Am Tour: Virginia's Hinchcliff puts pedal to metal to win Palmer flight

By Mike BaileySeptember 13, 2014, 3:35 am

For Chris Hinchcliff, his week at the Golf Channel Am Tour Nationals couldn't have gone much better. He carded a pair of 75s to open the first two rounds of play in the Palmer flight (handicap 4-7.9), knowing that he just wanted to be in the mix when the final round came along. He knew if that was the case, he might have a chance, and he was right.

Firing a final-round 71 on the North Course at Talking Stick Golf Club, Hinchcliff, whose home course is the Federal Club in Glen Allen, Va., overtook third-round leader John Rockwood of Laveen, Ariz., to win his first Golf Channel Am Tour National Championship title. His four-day total, a 12-over-par 297, bested Lockwood by three strokes, but it was nip and tuck for much of the round on Friday.

"I tried to stay conservative in the beginning," said Hinchcliff, a 26-year-old graduate student working on his MBA, "Then when the time came, I knew I would have to play more aggressively."

The turning point came early on the back nine on Friday. He entered the final round a stroke behind Rockwood and after a 1-over-par front nine, remained in that position. But when Rockwood hit an errant drive on the par-4 12th and made double bogey and Hinchcliff made birdie, Hinchcliff took the lead and never looked back. In fact, he would make two more birdies en route to a back nine 35 and one of the best rounds of the tournament.

In the end, Hinchcliff not only reveled in the win, but the whole week of camaraderie, nightly receptions and the whole setup of the tournament.

"This is so unbelievable," said Hinchcliff, who won twice on the Am Tour this year, including the Midwest Classic at Blackwolf Run in Wisconsin. "To come out here and win against 131 other players who are really good players is amazing. It's hard to describe."

Bennie keeps it together to win Sarazen flight

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"801426","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"286","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]

Michael Bennie played college baseball at Arizona State University and even dabbled professionally in the minors, but nothing in his athletic past seemed as nerve-wracking as going into the final round of the Golf Channel Am Tour National Championship with a five-stroke lead.

Fortunately, for Bennie, a general contractor from Surprise, Ariz., he figured out a way to calm his nerves, and win the Sarazen flight (handicaps 12-15.9).

"It's surreal," he said of the win. "It really hasn't sunk in yet."

Playing his final round on the South Course at Talking Stick, Bennie held a commanding lead over Jim Sefton of San Jose California after three rounds, but clearly he wasn't comfortable with it.

Although he lives fairly close to Scottsdale, Bennie opted to stay nearby all four nights instead of fighting traffic from the West Valley every morning. With an afternoon tee time on Friday, though, he had a little too much time to kill in the morning. A long breakfast that morning, solving the world's problems with some higher flighted players helped ease his mind. When he arrived at the course, he spent time talking to other players, right up until tee time. And Sefton, he said, kept things light throughout the day.

But still, in the beginning of the round, it was difficult for Bennie, and after nine holes, his lead had shrunk to just three strokes. And despite leading by as much as six shots a few holes later, a double bogey on the 14th by Bennie narrowed the gap again.

"I told myself I had to play the last three holes par or better," Bennie said. "I wound up making par on 16 and 17 and bogeyed the 18th, but by that time, I (still) had a three-shot lead."

As for the week, Bennie said it was an incredible experience. His friend, Sal Hernandez caddied for him to start the tournament, which also made it special.

"Now I'm trying to get him to join the Am Tour," he said.

 

Getty Images

What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

Getty Images

Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

Getty Images

Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.