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.
Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.
It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.
Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder
Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.
Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.
“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”
The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.
“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”
Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.
Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder
LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.
Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.
''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''
It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.
''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''
Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.
''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''
After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.
''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''
He's making his first start in the event.
''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.
Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.
''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''
Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.
''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.
The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.
''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''
Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.
''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.
Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.
Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.
Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.
John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.
Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years
Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.
He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.
How rare is his missing the cut there?
The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.
The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.
The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.
Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.
Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.