Eulogizing a dear friend of the Nationwide Tour
It was during the wee hours of the morning on a lonely stretch of highway in a desolate part of Northwest Texas that the Nationwide Tour suffered one of its most tragic losses in its 21-year history.
Thankfully nobody died, although Randy Usina remains hospitalized, but he’s expected to make a full and speedy recovery.
Reports are still sketchy at this point, but evidently a lonesome cow had heard about what a great family bond the Nationwide Tour fraternity enjoys and he wanted to be a part of it. So he jumped at his first opportunity. Bad timing I guess, as Jeff “Cowboy” Hill couldn’t slow quickly enough and he slammed into the cow causing the vehicle to roll. Cowboy walked away unharmed, but Randy was in the passenger’s seat and suffered the most serious injuries – except of course for the cow.
The legend began back in 1990, the inaugural year of the tour. And it was completely unintentional.
Since the Bakersfield Open in early 1990, the Nationwide Tour has been operated from the trailer of a big rig. Out of the back of that rig came all the equipment necessary for the tour to officially run a tournament: scoreboards, radios, caddie bibs, and a wide variety of essentials that many would never think necessary.
Since that big rig traveled to every event, it became the one constant in the constantly changing landscape that is the vagabond life of a touring professional. If you had a question, you’d go there first. Just want to unwind and forget about things, you’d find a corner of the trailer and take in the tranquility. In short, from Day 1, it became the pulse of the entire tour.
Sometime during that very first year, the legend was born, and it was simply named, The Truck.
In the ensuing years, The Truck started to take on a life of its own. Every player, every caddie, every family member was welcome anytime. But so too were volunteers, sponsors, spectators and anybody else who cared to stop. Many of the vital friendships and relationships that are instrumental to the success of the Nationwide Tour to this day, were forged on the back of that truck.
Matt Delaney, current rules official and former Truck staff member (one of the originals from 1990) said it best 10 years ago when a new member of the crew wanted to remove the beer cooler from The Truck in an effort to avoid any negative publicity that may have ever pointed in the tour’s direction. “Having beer on The Truck built this tour,” Matt famously said to his then boss.
The Truck has become such an institution that volunteers from various tournaments will travel around the nation to other tournaments and volunteer to help out any way they can because that darn truck had become part of their family. Players from past years now send pin-flags and other mementos from PGA Tour events they win to proudly display on The Truck. And a few years back, Johnson Wagner promised a big flat-screen TV if he ever won again on the Nationwide Tour. Two days after his next victory, a rather large LCD was delivered. It had been on display since that day.
For the past two years, the PGA Tour would hold a Nationwide Tour reunion at The Players Championship at PGA Tour headquarters and it was always held at The Truck.
There are cookouts a dozen times per year, softball games between The Truck people and everybody else. There’s even an official Truck Cup golf tournament held every year on the Monday preceding the Ft. Smith stop pairing a Nationwide Tour player with a member of The Truck family.
Last year, when a lady who is a valuable member of The Truck family couldn’t rely on her old car to get her to all the events where she would volunteer, The Truck had an idea. They shared it with a few people that liked it and after the final day of the Nationwide Tour Championship, The Truck Mom, Lainey Keller, was presented with a new Subaru Outback completely paid for through donations of people who consider themselves members of The Truck family.
Almost to a man, every player, regardless of whether they’ve gone on to greatness, or returned to a normal life at home, remembers their days on the Nationwide Tour as the happiest of their career. That all started on The Truck.
While The Truck had a physical existence, it also carried with it a somewhat mystical reputation that meant so much more. It may have been just a trailer, but it was unquestionably an institution. It never mattered who you were – rich and famous or despondent and homeless, a player or the guy who empties the trash, a King or a Pauper. And although you may have entered as a stranger for the first time, you always left as a friend.
And so it was, earlier this week, on that stretch of Texas highway that wasn’t too far from where Ben Hogan nearly died in a head on collision in 1949, that The Truck was severely injured. The physical shell is a complete goner, but its soul is alive and well. And much like the “Wee Iceman” himself, The Truck will be back, and it will again rise to prominence. It’s going to take a lot of work, but there will never be a shortage of volunteers to help. A new “Great White” (the name of the huge ice chest that has been through 11 retirement ceremonies when a new one is donated) is on order and will be delivered in two weeks.
I would ask you to say a prayer for The Truck but that isn’t necessary – it’s going to be just fine. Direct those to Randy – I know he’d appreciate it. But if you’re ever in the vicinity of a Nationwide Tour event, do yourself a favor and stop in The Truck. You won’t regret it.
DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.
The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.
''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''
In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.
''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''
The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.
''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.
Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member
Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.
Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:
Matt Kuchar— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) January 17, 2018
"It's been a passion of mine to explore & see the world, and I'll now be joining the European Tour as an Affiliate Member, which is very exciting." pic.twitter.com/7wDbuGXz8j
As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.
Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.
Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early
The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...
Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy
McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.
McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.
Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.
“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.
And that was an offseason event.
“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.
As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.
So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.
“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”
Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson
Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.
His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.
It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.
There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.
There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.
While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.
There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.
Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth
Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.
He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.
Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.
CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats
The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.
How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):
Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)
Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.
Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.
Notables in the field
* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.
* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.
* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.
* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.
* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.
* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.
* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.
* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.
* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.
* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.
* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.
* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.
* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.
* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.
* This is his first start of 2018.
* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.
(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)