My 2014 moment: McNeill handling sister's death

By Jason SobelDecember 28, 2014, 1:10 pm

(Editor's note: This is part of a series in which staff reveal their favorite or personal moments of 2014.)

The assignment here is to write about my favorite moment covering golf in 2014, and I’ve got plenty of ‘em.

There were weighty moments, such as listening to Martin Kaymer deftly articulate the importance of winning The Players Championship on Mother’s Day in honor of his late mother or watching Erik Compton embrace his father after a runner-up finish at the U.S. Open on Father’s Day. There were eye-opening moments, like Jordan Spieth telling me on New Year’s Day about his long-term goals while we rode around Kapalua in a golf cart. And fun moments, like taking the Ice Bucket Challenge on live television from The Barclays while Ernie Els walked past laughing.

Nothing will stick with me longer, though, than the five-minute, 51-second conversation I had with George McNeill after the final round of The Greenbrier Classic.

During that day’s telecast, it was revealed that McNeill oldest sister, Michele, was very ill. Without offering too much detail, the announcers ably conveyed that it was a bleak scenario.

Knowing this, McNeill went out and posted the best round of a lengthy PGA Tour career.

After starting the day well off the lead, he shot a 9-under 61 that included a hole-in-one. Interviewed on the telecast, he wouldn’t speak about Michele directly. Instead, choking back tears, he was able to produce a few eloquent thoughts that ended with, “Golf doesn’t mean a whole lot sometimes.”

Two hours later, Angel Cabrera had successfully traversed the course in fewer strokes than anyone else in the field, leaving McNeill two shots back and a million miles from the winner’s circle. Believing that the runner-up was the better story, I found him in the locker room, alone, packing up his belongings. 

I told him that I knew he didn’t want to speak about his sister, the oldest of five McNeill siblings. I also told him that I wanted to tell his part of the story and didn’t want rumors or innuendo to overtake a situation of such gravity. I wanted to give him the forum to convey anything he wanted the public to know.

He nodded his head and, his voice cracking, said, “She passed away at 11:35 this morning.”

That was 20 minutes before his tee time. He didn’t find out until after he had finished the round.

Choking back tears again, he told me about her recurring battles with cancer. He shook his head at trying to explain how he played so well under such circumstances. He stared softly at the blank wall while wondering how Michele’s two children were taking the news.

We spoke for five minutes and 51 seconds - him offering pertinent details of her life, me trying to figure out what to ask a man whose big sister had just died.

When it was over, he shook his head again. “It sucks,” he told me as he walked out of the locker room and shuffled his way up the clubhouse steps, the first steps on the journey to be with his family.

It wasn’t my favorite moment of the year. It was my least favorite, having to speak with a player in the aftermath of such tragedy. But it was also the one I’ll most remember, the class and grace and sorrow on McNeill’s face leaving an indelible imprint.

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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.