Halloween Comes Early
Professional golfers will tell you that there are many lessons that they relearn from time to time. Those lessons usually run along the lines of remembering that the total score is of utmost importance, as opposed to getting so easily sidetracked by the myriad of distractions that surround a professionals day-to-day activities. Various instructors working the range, manufacturers representatives wholl do anything to get their equipment in your bag, and the cluttered mental outlook from weeks or months of struggle, all combine to interfere with whats ultimately important ' score.
Now Im learning that for former professional golfers, its much the same. Since my livelihood became covering golf, the one lesson Ive learned repeatedly is that the only thing surprising about a surprise is that its surprising. OK, so Aristotle Im not. The point is that predictability, the bread and butter of an analysts job, is all but forgotten this year.
A week ago, at the Monterey Peninsula Classic, the Bayonet Golf Course was supposed to be the great equalizer. Its the toughest course of the year, thus far, and conventional wisdom is that the tougher the course, the higher the likelihood that the best players clutter the leaderboard. Well, almost.
Aaron Baddeley finished second, and hes arguably the best player on the Buy.Com Tour. But it was Roland Thatcher, at 112th on the money list, who hoisted the trophy.
Dont get me wrong, Roland Thatcher played incredible golf and deserves every accolade hes received. But the odds-makers would have lost a boatload if sports wagering were legal in California.
And now, on a golf course that played completely opposite of the Bayonet course, an even longer long shot took home the oversized check.
David Branshaw, the 137th ranked money earner, displayed poise, heart, and above all, talent on his way to a four-stroke victory.
On the PGA Tour, when Tiger Woods wins a tournament, we expect it. When Gene Sauers wins, were surprised. On the Buy.Com Tour, when Jason Gore wins a tournament, no one bats an eye. When Aaron Baddeley finishes second, nobody questions the likelihood. But when David Branshaw wins by four shots, heads begin to turn as if theyre on swivels.
David Branshaw has been a member of the Buy.Com Tour on two different occasions including this year. In addition to those years, hes also Monday qualified for a few other events here and there. His best finish ever was 27th. In 1997, he played 10 tournaments on the Buy.Com Tour and made just over $1,900. This year, coincidentally, he averaged roughly $1,900 per each of the 10 cuts hed made in 23 starts. The last tournament hed won was a team tournament played in conjunction with the Canadian Tour. As a matter of fact, Branshaw had never won a 72-hole tournament.
Im not trying to give the impression that Branshaw just fell off a turnip truck. Thats not the case at all. Im just trying to describe exactly why the Buy.Com Tour has the greatest stories in all of golf.
This year alone, players who started the year as either non-members of the Buy.Com Tour, or non-exempt members have won 14 of the 26 tournaments played. PGA Tour veteran members Gary Hallberg and Jay Delsing each won once while Jason Gore and Cliff Kresge combined to win four times. Gore and Kresge are members only because of a relatively new policy that gives access to players who finish between 151 and 200 on the previous years PGA Tours money list. And the real kicker is that the last two tournaments have been won by two guys who were just a matter of days away from teeing it up at the first stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School. If unsuccessful at either of the first two stages, they would have been relegated to those tours whose qualifying process consists of being able to write an entry fee check that doesnt bounce.
To me, David Branshaw epitomizes an overlooked value of the Buy.Com Tour. Hes 33 years old, hes been chasing his dream for many years only to watch it outrun him, and believe it or not, hes got quite a bit of talent.
Theres a large number of tremendous golfers out there grinding away at the mini-tours just waiting for their shot to prove that they belong. They arent a year or two removed from an All-America college career, and theyve never won U.S. Amateurs. Theyre just guys who believe that they have what it takes to someday make it.
David Branshaw is just the latest person to give every one of the countless so-called journeyman dreamers a reason to keep dreaming. You see, even though Branshaw seemingly had no reason to think he could win at this level, the fact that he was still chasing his dream meant that he believed in himself.
Todd Fischer did the same thing last year as a 32-year-old journeyman, and now hes on his way to the PGA Tour next year as a Buy.Com Tour graduate. And Zoran Zorkic, who recently turned 36, won the first tournament of this stature earlier this year at the Buy.Com SAS Carolina Classic.
Professional golfs talent pool no longer has a shallow end. Todays cell phone salesman could be tomorrows PGA Champion. And todays cocky young talents could be tomorrows David Branshaw. Success has no timetable. And dreams have no expiration date.
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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back
SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.
Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.
Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim.
Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.
Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026
SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.
“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.
“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.
In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010.
Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday
SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.
“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”
So was Woods.
DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.
“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”
Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.
“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.
“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”
Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.
“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.
“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”
Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time.
With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey
SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.
The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.
Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.
It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.
“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”
Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.
According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.
“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”
Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.
And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.
As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.
He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.
“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”
If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.
Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.
“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”
Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.
Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.
“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.
Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.