Futures Tour Member Carries World View To Next Tee

By Lisa D. MickeyNovember 12, 2004, 5:00 pm
Futures TourPerhaps it hit her, right there in the middle of the riverbed. Futures Golf Tour member Jennifer Greggain rode on the back of a kind-hearted Haitian man to the banks of the other side. This riverbed was dry when she had walked across earlier in the day to volunteer her services in a medical clinic. Now, she was being ferried back across as afternoon rainwater had filled the earthen crease, prompting this chivalrous gesture by the wading man.

Jennifer GreggainBefore she ever arrived in the Caribbean, Greggain had imagined Haiti, ravaged by floodwaters from September hurricanes that killed nearly 2,000 residents, reducing squalor to further desperation. In September, while she played the lush fairways of Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., she daydreamed about what she might encounter, wondering what she could offer the island's needy inhabitants and how she would be accepted.

Greggain advanced into next month's LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament in Florida at that California Sectional qualifier, and she did it thinking all the thoughts she wasn't supposed to think while competing against some of the world's best women golfers. Now, balancing on the back of a stranger in an often-ignored region of the world, she discovered that the greatest gift wasn't medalist honors on an immaculate golf course, or even a paycheck. It was the strong shoulders of a grateful resident willing to serve as her transportation against the same tide that had devastated his homeland.

'Thinking about Haiti while I played in the sectional helped calm my nerves in a way,' she said. 'I had the sense that my life doesn't revolve around golf. That's how I played at the [U.S. Women's] Open this year and that's how I played at the sectional. After going there and living among the people of Haiti, with all that they need, I'm just not ever going to be worried about how I play golf.'

For two weeks in October, Greggain, 27, a native of Panorama City, Calif., and a current resident of Chilliwack, British Columbia, traveled with a team of 16 in a Canadian church-affiliated charity, called Hungry For Life International. Eight months ago, their original plan was to complete the construction of a church in Larac. The foundation had been poured for the building that would serve as a church, school and medical clinic, but funds had run out before the roof could be raised. Unfortunately, the roads to Larac had washed away in the floods before the team of construction workers, engineers, geo-techs, carpenters and medical specialists arrived.

The group's second plan was to administer help to the residents of Gonaive, where floodwaters had overtaken second-story buildings, contaminated fresh water supplies and devastated crops and livestock in the surrounding areas. But by the time the team had arrived, passage into the city was unsafe. Looters and robbers regularly intercepted food and water supplies from aid groups for personal consumption and black-market sales. So the group ended up in Grammothe, a small mountaintop village outside Port-au-Prince. Greggain's husband, Josh Greggain, in his final year of medical residency, volunteered in the village medical clinic.

'I'd never seen Josh work as a doctor before that time,' said his wife. 'In seven days, we saw more than 400 patients.'

The Greggains administered to sick children needing antibiotics, pregnant mothers with complications, malnourished residents and even those seeking minor surgery. One woman, who had suffered a stroke, walked for days and hiked up the mountain with a paralyzed left side to reach the clinic. Another 20-year-old woman, weighing 85 pounds and needing serious medical attention from a cardiac surgeon, sought medication for her heart defect.

'We brought $5,000 worth of medicine and the usual medical supplies, but sometimes we still felt helpless,' said Greggain, who assisted her husband, handing him sterile tools while he sutured injured patients.

Greggain checked patients into the clinic, weighed them and even treated children for scabies while her husband administered more medical expertise elsewhere in the sparsely furnished facility. Their worst experience was learning that a woman, seven months pregnant, had lost her baby prematurely.

'After we heard that the baby had died, we decided to make a house call and went into the village,' said Greggain. 'We talked to her and tried to comfort her. We told her it wasn't her fault.'

By visiting patients and going into their homes, the reality of their miserable living conditions became evident to Greggain and the team. Island residents live in mud huts with dirt floors. In the capital city of Port-au-Prince, Greggain observed mountains of garbage in the streets. Rules of the road were non-existent, making roadways hazardous to all vehicles and pedestrians. This was particularly noticeable to the team, whose mode of transportation was riding in the back of a 1985 Chevy pickup truck -- all 16 of them at once.

'Sometimes, it was quite overwhelming,' said Greggain, a fifth-year member of the Futures Golf Tour and winner of the 2000 NCAA Sportsperson of the Year Award while at the University of Washington. 'It put into perspective what is really important in life. In Haiti, it's about survival.'

And that was a key focus of the team's gentleman host, who started a church and school in the mountain region where they stayed. The man also installed irrigation, which helped grow crops for food to battle the malnutrition still plaguing much of Haiti.

'He was teaching the people ways to help themselves,' said Greggain.

The team lived in quarters that were very much like unair-conditioned summer cabins with beds and functional bathrooms. The water wasn't always hot, but they were fortunate to have running water. During the trip, half of the team suffered with gastro-intestinal disorders, which they affectionately called 'the Haitian Sensation.' Greggain's key discomfort was that she was 'a mosquito magnet.'

Communication was rarely a problem. Most members of the Canadian team were able to communicate in French with island residents, who speak Creole, a regionalized version of French.

'In the village, we got a warm welcome,' said Greggain. 'People were happy to see us -- happy that others cared about them. But there was great political unrest with violence in Port-au-Prince, so when we heard about that, we stayed away.'

With the school located next door to the medical clinic, the Greggains had the opportunity to meet many of the village children. And with her own two children back home in Canada staying with grandparents, Greggain couldn't help but think of six-year-old son, Darren, and three-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. Haitian youngsters asked where Canada was. They asked about her culture, her clothing and the way she wore her hair. Nobody knew she was a professional golfer. Nobody cared that, only months earlier, she had moved into the tournament field of the U.S. Women's Open as an alternate when injured LPGA Tour veteran Dottie Pepper withdrew.

'I tried not to think about golf and I tried to focus on what I was doing there,' said Greggain, who was the 1999 Washington State Public Links Champion. 'I found it very humbling to see what these children have, compared to what our children have back home.'

Josh and Jennifer Greggain decided to sponsor two Haitian children who are the same ages as their own children. Their hope was that Naomi Hermilus, 3, and Guy Nelus, 6, can exchange greetings with Darren and Elizabeth back in Canada. The Greggains hope to return to Haiti next year along with their children to meet their new Haitian pen pals.

'They can learn from each other,' said the golf-mom. 'I feel like the best way to educate my children is to show them the world.'

Greggain's world will change again when she arrives in Daytona Beach, Fla., Dec. 1-5, for the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament. She will be focused on that task when it comes, albeit with new perspective.

'I see so many women golfers out there who get burned out because they make their life their golf score,' she said. 'That kind of pressure is going to hurt anybody over time. We've done so much in Haiti that it's kind of hard for me to get out on the golf course again, but I know that once I'm there, I'll be fired up and ready to go. I'll go to Florida for Q-School and trust what I have. I know that I've already had a really good year.'

Indeed, it was a year of highlights this native Californian will never forget, ranging from the electrified gallery-ringed U.S. Women's Open with its fanfare and worldwide acclaim, to that isolated afternoon in Haiti, when she climbed on the back of a countryman who carried her to a distant shore.
Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.