Back to NOLA: Golf, Children and Charity

By Mercer BaggsMay 25, 2011, 9:00 pm

NEW ORLEANS – The corridor of lights on Orleans Street leads to redemption. Just a perpendicular stray from Bourbon Street and its sinful temptations there stands a statue of Christ, his arms open to all, a light casting a shadow nearly as tall as St. Louis Cathedral.

Today, when church bells ring in New Orleans, they do so with promise and hope. Maybe that’s just the heart interpreting for the mind, but the sound is different from that of five, six years ago. Then, there was an ominous presence. Then, the ringing was a knell.

New Orleans 2011 is not New Orleans 2006, the last time visited the forlorn city. Many suggest it’s not even New Orleans 2005 or ’04, that this is a better New Orleans – or, at least it one day will be.

“What Katrina did was wipe the slate clean,” said Mike Rodrigue, a fourth generation New Orleanian and former chairman of Fore!Kids Foundation. “It allowed us to address some things that would have taken generations, if ever, to address – our education system, our levee system, public housing. In a 24-hour period we were starting with a blank piece of paper, basically, and given the chance to not to go back to what we had, but learn from our mistakes and build things better.”

The improvement of life doesn’t readily come to mind when you think of New Orleans, but that’s what many have set out to do. There’s the St. Bernard Project, which has rebuilt 343 homes, to date, in the eponymous parish after Katrina decimated everything tangible. There’s the St. Michael Special School, which serves and educates students with special needs in New Orleans. And there’s Blessings in a Backpack, a program also involving Justin and Kate Rose, which provides weekend nutrition for students in need throughout the country.

All three charitable organizations were highlighted at this year’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

That’s the true identity of this PGA Tour event. We see four days of golf, a champion crowned, millions of dollars doled out to those with millions of dollars already in the bank. We see that which is the case with any and all tournaments contested on Tour – another television showcase, one stop of 49 on a yearlong schedule.

Then there is what we don’t see, what lies beneath the surface: charity and children.

When Bubba Watson sank a 3-footer on the second hole of sudden death, the 2011 Zurich Classic of New Orleans was officially over. Onward to Quail Hollow.

But for those who stuck around and those invested in the tournament – the event officials, the charitable organizations, the people of Zurich Financial Services, the people of New Orleans – the totality of the tournament was still to be witnessed.

“In our 52 years, we’ve been able to raise more than $20 million for local children’s charities,” Tommy Fonseca, Zurich Classic of New Orleans tournament director, said prior to the start of the event. “In post-Katrina, we’re about $8.5 million.”

Fonseca has been heading up the annual NOLA stop since after the 2006 event. He’s also president of the aforementioned Fore!Kids Foundation, which produces the tournament and raises money to fund children’s service organizations.

“This tournament is extremely important to this area, with all of the financial assistance that it provides to charities,” Fonseca said. “But, perhaps most importantly, post-Katrina, this event helps us showcase to the world that New Orleans is back.”

That effort began after Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005 – as soon as everyone could fully digest what had happened and comprehend what needed to be done.

Just 10 days after the storm wrecked the Gulf Coast region, Rodrigue, then the chairman of the board for Fore!Kids, led a group to PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. They discussed the possibility of moving the event to the east coast for one year, as the intended host site, TPC Louisiana, was inundated by Katrina – holes left under water for weeks, 3,200 trees gone.

There was a safety net, however. English Turn Golf and Country Club, which hosted the tournament for 16 years, had minimal damage in comparison and was able to fill the void. Meanwhile, Zurich Financial not only stuck by the tournament, but eventually extended its sponsorship agreement through 2014.

“Zurich did an incredible thing,” Rodrigue said just prior to this year’s event. “They really did make a statement. If I was a board member in Switzerland, hosting a golf tournament might not have been atop my priority list.”

Added Fonseca, “With what they did, that allowed us to focus on the details, the small things and not worry about the big things, like finding a title sponsor or a preferred date on the PGA Tour schedule.”

This year’s event nestled in three weeks after the Masters Tournament and two weeks before The Players Championship. It attracted one of its best-ever international fields, including first-time participants Luke Donald, the No. 3 player in the world at the time, and Graeme McDowell, the reigning U.S. Open champion.

The Zurich Classic prides itself on charity, but it doesn’t shy away from spectacle – there was a 120-foot, three-section Bacchus float – the Baccagator – to the right of the 17th tee box, to go along with 27 culinary stands located throughout the TPC Louisiana layout.

“We were really well looked after,” McDowell said during his Wednesday news conference. “I was going to come in here and talk to the media and then go for lunch, but I reminded myself of the 2000 calories I’ve had this morning already.”

“Man, I had an awesome meal last night,' said defending champion Jason Bohn on the eve of the tournament. 'It’s one of my favorite things about coming here. The food is phenomenal.”

Food, music, culture and sports are always on offer in New Orleans, coexisting in harmony. The week of the Zurich Classic, the NBA Hornets were locked in a battle with the Los Angeles Lakers, with a home game Thursday night. Jazz Fest began Friday morning. According to Fonseca, the tournament didn’t have to compete against these or any other events for public attention. In fact, he said, the extra activities helped draw a better field.

“That’s the great things about New Orleans,” Fonseca said, “the more the merrier.”

On April 27, 2006, the Zurich Classic became the first nationally televised sporting event in New Orleans, post-Katrina. The tournament, a fixture on Tour since 1938, featuring winners like Jimmy Demaret, Lloyd Mangrum, Byron Nelson, Billy Casper, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Seve Ballesteros and Tom Watson, was alive – but in peril.

“Right after Katrina hit, the question was: Is New Orleans still a PGA Tour destination? With the loss of infrastructure, the relocation of the playing,” Fonseca said. “One thing you never have to worry about is the resilience, the strength of the people of New Orleans. Our culture and our heritage is something you can’t flood. “

That resiliency has been much needed, not just for the people of New Orleans but for the entire Gulf Coast region. After Katrina, there was Hurricane Gustav. After Gustav, there was the BP oil spill. After the BP oil spill, there was the flooding of the Mississippi River.

You can’t help but wonder what’s next: the Rapture?

Fortunately, the billboard along Highway U.S. 90 citing May 21 as Judgment Day proved inaccurate. New Orleans survived one apocalyptic scene; it could do without another.

Truth is, where New Orleans sits on the map, with nearly half the city below sea level, it’s always in Mother Nature’s crosshairs. But those who choose to live there, those who have stayed there throughout it all, can’t live under scenarios of doom and gloom.

“Our future looks very bright,” Fonseca said. “In 2012, we have the Men's and Women’s Final Four and the BCS National Championship game. We have the Super Bowl in line for 2013. Along with our NBA and NFL teams, we appreciate the synergy and what it will provide to our city – the exposure, the economic aspect, to where we can increase and better fund local projects.”

Fortunately for the New Orleans community, the Zurich Classic is still in existence. Fonseca said the event has more than a $30 million impact annually to area. He added that while many tournaments have seen sales decrease during an ever staggering economy, his event – New Orleans’ event – has increased sales four years running.

“Doing that in this recession that we’ve had for a while, post-Katrina, post-BP oil spill, to continue to increase our sales during that time makes a big statement about what this tournament means to the city,” Fonseca said.

It also says quite a bit about the people of New Orleans.

“We pride ourselves on resiliency,” Fonseca said. “It’s in our DNA.”

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.