Potter takes winding road to winner's circle

By Jason SobelJuly 9, 2012, 1:19 am

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – It’s easy to get turned around on your way to The Greenbrier, Jim Justice’s 6,751-acre resort deep in the rural West Virginia foothills. Even the interstate route is a scenic route, and the scenic route, well, that’s a convolution of twists and turns, up and down and around mountains until the horizon parts and the palatial estate finally emerges into view.

If the journey sounds straight out of a John Denver lyric, there’s good reason, those country roads eventually taking travelers where they belong.

For this week, at least, the circuitous sojourn served as a commanding microcosm for the resort’s eponymous PGA Tour event. There were plenty of twists and turns, things got completely turned around and the leaderboard took a convoluted scenic route to the finish line until finally a champion emerged deep in the foothills.

During a week that started as a celebration of some of the game’s biggest stars traversing that very route to the resort, it quickly became apparent that this tournament would be taking the road less traveled. It began with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson both curiously failing to qualify for the weekend rounds; it continued with reigning U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson parlaying a back-nine lead into a seventh-place finish; and it culminated with two unlikely upstarts, each ranked outside the top 200 in the world, duking it out in a playoff to determine the winner.

When the horizon parted and the winner finally came into view, it revealed a rookie named Ted Potter Jr., a soft-spoken ball-striking machine whose pastoral Central Florida roots have bequeathed him more rural than resort.

As if to further the symbolism of this week, Potter’s journey has endured a similar scenic route to success, often climbing some towering mountains that left him lost without a roadmap.

Take the 2004 season, for example. At the age of 20, Potter qualified for full-time status on the erstwhile Nationwide Tour – since renamed the Web.com Tour – where he spent the entire year spinning his wheels. Potter competed in 24 events during that campaign, failing to make a single paycheck and never once posting a score below 70.

“When you’re missing cuts every week, you get down on yourself,” Potter recalled after Sunday’s victory. “I mean, it’s hard to pick yourself back up. But the one plus side for me was, I was still young. I was only 20 years old. I knew I had a long road ahead of me … I just knew I had plenty of time and just be patient and it will come back around again.”

In the years since, Potter became a quixotic case of a player who couldn’t fit in anywhere.

He became a cult hero on the mini-tour NGA Hooters circuit, compiling a dozen victories in the half-dozen years between 2006 and 2011. Yet when he would qualify again for the PGA Tour’s developmental tour, he would again fail to find any semblance of success.

In 2007, Potter competed in 20 tournaments on the Nationwide circuit and made the cut on just three occasions. He earned his card back three years later and again struggled, making just three cuts in 11 starts.

He was officially in golf’s version of purgatory. Too good for one level, not good enough for the other.

That all changed last year. After posting four wins by mid-March on what was then still called the Hooters Tour, Potter was able to Monday qualify for the Nationwide Tour’s South Georgia Classic at the end of April. He won that week, earning full playing privileges once again, then punctuated that victory with another at the Soboba Golf Classic five months later, clinching his first career trip to the big leagues.

It should hardly come as a surprise that once again he failed to find an immediate comfort zone. Potter finished T-13 in his first-ever PGA Tour start at the Sony Open, but followed with missed cuts in nine of his next 14 appearances, with no result better than 30th place.

“I know I can play the game very well,” Potter said of his previous efforts. “I struggled the last few weeks, but I just tried to work on my swing and get it back to where it was feeling, where it was last year out on the Web.com Tour. So I got very close to where it was last year and it felt good. I had a lot of confidence going into this week.”

And it showed. He finished eagle-birdie on Sunday to shoot 6-under 64 and force a playoff with Troy Kelly. After a missing a short birdie attempt on the second extra hole that would have given him the victory, Potter converted a similar opportunity on the next hole hole to complete the circuitous journey from a guy who couldn’t make a single cut on a developmental tour to a PGA Tour champion.

It wasn’t the most direct route to the winner’s circle, but here in the West Virginia foothills there are no direct routes anyway. Whichever road a traveler takes comes sprinkled with various twists and turns until the final destination emerges into view.

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.


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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”


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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Web.com Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''