Faces of American Golf

By Jason SobelJune 4, 2011, 11:21 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – For years, the literal face of American golf has looked wholly familiar. Think the steely-eyed glare of Tiger Woods combined with the Cheshire cat grin of Phil Mickelson. All others needed not apply when two of the world’s most popular athletes were at the height of their supremacy.

Like all faces, though, this one has matured with age. And while those hints of Tiger and Phil still remain, they are now blended with the features of lesser known yet hardly unqualified countrymen.

The cool stoicism of Steve Stricker. The rugged determination of Jonathan Byrd. The omnipresent toothy mien of Matt Kuchar. The unassuming persistence of Mark Wilson.

Those four players make up a large part of the Memorial Tournament leaderboard through three rounds. While other flashier players such as Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler are often viewed as this nation’s new collective face of the game, these contenders form a quartet of reserved resolve while ascending the list of elite U.S. talents.

There’s Stricker, who leads by three entering the final round at Muirfield Village. Once so far removed from solid play that he lost his playing privileges, he is seeking his sixth victory since the beginning of 2009.

There’s Byrd, who will join the leader in Sunday’s final pairing. Already with a title at Kapalua and runner-up result at Quail Hollow under his belt, he is enjoying more of a career invigoration than resurgence.

There’s Kuchar, who is four shots off the lead in search of yet another lofty finish. Simply put, he has been the world’s most consistent golfer over the past 24 months, less dominant than just undeviating.

There’s Wilson, who is five back and seeking what would be a PGA Tour-leading third victory this season. Despite winning just twice in his first 216 career appearances, he already owns two titles in 14 starts this year, joining Watson as the only players with more than one.

They aren’t so much the Fearsome Foursome as they are the Fearless Foursome.

“I tell people I think Tiger has kind of given us a window,” Byrd said. “He's giving us some time to get some tournament experience and win some tournaments and it's just exciting to see so many guys having a chance to win each week and so many different guys winning.

“There's a lot of talented guys out here right now, guys playing with a lot of confidence. … I think that's kind of spurred me on some, watching those guys. It's just nice to see. I do think American golf right now has a lot of faces, and for a while it was just one face.”

Entering the final round, U.S.-born players constitute the top-four on the Memorial leaderboard, six of the top-seven, 10 of the top-13 and 17 of the top-22. It would be careless to base the revitalization of American golf on a single tournament, of course, especially considering international players hold each of the four major championship titles, The Players Championship and a little thing called the Ryder Cup, as well.

Then there’s the fact that this event favors the native sons for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that stars such as Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Paul Casey aren’t even in the field.

If we’re learning anything from this week, it’s not that Americans are once again ready to make a collective ascendancy up the world ranking, but that the talent pool is deeper and those advancing from the shallow end aren’t necessarily the players we’ve long expected to make such a journey.

If you’re having a difficult time believing the allure of the superstars has been devalued, don’t worry, you’re not alone in such thinking. The guy leading this tournament still thinks so, too.

“I think it's always going to be Tiger and Phil,” Stricker said. 'They're the drawing power.  They're the guys, the face, I think, of American golf. Not to say that we can't jump in there and grab some of that, too. But those guys, they're big-time. They draw. They draw a lot of people.

“You know, we just kind of live in their little world. I've said that before. Like I say, it's nice to jump up in there and win a tournament here and there and hopefully have another good round tomorrow and do it.”

If he does – or any of his humble brethren, for that matter – don’t expect him to instantly transform the face of American golf. It is, however, slowly transcending to include more players and perhaps not those who were thought to be there.

It’s all part of the new world order, or at least the new American order, in which the quality of a chosen few has been usurped by the overall quantity of many more who are showing their faces.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.