Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

By John FeinsteinApril 11, 2017, 7:23 pm

The first half of Masters week was about who was absent.

Tiger Woods made a brief appearance at the Champions Dinner on Tuesday, then disappeared so quickly it was hard to be certain he had actually been there.

On Thursday morning, Arnold Palmer’s spirit was very much present during the opening ceremony, but the tears shed by both Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as they hit their tee shots were a reminder that the Masters would have go on without him.

And then, a few hours later, came the news that the world No. 1, Dustin Johnson, wasn’t going to make it off the first tee, the victim of a fluke accident – a slip on the steps of his rented house that wrenched his back.

And so, it was left to the other 93 players to go about making history, because when the dust clears on Masters Sunday every year, someone makes history.

A year ago, it was Danny Willett, blowing past the faltering Jordan Spieth to become a Masters champion. Willett culminated a difficult 12 months since he slipped on the green jacket by beginning the tournament 6-6 on Thursday, then opened his second round with a quadruple bogey-8 on the first hole and missed the cut by a shot.

Charley Hoffman was the star the first day, shooting a miraculous 65 on a day when the scoring average was just over 75, giving him a startling four-shot lead on the field.



By Friday, Hoffman had come back to the pack and a name popped up on the leaderboard that raised eyebrows and produced murmurs and questions that had been heard often in the past: Sergio Garcia.

Bill Clinton was president in 1999 when Garcia barged onto the golf scene at age 19. He was low amateur at the Masters that year and got to share the stage during the awards ceremony with one of his boyhood heroes, Jose Maria Olazabal, who won his second Masters that year.

Four months later, as a brand new pro, he chased Tiger Woods to the finish line in the PGA Championship. A little more than a month later, he became the youngest player in Ryder Cup history and played very well the first two days as Europe built the 10-6 lead that the Americans would overcome on Sunday.

He was El Nino – the boy – and he was going to be Woods’ challenger in the 21st century. He was the Spanish successor to the legacy of Seve Ballesteros and Olazabal.

Only it didn’t quite work out like that. Garcia was a very good player but he never lived up to the potential he had flashed as a teenager. He won on the PGA Tour; he won in Europe and around the world. He was a superb Ryder Cup player, part of five winning teams.

But the majors eluded him. He came close, barely missing a 7-foot putt at Carnoustie that would have won The Open, before losing a playoff to Pardraig Harrington. A year later, at Oakland Hills, Harrington caught him from behind to beat him at the PGA Championship. In all there were 22 top-10 finishes, but no victories. He had a Hall of Fame resume with one massive, glaring hole.

He wore the label, Best Player Never to Have Won a Major, for a while and then lost it when his game went south – notably in 2010 when he took a break from playing because he was so discouraged. He went to the Ryder Cup that year as one of Colin Montgomerie’s vice captains, a week that turned out to be a crucial moment in his career.

“It made me realize how lucky I had been to play in so many Ryder Cups,” he said one evening last year. “It reminded me how much I loved golf, how much I enjoyed competing. I was still young – I had only just turned 30. I knew there was time for me to play well again.”

The most important part of Garcia’s epiphany during that week in Wales was realizing he’d been lucky. He had never thought that way in the past. There had always been a woe-is-me side to him, in spite of all the money he’d made; the relationships he’d had with glamorous women; the victories he’d had through the years.

That changed, not all at once, but gradually. Two years later, after a bad day at the Masters, he told reporters he didn’t think he had what it took to win a major. It was a startling comment, especially since, at 32, he was a year younger than Phil Mickelson had been when he broke through at Augusta; two years younger than Ben Hogan had been when he won his first major. At that point, many figured that the time for Garcia to win a major had passed.

There was one more low moment, the foolishly insensitive comment about Woods and fried chicken during a European Tour dinner the week after he and Woods had traded barbs at The Players Championship. The two men never liked one another – some of it was competitive, but much of it was personal.

“That was a low moment,” Garcia said. “A lot of it was because I was the one at fault. Tiger and I just never hit it off. We’re very different people. But that wasn’t an excuse for me to say something like that.”

The fact that Garcia could point the finger at himself three years later was a sign of his maturation.

He talked last Friday about how he had finally learned to accept the good and the bad on the golf course, especially at Augusta, a place that will take away just as quickly as it gives.

On Sunday, Ballesteros’s 60th birthday, Garcia backed up those comments. By the time he and Justin Rose got to the 10th tee, it was almost a certainty that one of them was going to be the Masters champion. Garcia promptly went bogey-bogey to drop two shots behind and then smacked his tee shot on 13 off a tree and into a bush, where he had to take a drop.

At that moment, it looked as if Rose might stroll to his second major title. He was in the fairway, in prime position to make birdie. Garcia had to layup with his third shot. Somehow, he got up and down for par. Somehow, Rose failed to make birdie, missing a 6-foot putt. What could have been a three- or four-shot lead was still only two.

Given life, Garcia responded as he had never responded in the past: two great shots led to a birdie at 14; two more great ones led to an eagle at 15. Suddenly, it was a tie ballgame and it stayed that way through 18, both men missing makeable putts as the pressure built.

One might have thought Garcia had again missed his chance when his 6-foot birdie putt at 18 slid right. But Rose gave him an opening with a wayward tee shot on the first playoff hole and this time Garcia’s birdie putt – when all he needed was a two-putt – found the hole and his knees buckled in disbelief. Eighteen years later, El Nino had finally grown up to be a major champion.

It was a victory greeted with cheers by virtually everyone in golf. Even Rose, as gracious in defeat as anyone could be, talked about how happy he was for Garcia.

Now, the Hall of Fame resume is complete. Now, there will be no more questions about not winning a major, about what might have been.

Last fall, after hearing chants of “no majors” throughout the weekend at Hazeltine during the Ryder Cup, Garcia said he hoped to be on the European Ryder Cup team in 2020 at Whistling Straits so he might hear a different chant.

“I’d like to hear them chant, ‘one major,’ or maybe ‘two majors,’” he said, laughing. “At the very least, I’d like one.”

He’s got it now. One major, no chants. Few have deserved a victory more.

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 GolfChannel.com. “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.