Jace Misty and Victory

By Jerry FoltzNovember 12, 2002, 5:00 pm
The fall is always the time of year that Ive enjoyed most, both as a competitor and a broadcaster. As a player of relatively fleeting success, the fall always represented that one last chance to make things right in my world. It was that one last chance to salvage an unsuccessful season by successfully surviving Q-School.
As a broadcaster, the fall always brings drama as players fight to the bitter end to improve their lot in life for the following year. Whether it was the Buy.com Tour Championship, the Southern Farm Bureau Classic, or Q-School, the stories are easy to tell because each of those represents a last chance of some sort.
In covering these stories, Ive often used terms and anecdotes that are an attempt to represent the importance of certain situations to a players career: Fighting for his life; Do or die; there is no tomorrow; unimaginable pressure; courage; heart; guts; character and the like are often-used terms and phrases in sports reporting. The problem is that all too often something happens that reminds us of that one fact that is so often forgotten ' its just a game.
It was three years ago that Payne Stewart was tragically taken from us as his private jet fell from the sky. Just over one year ago, Lewis Chitengwa died suddenly while competing on the Canadian Tour. This time, meningitis was the culprit, but his death was equally as unexpected as Stewarts. This year alone, the golf world has been reminded of the delicacy of life and the fragility of our health. The Golf Channels own Mark Lye was stricken with a bout of recurring melanoma. PGA Tour sophomore Michael Muehr is also battling the same illness. Fortunately for both, the prognosis sounds promising.
Once again, the world of golf was recently blindsided by news that another one of the good guys is in a fight much more significant than a sport could ever portray. Jace Bugg, a gritty, gutsy 26-year-old Buy.com Tour player, was diagnosed with acute mylogenous leukemia.
The story of Jace Buggs career is an easy one to tell - and a good one as well. Jace is a product of the ranks. He wasnt the most celebrated amateur after his Rend Lake Junior College career. A few nice results in national tournaments highlighted by a quarterfinal appearance in the U.S. Amateur in 1997.
Jace turned pro shortly after that U.S. Amateur and it was then that he joined the ranks. Unable to vault directly to stardom as so few do, Jace turned to the Canadian Tour to gain experience and prove his ability.
During his third season on the Canadian Tour, Jace fired a final-round 63 to win the South Carolina Challenge in early 2001. This year, he started the year with only Canadian Tour playing privileges. However, he was committed to making this his breakout season. Jace dedicated the early part of the season to playing his way onto the Buy.com Tour through the Monday qualifying process. Despite the overwhelming odds against succeeding in this manner, Jace forged ahead with a confidence.
The Arkansas Classic was only the fourth tournament of the year on the Buy.com Tour schedule; the second if you dont count the first two which were played in Australia and New Zealand and offered no chance to Monday qualify.
Well, Jace didnt waste much time. After surviving a six-way playoff for the final four spots in the field, Jace went about his business like it was nobodys business.
Each year, at least one player who starts the year without any official Buy.com tour status manages to earn his way on to the tour. Usually its an experienced player or a pedigreed young star. The Jace Buggs of the world are supposed to wait their turn.
A final round 65 brought Jace a come-from-behind, career-altering victory. Exempt status on the Buy.com Tour and a legitimate chance to graduate to the PGA Tour is a long way from the Canadian Tours South Carolina Challenge.
Jace ultimately didnt graduate to the PGA Tour. He finished 26th on the year-end money list. Had he been able to play a full schedule, his chances of graduating would have been far greater, but Jace always seemed to be bothered by some type of injury.
Much of last year and some of this year, Jace had severe shoulder pain in both shoulders. He would attribute some of this to swing changes, but he never seemed to be pain-free. As his shoulders got better, he would discover an injury somewhere else. Tendonitis here, sore muscles there; he couldnt seem to get completely healthy.
Eventually, these nagging injuries led him to Las Vegas to seek some expert physical therapy and rehabilitation. It was after a few weeks of not improving that his doctors suspected the worst. Excessive bruising, muscle pain, and joint pain are all preliminary symptoms of leukemia.
Just a few days shy of his 26th birthday, Jace and his wife, Misty, received the explanation for why his aches and pains wouldnt go away. Jace was diagnosed with leukemia.
One of the covenants by which I live is that good things happen to good people. Its my own version of faith. Unfortunately, reality is that bad things can also happen to good people. And in Jaces case 'really good people.
I remember when Jace won that Canadian Tour tournament in Myrtle Beach. He was priceless. Heres a guy who was willing to leverage just about everything he had in order to pursue his dream. Jace and Misty traveled much of the different tours in an RV to save money and Misty would caddy. It was fitting that he chose this form of travel, because it just has a romance about it that says, 'The heartbeat and backbone of America.' Jace fits this description perfectly. Hes the type of guy that anyone would feel lucky to count among their friends. And hes the type of guy who wouldnt know how to display a hint of arrogance even if he wanted. As they say in Kentucky, hes good people.
Heres one example: When Jace was feeling a bit better during his rehabilitation stint in Vegas, he made plans to fly out of Phoenix to play the final regular season Buy.com tournament in Shreveport, La. He was to fly out of Phoenix because thats where the Buy.com Tour was the preceding week, and he was hoping to be well enough to play there. Well he wasnt, but one of his closer friends was.
David Branshaw was having a career week in Phoenix. Carrying a four-stroke lead into the final round, David admitted to being as nervous as he had ever been. At 33 years old, David was well on his way to a jouneymanlike career. The thought of him winning on the Buy.com tour didnt cross many minds late in the season, but Jace believed in his friend.
'I owe so much to Jace and Misty,' said a teary-eyed Branshaw just after the trophy presentation. 'He believed in me, called me every night so I could look to him for advice, and then he shows up today out on the course to support me.'
I didnt know it at the time, but Jace wasnt supposed to be there that day. He was planning on driving down from Vegas in time to catch his Monday flight. Saturday night he told David good luck and that he would see him Monday morning. But Jace couldnt stand not being there. Instead, he got up at the crack of dawn Sunday, drove the six- plus hours to Phoenix, and was there to walk every step of the back nine with his friend.
I was following Davids group that day and at one point Misty walked over to me and said that Jace was far more nervous than hed ever been while playing. My loyal production assistant and cart driver, Faye Mattevi, pointed out that Jace and Misty looked like expectant parents out there rooting for David.
With aches and pains everywhere, Jace made the arduous drive to Phoenix just to be there for his friend. The thought of not being there was something Jace just couldnt stomach.
Jace and Mistys lives are now much different. If there is any good news to come out of all this, it is that Jace is receiving the very best medical care available. His doctor is reported to be one of the very best. Jace now has a sponsor (financial backer) with considerable resources. He is in very good hands, but its quite obvious that hes now living those phrases so overused in sports. He is indeed in a fight for his life, and if his heart, courage, guts, and character are any indicator of his chances for long-term survival, then Jace should be able to look forward to a long and enduring career.
If indeed good things happen to good people, then Jace will earn a victory greater than anything sports can bring. When Jace tees it up next year as a leukemia survivor, it will be a moment on the Buy.com Tour (Nationwide Tour) akin to when Paul Azinger returned to the PGA Tour after beating cancer. When that moment happens, a lot of people will be on hand, a lot of eyes wont be dry, and a lot us will see the significance of the redemption of a good guy playing a game.
Its now our turn to root for a friend. Godspeed, Jace!
Email your thoughts to Jerry Foltz
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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”