so maybe I’ll do that,” Gustafson, 41, told them.

Allen, an American playing the LET, piped up immediately. She told Gustafson she would gladly hire her. Little did they know they would win the first time they actually teamed up.

When Allen, 34, won the ISPS Handa Ladies European Masters Sunday for her first LET title, Gustafson was on her bag.

“Caddying for Beth was great fun,” Gustafson wrote in email exchange with “She hit it so good! I could just call the shots and she would hit them.”

Gustafson said Allen patiently waited until Gustafson was actually ready to become her caddie. It proved worth the wait for both of them.

“I have to say that not one time did I wish it was me hitting the shot,” Gustafson wrote. “It was nice being in the action without having my heart outside my chest. I was so much more relaxed being on the bag than being the one hitting the shots. Not that I wasn't nervous. I was towards the end, but nothing like I was when I was playing. Being able to help her out and get her over the line was really satisfying. Giving her tidbits of inside Sunday afternoon knowledge was real fun, and then to see her use that was even better.

“I know what a player feels and thinks in a situation like that, and I have a good idea what a player needs. I think it helped that Beth and I are a bit similar in our wording and humor, too.”

While the term courageous is too easily used to describe athletes, Allen and Gustafson qualify for what they’ve sacrificed or overcome. Allen donated a kidney to her brother, Dan, four years ago. Gustafson won the Golf Writers Association of America’s Ben Hogan Award for the manner in which she has battled a severe stutter while excelling in the game.

“She offered to help and she certainly did,” Allen said of Gustafson. “She definitely saved me some shots out there, and I’m so, so grateful that she offered to help.”

Gustafson is committed to help Allen for three more events, but she also continues to work on her own game.

“I'm going to work the Scottish, British and Prague (events), and then we'll see,” Gustafson wrote. “We obviously work well together, so I don't think that will be an issue, but I might want to play the Swedish tournament we have here on the LET in September. After that, who knows?

“I'm just taking it a little bit at a time right now. No reason to make a firm decision, I feel. If I feel I want to play again, I have that luxury being a life member on the LET. At the moment, I also have my all-time money status on the LPGA that I can use if I feel I want to come back there. If I do that, though, it's a commitment. The LPGA won't let you switch between being a player and caddie during the same year.”

Gustafson manages to find new ways to enjoy the game, even as she works through the challenges to her own game. She is a vice captain to Carin Koch for the Europeans at this year’s Solheim Cup. She has also been playing as a left-hander, just for fun, when she’s not working on her right-handed swing. Ping set Gustafson up with a left-handed set of clubs two years ago.

“I really enjoy it,” Gustafson said. “It's fun seeing the improvement. I'm down to a 20 handicap.”

For all the fans Gustafson has won over the years, there is delight seeing her find ways to continue to enjoy the game.

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial. 

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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.