Arnie at 86: Still giving back

By Rex HoggardSeptember 14, 2015, 8:27 pm

LATROBE, Pa. – Just down Legends Lane about a 5-iron from the golf course where he learned to play the game like a super hero, Arnold Palmer eases into a leather chair in his office.

Technically "office" doesn’t really work for a man who has spent the better part of a century playing a game that is better because he was around, but that’s what he calls the cozy complex the includes a museum-like entry and his legendary workshop.

The famed workshop is an almost mythical place for most golfers that includes thousands of golf clubs and all the trappings for proper tinkering, from a lie and loft gauge to a blowtorch and a random Williams–Sonoma bag filled with grips.

At 86 years young, Palmer continues to look for answers to golf’s endless questions and he still appears at ease in his unique work environment.

Although he doesn’t move like he once did and his voice cracks from time to time, he still fills a room with his distinct presence that transcends his decades of relevance.

On Monday, Palmer – who turned 86 last Thursday – was back on the clock doing what he does best these days – raise money for charity, and not just any charity but the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Fla.

“I like to enlighten people with what we have done with the hospital,” said Palmer, the host of this week’s Latrobe Classic. “I’m very grateful for the efforts I have seen people put forward.”

Arnie: A collection of Arnold Palmer stories

Palmer was talking about the 120 or so competitors playing the Latrobe Classic, a two-day event that began on Sunday with golf at Bay Hill Club & Lodge followed by a chartered JetBlue flight from central Florida to this corner of Pennsylvania for a round at Latrobe Country Club, where Palmer grew up and learned the game.

Those in attendance at Monday’s event likely were thinking the same thing about the tireless King.

Palmer met the field as they exited the chartered flight on Monday morning in Latrobe and sent the day’s first group off, a group that included his grandson, PGA Tour player Sam Saunders.

“Are you hitting the first shot?” Palmer asked Saunders, who was recovering from a head injury that kept him in intensive care for two nights last month.

When Saunders smiled and nodded, Palmer didn’t miss a chance to take a good-natured jab. “I’ll move [the golf cart which was parked on the first tee box],” he smiled.

Although his focus on this day was on the charity work he and his Champions for Arnold’s Kids foundation is doing, the living legend didn’t disappoint when asked about a wide range of golf topics during a break in his hosting duties.

After his breakthrough year in the majors, Palmer was asked to assess Jordan Spieth’s season, which included a run at the single-year Grand Slam and two major victories.

“I hope he continues,” Palmer said. “I hate to make predictions because you never know. You have to work hard and I hope he does, but he has a long way to go.”

As a member of modern golf’s Big 3, along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, Palmer was also asked his thoughts on the emergence of a new version of a power triumvirate in the game that includes Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day.

“There is more than a Big 3,” he said. “As there was with the Big 3, it’s much more. It’s more than just three people, it’s more than 20 people. You have to have the help of everyone.”

He was also asked what advice, if any, he would give to the game’s up-and-coming stars: “Generosity and work. Always be generous and appreciate what you have. It has to work, it will work,” he said.

But most of all Palmer kept coming back to his charity work and why, at 86, he continues to show up at an office that is akin to a living history of his legendary career.

It’s why he hosts an event like the Latrobe Classic, which is in its third year and has raised more than $1 million for the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children last year.

“It’s such a unique experience, to get to come here and play at Latrobe. It’s not like any other pro-am I’ve ever been involved with,” said Saunders, who was playing the event for the first time a day after tying for fourth place at the Hotel Fitness Championship in Fort Wayne, Ind., on the Tour.

For Palmer, it’s not his 62 Tour titles or seven major championships or the dozens of letters that dot the walls of his office from former presidents that he counts as his proudest moments.

“I think of the charities and the results that I’ve seen, that’s very gratifying,” he offered with his signature smile.

It’s why at 86 the legend continues to go into the office on Legends Lane each day.

Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.