Stefani living a dream on the PGA Tour

By Jason SobelMarch 15, 2013, 8:46 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Sorry to all the dreamers and preeners and get-rich-quick schemers. Apologies to Golf Channel’s long-running show of this title.

But the truth is the truth: In the world of professional golf, the notion of a “big break” rarely exists.

Four years ago, Shawn Stefani was a mini-tour regular still waiting for a break – big or otherwise. He had entered Q-School three times at that point – and three times failed to advance to the final stage. He finally earned his first start in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event when he reached the 2009 U.S. Open, thanks to a qualification strategy developed through plenty of practice.

'You've got to go out there and play every round just like it's a round at your home course,' Stefani said at the time. 'You can't think about what's at stake. That's the best way to play. Focus on what you're doing rather than the possibility of what could happen.'

That may not have turned out to be his break – Stefani (pronounced “Stephanie”) posted scores of 73-73 to miss the cut at waterlogged Bethpage Black – but that perspective has opened doors for the Baytown, Texas, native. Last year, in his first full season on the Tour, he won twice and finished sixth on the final money list to earn his PGA Tour playing privileges for this season.

While he’s struggled to find success in the big leagues so far, everything seems to be coming together this week, as scores of 65-70 have vaulted him to the top of the Tampa Bay Championship leaderboard entering the weekend.

“I knew it was Friday, and the lead is one thing, but leading on the weekend is another,” he said after a second round that included three birdies and two bogeys. “Today I just wanted to go out there and play golf and hit each shot the best I could and really have some fun. That's really what I did. I really had a lot of fun out there today, even though I didn't really play my best but I scrambled well. That was a lot of fun today.”

This may not be the most star-studded leaderboard we’ve seen in recent weeks, but the 31-year-old rookie will be vying with the likes of such proven veterans as Jason Dufner, Sergio Garcia, K.J. Choi and Adam Scott on the weekend.

When it comes to professional golf’s 1-percenters, Stefani may not have much in common, though he also doesn't seem like the type for whom that will be much of a bother.

“At the end of the day it doesn't matter to me, because I just have to go out there and focus on what I'm doing and control my thoughts and my process,” he explained. “It really shouldn't matter who I play with.”

That attitude should serve him well on the weekend, as he enters unfamiliar territory. In six previous starts this season, Stefani has made just three cuts, with a season-best share of 39th place coming at last week’s Puerto Rico Open.

If he’s looking for particular inspiration this weekend, he can do worse than looking back on what he said prior to making that first start at the U.S. Open four years ago.

'I've always dreamed about it,' he said then about getting that big break. 'And sometimes those dreams come true.'

Stefani is living that dream right now, though it’s less the result of a big break and more a derivative of perseverance, hard work and talent. He’s had to make for himself any breaks that are coming to him now.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.