Tragedy Denies Augusta Trip
I started playing golf about the age of 13. I am now 69 years old and am more enamored with the game now than I ever was as a youth. During the intermediate years I continued to play on a somewhat regular basis but took a hiatus for 28 years, starting in 1973 and lasting till 2001. The reason for the hiatus was I had elected to resign my commission in September of 1973 and return to college to finish my education which I had started years ago. Going to school on the GI Bill, I did not have the time or the money to continue with my golfing career and just quit the sport all together.
In 1999 I bought a lake house on Lake Lanier which is just north of Atlanta, GA. The house is about a hundred yards from a brand new course that had been built in Dawsonville, GA that same year. Even though I almost lived on the 18th fairway I did not take up the game again as I was more into water skiing than golf. My brother in law, Jack, an avid golfer, admonished me quite often about not taking up the game again. I finally gave in when he got me up to the range and had me hit a few balls. The results were about the same as when I was playing regularly years ago. Enter, the Golf Channel. I started watching all the infomercials and was utterly amazed at the changes in equipment. They must have seen me coming. I bought just about every gimmick I saw. Some good, some bad. I will say this, I was a 18-20 handicap years ago and now have reached single digits. I am still amazed at the transition. But on with the story.
After returning to the game, I would hold a mini tournament on my brother in law's birthday which occurs the on the 5th of July. One particular year after the tournament, we were celebrating the '19th hole' at my house when his daughter, Robin, brought a new boyfriend to the event. His name was Howard. We all welcomed Howard into the fold and suggested that he needed to bring his clubs the next year to take part in the tournament. Howard accepted but only on the premise that we would play at his club. Of course we all asked Howard where his club was and he responded.... August National!! Well immediately we all became Howard's best friend. Howard could do no wrong the rest of the evening.
Howard, true to his word, confronted his father, Howard Sr., a well known surgeon in the Augusta area and a member of Augusta National, that he had committed him to inviting us for a round of golf. Soon thereafter Jack notified me that we were invited to play on February 19th, 2005.
On Friday the 18th I packed my bags and clubs and went to work. I had a hard time concentrating on my work as all I could think of was the up and coming golfing experience of my life. I was giddy to say the least. Then our receptionist said I had a phone call. It was my sister. She said our mother was not doing well and I needed to drop everything and come home (Birmingham, AL). I informed my sister that I had just left our mother on Monday and she was fine. She had serious advanced dementia but her physical health seemed fine. I also asked my sister if she knew where I was going and she said she knew I was going to Augusta to play golf but that I needed to come home. All I could think was, this can't be happening! Well I knew I had to do the right thing so I got my business associate to take my place and reminded him that he would owe me forever. I got in my car and headed west to Birmingham while my brother in law and my replacement headed east to Augusta. As it turned out I am so glad I made the right decision as my mother passed away that evening about midnight. I would have never gotten over it if I was not there. I thought life was pretty cruel at this point and if this wasn't the definition of a 'double whammy' I don't know what is. How often does someone forfeit his chance to play Augusta National and lose his mother on the same day? However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel here.
Howard, with the help of his mother, petitioned the good doctor to re invite us to play on January 20th, 2007. This time Jack and I were really on the road to play August National. We left a day early and checked into a motel to make sure we would make our tee time. I got up early the next morning and sauntered up to the lobby with a feeling of great exhilaration to have some coffee and doughnuts. My cell phone rang. The voice on the other end identified himself as the good doctor. He asked to speak to Jack but I told him Jack was in the shower but I would have him call back as soon as possible. The doctor said he had to go to Atlanta to perform some emergency surgery on Billy Payne's son and doubted if he could get back in time to make our tee time but he would be in touch. I was devastated. I thought again, HOW CAN THIS BE HAPPENING???!!!
As I have previously mentioned, my business associate had taken my place on the first invitation but what I didn't mention was he is about the biggest practical joker I have ever met in my life. He had pulled numerous practical jokes on me over the phone that I will not go into here but this one was the product of a very evil mind. He did his best impression of the good doctor on the phone when he called me on my cell phone and I failed to recognize his voice. I've only known him for 18 years but he has gotten me every time. After he finally fessed up to who was on the line, I dog cussed him for about 20 minutes after which Jack and I got in my car and took probably the slowest ride down Magnolia Lane that has ever been taken. After what I had been through to get there I thought I deserved it.
We had lunch with the good doctor at the clubhouse then went and played our round. Its hard to put into words playing Augusta National for the first time so I won't bother. All I can say is it was like being in a twilight zone that you never wanted to leave. I just thought the journey was more of a story than the actual round itself. And on a real positive note, Howard and Robin were married last weekend. Bot Jack and I are looking forward to the party that is forthcoming. Hopefully another round of golf is in the offering.
George, Dawsonville, GA
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Hensby takes full responsibility for violation
The PGA Tour’s Anti-Doping Program manual covers 48 pages of details, from the pressing to the mundane, but for Mark Hensby the key section of the policy could be found on Page 5.
“The collector may allow you to delay reporting to the testing area for unavoidable obligations; however, you will be monitored from the time of notification until completion of the sample collection process,” the policy reads. “A failure to report to the testing area by the required time is the same as a doping violation under the program.”
Hensby, a 46-year-old former Tour winner from Australia, didn’t read that section, or any other part of the manual. In fact, he said he hasn’t received the circuit’s anti-doping manual in years. Not that he uses that as an excuse.
To be clear, Hensby doesn’t blame his anti-doping plight on anyone else.
“At the end of the day it’s my responsibility. I take full responsibility,” he told GolfChannel.com.
Like Doug Barron, Scott Stallings and even Vijay Singh before him, Hensby ran afoul of the Tour’s anti-doping policy because, essentially, of a clerical error. There were no failed tests, no in-depth investigations, no seedy entourages who sent Hensby down a dark road of performance-enhancing drug use.
Just a simple misunderstanding combined with bad timing.
Hensby, who last played a full season on Tour in 2003, had just completed the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship when he was approached by a member of the Tour’s anti-doping testing staff. He was angry about his play and had just used the restroom on the 17th hole and, he admits, was in no mood to wait around to take the urine test.
“Once I said, ‘Can I take it in the morning,’ [the Tour’s anti-doping official] said, ‘We can’t hold you here,’” Hensby recalled. “I just left.”
Not one but two officials called Hensby that night to ask why he’d declined to take the test, and he said he was even advised to return to the Country Club of Jackson (Miss.) to take the test, which is curious because the policy doesn’t allow for such gaps between notification of a test and the actual testing.
According to the policy, a player is considered in violation of the program if he leaves the presence of the doping control officers without providing the required sample.
A Tour official declined to comment on the matter citing the circuit’s policy not to comment on doping violations beyond the initial disclosure.
A week later, Hensby was informed he was in violation of the Tour’s policy and although he submitted a letter to the commissioner explaining the reasons for his failure to take the test he was told he would be suspended from playing in any Tour-sanctioned events (including events on the Web.com Tour) for a year.
“I understand now what the consequences are, but you know I’ve been banned for a performance-enhancing drug violation, and I don’t take performance-enhancing drugs,” Hensby said.
Hensby isn’t challenging his suspension nor did he have any interest in criticizing the Tour’s policy, instead his message two days after the circuit announced the suspension was focused on his fellow Tour members.
“I think the players need to read that manual really, really well. There are things I wasn’t aware of and I think other players weren’t aware of either,” he said. “You have to read the manual.”
It was a similar message Stallings offered following his 90-day suspension in 2015 after he turned himself in for using DHEA, an anabolic agent that is the precursor to testosterone production and banned by the Tour.
“This whole thing was a unique situation that could have been dealt with differently, but I made a mistake and I owned up to it,” Stallings said at the time.
Barron’s 2009 suspension, which was for a year, also could have been avoided after he tested positive for supplemental testosterone and a beta-blocker, both of which were prescribed by a doctor for what were by many accounts legitimate health issues.
And Singh’s case, well that chapter is still pending in the New York Supreme Court, but the essential element of the Fijian’s violation was based on his admitted use of deer-antler spray, which contained a compound called IGF-1. Although IGF-1 is a banned substance, the World Anti-Doping Agency has ruled that the use of deer-antler spray is not a violation if an athlete doesn’t fail a drug test. Singh never failed a test.
The Tour’s anti-doping history is littered with cases that could have been avoided, cases that should have been avoided. Despite the circuit’s best educational efforts, it’s been these relatively innocent violations that have defined the program.
In retrospect, Hensby knows he should have taken the test. He said he had nothing to hide, but anger got the best of him.
“To be honest, it would have been hard, the way I was feeling that day, I know I’m a hothead at times, but I would have probably stayed [had he known the consequences],” he admitted. “You’ve got to understand that if you have too much water you can’t get a test either and then you have to stay even longer.”
Hensby said before his run in with the anti-doping small print he wasn’t sure what his professional future would be, but his suspension has given him perspective and a unique motivation.
“I was talking to my wife last night, I have a little boy, it’s been a long month,” said Hensby after dropping his son, Caden, off at school. “I think I have a little more drive now and when I come back. I wasn’t going to play anymore, but when I do come back I am going to be motivated.”
He’s also going to be informed when it comes to the Tour’s anti-doping policy, and he hopes his follow professionals take a similar interest.
Lesson with Woods fetches $210K for Harvey relief
A charity event featuring more than two dozen pro golfers raised more than $1 million for Hurricane Harvey relief, thanks in large part to a hefty price paid for a private lesson with Tiger Woods.
The pro-am fundraiser was organized by Chris Stroud, winner of the Barracuda Championship this summer, and fellow pro and Houston resident Bobby Gates. It was held at Bluejack National in Montgomery, Texas, about an hour outside Houston and the first Woods-designed course to open in the U.S.
The big-ticket item on the auction block was a private, two-person lesson with Woods at Bluejack National that sold for a whopping $210,000.
Other participants included local residents like Stacy Lewis, Patrick Reed and Steve Elkington as well as local celebrities like NBA All-Star Clyde Drexler, Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates and Houston Astros owner Jim Crane.
Stroud was vocal in his efforts to help Houston rebuild in the immediate aftermath of the storm that ravaged the city in August, and he told the Houston Chronicle that he plans to continue fundraising efforts even after eclipsing the event's $1 million goal.
"This is the best event I have ever been a part of, and this is just a start," Stroud said. "We have a long way to go for recovery to this city, and we want to keep going with this and raise as much as we can and help as many victims as we can."
LPGA schedule features 34 events, record purse
The LPGA schedule will once again feature 34 events next year with a record $68.75 million in total purses, the tour announced on Wednesday.
While three events are gone from the 2018 schedule, three new events have been added, with two of those on the West Coast and one in mainland China.
The season will again start with the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic on Paradise Island (Jan. 25-28) and end with the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla., (Nov. 15-18).
The LPGA played for $65 million in total prize money in 2017.
An expanded West Coast swing in the front half of the schedule will now include the HUGEL-JTBC Championship in the Los Angeles area April 19-22. The site will be announced at a later date.
The tour will then make a return to San Francisco’s Lake Merced Golf Club the following week, in a new event sponsored by L&P Cosmetics, a Korean skincare company. Both new West Coast tournaments will be full-field events.
The tour’s third new event will be played in Shanghai Oct. 18-21 as part of the fall Asian swing. The title sponsor and golf course will be announced at a later date.
“Perhaps the most important aspect of our schedule is the consistency — continuing to deliver strong playing opportunities both in North America and around the world, while growing overall purse levels every year,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement. “There is simply no better [women’s] tour opportunity in the world, when it comes to purses, global TV coverage or strength of field. It’s an exciting time in women’s golf, with the best players from every corner of the globe competing against each other in virtually every event.”
While the Evian Championship will again be played in September next year, the tour confirmed its plans to move its fifth major to the summer in 2019, to be part of a European swing, with the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
The Manulife LPGA Classic and the Lorena Ochoa Invitational are not returning to the schedule next year. Also, the McKayson New Zealand Women’s Open will not be played next year as it prepares to move to the front of the 2019 schedule, to be paired with the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.
The U.S. Women’s Open will make its new place earlier in the summer, a permanent move in the tour’s scheduling. It will be played May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek Golf Club outside Birmingham, Ala. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (June 28-July 1) will be played at Kemper Lakes Golf Club on the north side of Chicago and the Ricoh Women’s British Open (Aug. 2-5) will be played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England.
For the first time since its inception in 2014, the UL International Crown team event is going overseas, with the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea, scheduled to host the event Oct. 4-7. The KEB Hana Bank Championship will be played in South Korean the following week.
Here is the LPGA's schedule for 2018:
Jan. 25-28: Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic; Paradise Island, Bahamas; Purse: $1.4 million
Feb. 15-18: ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open; Adelaide, Australia; Purse: $1.3 million
Feb. 21-24: Honda LPGA Thailand; Chonburi, Thailand; Purse: $1.6 million
March 1-4: HSBC Women's World Championship; Singapore; Purse: $1.5 million
March 15-18: Bank of Hope Founders Cup; Phoenix, Arizona; Purse: $1.5 million
March 22-25: Kia Classic; Carlsbad, California; Purse: $1.8 million
March 29 - April 1: ANA Inspiration; Rancho Mirage, California; Purse: $2.8 million
April 11-14: LOTTE Championship; Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii; Purse: $2 million
April 19-22: HUGEL-JTBC Championship; Greater Los Angeles, California; Purse: $1.5 million
April 26-29: Name to be Announced; San Francisco, California; Purse: $1.5 million
May 3-6: Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic; The Colony, Texas; Purse: $1.3 million
May 17-20: Kingsmill Championship; Williamsburg, Virginia; Purse: $1.3 million
May 24-27: LPGA Volvik Championship; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Purse: $1.3 million
May 31 - June 3: U.S. Women's Open Championship; Shoal Creek, Alabama; Purse: $5 million
June 8-10: ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer; Galloway, New Jersey; Purse: $1.75 million
June 14-17: Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Purse: $2 million
June 22-24: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G; Rogers, Arkansas; Purse: $2 million
June 28 - July 1: KPMG Women's PGA Championship; Kildeer, Illinois; Purse: $3.65 million
July 5-8: Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic; Oneida, Wisconsin; Purse: $2 million
July 12-15: Marathon Classic presented by Owens-Corning and O-I; Sylvania, Ohio; Purse: $1.6 million
July 26-29: Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open; East Lothian, Scotland; Purse: $1.5 million
Aug. 2-5: Ricoh Women's British Open; Lancashire, England; Purse: $3.25 million
Aug. 16-19: Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim; Indianapolis, Indiana; Purse: $2 million
Aug. 23-26: CP Women's Open; Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; Purse: $2.25 million
Aug. 30 - Sept. 2: Cambia Portland Classic; Portland, Oregon; Purse: $1.3 million
Sept. 13-16: The Evian Championship; Evian-les-Bains, France; Purse: $3.85 million
Sept. 27-30: Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Purse: $1.8 million
Oct. 4-7: UL International Crown; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $1.6 million
Oct. 11-14: LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $2 million
Oct. 18-21: Name to be Announced; Shanghai, China; Purse: $2.1 million
Oct. 25-28: Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship; New Taipei City, Chinese Taipei; Purse: $2.2 million
Nov. 2-4: TOTO Japan Classic; Shiga, Japan; Purse: $1.5 million
Nov. 7-10: Blue Bay LPGA; Hainan Island, China; Purse: $2.1 million
Nov. 15-18: CME Group Tour Championship; Naples, Florida; Purse: $2.5 million
Newsmaker of the Year: No. 4, Jordan Spieth
Dismissed because he’s supposedly too short off the tee, or not accurate enough with his irons, or just a streaky putter, Jordan Spieth is almost never the answer to the question of which top player, when he’s at his best, would win in a head-to-head match.
And yet here he is, at the age of 24, with 11 career wins and three majors, on a pace that compares favorably with the giants of the game. He might not possess the firepower of Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, but since he burst onto the PGA Tour in 2013 he has all that matters – a better résumé.
Spieth took the next step in his development this year by becoming the Tour’s best iron player – and its most mentally tough.
Just a great putter? Oh, puhleeze: He won three times despite putting statistics (42nd) that were his worst since his rookie year. Instead, he led the Tour in strokes gained-approach the green and this summer showed the discipline, golf IQ and bounce-back ability that makes him such a unique talent.
Even with his putter misbehaving, Spieth closed out the Travelers Championship by holing a bunker shot in the playoff, then, in perhaps an even bigger surprise, perfectly executed the player-caddie celebration, chest-bumping caddie Michael Greller. A few weeks later, sublime iron play carried him into the lead at Royal Birkdale, his first in a major since his epic collapse at the 2016 Masters.
Once again his trusty putter betrayed him, and by the time he arrived on the 13th tee, he was tied with Matt Kuchar. What happened next was the stuff of legend – a lengthy ruling, gutsy up-and-down, stuffed tee shot and go-get-that putt – that lifted Spieth to his third major title.
Though he couldn’t complete the career Grand Slam at the PGA, he’ll likely have, oh, another two decades to join golf’s most exclusive club.
In the barroom debate of best vs. best, you can take the guys with the flair, with the booming tee shots and the sky-high irons. Spieth will just take the trophies.
Masters Tournament: Return to the 12th; faltering on Sunday (T-11)
U.S. Open: 1 over usually good ... not at Erin Hills (T-35)
The Open: Unforgettable finish leads to major win No. 3 (1st)
PGA Championship: Career Grand Slam bid comes up well short (T-28)
TWO REGULAR TOUR WINS
AT&T Pebble Beach
FUN OUTSIDE OF TOUR LIFE