From analyst to alternate, Flesch's crazy PGA day

By Jason SobelAugust 7, 2014, 8:19 pm

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Standing on the Valhalla driving range Thursday afternoon, Steve Flesch alternately laughed at the price sticker still attached to the driver in his hands (SALE: $300), the white towel he used to wipe his face turning an ugly shade of orange from makeup residue, and the entire situation that had gotten him into this predicament in the first place.

Flesch had started the week in 93rd place on the official alternate list for the 96th PGA Championship – not that he had any clue. Fresh off a T-21 finish at last week’s Barracuda Championship – his best result in just four starts this season – playing golf was far from his mind. Instead, his job here was to serve as an analyst for Golf Channel’s “Live From” coverage.

He’d just finished on the set when PGA of America official Kerry Haigh came looking for him.

Because of back spasms just before his tee time, Matt Kuchar was a late withdrawal from the field. The highest alternate on the list, John Huh, swept in to take his spot.

What followed was equal parts unpredictable and inconceivable.

Robert Garrigus was the next alternate on the list, but he wasn’t on site at the course. Then Justin Hicks, but he wasn’t, either. Haigh checked, but nobody else was at Valhalla who could take a spot in the field should there be another withdrawal.

Until he got all the way down to No. 93.

It wasn’t an easy decision for Flesch. Just minutes removed from talking about the tournament on television, with remnants of makeup still caked to his face and – most importantly – his clubs at home an hour away, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to put himself in that position.

“The last thing I wanted to do was go out there with a rental set, drive it in the rough all day and shoot 85,” explained the Kentucky native. “But then I’m thinking, you never know. You go out there and scramble around, shoot even par, catch lightning in a bottle and then you can use your own stuff the rest of the week.”

Steve Flesch

Steve Flesch is notified by PGA officials that he's first alternate

It’s happened before. Back in 1991, John Daly was ninth alternate before getting into the field and winning this very tournament at Crooked Stick.

So Flesch said yes – and the mad scramble was on.

He set out for the locker room, hoping he could borrow a pair of size-9 shoes and maybe a few sleeves of balls from another competitor. He also called Chris Hamburger, the head professional at Valhalla, who put golf assistant Kevin Drenth in charge of finding lefthanded clubs for the pro.

Drenth did what anyone charged with such a task would do: He drove three miles to the nearest Golf Headquarters store.

“I walked in there and said, ‘I need all the lefty stuff you’ve got and we’ll go from there,’” he later recalled with a laugh.

When he returned, Flesch picked one of the two sets of store-bought irons, but left them covered in plastic so they could be returned. He rolled some putts with a standard-length Scotty Cameron wand, needing “about 40” tries before holing one on the practice green. Then he went to the range, hitting some wedges and that driver with the price sticker attached.

All the while, he was laughing about the improbable turn of events which led to this scenario.

“If the opportunity arose, I’d be crazy to not at least give it a shot,” he said. “I’m the only guy here who can play. It’s better to at least go out there and give it a shot rather than the field play one man short. If you’re here and eligible and someone says you have a shot at a $10 million purse, why not go play?”

The last tee time of the opening round was 2:45 p.m. ET. About 30 minutes beforehand, Flesch headed to the 10th tee, where three more groups were scheduled to tee off. (He picked it over the first tee because it was closer to the parking lot.)

Alas, there were no last-minute back spasms. No players late in the day who decided to withdraw, leaving the last spot in the field to the 93rd alternate.

When the final tee shots of the day were struck, Flesch simply stood nearby and watched helplessly.

As one of those last competitors bashed a drive down the fairway, he smiled and whispered, “This is the very last thing I ever thought I’d be doing today. I mean, never even considered this. Never.”

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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).

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.