Top breakthrough performance in 2011

By Randall MellDecember 20, 2011, 3:00 pm

The 2011 season was full of parity, playoffs and first-time winners. Rory McIlroy lapped the field at the U.S. Open at Congressional and Charl Schwartzel birdied his way into major championship history like no one before him. But who gave us the top breakthrough performance of the year? GolfChannel.com senior writers Jason Sobel, Randall Mell and Rex Hoggard offer up their picks.

By JASON SOBEL

If we search across all major tours for the breakthrough performer of 2011, there’s one player who stands above all others. I’m going with Ted Potter Jr.

Don’t know the story? You should.

Six years ago, the lefty reached the Nationwide Tour as a 20-year-old. A phenom in the junior ranks in his home state of Florida, Potter struggled mightily in his first full season on a PGA Tour-sanctioned circuit. How mightily? He played 24 events that year … and made the cut in exactly zero.

In the time since, Potter has bounced back and forth between the NGA Hooters and Nationwide tours, which is golf’s version of jumping between Double-A and Triple-A. In 2006 and ’09, he was player of the year on the Hooters circuit; in 2007 and ’10, he had more unsuccessful ventures on the Nationwide.

That all changed this year. After tearing up the Hooters Tour early on, he Monday-qualified for the Nationwide’s South Georgia Classic and won by three, then followed with a victory at the Soboda Golf Classic four months later.

The end result was a second-place finish on the money list, easily ensuring his place on the PGA Tour for the first time in 2012. It remains to be seen whether he breaks through in the big leagues in a big way, but his elevation in status this past season should qualify as the best on any tour.


By RANDALL MELL

As breakthroughs go, Lexi Thompson set a new standard in the women’s game.

When you win an LPGA event at 16, making yourself the youngest player in the 62-year history of the tour to win, it’s more smash-through than breakthrough.

Winning the Navistar LPGA Classic in September, Thompson also set up a remarkable break-in. With the title, she sought and received a waiver of the LPGA rule that requires members be at least 18 years old. This allowed her to claim an exemption to join the tour. She’ll break in as a full tour member next year beginning at the LPGA’s season-opening ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open Feb. 9-12 at Royal Melbourne.

When Thompson won the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters last weekend, the season-ending event on the Ladies European Tour, she heightened anticipation for her rookie year. She did so overpowering the competition at Emirates Golf Club, launching big drives that gave her a big advantage over older and more experienced foes. Thompson hit a remarkable 67 of 72 greens in regulation. When she won at Navistar, she averaged 277 yards per drive, longer than Yani Tseng that week. And Tseng led the LPGA in driving distance.

All of that makes Thompson the breakthrough player of the year. Or, better yet, the smash-through player of the year.


By REX HOGGARD

Through two turns on the PGA Tour Webb Simpson had put together a respectable, if undistinguished, resume – 68 starts, six top 10s, back-to-back seasons inside the top 125 in earnings.

He was the kind of guy you may take for your fantasy team with a knowing wink, but anyone outside of Simpson’s immediate family who tabbed the third-year Tour player for stardom in 2011 was either clairvoyant or completely delusional.

No? Consider that late into the fall of 2010 Simpson was 229th in the World Golf Ranking, he was 45th on the U.S. Presidents Cup points list and he wasn’t even qualified to play in any of the four major championships when the year began.

From those humble beginnings Simpson came within $336,000 of the Tour money title – to put that number in context it was the difference between a tie for sixth at Disney, where he finished, and a runner-up showing, or two strokes – and within 15 points of Bill Haas following the FedEx Cup champion’s Houdini-like heroics at East Lake.

Simpson closed the season with a 3-2-0 outing in his rookie Presidents Cup and was likely second in Player of the Year voting to Luke Donald, although the Tour doesn’t release vote totals.

It was a breakout performance by any measure.

Ryu, S.H. Park among winners at Rolex awards

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 5:51 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – The Rolex Player of the Year and Vare Trophy winners won’t be determined until Sunday’s finish of the CME Group Tour Championship, but seven other awards were presented Thursday during the LPGA’s Rolex Awards dinner at the Ritz Carlton Golf Resort.

The awards and winners:

William and Mousie Powell Award – Katherine Kirk won an award given to the player “whose behavior and deeds best exemplify the spirit, ideals and values of the LPGA.” Kirk won the Thornberry Classic this year, her third LPGA title. “Some people ask me if I feel obligated to give back to the game,” Kirk said. “I think it’s a privilege.”

Heather Farr Perseverance Award – Tiffany Joh, who had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma earlier this year, thanked the Farr family and all those who supported Joh through her diagnosis and recovery.

“I found a great quote from Ram Dass, `We are all just walking each other home,’” Joh said. “I’ve really come to understand the value of all my relationships, no matter how fleeting or profound they seem.”

The Commissioner’s Award – Roberta Bowman, outgoing chair of the LPGA Board of Directors, was honored for her service the last six years. LPGA commissioner Mike Whan called her “my friend, my boss and my hero.” Bowman deflected the praise for her back on to the tour, thanking Whan, LPGA staff, players, sponsors, fans and the media.

“The world needs more role models for little girls,” Bowman said. “And they don’t need to look much farther than the LPGA.”

Ellen Griffin Rolex Award and Nancy Lopez Golf Achievement Award – Sandy LaBauve, who founded the LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf program, was honored as the first person to win both these awards.

The Griffin Award honors golf teachers and the Lopez Award honors an LPGA professional who emulates the values Lopez demonstrated. LaBauve is the daughter of Jack and Sherry Lumpkin, both teachers of the game.

“This program doesn’t belong to me,” LaBauve said of LPGA-Girls’ Golf. “I merely planted the seed. The fruit belongs to all of us.”

Rolex Annika Major Award – So Yeon Ryu won the award, named for Annika Sorenstam, for the best overall performance in women’s major championships this year. She won the ANA Inspiration and tied for third at the U.S. Women’s Open.

“It’s such an honor to win an award named after Annika Sorenstam,” Ryu told Sorenstam during the presentation. “It’s a special award for me.”

Rolex Rookie of the Year Award – Sung Hyun Park won the honor, telling the audience in a message translated from Korean that she was disappointed failing to win the KLPGA’s Rookie of the Year Award and was grateful for a dream come true getting the chance to win it on the LPGA.

Def. champ Fitzpatrick grabs lead at Euro finale

By Associated Press, Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 1:50 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a second straight 5-under-par 67 to secure a one-stroke lead halfway through the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship on Friday.

At 10 under after two rounds on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estate, Fitzpatrick leads English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton, whom he beat by one shot to win the title last year.

Hatton moved into contention with a brilliant 9-under 63, a round soured only by a closing bogey on the par-5 18th hole.

In the Race to Dubai, main protagonists Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose experienced contrasting emotions to their opening rounds. Fleetwood boosted his chances by rising into a tie for 11th at 6 under after a 65. Rose endured a three-putt bogey on the 18th to finish with a 70, and dropped on the leaderboard so he's just two shots ahead of Fleetwood.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit, stayed in contention by adding a 69 to his opening 70 to be one shot behind Fleetwood.


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Full-field scores from the DP World Tour Championship


Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

Fitzpatrick made two bogeys but eagled the 14th, and five birdies contributed to his 67.

Overnight leader Patrick Reed is now three back following an even-par 72. Reed is in the field thanks to a European Tour regulation that allows the Presidents Cup to count as an official event, thus allowing him to meet his quota of tournaments played.

Fitzpatrick was helped immensely also by the 18th, where Hatton, Rose, and Reed all made bogeys. Fitzpatrick birdied the hole for a second straight day with a 25-foot putt.

''I said to my caddie, we were putting really, really well all week so far,'' Fitzpatrick said.

''The thing is, you get so many fast putts around here, even uphill into the green, they are still running at 12, 13 (on the stimpmeter) even. You've just got to be really sort of careful. Every putt is effectively a two-putt. You've got to control your pace well and limit your mistakes, because it's easy to three-putt out here.''

Rose, hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey, was disappointed with his finish despite playing solid golf from tee to green.

''To make six (on 18) just ends the day on the wrong note, but other than that, I played really well on the back nine,'' Rose said.

''I was aware of the scores and who had done what today. But listen, halfway stage, I'd probably have signed up for that if somebody said on Wednesday you would be in this position after two rounds. It's a position you can build on the weekend.''

Fleetwood resurrected his chances of winning the Order of Merit with a 65, eight shots better than his opening round. His only bogey of the day came on the seventh after an errant drive, but that was the only mistake on a solid day that saw him make eight birdies.

Fleetwood spent hours on the putting green after his first round.

''I needed a low one today for (a tournament win and the Order of Merit),'' he said. ''Luckily, I got a good score.''

Closing eagle gives Kirk 1-shot lead in RSM

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 12:16 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Chris Kirk holed an 18-foot putt for eagle on his final hole for a 9-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the RSM Classic.

Kirk played the par 5s on the Plantation Course at Sea Island Golf Club in 5 under.

''I kind of hit my putter on the fringe a little bit and I wasn't sure it was going to get there, but that was just kind of the day that it was,'' Kirk said. ''Even when I thought it wasn't quite going to work out, it still went in the middle of the hole.''

The seven lowest scores of the opening round came on the Plantation Course during a picturesque afternoon on the Golden Isles. Sporting a University of Georgia hat Thursday, Kirk won at Sea Island four years ago for the second of his four PGA Tour victories.

''It's a big Georgia territory out here on St. Simons,'' Kirk said. ''Hopefully, my hat will bring me some luck the rest of the week.''

The tournament is the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, and Kirk is sorting out equipment changes.

''I'm still trying to get it all worked out and figure out what I want to do going forward,'' Kirk said. ''But keep shooting 9 under, so I won't have to worry about it too much.'

Joel Dahmen had a 64.


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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


''I think it played a little easier today,'' Dahmen said. ''The wind was down, greens were a little softer over here on the Plantation side. But just kept the ball in front of me and made a bunch of 8- to 10-footers.

''I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

Sea Island resident Hudson Swafford was at 65 at the Plantation along with Jason Kokrak and Brian Gay.

''I feel like I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

He played alongside fellow former Georgia players Bubba Watson and Brian Harman.

''We are right in the heart of Dawgs' territory, mine and Harman's backyard, so it's kind of nice,'' Swafford said.

Though, his caddie wore an Auburn shirt.

''We don't need to talk about that,'' said Swafford, not needing to be reminded that Auburn beat Georgia in football last week.

Nick Watney and Brice Garnett each had a 5-under 65 on the Seaside Course, which will be used for the final two rounds.

Brandt Snedeker opened with a 67 in his first return from a sternum injury that sidelined him since the Travelers in June.

Harman shot 69, and Watson had a 71.

Co-leader Smith credits Foley's influence

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:33 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sarah Jane Smith is making the most of the devoted efforts of Sean Foley this week.

Foley’s prize pupil, Justin Rose, is in the hunt at the World Tour Championship in the United Arab Emirates, looking to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, but Foley isn’t there with him.

Foley promised to help Smith this week, and he’s living up to the pledge, making the trip to Naples.

“At 33, Sarah is in her prime,” Foley told GolfChannel.com. “She is going to hold a trophy at some point. She is too skilled not to win.”

Foley's extra attention is paying off for Smith.


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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


With a 6-under-par 66, Smith moved into early contention to make her first LPGA title memorable at the CME Group Tour Championship. She’s tied for the first-round lead with Taiwan rookie Peiyun Chien.

“I just seem to play my best with him,” Smith said.

Foley, the former coach to Tiger Woods, was No. 10 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 teacher rankings released this fall.

Foley sees a lot coming together in Smith’s game. She is a 12-year veteran building some momentum. She tied for third at the Women’s Australian Open earlier this year and is coming off three consecutive top-15 finishes in Asia. She is sixth on tour in birdies this season. 

“As a coach, you try to get a player to see something in themselves that is already there,” Foley said.

Rose, by the way, opened with a 6-under-par 66 in Dubai and is one shot off the lead.