One man's long journey to the PGA Tour

By John FeinsteinOctober 31, 2012, 2:02 pm

All George McNeill wanted to do was get in his car and point it in the direction of home. There really was nothing else to do. His career as a golfer, as best he could see, was over. He had just bogeyed the 18th hole at the TPC of Tampa Bay and was virtually certain he had missed making it out of the first stage of PGA Tour Q-School – again. He had just turned 30 a couple of weeks earlier and he was now 0-for-8 in his attempts to get through Q-School in order to realize his dream of playing on the PGA Tour.

A few minutes earlier, he had stood on the 18th tee convinced that a par would be good enough to get him to second stage. A birdie would be a bonus, a par probably good enough.

“I couldn’t handle it,” he said. “I missed the green by a mile with my second shot and that was pretty much it.”

He actually hit a reasonably good third shot, to about 12 feet, but his putt died an inch to the right. That inch was the difference between advancing and not advancing and he knew it the instant he missed – not because someone told him but because players have an instinct at Q-School for what the ‘number’ is to advance. McNeill had finished four rounds at 2 under par. He was certain the number was going to be 3.

“I signed my card and walked over to the (score) board where everyone was standing around watching the numbers go up. I really never actually stopped walking. I just did a quick count in my head and, even though all the scores weren’t up yet, I knew I was out. I could have waited around to be sure, but I didn’t want to do that,” he said.

“I just went straight to my car. My mind was racing as soon as I walked off the green. All I could think was, ‘this is it. You’re 30. You just missed first stage. This isn’t working. You have to go find a job.’ It was breaking my heart but I was being realistic. It took me about 3 minutes to go from signing my card to being in my car. In that 3 minutes I decided I was done.”

McNeill had been an All-American at Florida State, a lean, long-hitting free swinger who believed his future was on the PGA Tour. Once, in 2002, he had made Q-School finals. That got him a job on what was then the Nationwide Tour in 2003. “I played horribly all year,” (115th on the money list) he said. “I had qualified for the (U.S.) Open in ’02 and that gave me some confidence going into Q-School but by the end of ’03 I felt pretty much back to Square 1.”

And then, two years later, came the late meltdown in Tampa. “I honestly don’t remember the next couple of days,” he said, laughing. “I remember driving home, getting a case of beer and trying to drink myself into oblivion. I think I succeeded. About a week later, nothing had changed: I needed a job.”

A friend of his told him that Bill Harley, the head pro at Shadow Wood Country Club, which wasn’t far from where McNeill was living in Ft. Myers, Fla., was looking for an assistant pro. Since the club was corporate-owned, McNeill had to go through all the formalities of a job interview. The process was unsettling.

“I had never actually interviewed for a real adult job,” he said. “I guess in high school I went and talked to the pro at the club where I jockeyed carts, but that had been it. I had to put on a suit and do the whole thing. It definitely felt a little bit strange.”

He got the job and, a few months later when Harley got a job at a club called The Forest, McNeill went with him. It was a little closer to his home and the job paid better – about $27,000 a year.

“I did what I had to do every day,” McNeill said. “But I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t stand being in the shop or doing all the things a club pro does. I respect those guys a lot because they put up with a lot. But I knew it wasn’t for me. After about six months I walked into Bill and I said, ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t do this anymore. I have to get outside and try to play golf again.’

“He just looked at me and said, ‘what took you so long? Get out of here and get to work.’”

McNeill did with a different attitude. He didn’t just want to play golf successfully he needed to play successfully. He’d seen the alternative and it didn’t thrill him. Like any long hitter, he often spent a lot of his practice time with the driver in his hands. Now, even when he didn’t much feel like it, he spent time grinding on his short game.

He went back to first stage in the fall and won. “It doesn’t matter where you finish at first or second stage as long as you’re inside the number,” he said. “But the first day I shot 1 over on a day the wind was howling and I knew I’d played well. The next three days the wind laid down and I shot 18 under. That gave me some confidence.”

Second stage, which players agree carries the most pressure because a job playing golf someplace is at stake, was more of the same – lots of birdies and a breeze into the finals. He felt like a different player and a different person – especially when he arrived for the finals at PGA West.

“I was on the range and there were so many guys who had been on Tour talking about how awful it was to be back at Q-School,” he said. “I thought it was GREAT to be at Q-School. I was so happy to be there. My thinking was that I already had something because I’d made it through second stage. The only question was how good my something was going to be. I was a long way from the year before when I had absolutely nothing.”

The something turned out to be everything possible. McNeill won going away, finishing first by five shots.

“Before the last round I figured out that I could shoot 80 and still make it,” he said. “That probably wasn’t a good thought. I walked off the first tee and I realized I was shaking with nerves. I took a deep breath and got myself under control. Then I shot 30 on the front nine.” He laughed. “I figured I could throw it around on the back nine and shoot 50 so I was okay at that point.”

He’s been mostly okay since. During his rookie year he won in Las Vegas making him one of two rookies (Brandt Snedeker was the other) to win on Tour in 2007. He won in Puerto Rico earlier this year for his second Tour win.

“The first win is so big because of everything that comes with it,” he said. “You’re exempt for two years, you control your schedule, you get to play with the big names. I still remember after I won having guys I didn’t even think knew who I was come up and congratulate me – Davis Love, David Toms, Vijay (Singh). That was very cool.

“It took me a while to win again, but I finally did it. I worried at times I’d be one of those guys who won once and was never heard from again. So winning again was a good feeling, too.”

The only downer about the two wins is that they were both events that didn’t bring an automatic Masters invitation. “Obviously I’d love to play The Masters,” he said. “Or maybe I’ll set the record for most wins without getting into the Masters. Either way, I can’t complain about where I am.”

It has been seven years now since he drove away from the TPC of Tampa in search of oblivion. He has come a long way since.

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Watch: Daly makes an ace at the Chubb Classic

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 18, 2018, 9:01 pm

John Daly won't walk from the Chubb Classic with the trophy, but he certainly deserves recogition for his Sunday scorecard, which came complete with a hole-in-one.

Daly aced the 154-yard par-3 16th on the Talon Course at TwinEagles, when his ball carried the froont bunker and tracked right to the hole.

Two holes later, Daly signed for a final-round 67 that included four birdies, three bogeys and two eagles, which both in the span of four holes on the back nine.

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Gustafson shares stuttering success video

By Randall MellFebruary 18, 2018, 8:31 pm

Sophie Gustafson shared a breakthrough Sunday morning on YouTube.

Gustafson, a five-time LPGA winner and 16-time Ladies European Tour winner, shared her news in a 4-minute and 15-second video.

She did so without stuttering.

And that’s the nature of her breakthrough, something she is sharing in hopes that it will help others who stutter.

“I’m certainly not perfect, and the next time you see me, I am going to stutter, there is no question about that,” she says in the video. “But I am excited, because I am going in the right direction, and I believe I have found the solution that works for me.”

For someone who has struggled with stuttering all of her life, Gustafson has touched so many with her ability to communicate. She has entertained her legion of Twitter followers with her sense of humor. She also has written articles.

Back in 2011, Gustafson touched Golf Channel viewers when she opened up about her stuttering in an interview that was aired during the Solheim Cup. Her courage in sharing her challenges was recognized the following year, when the Golf Writers Association of American presented her its Ben Hogan Award, an honor bestowed to someone who has persevered through physical ailment. She also won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award that year.

Gustafson, 44, left the game as a player three years ago to become Beth Allen’s full-time caddie on the Ladies European Tour. She explains in the YouTube video that she is making her breakthrough with the help of Steve Gill, a team member with Tony Robbins’ life and business strategy group.

Gustafson said Gill led her to breathing, meditation and incantation exercises that have helped her since they began working together eight months ago.

“If you know anyone who stutters, tell them to breathe in and then speak,” Gustafson said. “I tried it the other way for 44 years, and it's just not working.” 

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J.Y. Ko wins her first start as an official LPGA member

By Randall MellFebruary 18, 2018, 4:09 pm

Make way for Jin Young Ko.

The South Koreans keep delivering one new star after another to the LPGA ranks, and they aren’t going to disappoint this year.

Ko made some history Sunday winning the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, closing with a 3-under-par 69 to claim a wire-to-wire victory. She became the first player in 67 years to win her LPGA debut as a tour member. Beverly Hanson (1951) is the only other player to do so.

Hyejin Choi, an 18-year-old who just turned pro, is yet another emerging South Korean star looking to crack the LPGA ranks. She finished second Sunday, three shots back after closing with a 67. She played on a sponsor exemption. She is already No. 11 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings and likely to move up when the newest rankings are released. Had Choi won Sunday, she could have claimed LPGA membership for the rest of this season.

Full-field scores from the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open

Ko, 22, moved herself into early position to try to follow in Sung Hyun Park’s footsteps. Park won the Rolex Player of the Year and Rolex Rookie of the Year awards last year. She joined Nancy Lopez as the only players to do so. Lopez did it in 1978. Park shared the Player of the Year honor with So Yeon Ryu.

Ko said winning the Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year Award is a goal, but she didn’t come into the year setting her sights on Player of the Year.

“I haven’t thought about that yet,” she said.

Ko finished at 14 under overall.

It was a good week for rookies. Australia’s Hannah Green (69) finished third.

Ko claimed LPGA membership this year based on her victory as a non-member at the KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea last fall. She’s already a star in South Korea, having won 10 times on the Korean LPGA Tour. She is No. 20 in the world and, like Choi, poised to move up when the newest world rankings are released.

Former world No. 1 Lydia Ko closed with an even par 72, finishing tied for 19th in her 2018 debut. She is in next week’s field at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

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Luiten takes title at inaugural Oman Open

By Associated PressFebruary 18, 2018, 3:25 pm

MUSCAT, Oman - Joost Luiten of the Netherlands won the inaugural Oman Open on Sunday to break a title drought of nearly 17 months.

The 32-year-old Dutchman shot a 4-under 68 to finish on 16-under 272, two shots ahead of his friend, England's Chris Wood (69).

It was Luiten's sixth European Tour title and the first since the 2016 KLM Open.

Frenchman Julien Guerrier (71) virtually assured that he would not have to go to qualifying school for the 12th time with a third-place finish after a 13-under 275.

Luiten started with three birdies in his first four holes, but bogeys on the seventh and eighth set him back. On the back nine, he made three birdies, including a key one on the 16th, where he made a 30-foot putt.

''It feels great. I didn't know what to expect when I came here but to play a course like this which is in great condition - it's a great technical golf course as well - it was beyond my expectation and to hold the trophy is even better,'' said Luiten, who is expected to rise to No. 65 in the new rankings on Monday.

''I had a great start, that's what I was hoping for. I hit some nice ones in close and rolled in a couple of nice putts and that gets you in the right position, where you want to be.

Full-field scores from the NBO Oman Golf Classic

''Unfortunately, I had a couple of bogeys as well on the front nine, but I recovered from that with a couple of nice birdies on the back nine and it was a good battle with Woody.''

Playing one group ahead, England's Wood was right in the mix and tied with Luiten at 15-under when their fortunes went in opposite directions almost at the same time. On the 17th hole, Wood drove his tee shot into the hazard left and could do no more than chip his ball out for a bogey. Luiten, meanwhile, drained his 30-footer birdie putt on the 16th for a two-shot swing.

Recovering his form after a series of disappointments, Wood was let down by the loss and said: ''It's golf isn't it? You are never happy.

''I played poorly for six or eight months. Would have never thought I would have put myself into contention. And when you do, you feel gutted when you don't win. I am pretty down really, but in the grand scheme of things, when I reflect after a couple of days, I will think it is a big step in the right direction.''

Luiten's win also got him into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai, securing him a start at the WGC-Mexico Championship in two weeks.

Frenchman Alexander Levy (70), who was hoping to finish in the top five to push into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai and grab the WGC-Mexico spot himself, did manage a joint fourth place at 11 under, but Luiten's victory kept him 11th.

The European Tour next moves to Doha for the Qatar Masters starting on Thursday.