Mini-tour players unite to help tornado victims

By Jason SobelMay 30, 2013, 2:46 pm

This is a story about tragedy and the human spirit. No, that’s far too simple. This is a story about tragedy and the human spirit and helping people – people you’ve never even met – in a time of adversity, and doing the courageous thing, the right thing and the honorable thing, and how the game of golf was able to tie it all together.

An entire nation watched last week as one of the worst tornados in recorded history ripped through Moore, Okla., leaving a tight-knit community completely ravaged and the rest of us feeling completely helpless. It would be shortsighted – read that, wrong – to myopically claim that professional golfers were at the forefront of this relief effort for the sake of this story, but like so many others who wanted to contribute somehow, anyhow, they were certainly part of the effort. And not just the professional golfers whose names you already know.

It wasn’t long after the devastation was measured that Mike Dunphy, the player development manager for Cleveland/Srixon, knew some grassroots fundraising could be done at the game’s grassroots level. He texted Paul Apyan, an NGA Pro Golf Tour member and the purveyor of the popular Mini Tour Problems handle on Twitter. “You have an account that can reach a lot of people,” Dunphy told him. “You can do something about this.”

Apyan, 26, from Chattanooga, Tenn., already knew about the disaster. His friend and fellow mini-tour regular Jason Meece had forwarded a video taken by yet another player, Mack Hamilton, showing the tornado ripping through Moore. As Oklahoma natives, both Meece and Hamilton understood the destruction being done in their home state.

It wasn’t long until “5 Percent Moore” was born. The objective behind the idea was exactly what it says in the title. Apyan asked his fellow mini-tour players to donate five percent of their tournament earnings last week to the relief efforts. Just five percent to help out a community struggling to find what was left of their homes through the rubble.

This is the part of the story where the difference needs to be explained between PGA Tour players traversing the country in private jets and mini-tour players living week-to-week on limited funds. “Just to tee it up, to have that opportunity, it’s $900-950,” Apyan explained. “And you’ve got to get there – that’s another $100 in gas. If you don’t have host housing, then you’ll have to go on Priceline trying to outbid guys you’re playing against for a two-star hotel room. Then you’re going to have to feed yourself, maybe $10 per meal, but sometimes you have to think about even doing that.”

Let’s not belittle the contributions of Rickie Fowler, the Oklahoma State product who matched the first $100,000 donated by fans. Or Hunter Mahan, another Cowboy who gave money to the Red Cross. Or Stuart Appleby, who tweeted that since he wasn’t even supposed to play in the Crowne Plaza Invitational last week, he’d give the $16,864 that he received for a share of 48th place. Or the so many other elite players who donated either without much publicity or anonymously.

But quite frankly, those players donating earnings and mini-tour players donating earnings are two entirely different scenarios.

Even so, Apyan was immediately barraged by mini-tour regulars wanting to help. He received text messages. He received tweets. He placed a sign-up sheet at last week’s Knoxville, Tenn., event and 28 players penciled in their names. And those are just the ones he knows about. Apyan keeps hearing from more players on other tours asking how they can join.

In many instances, it’s not a lot of money. A tie for 48th place earned a grand total of $903 for Apyan last week. Do the math and that’s $45.15 – but it’s better than nothing.

“One tank of gas is not make or break for me, but it could really do something for someone,” he said. “It can get people food or water, maybe help a kid in the area. I don’t know. All you can do is try to help out.”

Conrad Shindler hadn’t heard about “5 Percent Moore.” But like so many of his fellow mini-tour golfers – and like so many of his fellow Americans – he felt compelled to contribute to the relief effort. So prior to competing in last week’s Gateway Buick GMC Classic on the Adams Golf Pro Tour Series, the 24-year-old Texas A&M grad pledged to donate his entire paycheck to the Moore school system.

“There was a little extra motivation,” he said. “It was like, let’s try to dig down deep and get up and down or let’s go birdie this hole, because that’s more money I can raise.”

Shindler indeed dug deep and made plenty of birdies, posting scores of 65-69-66-66 to win his first professional title by four strokes. And yes, the entire $15,000 paycheck went right to Oklahoma.

“I just realize where I come from and the opportunities I have,” he continued. “I’m just blessed and fortunate to step on the course every day for my job. I don’t have to sit behind a desk. I get to play a game. There are going to be many more opportunities down the road to make more money. Even though it was a winning check, that’s not going to be the difference maker later on. It’s obviously a big boost of confidence to win at this level, but me receiving this check is not going to be anything that defines future success.”

That’s been the rallying cry for so many mini-tour golfers over the past week, from those donating $15,000 to those donating $45.15 to those donating even less. It’s money that these players need, but it’s also money that they know the people of Moore, Okla., need even more.

That was the idea behind “5 Percent Moore.” It’s part of a story about tragedy and the human spirit, but that’s not the entire story. There’s so much more to it – and the game of golf was able to tie it all together.

Anyone wishing to join the “5 Percent Moore” pledge may contact the NGA TOUR offices at 800-992-8748 or mail their donations to the NGA TOUR c/o #5PercentMoore at 550 Hwy 9 E, Unit B, Longs, S.C., 29568.

Getty Images

McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in four months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014. 

Getty Images

Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

Getty Images

Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

Getty Images

DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."