Curran, Renner connected by lost fathers

By Jason SobelSeptember 13, 2012, 3:33 pm

The morning of May 12, 2011, was one of those biting, misting, bone-chilling Massachusetts spring mornings, the kind that makes you want to continuously hit the snooze button and stay wrapped up under the covers watching insipid daytime television shows.

Jon Curran and Jim Renner had other plans. Each pro owned an early tee time at Pinehills Golf Club for U.S. Open local qualifying and, as usual at local events, each was accompanied by his father. This was less tradition and more just a way of life. Peter Curran wearing his ubiquitous blue pullover, wielding a mighty cigar and using an umbrella as a walking stick. John “Buck” Renner large in stature and gregarious in nature, trailed by a few of his golfing buddies.

They ran into each other in the clubhouse that morning, both father-son tandems exchanging pleasantries like so many times before. Despite their age difference – Jim is three years older than Jon – they cut their teeth competing together in junior and amateur tournaments, later expanding that relationship to the professional ranks. Never best friends, they always enjoyed one another’s company and the mutual respect extended to their families, as well.

There aren’t many people in Massachusetts golf circles who don’t know the Currans and the Renners, but even a stranger could have witnessed the scene that morning and understood the shared admiration.

“I can’t remember if we sat down together,” Jim Renner recalls, “but we all shook hands and said 'hello'. I would see Jon and his dad all the time. My dad knew his dad. They were just two guys who were part of their sons doing what they loved. Two very similar guys, proud of what their sons were doing.”

The exchange was friendly, yet unremarkable in every way. Except one. It would be the last time the two sets of fathers and sons were ever together.

Peter Curran was never a great golfer. He didn’t take up the game until he was 25 and usually carried about a 12 or 13 index at his beloved Framingham Country Club; at his best, he may have gotten down to a 10.

When he got older, and as his son Jon started growing into an exceptional player, Peter stopped. He didn’t stop getting better. He stopped playing. Instead, he took greater pleasure watching Jon blossom into the No. 3-ranked junior player as a teenager.

Before Jon could drive, Peter would chauffeur him to tournaments. Up and down Route 95 and 495 and the Mass Pike. Peter referred to the latter as “The Pickle,” just one of his many famous sayings around the Curran household. Here’s another: “If you’re facing the right direction, all you’ve got to do is keep walking.” Or in their case most of the time, keep driving.

By the time Jon was old enough to drive, their partnership had already settled into a comfortable routine. But don’t mistake Peter’s presence for the contemptuousness of a domineering parent. Most of the time, he wouldn’t even watch, preferring to stay in the clubhouse and out of the way while Jon was on the course.

“He was never an overbearing parent,” Jon says. “He was into me figuring it out for myself, evaluating myself. He was a big analyst. He’d analyze why something happened and how I could fix it, but he wouldn’t harp on anything too much. He was basically a sounding board. If I said I three-putted, he wouldn’t grimace or anything. He was very positive and would just give me constructive criticism.”

Not that Jon needed much criticism. After starring on a Hopkinton High School team that also included his good friend Keegan Bradley, he received a full scholarship to Vanderbilt, where he earned All-America honors. He graduated, then turned professional and moved to Jupiter, Fla., along with Bradley and some other aspiring pros. He started playing mini-tour golf. Everything was going according to plan on the road toward success.

Until that one day in January, 2010. Jon received a phone call informing him that his father – his best friend and staunchest supporter – had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Typical of Peter, he implored his son to continue chasing his dream and not worry about anything. And so he did – or at least he tried. Jon played in the U.S. Open that year, while Peter underwent chemotherapy treatments back in Massachusetts.

It continued like that for most of two years, father and son remaining in constant communication, each one fretting over the other from afar.

“It didn’t really hit me until Christmas of 2011,” Jon explains. “I go home probably three or four times a year. On Thanksgiving, he was slowing down, then I came home for Christmas and he couldn’t do much. That was the first time it really hit me. It was tough to take. I was kind of panicked.”

Jon was home two months later on Feb. 15 of this year. Two days before his birthday, his father succumbed to cancer.

He was hit predictably hard by Peter’s death. Less anticipated was the impact it had around the golf world. Bradley, who is now housemates with Jon, rallied his PGA Tour cohorts to wear the initials “PC” on their hats at that week’s Northern Trust Open, saying at the time, “I kind of feel like I've got some good luck on my side. I know they're all watching.”

While Jon and his family mourned at Peter’s wake, Bradley made a clutch putt on the final hole of regulation before falling in a playoff at Riviera Country Club.

Jon’s game hasn’t been quite so prosperous. Without his biggest fan checking in during tournaments, it’s only been in recent months that he’s enjoyed improving results on the NGA and eGolf tours.

“It was the first time I’d really been shook up by anything – and I was shook hard,” Curran says. “But it’s a piece of adversity I needed in order to move on. You’ve got to pick yourself up and keep going. You’ve just got to keep going. I mean, what the hell else are you going to do?”

Buck Renner never knew a stranger. At 6-foot-4 and hard to miss, it seemed like everyone knew Buck – and Buck knew everyone. A truck driver by trade, he made friends wherever he went, but nowhere was that more evident than on the golf course.

Buck practically lived on the course when he wasn’t making deliveries. A scratch handicap, he won the Attleboro Area Golf Association Open in 1983 and was inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame just over a decade later. It wasn’t his own playing career that got him excited about the game, though. That came from watching his son’s game develop over the years.

Jim started playing when he was 12 years old. By the time he was 15, he was winning influential local junior events – and more importantly, he was regularly beating his father.

“The most fun he ever had on a golf course was when I was 17 and had a chance to be youngest person to win the Mass Am,” Jim says of the prestigious tournament that dates back to 1903. “He caddied for me. We were up in Western Mass, scrambling around, trying to get a hotel. That was a lot of fun.”

Growing up in Plainville, just across the Rhode Island border, Jim was constantly surrounded by an amiable mass of friends and relatives. He worked his summers at Foxboro Stadium, attending concerts and football games for free, but always knew his career path would lead him toward golf. Good thing he had someone to navigate him down that road.

When he wasn’t working, Buck would always drive his son to tournaments. Even once Jim was old enough, he didn’t trust his driving skills, so the two of them would pile into his old red pickup truck and hit the road. Buck drove when Jim won the Attleboro Area Golf Association Open, making them the first father-son duo to claim the title. He drove when they won the Massachusetts Father & Son Championship, calling his buddies afterward as they drove down Route 3 in Plymouth, announcing with a laugh, “We broomed ‘em out there!”

Eventually, Jim took his game outside of the state. He attended Oklahoma University, then transferred to Johnson and Wales, where he became the NAIA individual champion. After some success on the mini-tour circuit, his big break came late in 2010 when he earned a PGA Tour card through Q-School.

As far as rookie campaigns go, it was hardly a failure. Jim claimed a pair of top-five results and finished 153rd on the final money list – just missing conditional status for the 2012 season. All the while, Buck was watching, either from back home in Massachusetts or at the course. There was the one time in Hartford when Jim grabbed the opening-round lead. That night they went to dinner and he found himself sitting next to someone he didn’t know. When he asked his father about the mysterious man, he said he’d met him in the hotel that morning and had convinced him to follow Jim on the course that day. Remember, Buck never knew a stranger.

This year Jim is playing the developmental Tour. He was preparing for a tournament on Tuesday, Aug. 7, when he received a phone call. While making a delivery, his father had suffered heart failure. He passed away that day.

“It was almost like an out of body experience,” Jim explains. “You really don’t know what you’re doing. Just going through the motions.”

Buck left an impression on everyone he met, the impact made immediately visible. At the wake, one out-of-town attendee asked a local the population of Plainville. “Just count all the people on this line,” he was told, “and you’ll have your answer.”

Two weeks after his father’s death, Jim was back playing the tour. Not because he was ready, but because, well, what else was he going to do? The mourning was compounded by the fact that Buck had planned to travel with him to Knoxville, Tenn., that week and watch him compete.

“I’m out there looking around. Where would he be standing? What would he be doing? Sometimes I laughed to myself, sometimes I felt really bad,” Jim says. “It’s just like anything, you’re constantly reliving it. I feel like he’s on my side, so I’ve just got to go out there and give it my best. Hopefully make him proud.”

The stories of Jim Renner and Jon Curran are congruous in many ways. Two kids from Massachusetts chasing their dreams. Two sons left pursuing those goals without their fathers. Without their best friends and biggest fans.

“Jon’s in the same boat as I am,” Jim says. “We’re on the road doing what our fathers wanted us to do.”

As for that brisk May morning last year, they both advanced to sectional qualifying, Jon earning medalist honors with a 73 and Jim one shot further back.

Their fathers may have seen each other again in the clubhouse as the scores were being posted. They may have shaken hands with a little extra gleam in their eyes and offered congratulations.

It was just another day in the life of two men who lived for their sons’ success.

Just another proud day being a father.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)