Family tragedy puts Q-School in perspective

By John FeinsteinNovember 30, 2012, 4:30 pm

People still mention it to Jaxon Brigman. Now, 13 years later, he’s OK with that.

“They usually say, ‘I’m sorry to bring this up …’ or, ‘Was that you?’ And I say, ‘Yes, it was me but I’m fine to talk about it.’ The scar’s still there but the wound’s gone.”

Brigman knows his name is still whispered among players in locker rooms and on practice ranges. He may be the best-known golfer – at least among PGA Tour players – who has never had exempt status on the PGA Tour. There were times, Brigman jokes, that he wondered if his real name wasn’t That Poor Guy.

It happened in 1999 when PGA Tour Q-School finals were held at Doral – not on the famed Blue Course, at the Gold Course next door. Brigman was 28. He had been a good college player at Oklahoma State and had patiently worked on his game, thinking, after five years on what was then the Nike Tour, that he had a realistic chance to make the PGA Tour.

He went into the final day at Doral knowing he had to go low to get inside the qualifying number, but believing he had the ability to pull it off.

“The story of my life in golf has been getting myself to believe in my game,” he said recently, just before heading off to play second stage of this year’s Q-School. “I remember years back I was hitting balls with a buddy of mine and he said to me, ‘Jaxon, you aren’t practicing, you’re searching.’ That was probably pretty accurate.”

Not on that last day at Doral. All day long, Brigman was in the zone where he wanted to be, firing at flags, knowing he needed to make birdies – and making them. By the time he reached the ninth hole – his 18th of the day – he was 7 under par and convinced he was right on the qualifying number.

“I figured I had to make par,” he said. “I had a difficult second shot about 190 to the hole, under pressure and I hit it pretty close. It was one of the few times in my life I was impressed with myself. Then I missed a 6-footer for birdie. I made par and when I got to the scorer’s tent I saw a board on Golf Channel that said 15 under was the number – which was where I was.

“I went into the scoring tent and I was so excited I was actually shaking. I was wound up, nervous even. I was having trouble focusing on my card. Jay Hobby (another Nike Tour player who had kept his card) had circled all my birdies. There were seven – and no bogeys. I counted the circles and signed my card. I’d shot 65.”

There was one problem. Hobby, no doubt nervous himself, had written down a 4 on Brigman’s card on the 13th hole when he had actually made a birdie 3. He had circled the 4 to indicate the birdie but had written down the wrong number. Brigman didn’t catch it. Once he signed the card, his official score became 66.  Tour official Steve Carman, who runs Q-School, had to give him the news while he was celebrating with his family.

“When I saw it I was sick,” Carman said years later. “But there was absolutely nothing I could do.”

The only saving grace – if there was one – for Brigman was that he wasn’t disqualified. Since he had signed for a higher score, he had to accept that as his score.

“At least I had a job,” he said, years later. “Not the job I wanted, but a job.”

Brigman went back to second stage a year later and lost in a four-for-three playoff for the final spot. Carman was there that day, too, and watching the players struggle in 35-degree weather and near-darkness during that playoff, decided to change the rules for the first two stages: now, all those who tie for the last spot move to the next stage. It might be called “The Jaxon Brigman Rule.”

Brigman is still playing today, grinding on mini-tours at 41, believing he still has some good golf left in him. Now though, there’s another reason he’s playing: escape.  Last spring, real life intervened in Brigman’s search for a better golf swing in the most tragic way possible.

On the morning of May 16 he was in the shower in a house he had rented in the Dallas suburb of Frisco. He and Ami had separated several months earlier and Brigman had found a place nearby so he could see his daughters – Malyn, who was 5 at the time and Tatum, who was 3 – as often as possible.

Brigman heard the phone ring but didn’t see any need to rush to get it. A few minutes later, the phone rang again. He didn’t recognize the number but he answered it anyway.

It was the police. There had been an accident. Ami had been en route to school with the girls when a car had tried to cut into traffic on heavily traveled Lebanon Road, a four-lane road that many people took in the morning to get to the Dallas-area toll road.

“There was a woman in the median trying to get in to traffic,” Brigman said. “It’s very hard at that hour. She apparently thought Ami was past her but mistimed it. She hit the side of the car and Ami fish-tailed and went into the middle of a tree.

“My first thought was it couldn’t be that serious because you can’t drive much more than 40 on that road in the morning,” Brigman said.

“But when I got close to the accident site I saw a helicopter taking off from an apartment complex across from where the police had told me they had hit the tree. When I got there, Ami was in an ambulance – she’d had the wind knocked out of her when the air bag hit her, but was OK. I asked about the girls and someone said, ‘Your little one (Tatum) is in bad shape.’ They had taken both of them in the helicopter.

“I got in the ambulance with Ami and we took off heading for the Children’s Medical Hospital in downtown. I kept thinking, ‘It can't be that bad, they weren’t going that fast.’ The guy had the siren going to get us there as fast as possible. We had gotten into downtown when all of a sudden he turned the siren off. He didn’t say anything but that’s when I knew.”

At the hospital they were told Malyn was doing well. Tatum had not made it.

“Everyone reacts differently to that kind of tragedy,” Brigman said quietly. “My instinct was to avoid – to run – to not want to talk about it. Even now, when Malyn and I talk about Tatum we do it in the present tense. It’s as if we feel we’re keeping her spirit alive that way.”

Jaxon and Ami are now divorced but have worked closely together to deal with theirs and their daughter’s grief. Jaxon and Malyn have gone to grief counseling together. Through it all, the best therapy has been the game that, prior to May, had caused most of the pain in his life.

“Golf has always been my passion,” he said. “It’s not as if playing and competing gets me completely away from my thoughts but it does provide some escape. When I’m playing, I have to force myself to try to focus on hitting the next shot and that’s a good thing.”

Brigman’s biggest problem as a golfer was always lack of length. When he almost made the Tour in 1999 he was 5-foot-8, 140 pounds. “I always needed a golf course that wasn’t that long and I needed the stars to align to really play well.”

That’s why he decided a few years ago, not long after a fifth-place finish at the Byron Nelson Classic, that he needed to gain strength and length. He has worked with a trainer and his weight is now up to 175 pounds. “I’m longer now than I’ve ever been,” he said. “But the game still baffles me – like everyone else, I guess.”

He cruised through first stage in October and was in contention for two rounds at second stage before a 75-74 left him way outside the number. It was a setback, but not one likely to faze him at this point in his life.

“If I’ve learned anything this year it’s that the golf course is the best place for me to deal with what’s gone on in my life,” he said. “I’m sorry Q-School is going away. To me, it’s the place where you can go to dream. If you play well, you get to live your dream. I haven’t given up on that yet.

“But if I don’t ever live it, I’ll know I did handle the pressure once. And I also know, in the grand scheme of things, it’s great to have success in golf but it isn’t that important.”            

Ryu, S.H. Park among winners at Rolex awards

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 5:51 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – The Rolex Player of the Year and Vare Trophy winners won’t be determined until Sunday’s finish of the CME Group Tour Championship, but seven other awards were presented Thursday during the LPGA’s Rolex Awards dinner at the Ritz Carlton Golf Resort.

The awards and winners:

William and Mousie Powell Award – Katherine Kirk won an award given to the player “whose behavior and deeds best exemplify the spirit, ideals and values of the LPGA.” Kirk won the Thornberry Classic this year, her third LPGA title. “Some people ask me if I feel obligated to give back to the game,” Kirk said. “I think it’s a privilege.”

Heather Farr Perseverance Award – Tiffany Joh, who had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma earlier this year, thanked the Farr family and all those who supported Joh through her diagnosis and recovery.

“I found a great quote from Ram Dass, `We are all just walking each other home,’” Joh said. “I’ve really come to understand the value of all my relationships, no matter how fleeting or profound they seem.”

The Commissioner’s Award – Roberta Bowman, outgoing chair of the LPGA Board of Directors, was honored for her service the last six years. LPGA commissioner Mike Whan called her “my friend, my boss and my hero.” Bowman deflected the praise for her back on to the tour, thanking Whan, LPGA staff, players, sponsors, fans and the media.

“The world needs more role models for little girls,” Bowman said. “And they don’t need to look much farther than the LPGA.”

Ellen Griffin Rolex Award and Nancy Lopez Golf Achievement Award – Sandy LaBauve, who founded the LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf program, was honored as the first person to win both these awards.

The Griffin Award honors golf teachers and the Lopez Award honors an LPGA professional who emulates the values Lopez demonstrated. LaBauve is the daughter of Jack and Sherry Lumpkin, both teachers of the game.

“This program doesn’t belong to me,” LaBauve said of LPGA-Girls’ Golf. “I merely planted the seed. The fruit belongs to all of us.”

Rolex Annika Major Award – So Yeon Ryu won the award, named for Annika Sorenstam, for the best overall performance in women’s major championships this year. She won the ANA Inspiration and tied for third at the U.S. Women’s Open.

“It’s such an honor to win an award named after Annika Sorenstam,” Ryu told Sorenstam during the presentation. “It’s a special award for me.”

Rolex Rookie of the Year Award – Sung Hyun Park won the honor, telling the audience in a message translated from Korean that she was disappointed failing to win the KLPGA’s Rookie of the Year Award and was grateful for a dream come true getting the chance to win it on the LPGA.

Def. champ Fitzpatrick grabs lead at Euro finale

By Associated Press, Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 1:50 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a second straight 5-under-par 67 to secure a one-stroke lead halfway through the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship on Friday.

At 10 under after two rounds on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estate, Fitzpatrick leads English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton, whom he beat by one shot to win the title last year.

Hatton moved into contention with a brilliant 9-under 63, a round soured only by a closing bogey on the par-5 18th hole.

In the Race to Dubai, main protagonists Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose experienced contrasting emotions to their opening rounds. Fleetwood boosted his chances by rising into a tie for 11th at 6 under after a 65. Rose endured a three-putt bogey on the 18th to finish with a 70, and dropped on the leaderboard so he's just two shots ahead of Fleetwood.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit, stayed in contention by adding a 69 to his opening 70 to be one shot behind Fleetwood.

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Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

Fitzpatrick made two bogeys but eagled the 14th, and five birdies contributed to his 67.

Overnight leader Patrick Reed is now three back following an even-par 72. Reed is in the field thanks to a European Tour regulation that allows the Presidents Cup to count as an official event, thus allowing him to meet his quota of tournaments played.

Fitzpatrick was helped immensely also by the 18th, where Hatton, Rose, and Reed all made bogeys. Fitzpatrick birdied the hole for a second straight day with a 25-foot putt.

''I said to my caddie, we were putting really, really well all week so far,'' Fitzpatrick said.

''The thing is, you get so many fast putts around here, even uphill into the green, they are still running at 12, 13 (on the stimpmeter) even. You've just got to be really sort of careful. Every putt is effectively a two-putt. You've got to control your pace well and limit your mistakes, because it's easy to three-putt out here.''

Rose, hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey, was disappointed with his finish despite playing solid golf from tee to green.

''To make six (on 18) just ends the day on the wrong note, but other than that, I played really well on the back nine,'' Rose said.

''I was aware of the scores and who had done what today. But listen, halfway stage, I'd probably have signed up for that if somebody said on Wednesday you would be in this position after two rounds. It's a position you can build on the weekend.''

Fleetwood resurrected his chances of winning the Order of Merit with a 65, eight shots better than his opening round. His only bogey of the day came on the seventh after an errant drive, but that was the only mistake on a solid day that saw him make eight birdies.

Fleetwood spent hours on the putting green after his first round.

''I needed a low one today for (a tournament win and the Order of Merit),'' he said. ''Luckily, I got a good score.''

Closing eagle gives Kirk 1-shot lead in RSM

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 12:16 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Chris Kirk holed an 18-foot putt for eagle on his final hole for a 9-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the RSM Classic.

Kirk played the par 5s on the Plantation Course at Sea Island Golf Club in 5 under.

''I kind of hit my putter on the fringe a little bit and I wasn't sure it was going to get there, but that was just kind of the day that it was,'' Kirk said. ''Even when I thought it wasn't quite going to work out, it still went in the middle of the hole.''

The seven lowest scores of the opening round came on the Plantation Course during a picturesque afternoon on the Golden Isles. Sporting a University of Georgia hat Thursday, Kirk won at Sea Island four years ago for the second of his four PGA Tour victories.

''It's a big Georgia territory out here on St. Simons,'' Kirk said. ''Hopefully, my hat will bring me some luck the rest of the week.''

The tournament is the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, and Kirk is sorting out equipment changes.

''I'm still trying to get it all worked out and figure out what I want to do going forward,'' Kirk said. ''But keep shooting 9 under, so I won't have to worry about it too much.'

Joel Dahmen had a 64.

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''I think it played a little easier today,'' Dahmen said. ''The wind was down, greens were a little softer over here on the Plantation side. But just kept the ball in front of me and made a bunch of 8- to 10-footers.

''I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

Sea Island resident Hudson Swafford was at 65 at the Plantation along with Jason Kokrak and Brian Gay.

''I feel like I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

He played alongside fellow former Georgia players Bubba Watson and Brian Harman.

''We are right in the heart of Dawgs' territory, mine and Harman's backyard, so it's kind of nice,'' Swafford said.

Though, his caddie wore an Auburn shirt.

''We don't need to talk about that,'' said Swafford, not needing to be reminded that Auburn beat Georgia in football last week.

Nick Watney and Brice Garnett each had a 5-under 65 on the Seaside Course, which will be used for the final two rounds.

Brandt Snedeker opened with a 67 in his first return from a sternum injury that sidelined him since the Travelers in June.

Harman shot 69, and Watson had a 71.

Co-leader Smith credits Foley's influence

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:33 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sarah Jane Smith is making the most of the devoted efforts of Sean Foley this week.

Foley’s prize pupil, Justin Rose, is in the hunt at the World Tour Championship in the United Arab Emirates, looking to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, but Foley isn’t there with him.

Foley promised to help Smith this week, and he’s living up to the pledge, making the trip to Naples.

“At 33, Sarah is in her prime,” Foley told “She is going to hold a trophy at some point. She is too skilled not to win.”

Foley's extra attention is paying off for Smith.

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With a 6-under-par 66, Smith moved into early contention to make her first LPGA title memorable at the CME Group Tour Championship. She’s tied for the first-round lead with Taiwan rookie Peiyun Chien.

“I just seem to play my best with him,” Smith said.

Foley, the former coach to Tiger Woods, was No. 10 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 teacher rankings released this fall.

Foley sees a lot coming together in Smith’s game. She is a 12-year veteran building some momentum. She tied for third at the Women’s Australian Open earlier this year and is coming off three consecutive top-15 finishes in Asia. She is sixth on tour in birdies this season. 

“As a coach, you try to get a player to see something in themselves that is already there,” Foley said.

Rose, by the way, opened with a 6-under-par 66 in Dubai and is one shot off the lead.