For Cubs golf in the desert is perfect Spring Training diversion

By Rex HoggardMarch 18, 2009, 4:00 pm
Throughout March, will spotlight various MLB spring training locations throughout Florida. A total of 16 MLB teams visit Florida each spring during a time when the state's golf season is also in full swing. We highlight the options for golf and baseball in each region, giving you, the fan, the ultimate guide to golf and baseball in the Sunshine State. Play Ball!
MESA, Ariz - Jerry, my often-tardy double header running mate, sat hunched over the breakfast table, his head buried in the most recent issue of Vineland magazine when the thought occurred, Should (Alfonso) Soriano slip to fourth in that lineup? he says without looking up from his oatmeal.
Thus begins a frenzied day of 18 holes, two missed exits and nine hopeless innings, at least for the inner Chicago Cubs fan among us.

General Info on Cubs Spring Training
Spring training and golf go together like Tinker to Evers to Chance, the famed double-play connection of Cubs lore. But the tone had been set before dawn, baseball was central, golf background noise to the larger meaning.
One could almost hear the baritones of James Earls Jones echoing through the corridors of the Courtyard Marriott, Baseball is an American constant, golf a way of keeping time between 1 p.m. starts.
Not that the morning distraction didnt offer a compelling alternative, but Spring Training is a B-12 shot for a battered baseball soul, particularly for those whose sporting fortunes ebb and flow with the W flags raised over Wrigley Field each season.
Call it batting practice, 18 holes of desert diversion on a well-healed patch of turf called Longbow Golf Club just down the 202 Loop from HoHoKam Park, the Cubs spring digs.
Longbow is understated at first blush, the low-slung clubhouse inviting and utterly lacking the formalities associated with some of the areas more-pricier offerings.
From the first tee, the club drips comfort golf, complete with a no-nonsense, albeit slightly half empty, starter. Instructions from Sunshine Keith, the starters double-secret moniker, include warnings not to go right off the first tee, Youre dead. Left off the first tee, Youre dead. Or over the green, Youre dead.
If you cant spin the ball here youre in trouble, Sunshine offers. That pin (placement) on (No.) 2, for example, is unfair as hell.
Although he wont be teaming with Dr. Bob Rotella anytime soon to pen a self help book, Sunshine was helpful, if not entertaining.
The overall golf course, however, was infinitely fair and its simplicity quickly gives way to its genius. Even at 7,000 yards, Longbow is a sneaky good, well-crafted layout with plenty of punch.
Of course, when the daily dance card is dominated by opening pitches, the most important element, like any good real-estate deal, is location, location, location. Greater Phoenix-Scottsdale may enjoy an embarrassment of golf riches ' Grayhawk, We-Ko-Pa and Golf Club of Scottsdale quickly come to mind ' but the logistics of a 1 p.m. start demand an early tee time, easy highway access and no more than a 20-minute commute from 19th hole to Section 114, Row 2.
From Longbow to HoHoKam is a 15-minute hop on paper. That is, of course, if you dont miss the Country Club Drive exit, like Jerry and I did, and can avoid the traffic snarls, like Jerry and I didnt. General observation: Mesa will never be mistaken for Wrigleyville, but than what could be?
Even with the detour we made it to our seats, two rows up on the third-base side, to hear the opening lineups and join the friendly confines festivities.
HoHoKam is a 1950s style stadium, built back when baseball, not amenities, was the most important thing. Four hundred and ten feet to straightaway center field, 350 to the corners and a Gringo Dog stand perched on a hill just the other side of the left-field wall.
Just to prove a point we solidified Spring Trainings ageless connection to golf with a tour of the souvenir shop. For $28 one can land the gift for the Cubs fan that has everything except a 220-yard stinger from a buried lie, a McArthur Gift Set complete with Cubs logoed golf towel, tees and golf ball.
Even when the Arizona Diamondbacks go for 5 runs in the fourth, the resilience of spring, and a few visits by the beer vendor, buoy our spirits. Besides, as Jerry often points out, this is Spring Training, T-Ball, an exhibition to renew the frozen fans soul. Carlos Zambrano, the Cubs ace, put in two hitless innings before he called it a day, and, as a Cubs fan, one learns to savor victories large and small.
By the top of the fifth inning, the Cubs are scoreless, the sun scorching and manager Lou Piniella begins his long march to the mound, and the connection between baseball and golf solidifies even more.
Should Carlos Marmol be the Cubs closer? Will Alfonso Soriano ever take a first pitch? Less than 10 minutes from HoHoKam, the conversation continues at a classic post-game waterhole, Old Chicago, and the questions drift back to golf. Should I have laid up on 10th? Did Sunshine Keith say the pin on the second hole was unfair as hell?
One good day, two great games. Baseball and golf, the endless enigmas.

Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''

Park's stumble creates wide-open finale

By Randall MellNovember 18, 2017, 11:46 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park didn’t turn the CME Group Tour Championship into a runaway Saturday at Tiburon Golf Club.

She left with bloody fingernails after a brutal day failing to hold on to her spot atop the leaderboard.

OK, they weren’t really bloody, but even the unflappable Park wasn’t immune to mounting pressure, with the Rolex world No. 1 ranking, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the money-winning title among the prizes she knew were within reach when she teed it up.

“It’s honestly some of the worst pressure,” Stacy Lewis said of CME week. “It’s so much pressure.  It’s just really hard to free yourself up and play golf.”

Lewis isn’t in the mix for all those prizes this year, but the two-time Rolex Player of the Year and two-time Vare Trophy winner knows what the full weight of this week’s possibilities bring.

“It’s almost nice to come here without all that pressure, but you want to be in that situation,” Lewis said. “It’s just really tough.”

Park is no longer in charge at Tiburon.

This championship is wide, wide open with a four-way tie for first place and 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Park is one shot back after stumbling to a 3-over-par 75.

Count Michelle Wie among the four tied for the lead after charging with a 66.

Former world No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn (67), Suzann Pettersen (69) and Kim Kaufman (64) are also atop the leaderboard.

Kaufman was the story of the day, getting herself in contention with a sizzling round just two weeks after being diagnosed with mononucleosis.

Park is in a seven-way tie for fifth place just one shot back.

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Lexi Thompson (69) is in that mix a shot back, as is Lewis (67), who is seeking to add a second title this year to her emotional win for Houston hurricane relief.

For Wie, winning the tournament will be reward enough, given how her strong rebound this year seemed derailed in September by an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie fought her way back from two of the most disappointing years of her career, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” Wie said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun. That’s when I play my best.”

All the subplots make Sunday so much more complicated for Park and Thompson, who are best positioned for a giant haul of hardware.

They have the most to gain in the final round.

Park has already clinched the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, but she can add the Rolex Player of the Year title, joining Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win both those awards in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978.

A fifth place finish or better could give Park the Player of the Year Award outright, depending what others do.

“There are a lot of top players right now at the top of the leaderboard,” Park said. “Keeping my focus will be key.”

Thompson can still take home the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy and the CME Globe jackpot. She needs to win the tournament Sunday to win Player of the Year.

Like Park, Thompson is trying not to think about it all of that.

“I treat every tournament the same,” Thompson said. “I go into it wanting to win. I’m not really thinking about anything else.”

The Vare Trophy for low scoring average is Thompson’s to lose.

Park has to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson on Sunday to have a shot at the trophy, and they are tied at 9-under overall.

The money-winning title is Park’s to lose. So Yeon Ryu has to win the tournament Sunday to have a chance to wrestle the title from Park, but Ryu has to pass 31 players to do so.

The CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot remains more up for grabs, with Thompson and Park best positioned to win it, though Jutanugarn is poised to pounce if both stumble. A lot is still possible in the race for the jackpot.

The pressure will be turned way up on the first tee Sunday.

“There is always that little bit of adrenaline,” Thompson said. “You just have to tame it and control it.”

Simpson WDs from RSM, tweets his father is ill

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:45 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Following rounds of 67-68, Webb Simpson was in 12th place entering the weekend at the RSM Classic before he withdrew prior to Saturday’s third round.

On Saturday afternoon, Simpson tweeted that he withdrew due to an illness in his family.

“Thanks to [Davis Love III] for being such a great tournament host. I [withdrew] due to my dad being sick and living his last days,” Simpson posted on Twitter on Saturday afternoon.

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Simpson’s father, Sam, caddied for his son during amateur events, and Webb Simpson started playing golf after following his father to the course on family vacations to North Carolina.

“My dad is probably the kindest man I know. He’s always been the guy who knew everyone, everyone knew him, everyone wanted to be around him,” Simpson said in a 2015 interview with David Feherty. “He taught me the game. He’s always been one of those dads who loved to be active with their kids.”

Before play began on Thursday, Luke Donald withdrew after being hospitalized with chest pain. Tests indicated the Englishman’s heart was fine and he returned home to undergo more tests.

New old putter helps Kirk (64) jump into contention

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:43 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Chris Kirk’s ball-striking has been nearly flawless this fall. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for his putting.

In four events this season, Kirk ranks 143rd in strokes gained: putting, but his fortunes have changed this week, thanks at least in part to a return to something familiar.

Kirk switched to an older style of putter similar to the one he used on the Tour in 2010 to earn his PGA Tour card.

“It's nice to be back in contention again,” said Kirk, who is alone in second place, three strokes behind front-runner Austin Cook. “It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow.”

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Kirk is 25th in strokes gained: putting this week and has converted several crucial putts, including a 30-footer for birdie at the 17th hole on his way to a third-round 64.

His putting is similar to 2013 when he won the RSM Classic, and his improved play on the greens has given the 32-year-old confidence going into Sunday’s final round.

“I'll probably be relatively comfortable in that situation, and thankfully I've been there before,” Kirk said. “It's still not easy by any means, but hopefully I'll be able to group together a bunch of good shots and see what it gives me.”