Thats a Wrap - BuyCom Season Complete
And so, after a week of brutal conditions and immense pressure in Prattville, Ala., on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, 15 of the best players you might not know about have donned the cap and gown and are headed to the PGA Tour. Some appear to be 'locks' for success, while others still have some things to prove.
It was a year for the rookies, as three parlayed their maiden voyage on the Buy.Com Tour into a promotion to the big tour. Chad Campbell, Brenden Pappas and Jason Hill all graduated with honors.
It was also a year for the veteran. Canadian Richard Zokol earned a victory in his native Canada and returns to the PGA Tour full-time as a man in his 40s.
It was a year for perseverance as Matt Peterson turned nine years of hard work on this circuit into a promotion to the PGA Tour for the first time.
And don't dismiss the 'comeback kids.' Pat Bates returns to the big leagues after a near career-ending neck injury and Heath Slocum, who like Bates and Campbell, won three times to rebound from an illness that kept him off the course for months. Like Bates, the thought of the PGA Tour was a distant second to health and happiness when the year began.
All that said, here are my thoughts on the graduates and their chances for success at the next level:
1)Chad Campbell - Three-time winner and leading money winner on the Buy.Com tour. His $394,552 came because of 21 of 23 cuts made and eight top-10 finishes. The Texas native arrived on this tour after making some $800,000 in four years on the Hooters Tour. He's won at every level and in my opinion is the best player on this tour. A 'certainty' at the next level and possible rookie winner on the PGA Tour. You won't see him back in the minors.
2)Pat Bates - Three-time winner including the Buy.Com Tour Championship. He made 18 of 24 cuts and a victory in his last two starts. $352,261 in earnings because he's solved his bad habit of wildness off the tee. Not as long as he used to be, but he's accurate and man, can he putt! Back on the PGA Tour for first time since '95. Winning at the next level might take a while, but he may now have what it takes to keep pace with the very best.
3)Heath Slocum - Three-time winner and the first to earn the 'Battlefield Promotion' this year. $339,670 in just 18 starts. Straight as an arrow off the tee and a very smart player. He went 106 holes without a bogey during a stretch this summer. Played a handful of PGA Tour events after his mid-season 'promotion,' but didn't make much of the green stuff. Chances of keeping the card next year are about 50-50.
4)Rod Pampling - The Australian is about as consistent as they come. He didn't win in 2001 but with $306,573, he was right there just about every week. 21 of 26 cuts made, nine top-10s including three seconds. I like his chances of playing well next year. He reminds me of fellow Aussie Paul Gow, who lost a playoff at this year's B.C. Open.
5)Deane Pappas - The South African is about as good a putter as you'll see. Winner on the Buy.Com Tour in 2001 and had eight top-10s. 19 of 24 cuts made and $271,169. He played the PGA Tour in 1999, but like Bates has struggled at times with accuracy. A seasoned veteran who doesn't get rattled easily. I like his odds if he rolls it with the same consistency. My only question is the swing, which is still a work in progress.
6)John Rollins - Winner at the Buy.Com Hershey Open. He won at one of the toughest courses on tour. The native Virginian earned his PGA Tour card at Q-school in '99 but couldn't keep it. Now he's back after making 17 of 25 cuts and posting six top-10s. Earned $242,841 and is a tough customer. Very focused and businesslike on the course. Certainly has the ability, but not a lock. Still, I think he'll have some big weeks.
7)Tim Petrovic - Like Pampling, he didn't win, but what a start to the year. He began 2001 without fully exempt status but posted seven top-10s. Qualified for the U.S. Open and played well at Southern Hills. The Massachusetts native collected $239,010 and led the tour in scoring average at 69.68. He's easygoing, easy to get along with and just loose enough to surprise some people.
8)Jonathan Byrd - Rookie winner who earned $222,244. The South Carolina native made 16 of 20 cuts and posted five top-10s. He is long. Very long. But also very talented. Very talented! Not many players have his practice habits and dedication. Like Campbell, Byrd has a long list of supporters who think he's a sure-hit. I'm one of them.
9)Jeff Gove - The Seattle native is among the best at the Buy.Com level. 18 of 25 cuts and six top-10s. He's a streaky player who can get hot for a couple months. And isn't that what it takes at any level? Gove had his card last year and couldn't keep it. No guarantees this time either, but along with his $198,812, he proved that he's mentally tough. That should serve him well in 2002.
10)Brenden Pappas - Deane's younger brother finished second at the Buy.Com Tour Championship. Huge week as he was the only player to climb into the Top-15. Earned $188,152 with two runner-up finishes. A rookie on the Buy.Com Tour, he's a smart player whose seasoning comes from the South African Tour where he played dating back to 1994. He was also the leading money-winner on the 2000 Teardrop Tour. The Tour Championship proved a lot to me; next year he needs to prove some more.
11) Bo Van Pelt - Back to the big tour for the big hitter from Indiana and Oklahoma State. It was just a couple years ago that Van Pelt earned his big tour card in his first try at the Qualifying School. He couldn't keep it, but did have some nice weeks. 17 of 24 cuts made and $175,947 with five top-10s, including two runner-up finishes. I like Van Pelt's game and his maturity. A young player with a wife and baby, has plenty to play for.
12)Matt Peterson - The Chicago area native spent nine seasons on the Buy.Com Tour and has finally made it! Earned $169,947 after making 19 of 21 cuts and posting six top-10s. The feel-good story in 2001, the 34-year old is smart and straight, having led the tour in accuracy in 1999 and 2001. What a story if he could keep his PGA Tour card. We'll see how much nine years and just one win helps.
13)Richard Zokol - A Canadian veteran who's been a professional since 1984. Zokol's won on the PGA Tour and this year proved he still has it in him. Won in his native Canada at the CPGA Championship. Earned $167,192 after making 18 of 21 cuts. First full year back on the PGA Tour since 1994. A true 'professional' and tactician on the course. He's smart, he's dedicated and after talking with him a lot, I think he's determined to make the most of his mid-40s.
14)Jason Hill - The Texas rookie starred on the Lone Star Tour before joining the Buy.Com. Won the Steamtown Classic this year on a very tough track. Made 17 of 26 cuts to the tune of $166,899. This guy played nine weeks in a row, including the season-ending Tour Championship. He's a lot like John Rollins in that he's tough and focused. Hill's not a guarantee at the next level. Not yet anyway. Just don't tell him that.
15)Michael Long - The New Zealander won the Boise Open, which made up a large chunk of his $161,665. Made 15 of 23 cuts with three top-10s. Doesn't appear to be a lock, but he's played on World Cup and Dunhill Cup teams for his country. Won in New Zealand and played the European Tour. Quietly could come up with big year on the PGA Tour. He's seasoned.
It was a great year. We saw three 'Battlefield Promotions,' a few rookie surprises and a record number of men earning $300,000-plus. This tour is as strong as ever and just as Garrett Willis proved this year in Tucson, just because someone didn't finish in the top-15, don't count them out at Q-school where they'll get another chance at the PGA Tour and winning as well.
One thing that is a lock - it won't be called the Buy.Com Tour next year. That agreement has come to an early end. Whatever it's called, there are many who'd love the chance to play it next year!
See the final Buy.Com money list
LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019
The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.
The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.
The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.
The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.
The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at Club de Golf de Panama.
Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins
An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.
It was too much “socializing.”
“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”
Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.
“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”
Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.
Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.
His plan for doing that?
“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”
McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018
Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.
So much for easing into the new year.
So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.
McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.
“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”
McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.
If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.
After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.
“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”
A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.
McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.
“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”
It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.
“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”
A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.
A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.
Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.
To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.
Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.
McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.
“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.
A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.
“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”
A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.
Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open
SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.
The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.
Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.
Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.
''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''
The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.
Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.
''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''
Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.
''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.
Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.
He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.
Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.
Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.
He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.
Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.