We are the Champions

By Jason SobelAugust 23, 2009, 4:00 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – There are a few magic numbers in golf. Like 59 and 18 – and if you have to ask, you’re probably on the wrong website right now.

At this week’s Golf Channel Am Tour national championship, some other magic numbers were in play.

There were 570 total competitors in the open division flights. They played in temperatures that reached 100 degrees each day. Which meant there were 20,000 total bottles of water consumed and more than 4,000 iced towels distributed.

There was one more magic number, too: Six. That’s how many national champions were crowned on Tuesday. These are their stories:

Paul Erdman knows all about close calls.

“I’m probably the only guy who’s missed the U.S. Open by a shot, the U.S. Amateur by a shot, U.S. PubLinks by a shot and U.S. Mid Am by a shot,” the affable 43-year-old said. “I mean, losing in playoffs and stuff. It’s always been a shot here or a shot there.”

Not this time. Erdman parlayed a final-round 2-under 70 into a three-stroke victory in the Championship Flight, as he was the only player in the 65-man field to break par for the tournament.

Throughout the last day, he always knew what was at stake.

“The heart is pumping, breathing getting heavy – that’s something I’m not used to,” he said. “I haven’t had that much adrenaline going through me in a long time. That’s hard work dealing with that stuff.”

Erdman is no stranger to hard work. He founded the golf program at University of Maryland-Baltimore County, which is now defunct, then worked as a general manager and head professional before regaining his amateur status in 1999.

Now an insurance agent in Erie, Colo., this culminated a perfect season, as he won every single Golf Channel Am Tour event in which he competed – but it was the last one that meant the most.

“This is great, man,” he said excitedly. “I just won something that I’ve been thinking about for years and years.”


As winner of the Palmer Flight two years ago, Patrick Polzin had some words of advice for 54-hole leader Kyle Zeitz prior to the final round.

“It’s tough playing in the lead,” Polzin said from experience. “I let him know that last night. I also told him this is the course I shot 68 on and that he was going to have a hard time sleeping.

“I told Kyle, ‘You know, buddy, I hope I have an opportunity to put some heat on you early and see what you’re made of. I want to make you earn it. If you win and you beat me, I’m fine with that.”

It didn’t happen. Zeitz posted four double-bogeys in his final six holes to turn a five-shot lead into a six-shot loss.

For his part, Polzin, a 45-year-old sheet metal worker from Indian Head Park, Ill., just played solid golf as his playing partner flailed, taking his second title in three years.

“I didn’t think he was going to crumble,” Polzin said, “but I planted the seeds in his head last night. That’s fair game.”


As a golfer, Tim Williams calls himself a “competition freak.” As a solution architect for Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, he calls himself a “geek.”

Great combination, huh?

“Actually,” Williams said with a laugh, “not really.”

The Hogan Flight’s self-described freak-and-geek needed to make a par on the final hole to win his first national championship title.

“I tried not to let the pressure get to me,” said the 43-year-old from McKinney, Texas. “On the outside, you wouldn’t  know I was under pressure, but on the inside, I was just in knots. This is one of the first times I’ve ever felt pressure like this.”

After the round, Williams appeared more tired and relieved than triumphant, but maintained it was just a result of all the mental energy he used up on the course.

“It wasn’t a very difficult course, but I made it difficult,” he explained. “I said to myself, ‘This is it. Last group. Let’s just step on the pedal.’ And that’s what I did.”


For a guy who had never played the Golf Channel Am Tour prior to this year, Brad Bishop didn’t realize how nervous he could get.

“I joined it just for the competition. I never imagined coming here, but I qualified, so I came,” he explained. “But from the first tee shot all the way through the round, I was pretty nervous.”

Coming down the stretch in the final round of the Sarazen Flight, Bishop led by just a single stroke with two holes to play, but extended that differential to four en route to the victory.

After opening rounds of 89-85, the Alden, N.Y. closed 80-81 – not far off from his career best of 77.

“Everything went my way, I guess,” said the 31-year-old residential painter. I just kept saying I wanted to hit the fairways and the middle of every green – and I think I only missed one fairway today.”


Just after closing out his Jones Flight victory by a single stroke, Suneil Aggarwal was posing for photographs while kissing the crystal trophy.

“I like the way that sounds,” he said with a laugh.

The sound should be familiar. Aggarwal, 39, successfully defended last year’s title in wire-to-wire fashion, though he needed to make a five-foot bogey putt on the final hole to clinch the victory.

“I can’t say it feels better this year,” explained the Alpharetta, Ga., resident, who works as a vice president of sales for a technology company, “but it does, a little bit.”

Consider this one validation, as last year’s final round was rained out, giving Aggarwal a weather-shortened three-round triumph.

“This puts to rest a lot of people who were questioning whether I could hold it together for four days,” he said. “I know I was questioning whether I could hold it together for four days.”


Bilal Jordan just started playing golf in late-2007. It quickly turned from a hobby to a passion to an obsession.

How much of one? Since qualifying for the Snead Flight national championship in early August, the Houston-based physician and insurance company owner traveled to the Jim McLean Golf School in Palm Springs three separate times to work on his game.

The extra effort paid off, as he posted the best score of the final round – an 88 to secure the title by four strokes.

“I want to get better. My goal is to continue to get better,” said Jordan, 32. “I put in some additional work and it paid off. Hard work pays off.”

It should be noted that he is the first player in quite a long time to win while decked out in a red shirt, black pants and a TW-logo hat.

“I had to represent the Tiger red today,” he said with a laugh. “I had to put on the red and black.”

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.


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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.


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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.

Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''


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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the Web.com more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''