Shakedown In Alabama
From his pedestal Joe graciously thanked all those who work the entire year to make this tour possible. Then he told his version of a story we heard from so many players all week long. He told of how it's with mixed emotions that every player moves up to the PGA Tour because of how much they enjoy the Nationwide Tour. The cast of characters is what makes it great and consensus opinion is that the family atmosphere that develops over the course of a year is far stronger than any other tour they've played.
Now the cast of characters will change as the 20 lead roles from this year's Nationwide Tour have now landed a part in The Show next year. Whether it's a starring role or a supporting role is to be determined, but they're guaranteed to be included in the credits.
But before next year's script could be written, the cast had to be completed at the Nationwide Tour Championship.
There was plenty of drama during the final round as various scenarios presented themselves through out the day. One such scenario was when it became possible for David Moreland IV to get bumped from the 17th position all the way out of the top 20 along with the three players immediately behind him - Craig Bowden, Brett Wetterich, and Kyle Thompson. We (Curt Byrum and myself) had projected Moreland was safe all week. In the end he was as Wetterich and Thompson were left off stage when the curtain dropped, and Tommy Tolles along with D.J. Brigman played their way on. However, strange things were happening all over the place on Sunday.
Brigman jumped into the top 20 in the most dramatic fashion. But jumping doesn't scare him. Four weeks ago, D.J. went along with six of the tour wives for a skydiving expedition. Now he has jumped onto the PGA Tour. Just two weeks ago, he was in 85th position on the money list. D.J. didn't figure into our equation at all on Sunday until a late birdie barrage put him in position for a chance at a solo-second place finish - the minimum he needed to get into the top 20. In one of the week's more compelling moments, D.J. drained a 10-footer on the difficult 18th to get him to the PGA Tour.
Tjaart van der Walt and Daniel Chopra were the true casualties. Both players entered the day needing to play merely a solid round of golf. Neither did. Chopra bogeyed every-other hole from the 12th hole in'including a final, devastating bogey at the last hole. Brigman played the 18th needing birdie to get his card, and he knew it. Chopra needed par, although there was no way for him to be sure what he needed, and came up short with a final-round 76 when just a 75 would have done it.
But he wasnt the only one.
Van der Walt could have shot a final round 76 and still finished inside the top-20. Once again, there was no way he could have known exactly what he needed. But, his edge-of-her-seat, exuberant, and most loyal fan'wife Phillipa'kept asking as we went along. All day from the 8th hole on, he was exactly one shot from the top 20. He played very solid on the back nine after starting his day double-double on the first two holes. Then, finally on the reachable par-5 17th hole, Tjaart holed a seven-footer for his first birdie of the day. He was in, and only in need of a par at 18. An errant drive that drew a terrible lie resulted in a lay up 50 yards short of the hole. From there, a sub-standard pitch and a narrowly missed 45-footer, and Tjaart was headed back to Q-School.
Although it was pretty obvious that both Chopra and Van der Walt were immersed in a struggle against their nerves, when it was all done, they both handled the disappointment with as much class as Ive ever witnessed. Sooner or later, this wacky game will deal everyone their share of adversity. And when faced with this overwhelming disappointment, their true characters were revealed. The pair might not have been up to the task inside the ropes on Sunday, but they did provide testament to what Joe Ogilvie was saying later in the night. The people who make up the Nationwide Tour are as good as it gets.
Tommy Tolles looked safely inside the top 20, even though he missed a 10-foot birdie putt at the last. However, after Brigman birdied the last two and Tjaart birdied number 17, Tolles was then bound for 21st position on the money list. Tjaarts final hole determined the fate of two people. And now, one of the best human beings Ive ever met is on his way back to the PGA Tour.
Tommy kissed his two children goodbye on July 28th and he hasnt been home since. He decided to gut it out and play every tournament until he made enough money to guarantee a spot in the top 20. It was a very tough stretch on his family. His kids would sometimes make phone conversations difficult because their emotions were obvious in the sadness of daddy being gone for so long. And mom was gone for much of the time as well. She was out caddying for her husband much the same way they did together when Tommy was forging his career 10 plus years ago.
But trust me, the person who felt the most heartache was Tommy. Hes the most devoted father and husband I know, and being away from his children for so long was eating at him inside more than hell ever admit. A heart to heart with his wife on Friday night is what Tommy said inspired his 65 on Saturday. Ive known Tommy and Ilse since 1991, and the only other time I can remember that Ilse demanded the floor during one of Tommys struggles, Tommy responded with rounds of 65 and 66 at the second stage of Q-School. Im pretty sure that was the same year he earned his PGA Tour card.
Tommy and Ilse drove the five hours back to Flat Rock, N. C., first thing Monday morning. It took every last tournament for Tommy to earn that PGA Tour card, and he made it by a mere $1,200. But now Wiekus and Hannah Tolles have daddy home, and daddy proved to himself that he still has what it takes to succeed. When Tommys game was at its best, he qualified for the PGA Tour Championship twice. Like everyone else in the top 20, Tommy enjoyed the atmosphere this year on The Nationwide Tour, but his dream is to never play in the Nationwide Tour Championship again.
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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... 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."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.