Piller endures the disappointment of defeat

By Jay CoffinAugust 21, 2016, 12:53 am

RIO DE JANEIRO – Gerina Piller signed her scorecard, did a couple brief television interviews and ducked outside the ropes to receive comfort from her parents.

The day didn’t go anything like Piller envisioned, and she just wanted a few moments to get over her disappointment in private.

That task wasn’t so simple.

Fans wanted autographs. Some wanted photos with the woman who had America’s best chance to track down Inbee Park for a gold medal at the start of the day. So Piller, nicely, sweetly, wiped away tears and did her damnedest to give them all what they wanted.

Then she looked toward her mother, Rita, and stepfather, Alan Stevenson. Rita threw her arm around Gerina. Alan, a strapping man, softly held Gerina’s hand and the family wandered off to a quiet area near the clubhouse.

No words were spoken. None were necessary.

“What would you say?” Rita said to reporters who asked.

There was pain. There was hurt. But mostly, there was love.

It was a powerful moment.

Gerina began the day within two shots of the lead at the Olympics, an event she’s watched passionately for two decades. She’s never won a professional tournament and this one was within reach. Hey, even if a victory wasn’t in the offing, a medal for a top-three finish seemed highly likely.

None of the above happened.

Olympic golf coverage: Articles, photos and videos

Piller got off to a shaky start, rebounded but eventually missed key putts down the stretch and shot 74 to miss the podium by four shots.

“We’re heartbroken with her,” Stevenson said, himself struggling to hold back tears. “We’re just as emotional as she is, because she’s our daughter and we care about her. We want what she wants but some days you don’t get that.”

This seemed like it finally was going to be the day Piller was going to get what she wanted. Only four days prior she sat in front of assembled media from all over the world and was brought to tears when asked what it would mean to win a gold medal for the red, white and blue.

Piller, 31, played progressively better over the first three days. A third-round 68 in blustery conditions that produced winds of over 30 mph was one of the best rounds of the week. It allowed her to join Park and Ko in the last grouping on the last day with history on the line.

To add to the dramatics, Martin Piller, Gerina’s husband, had missed the cut at the Wyndham Championship on Friday, meaning he’ll have to go through the Web.com Tour Finals in order to secure his PGA Tour card for next season.

Throw all those elements into one neat package and the stage was set.

But the emotions, which Gerina said she would use to her advantage on the eve of the final round, got the best of her.

“I didn’t even think I had a chance to be here, so to come and to be in contention is all I can really ask for,” she said. “Just going to learn from it and move on."

Just five weeks ago Piller wasn’t on this U.S. Olympic team. A player must be ranked inside the top 15 of the world rankings to qualify and Piller had hovered just outside that mark all summer. Finally, at the U.S. Women’s Open, the last tournament before the Olympic field was set, Piller shot a final-round 70 to tie for eighth place. The result vaulted her barely inside the qualification line.

To put it lightly, the last month has been a roller coaster of emotions for Piller and her family.

“The thing about Gerina in her heart, she’ll keep coming back,” Stevenson said. “She’ll keep showing up, she’ll step up on the tee box and keep swinging at it. She wants to win. Someday she will win. Today wasn’t that day, but she competed and she put her heart and soul into it.”

Said fellow American Stacy Lewis: “Gerina is going to get over this hump pretty soon. She needs the experience of being in these final groups. It’s a different pressure and it’s a different mentality, especially when you have Inbee that’s going crazy. She’s got the game and she’ll get there soon.”

Piller does have the game, that’s the thing. This isn’t a player who just isn’t good enough to close the deal. Sure, the emotions got the best of her this time, but she has eight top-10 finishes on the LPGA this season and is 13th in earnings.

She’s also the single biggest reason why the U.S. defeated Europe last year in the Solheim Cup in Germany. With the cup on the line, Piller drained a key 8-foot par putt to defeat Caroline Masson late in Sunday singles. If she had missed that putt, Europe would’ve won for the third consecutive time.

“It’s tough, just because there’s just so much on the line with golf being back in the Olympics for the first time,” Piller said.

Stevenson matter-of-factly said that his family, Gerina in particular, is not defined by winning or losing, trophies or medals.

“We care about it, that’s why we’re here, that’s why we compete,” he said. “It does break our hearts to see her hurt, but we know that life is bigger than golf. You can learn a lot of life through golf.”

Piller plans to stick around Rio for another couple days and will walk in the Closing Ceremony since she wasn’t able to walk in the opening festivities two weeks ago. She’s bound to feel more emotions – both happy and sad – just like the ones she experienced over the last four days on the golf course.

As the day was drawing to a close, Piller had collected her belongings and had just stepped outside the clubhouse. She was asked one last time if she could attempt to explain what happened during the final round.

Tears began to fall. She couldn’t speak. She was spent.

Piller then looked at Rita and Alan for comfort, just as she had 20 minutes earlier. It was time to leave.

“She’ll shake it off, she’ll be fine,” Martin Piller told reporters in North Carolina. “She ain’t going to let it bother her.”

Her family will make sure that it doesn’t.

Getty Images

McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

Getty Images

Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.