Amateur Champions Struggling in Woods Wake

By Mercer BaggsAugust 18, 2004, 4:00 pm
2004 U.S. AmateurAt the Western Open, the amateurs dont practice alongside the professionals. The range is vast, creating segregation, de facto or de jure, between the two ' big bags to the left, small bags to the right.
 
It appeared, however, the Tuesday before the start of the tournament that one of the wannabes had decided to integrate with the pros.
 
He had this yellow, plastic device screwed to the grip of his club. You know, the one that is supposed to meet the left forearm on the takeaway and again on the follow-through.
 
He used this amateurish contraption on just about every club in his bag. He hit ball after ball after ball. Some would fade a little to the right, some would tail off to the left, and, occasionally, some would go straight.
 
But this guy had a big bag, a tour bag; one with his name on it, which read: David Gossett.
 
This week marks the five-year anniversary of Gossetts triumph in the U.S. Amateur Championship. At the time, he was just 20, the top amateur in the country ' full of promise and potential.
 
Now well, theres still promise and plenty of potential. But long gone are the days when he headed the class.
 
For the queasy or faint of heart, you may want to skip this paragraph ' its unsettling. Gossett has played 16 tournaments this year; hes made two cuts. Hes totaled $21,250 and ranks 238th on the money list. He has but five sub-par rounds on the season, and only one in the 60s.
 
The numbers ' his individual statistical rankings ' only get worse from there. But thats enough salt in the wounds.
 
Gossetts a good guy, very approachable. He doesnt need anyone to tell him what his numbers are this season; he knows them well enough. Still, he doesnt get angry or even defensive when you bring up these little devils.
 
Its never fun to go out and not score well, he said. Ive been working on my swing a little, on my takeaway. And Ive been working on my mind a little bit ' trying to slow down, trying not to put too much pressure on myself.
 
Gossett is half a decade removed from his Amateur victory, so there is no external or internal pressure to live up to that accomplishment.
 
The stress he is shouldering is derived from trying to maintain his livelihood. A victory in the 2001 John Deere Classic gave him a two-year exemption on tour. He finished 84th in earnings (with the top 125 gaining full exempt status) a year ago to keep his card this season.
 
On his current path, he will have to rely on his Past Champion status to play a limited number of tour events in 2005.
 
Gossett, however, is not alone in his struggles. Its been a little feast and a lot of famine for U.S. Amateur champions since Tiger Woods exited the amateur ranks.
 
Matt Kuchar, in 1997, was the first Amateur champion Post Tiger. He didnt turn professional until 2000, and then earned his PGA Tour card the following year through sponsors exemptions. In his first full season on tour he won the Honda Classic and finished 49th on the money list.
 
Armed with a two-year exemption, he made only eight of 23 cuts in 2003, and has made eight of 18 cuts thus far this season. Hes in danger of finishing outside the top 125 on the money list, but is in a better position than Gossett, at 131st on the money list.
 
After Kuchar, there was Kuehne.
 
Hank Kuehne stumbled around developmental tours upon winning the 1998 U.S. Am., capturing the Canadian Tours Order of Merit in 2002. He, like Kuchar, earned his PGA Tour card by playing well as a sponsors exemption, in 2003. After a rough start in 04, in which his missed 10 of his first 15 cuts, Kuehne is likely to be fully exempt next season as well. He has cashed a check in four of his last five tournaments to complement his fifth-place finish earlier in the season at the Nissan Open.
 
When you win the Amateur, youre expectations grow, Kuehne said. You feel you can play better and that you should play better. It takes a while to meet those expectations.
 
Ive been working on my swing, finally got everything back in order. Now its just taking it from the range to the golf course and letting it happen.
 
Gossett was next in line. He shot 59 in the fourth round of the 2000 PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, but finished tied for 68th and had to settle for a spot on the Nationwide Tour. Splitting his time between the Majors and the Minors in 2001, he won the John Deere to cement his PGA Tour status. That status is now as sound as gravel.
 
The goals are still there, but you have to be realistic to how youre playing right now ' you have to adjust them, Gossett said. My No. 1 goal right now is to gain some confidence, to get some momentum out there on the course. I need to make some cuts, do well, and hopefully from there Ill make some top-10s.
 
Amazingly, not a single U.S. Amateur champion since Gossett has made a top-10 on the PGA Tour. Not a one.
 
Jeff Quinney (2000 champion), Ben Bubba Dickerson (2001), Ricky Barnes (2002) and Nick Flanagan (2003) have played in a total of 48 PGA Tour events; theyve combined to make 12 cuts, with Barnes tie for 14th in this years FBR Open the best finish, by far, among the four.
 
Quinney is partially exempt on the Nationwide Tour, having made six cuts in 13 starts this year. Hes 80th on the money list, with the top 20 getting PGA Tour cards for 2005.
 
Dickerson quit school at the University of Florida five months after his Amateur victory, turned professional after competing in the 2002 Masters (he could have played in the U.S. Open and British Open had he remained an amateur), and has since been searching for a permanent place to play. Hes competed on several mini-tours, including the Hooters Tour, and has played in a handful of European and Challenge tour events.
 
Barnes, likewise, has logged plenty of Frequent Flier miles.
 
It looked so promising for the swashbuckling blond, who drew Arnold Palmer comparisons, when he finished 21st in the 2003 Masters, bettering playing companion Woods over the first two days. He then made the cut at the U.S. Open, where he posted three rounds of 71 or better at Olympia Fields.
 
But, he didnt do enough with his sponsors exemptions in 2003 or 2004 to earn his PGA Tour card. This year alone, hes played seven PGA Tour events (making two cuts), four events in Europe (making one cut), two tournaments in Australia (tying for eighth in the ANZ Championship) and two tournaments on the Nationwide Tour (making both cuts).
 
'I expect a lot from myself,' Barnes said. 'I expected to get right through Q-School, be out here (on the PGA Tour), kind of make my mark right away. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.
 
'You know, just made the hill a little bit taller and steeper.'
 
Flanagan, who became the first Australian in 100 years to win the U.S. Amateur, has missed the cut in all six of his PGA Tour starts this season, but has had moderate success overseas. He tied for third in the ANZ Championship and tied for 32nd in the Heineken Classic, both Australasian and European tour co-sanctioned events. At the Heineken, while paired with Ernie Els and Adam Scott, he opened in 67 ' the same day Els fired 60.
 
Theres no doubt that hes good enough, Scott said of his countryman. But as long as he just enjoys himself, doesnt pressure himself to be the next Tiger Woods, hell be fine.
 
Winning the Amateur has probably made my expectations bigger, because Im playing different tournaments ' bigger tournaments than I would have been. But I cant really change the way I approach everything. Im just trying to do what Ive been doing, said Flanagan, who didnt really get interested in the game until he watched Woods win the 1997 Masters.
 
A lot is expected of a U.S. Amateur champion ' particularly in the wake of Woods, who helped amplify the events popularity. There are public and personal expectations to turn amateur accomplishment into professional proficiency.
 
Woods, of course, is a truly unique individual, meaning his followers certainly shouldnt be judged by comparison. Some will flourish, others will founder ' its just the way it is, and nothing new.
 
Long before Tigers Triple, there was a list of past champions ranging from Hall of Fame to Hall of Who? Tiger's successors are still trying to find their place somewhere in between.
 
This game is a fickle game, said Gossett. It comes and goes. Itll come again.
 
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    Copycat: Honda's 17th teeters on edge of good taste

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 12:37 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The Honda Classic won’t pack as many fans around its party hole this week as the Phoenix Open does, but there is something more intensely intimate about PGA National’s stadium setup.

    Players feel like the spectators in the bleachers at the tee box at Honda’s 17th hole are right on top of them.

    “If the wind’s wrong at the 17th tee, you can get a vodka cranberry splashed on you,” Graeme McDowell cracked. “They are that close.”

    Plus, the 17th at the Champion Course is a more difficult shot than the one players face at Scottsdale's 16th.

    It’s a 162-yard tee shot at the Phoenix Open with no water in sight.

    It’s a 190-yard tee shot at the Honda Classic, to a small, kidney-shaped green, with water guarding the front and right side of the green and a bunker strategically pinched into the back-center. Plus, it’s a shot that typically must be played through South Florida’s brisk winter winds.

    “I’ve hit 3- and 4-irons in there,” McDowell said. “It’s a proper golf hole.”

    It’s a shot that can decide who wins late on a Sunday, with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line.

    Factor in the intensely intimate nature of that hole, with fans partaking in libations at the Gosling Bear Trap pavilion behind the 17th tee and the Cobra Puma Village behind the 17th green, and the degree of difficulty there makes it one of the most difficult par 3s on the PGA Tour. It ranked as the 21st most difficult par 3 on the PGA Tour last year with a 3.20 scoring average. Scottsdale's 16th ranked 160th at 2.98.

    That’s a fairly large reason why pros teeing it up at the Honda Classic don’t want to see the Phoenix-like lunacy spill over here the way it threatened to last year.

    That possibility concerns players increasingly agitated by the growing unruliness at tour events outside Phoenix. Rory McIlroy said the craziness that followed his pairing with Tiger Woods in Los Angeles last week left him wanting a “couple Advil.” Justin Thomas, also in that grouping, said it “got a little out of hand.”


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    So players will be on alert arriving at the Honda Classic’s 17th hole this week.

    A year ago, Billy Horschel complained to PGA Tour officials about the heckling Sergio Garcia and other players received there.

    Horschel told GolfChannel.com last year that he worried the Honda Classic might lose some of its appeal to players if unruly fan behavior grew worse at the party hole, but he said beefed up security helped on the weekend. Horschel is back this year, and so is Garcia, good signs for Honda as it walks the fine line between promoting a good party and a good golf tournament.

    “I embrace any good sporting atmosphere as long as it stays respectful,” Ian Poulter said. “At times, the line has been crossed out here on Tour. People just need to be sensible. I am not cool with being abused.

    “Whenever you mix alcohol with a group of fans all day, then Dutch courage kicks in at some stage.”

    Bottom line, Poulter likes the extra excitement fans can create, not the insults some can hurl.

    “I am all up for loud crowds,” he said. “A bit of jeering and fun is great, but just keep it respectful. It’s a shame it goes over the line sometimes. It needs to be managed.”

    Honda Classic executive director Ken Kennerly oversees that tough job. In 12 years leading the event, he has built the tournament into something special. The attendance has boomed from an estimated 65,000 his first year at the helm to more than 200,000 last year.

    With Tiger Woods committed to play this year, Kennerly is hopeful the tournament sets an attendance record. The arrival of Woods, however, heightens the challenges.

    Woods is going off with the late pairings on Friday, meaning he will arrive at Honda’s party hole late in the day, when the party’s fully percolating.

    Kennerly is expecting 17,000 fans to pack that stadium-like atmosphere on the event’s busiest days.

    Kennerly is also expecting the best from South Florida fans.

    “We have a zero tolerance policy,” Kennerly said. “We have more police officers there, security and more marshals.

    “We don’t want to be nasty and throw people out, but we want them to be respectful to players. We also want it to continue to be a fun place for people to hang out, because we aren’t getting 200,000 people here just to watch golf.”

    Kennerly said unruly fans will be ejected.

    “But we think people will be respectful, and I expect when Tiger and the superstars come through there, they aren’t going to have an issue,” Kennerly said.

    McDowell believes Kennerly has the right balance working, and he expects to see that again this week.

    “They’ve really taken this event up a couple notches the last five or 10 years with the job they’ve done, especially with what they’ve done at the 16th and 17th holes,” McDowell said. “I’ve been here a lot, and I don’t think it’s gotten to the Phoenix level yet.”

    The real test of that may come Friday when Woods makes his way through there at the end of the day.

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    Door officially open for Woods to be playing vice captain

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 20, 2018, 11:50 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Thirteen months ago, when Jim Furyk was named the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, one of the biggest questions was what would happen if Furyk were to play his way onto his own team.

    It wasn’t that unrealistic. 

    At the time, Furyk was 46 and coming off a season in which he tied for second at the U.S. Open and shot 58 in a PGA Tour event. If anything, accepting the Ryder Cup captaincy seemed premature.

    And now?

    Now, he’s slowly recovering from shoulder surgery that knocked him out of action for six months. He’s ranked 230th in the world. He’s planning to play an 18-event schedule, on past champion status, mostly to be visible and available to prospective team members.

    A playing captain? Furyk chuckled at the thought.

    “Wow,” he said here at PGA of America headquarters, “that would be crazy-difficult.”

    That’s important to remember when assessing Tiger Woods’ chances of becoming a playing vice captain.

    On Tuesday, Woods was named an assistant for the matches at Le Golf National, signing up for months of group texts and a week in which he'd sport an earpiece, scribble potential pairings on a sheet of paper and fetch anything Team USA needs.

    It’s become an increasingly familiar role for Woods, except this appointment isn’t anything like his vice captaincy at Hazeltine in 2016 or last year’s Presidents Cup.

    Unlike the past few years, when his competitive future was in doubt because of debilitating back pain, there’s at least a chance now that Woods can qualify for the team on his own, or deserve consideration as a captain’s pick. 

    There’s a long way to go, of course. He’s 104th in the points standings. He’s made only two official starts since August 2015. His driving needs a lot of work. He hasn’t threatened serious contention, and he might not for a while. But, again: Come September, it’s possible.

    And so here was Woods’ taped message Tuesday: “My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do whatever I can to help us keep the cup.”

    That follows what Woods told reporters last week at Riviera, when he expressed a desire to be a playing vice captain.

    “Why can’t I have both?” he said. “I like both.”

    Furyk, eventually, will have five assistants in Paris, and he could have waited to see how Woods fared this year before assigning him an official role.

    He opted against that. Woods is too valuable of an asset.

    “I want him on-board right now,” Furyk said.

    Arnold Palmer was the last to serve as both player and captain for a Ryder Cup – in 1963. Nothing about the Ryder Cup bears any resemblance to those matches, other than there’s still a winner and a loser. There is more responsibility now. More planning. More strategy. More pressure.

    For the past two team competitions, the Americans have split into four-man pods that practiced together under the supervision of one of the assistants. That assistant then relayed any pertinent information to the captain, who made the final decision.

    The assistants are relied upon even more once the matches begin. Furyk will need to be on the first tee for at least the first hour of the matches, welcoming all of the participants and doing interviews for the event’s many TV partners, and he needs an assistant with each of the matches out on the course. They’re the captain’s eyes and ears.

    Furyk would need to weigh whether Woods’ potential impact as a vice captain – by all accounts he’s the best Xs-and-Os specialist – is worth more than the few points he could earn on the course. Could he adequately handle both tasks? Would dividing his attention actually be detrimental to the team?

    “That would be a bridge we cross when we got there,” Furyk said.

    If Woods plays well enough, then it’s hard to imagine him being left off the roster, even with all of the attendant challenges of the dual role.

    “It’s possible,” Furyk said, “but whether that’s the best thing for the team, we’ll see.”

    It’s only February, and this comeback is still new. As Furyk himself knows, a lot can change over the course of a year.

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    Furyk tabs Woods, Stricker as Ryder Cup vice captains

    By Will GrayFebruary 20, 2018, 9:02 pm

    U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk has added Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker to his stable of vice captains to aid in his quest to win on foreign soil for the first time in 25 years.

    Furyk made the announcement Tuesday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., site of this week's Honda Classic. He had previously named Davis Love III as his first vice captain, with a fourth expected to be named before the biennial matches kick off in France this September.

    The addition of Woods and Stricker means that the team room will have a familiar feel from two years ago, when Love was the U.S. captain and Furyk, Woods, Stricker and Tom Lehman served as assistants.

    This will be the third time as vice captain for Stricker, who last year guided the U.S. to victory as Presidents Cup captain. After compiling a 3-7-1 individual record as a Ryder Cup player from 2008-12, Stricker served as an assistant to Tom Watson at Gleneagles in 2014 before donning an earpiece two years ago on Love's squad at Hazeltine.

    "This is a great honor for me, and I am once again thrilled to be a vice captain,” Stricker said in a statement. “We plan to keep the momentum and the spirit of Hazeltine alive and channel it to our advantage in Paris."

    Woods will make his second appearance as a vice captain, having served in 2016 and also on Stricker's Presidents Cup team last year. Woods played on seven Ryder Cup teams from 1997-2012, and last week at the Genesis Open he told reporters he would be open to a dual role as both an assistant and a playing member this fall.

    "I am thrilled to once again serve as a Ryder Cup vice captain and I thank Jim for his confidence, friendship and support," Woods said in a statement. "My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do what I can to help us keep the cup."

    The Ryder Cup will be held Sept. 28-30 at Le Golf National in Paris. The U.S. has not won in Europe since 1993 at The Belfry in England.

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    Watch: Guy wins $75K boat, $25K cash with 120-foot putt

    By Grill Room TeamFebruary 20, 2018, 8:15 pm

    Making a 120-foot putt in front of a crowd of screaming people would be an award in and of itself for most golfers out there, but one lucky Minnesota man recently got a little something extra for his effort.

    The Minnesota Golf Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center has held a $100,000 putting contest for 28 years, and on Sunday, Paul Shadle, a 49-year-old pilot from Rosemount, Minnesota, became the first person ever to sink the putt, winning a pontoon boat valued at $75,000 and $25,000 cash in the process.

    But that's not the whole story. Shadle, who describes himself as a "weekend golfer," made separate 100-foot and 50-foot putts to qualify for an attempt at the $100K grand prize – in case you were wondering how it's possible no one had ever made the putt before.

    "Closed my eyes and hoped for the best," Shadle said of the attempt(s).

    Hard to argue with the result.