Mr. Bubble: Thatcher's wild rides

By Jason SobelOctober 25, 2011, 12:00 am

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Most guys would be biting their fingernails down to the cuticles. Pacing a pattern into the living-room carpet. Enduring heart palpitations that would make an ER doc nervous.

Roland Thatcher isn’t most guys.

Entering the season-ending Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, Thatcher was No. 121 on the PGA Tour money list, which meant all he needed to do was make the cut and his playing privileges would be retained for next season.

Instead, he missed it. By a single shot.

And so Thatcher left Disney World – passing a sign reading, “Where Dreams Come True” on the way out – with his dream of keeping his card very much in limbo, his fate left in the hands of others trying to secure the very same goal.

Rather than fret over the projected money list like an expectant father, he played the role of accepting father at his home in The Woodlands, Texas, casually keeping an eye on the final-round proceedings.

“I’ve got two little kids here at home, so I was busy being Dad,” he explained. “I tried to stay away from it as much as possible, though I wasn’t totally successful.”

How was he able to remain so calm when his career was hanging in the balance? It’s because Thatcher has been through enough crucially close calls he could make a Hollywood producer cringe over the seemingly far-fetched scenarios.

There was the time in 2001, just a year out of Auburn University, when he was playing in the finals of Q-School. Needing a par on the last hole – No. 9 at Bear Lakes in West Palm Beach, Fla. – his approach shot flew the green, hit the cart path and bounced over the clubhouse roof. He made triple bogey.

“If you’re going to fail,” he said, “it’s probably the most spectacular way you can fail.”

Thatcher played the Nationwide Tour for two years, then found himself in a similarly precarious position at the 2003 edition of Q-School. This time he needed to make birdie on the final hole and rolled in an 18-footer to clinch his PGA Tour card for the first time.

“I knew I needed to make it,” he recalled. “That was a tremendous boost of confidence for me.”

And so he reached the big leagues and lived happily ever after? Not exactly.

Instead, Thatcher found himself back on the Nationwide Tour before too long. In 2007, he enjoyed a breakthrough season, leading the developmental circuit’s money list for much of the campaign.

Heading into the season-ending Nationwide Tour Championship, there were only three players who could win and overtake him for the title. Richard Johnson was one of them and did just that. While Thatcher still earned his card, he lost an exemption into The Players Championship and immunity from the reshuffle.

Crazy circumstances – and we haven’t even gotten to the good stuff yet.

Two years ago, Thatcher entered the Disney tournament at 119th on the money list and – like this year – missed the cut. Forced to spend the weekend at home, he watched every shot and pored over the projections until he coolly found himself safely inside the number at week’s end.

Then came his real Cinderella story at last year’s edition of the event. At 179th on the money list entering the week, Thatcher joked that he was using the tournament as a practice for Q-School, then raced to a four-stroke lead through 54 holes.

Though he couldn’t maintain the lead, getting lapped by Robert Garrigus on the back nine, Thatcher knew a solo second-place finish would be enough to retain status. Needing to sink a 6-foot par putt on the final hole to reach that number, he made it, ensuring his membership for yet another season.

“That was the most well publicized of my late-season theatrics. I had a really horrible year and was able to put a lot of things together that week,” he explained. “The unique part about last year is that I was trying to win my first tournament, but my secondary goal was finishing solo second to retain my playing privileges for 2011.”

Ah, yes – 2011. It wouldn’t be a money-list bubble if Thatcher wasn’t firmly ensconced and such was the case once again this week.

Following an opening-round 4-under 68, he was at even par in his second round at the more difficult Magnolia Course before making a bogey on the 14th hole. His birdie attempts burned the edge on the next three holes. Knowing he needed par on the last to likely make the cut, his season boiled down to one poor swing of the club.

“I hit a good drive, then just made a bad swing,” he said. “I hit in the left bunker and didn’t get it up and down. If I had parred the last hole, I would have been safe.”

Safely inside the cut line and safely inside the top 125, as even last-place money would have been enough to clinch his status for next season.

Instead, Thatcher headed home and watched – or, as the case was, barely watched. He didn’t know when he was 125th at one point by a mere $45. Didn’t know when D.J. Trahan knocked him out of that position with a final-hole birdie minutes later. Or when Sunghoon Kang sealed his fate with a birdie of his own soon thereafter.

The final 2011 money list shows Thatcher at 127th – so close and yet so far.

He has already signed up for Q-School and will try to regain his playing privileges through the annual grindfest in December. Even if that doesn’t happen, he’ll still have a job next year. Sort of.

“If not, I’m going in the 126-150 category,” he said. “I’ll get probably about 17 starts. The better you play, the more you might be able to get into some more tournaments, so it could be as many as 20.”

This may be the unfavorable end to Thatcher’s season, but – like so many others – it’s hardly the end of the road.

“Going into Q-School, I’m going to be in as good a shape as almost anybody,” he contended. “I’m partially secure for next year – not as good as the guy who finished 125, but I’m not done yet. It’s just going to make 2013 that much tougher.”

Based on Thatcher’s past experiences, “tougher” should be pretty normal by now.

Getty Images

After Further Review: Woods wisely keeping things in perspective

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 19, 2018, 3:17 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Tiger Woods' career comeback ...

Tiger Woods seems to be the only one keeping his comeback in the proper perspective. Asked after his tie for fifth at Bay Hill whether he could ever have envisioned his game being in this shape heading into Augusta, he replied: “If you would have given me this opportunity in December and January, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.” He’s healthy. He’s been in contention. He’s had two realistic chances to win. There’s no box unchecked as he heads to the Masters, and no one, especially not Woods, could have seen that coming a few months ago. – Ryan Lavner

On Tiger carrying momentum into API, Masters ...

Expect Jordan Spieth to leave Austin with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play trophy next week.

After all, Spieth is seemingly the only top-ranked player who has yet to lift some hardware in the early part of 2018. Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas have all gotten it done, as have Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and most recently Rory McIlroy.

Throw in the sudden resurgence of Tiger Woods, and with two more weeks until the Masters there seem to be more azalea-laden storylines than ever before.

A Spieth victory in Austin would certainly add fuel to that fire, but even if he comes up short the 2015 champ will certainly be a focus of attention in a few short weeks when the golf world descends upon Magnolia Lane with no shortage of players able to point to a recent victory as proof that they’re in prime position to don a green jacket. – Will Gray

Getty Images

Davies not giving up on win, HOF after close call

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 3:06 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies knows the odds are long now, but she won’t let go of that dream of making the LPGA Hall of Fame.

At 54, she was emboldened by her weekend run at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. She tied for second, five shots behind Inbee Park.

“The more I get up there, I might have a chance of winning again,” Davies said. “I'm not saying I will ever win, but today was close. Maybe one day I can go closer.”

Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, but she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in 2001. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Over her career, she has won 20 LPGA titles, four of them major championships. She was the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996. She probably would have locked up Hall of Fame status if she hadn’t been so loyal to the Ladies European Tour, where she won 45 titles.

Though Davies didn’t win Sunday in Phoenix, there was more than consolation in her run into contention.

“Now people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

Getty Images

Davies impresses, but there's no catching Park

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 2:40 am

PHOENIX – Inbee Park won the tournament.

Laura Davies won the day.

It was a fitting script for the Bank of Hope Founders Cup on Sunday, where nostalgia stirs the desert air in such a special way.

Two of the game’s all-time best, LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park and World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies, put on a show with the tour’s three living founders applauding them in the end.

Park and Davies made an event all about honoring the tour’s past while investing in its future something to savor in the moment. Founders Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork and Marlene Hagge Vossler cheered them both.

For Park, there was meaningful affirmation in her 18th LPGA title.

In seven months away from the LPGA, healing up a bad back, Park confessed she wondered if she should retire. This was just her second start back. She won feeling no lingering effects from her injury.

“I was trying to figure out if I was still good enough to win,” Park said of her long break back home in South Korea. “This proved to me I can win and play some pain-free golf.”

At 54, Davies kept peeling away the years Sunday, one sweet swing after another. She did so after shaking some serious nerves hitting her first tee shot.

“It’s about as nervous as I’ve ever felt,” Davies said. “I swear I nearly shanked it.”

Davies has won 45 Ladies European Tour events and 20 LPGA titles, but she was almost 17 years removed from her last LPGA title. Still, she reached back to those times when she used to rule the game and chipped in for eagle at the second hole to steady herself.

“It calmed me down, and I really enjoyed the day,” Davies said.

With birdies at the ninth and 10th holes, Davies pulled from three shots down at day’s start to within one of Park, sending a buzz through all the fans who came out to root for the popular Englishwoman.

“People were loving it,” said Tanya Paterson, Davies’ caddie. “We kept hearing, `Laura, we love you.’ It was special for Laura, showing she can still compete.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Davies relished giving all the young players today, who never saw how dominant she once was, some flashes from her great past.

“Yesterday, after I had that 63, a lot of the younger girls came up and said, `Oh, great playing today,”’ Davies said. “It was nice, I suppose, to have that. I still am a decent player, and I actually used to be really good at it. Maybe that did give them a glimpse into what it used to be like.”

She also relished showing certain fans something.

“Now, people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

Davies was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996, when she won two of her four major championships. She was emboldened by the way she stood up to Sunday pressure again.

In the end, though, there was no catching Park, who continues to amaze with her ability to win coming back from long breaks after injuries.

Park, 29, comes back yet again looking like the player who reigned at world No. 1 for 92 weeks, won three consecutive major championships in 2013 and won the Olympic gold medal two years ago.

“The reason that I am competing and playing is because I want to win and because I want to contend in golf tournaments,” Park said.

After Davies and Marina Alex mounted runs to move within one shot, Park pulled away, closing ferociously. She made four birdies in a row starting at the 12th and won by five shots. Her famed putting stroke heated up, reminding today’s players how nobody can demoralize a field more with a flat stick.

“I just felt like nothing has dropped on the front nine,” Park said. “I was just thinking to myself, `They have to drop at some point.’ And they just started dropping, dropping, dropping.”

Yet again, Park showed her ability to win after long breaks.

In Rio de Janeiro two years ago, Park the Olympic gold medal in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year, in just her second start upon returning.

“I'm really happy to have a win early in the season,” Park said. “That just takes so much pressure off me.”

And puts it on the rest of the tour if she takes her best form to the year’s first major at the ANA Inspiration in two weeks.



Getty Images

Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”