Its Fleschs Turn to Win

By Golf Channel NewsroomMay 4, 2003, 4:00 pm
In a poll taken at this years Mercedes Championships, many of last years winners pronounced Steve Flesch as the most likely first-time winner in 2003.
 
This was nothing new. Others have been expecting Flesch to breakthrough ever since his rookie season on the PGA Tour in 1998.
 
Five years later he finally did ' and he did so in the event that had teased him twice before.
 
Flesch won the HP Classic of New Orleans when he made a 35-foot birdie putt on the first hole of sudden death. Flesch defeated Bob Estes to record win No. 1, in tour start No. 174.
 
''We've been looking forward to this for a long time,'' Flesch said.
 
'To be honest, I wish before I left the green I would have walked it off, but I'm guessing it was 35 feet, and I told some of the television media that when I walked onto the green I didn't even feel like I needed to read the putt. Not that I had the putt before, but I just - I don't know, something inside me was just saying, 'You know, what? You're going to make it anyway.'
 
'I remember reading the putt, but I don't even remember what I read. I just knew I was going to make it. That's the only way I can describe it.
 
'I think it was one of those things where maybe it was just my time and maybe somebody knew it, and I just kind of let my ability take over, I didn't overanalyze it, which I tend to do sometimes, and I just let instinct take over, and I did, so here I am.'
 
The victory was exceptionally sweet considering the venue. Flesch, who owns three career runner-up finishes on tour, had twice finished second in this event, in '98 and 99.
 
This time he got his revenge by shooting a bogey-free 7-under 65 Sunday. Having started the day seven off the lead, he was safely in the clubhouse at 21-under-par 267.
 
Overnight leader Scott Verplank (74) bogeyed the 16th to fall to 21-under, and then double bogeyed the final hole to miss the playoff by two strokes.
 
''I just played bad. I don't know what else to say,'' he said. ''I had plenty of opportunities to get a little distance and I didn't make the putts.''
 
Estes, on the other hand, birdied 13, 15 and 16 to reach the magic number, before parring his final two holes for a 69.
 
In the playoff, both men hit the fairway on the 471-yard, par-4 18th. They also each hit their approach shots within five feet of one another. Flesch went first and rolled in the lengthy birdie effort, dead center. Estes then missed his wide left.
 
'I got onto the putt and I just tried to go through my routine, but I don't remember hitting - just 15 feet from the hole, when it got over that ridge, 15 feet from the hole I knew it was in,'' Flesch said.
 
A year after a record 18 first-time winners were seen on tour, Flesch joined Ben Crane (BellSouth Classic) as the only maiden champions this season. He earned a career-high $900,000 for his triumph.
 
Thanks to rounds of 65-63-67, Verplank entered the final round with a three-stroke lead over Estes. He increased that advantage with birdies on Nos. 2 and 3.
 
The wind then began to pick up, and Verplank started to drop.
 
Verplanks short, downwind approach shot rolled through the green at the par-4 seventh. He failed to get up and down, recording his first bogey of the day.
 
He again missed the green at the par-3 eighth, when his tee shot landed in the front bunker. He blasted out to three feet, but pushed the par putt. Verplanks lead was now down to two, over Flesch and Estes.
 
''Even though I was seven back, I came out of that hotel this morning, that wind was blowing 15-20 mph, I knew I had a chance,'' Flesch said. ''My biggest battle is always just hanging in there long enough. I'm always trying my butt off, but sometimes I just think that there is no way I can win. Today, for some reason, I just knew from the first hole.''
 
Flesch cut it to one with a birdie at the par-5 11th, but Verplank responded with a birdie of his own at the par-4 ninth. Upon the turn at English Turn, Verplank was again two in front. Estes fell four back ' but not out of contention ' with a bogey at No. 9.
 
Flesch appeared, at the time, to be the only man standing in between Verplank and his fifth career tour title. The lefthander birdied the par-5 15th to again get within one, before parring his final three holes.
 
He played the final 55 holes of regulation without a bogey.
 
Fleschs 20-foot birdie putt at the par-4 17th lipped out. He then pulled his tee shot on the par-4 18th into the right fairway bunker. He had to lay up 65 yards short of the green; from where he spun his third shot eight feet below the hole. Flesch made the par putt, and then headed to the range in anticipation of a playoff.
 
That's because Verplank and Estes still had four difficult holes to finish.
 
Verplanks 5-iron, from 193 yards, on the par-5 15th avoided the water guarding the left-hand side of the green. However, it settled in the grass and he wasnt able to get up and down for birdie.
 
After bombing his drive on the par-4 16th, he decelerated on his wedge approach shot, leaving it buried in the front greenside bunker. He made bogey to drop to 21-under.
 
Estes, meanwhile, birdied 16 ' his third birdie in four holes ' to make it a three-way tie at the top.
 
Verplanks woes continued at the par-3 17th. His 7-iron again finished in a bunker. After leaving his second shot 30 feet short of the hole, he slammed down his sand wedge, and then slammed in the par-saving putt ' his ball ready to race off the green had it not hit the back of the hole.
 
Estes had no problem finding the fairway at the last, but Verplank found yet another sand hazard. The 38-year-old Oklahoman, in an effort to avoid the water along the left side of the hole, sliced his second shot into the corporate tents. He was awarded a free drop, some 50 yards from the hole, but, of course, hit his third shot into the sand. This time he made double bogey to finish alone in third place.
 
Estes had bunker problems of his own. His approach shot ended in the front greenside trap; however, he blasted out to two feet to force the playoff.
 
Tour rookie Mark Wilson (69) finished alone in fourth at 18-under-par 270.
 
Related Links
  • Full-field scores from the HP Classic of New Orleans
  • Full coverage of the HP Classic of New Orleans
  • Getty Images

    The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

    By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

    Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

    Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

    I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

    One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

    So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

    You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

    Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

    I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

    This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

    Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

    On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

    The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

    “What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

    Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

    Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

    Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

    Getty Images

    Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

    Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

    Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

    In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

    Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

    After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

    Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

    Getty Images

    Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

    Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

    “I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”


    Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


    After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

    Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

    The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

    Getty Images

    Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

    By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

    LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

    Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

    ''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

    Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

    ''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

    Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.


    Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


    Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

    ''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

    Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

    ''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

    The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Web.com Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

    ''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

    Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

    ''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

    The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

    ''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

    He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

    Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

    ''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

    Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

    ''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

    Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.