An Inspirational Rock at Pebble

By Mercer BaggsJanuary 30, 2002, 5:00 pm
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Jeff Julian walks shoulder-and-shoulder with his wife, Kim. Its chilly, but the suns shining brightly and theres not a cloud to be counted on the Monterey Peninsula. Things seem perfect.
But theyre not.
Julian, 40, is battling ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrigs disease. Its a neurological disease for which there is no known cure. And to make matters worse, his is a rarer form.
Normally, the disease starts in the limbs and works its way up the body, slowly but surely disabling ones speech, swallowing and respiratory system. But thats where it started for Jeff.
Julian suffers from Bulbar ALS. The corticobulbar area of his brainstem, which controls the muscles of his mouth and tongue, is severely affected. Fifty percent of ALS victims die in the first 18 months. Julian's is more severe.
As Julian plays in this weeks AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the effects are evident. But not in his walk, not in his game, and certainly, not in his outlook.
The only thing is to stay positive. Positive, thats it. The way I play golf is the way Im fighting this, Julian said following his practice round Tuesday at Poppy Hills.
Jeff speaks slowly and slurs his words. He uses his hands to stretch and move his cheeks and jaw. And when its cold, as it is Tuesday at Pebble Beach, his teeth chatter uncontrollably.
In June of last year, Julian and his friends and family noticed something was wrong. He was having trouble swallowing, choking at times. His speech was deteriorating. Jeff and Kim went to a doctor, who quickly referred them to a neurological specialist. In the fall of 2001, they had their answer.
For two weeks we were in shock, Kim said. But once we regained our composure, we continued on and went back to the way weve always been.
Jeff and Kim have been exploring experimental medicine. In February, he will start chelation therapy, which involves a series of intravenous infusions with a chemical called EDTA to try to eliminate mercury from his system. Mercury is a toxic chemical that can cause ALS symptoms.
The natural question one might ponder is Why? But not Jeff.
Maybe for about five seconds when we first went to Johns Hopkins, he said. No, I dont feel that way. This may be what Im meant to do.
Few people have such resolve. Few people can look death in the eye and say, You can take my body, but not my mind, and not my heart.
Julian is a true protagonist, not a tragic figure. A hero to those who know him. A man of conviction and quality ' even before this disease began to manifest itself inside him.
Kim knew such things when she met him at the Buy.Com's Ozarks Open, 45 minutes from her hometown of Branson, Mo. (where the couple currently lives). She liked the fact that he first mentioned that he had a son; she did, too. She knew instantly he was a keeper, even if he was a bit clumsy.
I thought he was cute, she said.
I spilled a drink on her shoes,' Jeff chimed in.
To which Kim added: I was wearing open-toed sandals, too, and it was awful, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
They talked at length that first night. And when Jeff returned to play in another event near the area, he drove to Branson to see her. A relationship was cemented. They will be a married a year come Feb. 15.
Hes handsome, thats obvious, Kim said, as Jeff leaned over to kiss her cheek. Hes honest. Hes loving. Hes wonderful. Hes the man of my dreams.
And I can putt, too, Jeff said with a laugh.
Jeff is a very talented player. He won the 1995 New England Open on his home course, the Quechee Club in Vermont, and also the 1997 Dominion Open on the Buy.Com Tour.
Hes been a member on the PGA Tour, earning his card through the Qualifying Tournament in 1995. He lists that day as one of his greatest golfing moments. Another was when he got a call from Pebble Beach tournament director Ollie Nutt.
Nutt offered Julian what he really needed - a chance to play competitively.
We spent a couple of weeks in Florida, playing some golf and I think the word they used was a degree of normalcy, said best friend and caddie this week Scott Peters. I think he finds his peace on the golf course and as long as he has that, I think life seems somewhat normal to him and its something that gives him that escape, that peace of mind.
Jeff says golf is like life. You have to put the bad behind you and move forward. In fact, his swing is much like his words - slow in delivery, but powerful in impact.
We believe there is a cure. I know there is, he said. Its out there. Im sure of it. I have lots of help and Im very lucky that way.
This lead has a very strong supporting cast. Peters helped Jeff get a sponsorship deal with Callaway Golf. Hes also organized a charity tournament in June to help raise money for his cause.
There are also his peers, such as Joel Edwards, who first met Julian when he was a rookie on tour in 1996. Edwards, like so many others, is still trying to come to terms with his friends affliction. He finds the questions far outnumber the answers.
You cant explain something like that. How do you explain that to your kid? How do you explain something like that? You cant, he said after playing a practice round with Julian Tuesday.
Hes uplifting to me. He should be to everybody. His story needs to be heard. He needs to be out here every day. Thats the way it should be.
Theres a paradoxical word in the English lexicon called perspective. One can only have such a thing if he or she has experienced both the sweet and the sour life has to offer. Due to circumstance, its not something you pursue, but when you find it, you keep hold.
Its pretty minute, your problems. You got your health, your family. So what if youre hitting it sideways, Edwards said. I was going to go practice...I think Im going to go call my wife.
This event is one of seven for which Julian can receive a sponsors exemption. He wants to play. He needs to play. To find that normalcy. And to spread awareness.
Its a horrific disease and its not very common, said Kim. So theres not a lot of funding for research. And Jeffrey has a great opportunity to help other people, too. Its a horrible thing. Its a horrible process. I think thats why its been given to us, to help other people, too.
Robert Frost wrote: The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. Jeff Julian will cherish this week at Pebble Beach. Hell take time to enjoy the surroundings, and the walks with his wife. But hes still a player, and a competitive one at that.
Its always sentimental walking up the 18th hole at Pebble, he said. But Im seriously here to play and my game is very good. Im really in the game, thats it. Sunday, walking up 18, Ill savor that moment. Until Sunday, its going to be business as usual.
Sunday. He remains positive, as if no one and no thing can take away the dream he fostered as a youth back in Vermont.
I always saw myself walking up 18 at Pebble Beach on Sunday, honestly, he says, then pauses and smiles. Sunday at 18.
Getty Images

Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

Getty Images

Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

Getty Images

Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

Getty Images

Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1