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.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - U.S. Amateur Championship
  • Getty Images

    O. Fisher, Pepperell share lead at Qatar Masters

    By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2018, 5:13 pm

    DOHA, Qatar - Oliver Fisher birdied his last four holes in the Qatar Masters third round to share the lead at Doha Golf Club on Saturday.

    The 29-year-old Englishman shot a 7-under 65 for an overall 16-under 200. Eddie Pepperell (66) picked up shots on the 16th and 18th to catch his compatriot and the pair enjoy a two-shot lead over American Sean Crocker (67) in third.

    David Horsey (65) was the biggest mover of the day with the Englishman improving 31 places for a share of fourth place at 12 under with, among others, Frenchman Gregory Havret and Italian Andrea Pavan.

    Fisher, winner of the 2011 Czech Open, made some stunning putts on his way in. After an eight-footer on the par-4 15th, he then drove the green on the short par-4 16th for an easy birdie, before making a 12-footer on the 17th and a 15-footer on the 18th.

    Like Pepperell, Fisher also had just one bogey to show on his card, also on the 12th hole.

    Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters

    ''I gave myself some chances coming in and thankfully I made them,'' said Fisher, who has dropped to 369th in the world rankings.

    ''You can quite easily make a few bogeys without doing that much wrong here, so it's important to be patient and keep giving yourself chances.''

    Pepperell, ranked 154th in the world after a strong finish to his 2017 season, has been a picture of consistency in the tournament. He was once again rock-solid throughout the day, except one bad hole - the par-4 12th. His approach shot came up short and landed in the rocks, the third ricocheted back off the rocks, and he duffed his fourth shot to stay in the waste area.

    But just when a double bogey or worse looked imminent, Pepperell holed his fifth shot for what was a remarkable bogey. And he celebrated that escape with a 40-feet birdie putt on the 13th.

    ''I maybe lost a little feeling through the turn, but I bounced back nicely and I didn't let it bother me,'' said the 27-year-old Pepperell, who hit his third shot to within four feet on the par-5 18th to join Fisher on top.

    The long-hitting Crocker is playing on invites on the European Tour. He made a third eagle in three days - on the par-4 16th for the second successive round.

    Getty Images

    Uihlein fires back at Jack in ongoing distance debate

    By Randall MellFebruary 24, 2018, 4:32 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Wally Uihlein challenged Jack Nicklaus’ assault this week on the golf ball.

    Uihlein, an industry force as president and CEO of Titleist and FootJoy parent company Acushnet for almost 20 years, retired at year’s start but remains an adviser.

    In an interview with ScoreGolf on Friday, Uihlein reacted to Nicklaus’ assertions that the ball is responsible for contributing to a lot of the troubles the game faces today, from slow play and sagging participation to the soaring cost to play.

    Uihlein also took the USGA and The R&A to task.

    The ball became a topic when Nicklaus met with reporters Tuesday at the Honda Classic and was asked about slow play. Nicklaus said the ball was “the biggest culprit” of that.

    “It appears from the press conference that Mr. Nicklaus was blaming slow play on technology and the golf ball in particular,” Uihlein said. “I don’t think anyone in the world believes that the golf ball has contributed to the game’s pace of play issues.”

    Nicklaus told reporters that USGA executive director Mike Davis pledged over dinner with him to address the distance the golf ball is flying and the problems Nicklaus believes the distance explosion is creating in the game.

    “Mike Davis has not told us that he is close, and he has not asked us for help if and when he gets there,” Uihlein said.

    ScoreGolf pointed out that the Vancouver Protocol of 2011 was created after a closed-door meeting among the USGA, The R&A and equipment manufacturers, with the intent to make any proposed changes to equipment rules or testing procedures more transparent and to allow participation in the process.

    “There are no golf courses being closed due to the advent of evolving technology,” Uihlein said. “There is no talk from the PGA Tour and its players about technology making their commercial product less attractive. Quite the opposite, the PGA Tour revenues are at record levels. The PGA of America is not asking for a roll back of technology. The game’s everyday player is not advocating a roll back of technology.”

    ScoreGolf said Uihlein questioned why the USGA and The R&A choose courses that “supposedly” can no longer challenge the game’s best players as preferred venues for the U.S. Open, The Open and other high-profile events.

    “It seems to me at some point in time that the media should be asking about the conflict of interest between the ruling bodies while at the same time conducting major championships on venues that maybe both the athletes and the technology have outgrown,” he said. “Because it is the potential obsolescence of some of these championship venues which is really at the core of this discussion.”

    Getty Images

    J. Korda leads M. Jutanugarn by four in Thailand

    By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2018, 3:00 pm

    CHONBURI, Thailand - Jessica Korda kept an eye on her younger sister while firing a 4-under 68 in the third round of the LPGA Thailand on Saturday to lead Moriya Jutanugarn by four strokes.

    A day after a course-record 62 at Siam Country Club, Korda fought back from a bogey on the front nine with five birdies to finish on 20-under 196 overall. The American was on the 18th hole when concerns over lightning suspended play for 30 minutes before play resumed.

    ''(I) was playing really well at the end of the season, but I haven't been in this (leading) position. Being back, it just takes you a little bit of time,'' said the 24-year-old Korda, who won her fifth and last title at the LPGA Malaysia in 2015.

    Her 19-year-old sister Nelly Korda (65) is eight shots off the lead.

    Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

    ''I'm definitely a leaderboard watcher. I love seeing her name up there,'' said Jessica Korda, who was playing her first tournament since jaw surgery.

    Propelled by eight birdies and an eagle on the par-4 No. 14, with three bogeys, Moriya signed off with a 65 and a total of 16-under 200.

    ''Everybody has the chance to win as all the top players are here this week,'' said Moriya, who has a chance to become the first Thai winner in her home tournament.

    Australian Minjee Lee (68) is third on 15-under 201, followed by former top-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn (65) on 202. Lexi Thompson (69), the 2016 champion, is a stroke further back. Michelle Wie (69) is tied for sixth.

    Brittany Lincicome was in second place after the second round, four shots behind Jessica Korda, but the American dropped down the board and is tied for ninth after a 73.

    Getty Images

    The Tiger comeback just got real on Friday

    By Randall MellFebruary 24, 2018, 1:11 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Slow play was a big storyline on the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing, but not so much anymore.

    Not with Tiger Woods speeding things up Friday at the Honda Classic.

    Not with Woods thumping the gas pedal around PGA National’s Champion Course, suddenly looking as if he is racing way ahead of schedule in his return to the game.

    The narrative wondrously started to turn here.

    It turned from wondering at week’s start if Woods could make the cut here, after missing it last week at the Genesis Open. His game was too wild for Riviera, where a second-round 76 left him looking lost with the Masters just six weeks away.

    It turned in head-spinning fashion Friday with Woods climbing the leaderboard in tough conditions to get himself into weekend contention with a 1-over-par 71.

    He is just four shots off the lead.

    “I’d be shocked if he’s not there Sunday with a chance to win,” said Brandt Snedeker, who played alongside Woods in the first two rounds. “He’s close to playing some really, really good golf.”

    Just a few short months ago, so many of us were wondering if Woods was close to washed up.

    “He’s only going to improve,” Snedeker said. “The more time he has, as the weather gets warmer, he’ll feel better and be able to practice more.”

    Snedeker has had a front-row seat for this speedy Tiger turnaround. He played the third round with Woods at the Farmers Insurance Open last month. That was Woods’ first PGA Tour start in a year.

    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    How much improvement did Snedeker see from that Torrey Pines experience?

    “It was kind of what I expected – significantly improved,” Snedeker said. “His iron game is way better. His driver is way better. I don’t’ see it going backward from here.”

    This was the hope packed into Friday’s new narrative.

    “I’m right there in the ballgame,” Woods said. “I really played well today. I played well all day today.”

    Tiger sent a jolt through PGA National when his name hit the top 10 of the leaderboard. He didn’t do it with a charge. He did it battling a brutish course in wintry, blustery winds, on “scratchy” and “dicey” greens that made par a good score.

    When Woods holed a 25-foot putt at the ninth to move into red numbers at 1 under overall and within three shots of the lead, a roar shook across the Champion Course.

    “It got a little loud, which was cool to see,” Snedeker said. “It’s great to have that energy and vibe back.”

    Woods sent fans scampering to get into position, blasting a 361-yard drive at the 10th, cutting the corner. He had them buzzing when he stuck his approach to 9 feet for another birdie chance to get within two of the lead.

    “I thought if he makes it, this place will go nuts, and he could get it going like he used to,” Snedeker said.

    Woods missed, but with the leaders falling back to him on this grueling day, he stuck his approach at the 12th to 10 feet to give himself a chance to move within a shot of the lead.

    It’s another putt that could have turned PGA National upside down, but Woods missed that.

    “It really is hard to make birdies,” he said. “At least I found it hard. It was hard to get the ball close, even if the ball is in the fairway, it's still very difficult to get the ball close, with the wind blowing as hard as it is. It’s hard to make putts out here.”

    Patton Kizzire, a two-time PGA Tour winner who won just last month at the Sony Open, could attest to how tough the test at Honda has become. He played alongside Woods this week for the first time in his career. He shot 78 Friday and missed the cut.

    Kizzire had a close-up look at what suddenly seems possible for Woods again.

    “He’s figuring it out,” Kizzire said. “He hit some nice shots and rolled in some nice putts. It was pretty impressive.”

    Woods could not hide his excitement in getting himself in the weekend hunt, but his expectations remain tempered in this comeback. He knows the daily referendums his game is subject to, how we can all make the highs too high and the lows too low.

    “We’ve got a long way to go,” Woods said.

    Woods lost a tee shot in a bush at the second hole and made bogey. He hit his tee shot in the water at the 15th and made double bogey. He three-putted the 16th to make bogey. He knows this course can derail a player’s plans in a hurry, but he knows his game is quickly coming around.

    “I’m right there where I can win a golf tournament,” Woods said. “Four back on this golf course with 36 holes to go, I mean, anybody can win this golf tournament right now. It’s wide open.’”

    Woods hit his shot of the day at the 17th to right his game after the struggles at the 15th and 16th. He did so in front of the Goslings Bear Trap Party Pavilion, cutting a 5-iron to 12 feet. It was the hardest hole on the course Friday, with nearly one of every three players rinsing a shot in the water there. Woods made birdie there to ignite an explosion of cheers.  He got a standing ovation.

    “I was telling you guys, I love Riviera, I just don't play well there,” Woods said. “So here we are, we're back at a golf course I know and I play well here.”

    So here we are, on the precipice of something special again?

    Woods seems in a hurry to find out.