For many, Olympic highlight will be opening act

By Rex HoggardAugust 5, 2016, 3:36 pm

Following nearly seven years of speculation, seven years of debate, seven years of second-guessing and celebrating, golf’s return to the Olympics becomes very real for many on Friday.

Although golf is still a week away from the start of the men’s competition, the Opening Ceremony is the moment would-be Olympic players penciled into their calendars as something to be cherished.

Henrik Stenson, the favorite heading into the men’s competition following his victory last month at The Open, was scheduled to arrive in Rio de Janeiro Thursday and march with Sweden in the Parade of Nations.

“I want to watch some other events. Try and cheer a few of the other Swedes on,” said Stenson of his Olympic plans that will include a trip to the handball competition.

Anirban Lahiri has an even more aggressive schedule for his time in Rio, starting with the Opening Ceremony, which has been a part of his Olympic plan since it became clear he’d represent India in the Games.

“If you’re going to play in the Olympics in your lifetime you want to do it right, you want to experience being a part of the entire team,” said Lahiri, who hoped to be able to attend various other competitions, including field hockey, tennis and swimming.

American Rickie Fowler, Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti, Finland’s Mikko Ilonen and France’s Gregory Bourdy will also join their fellow countrymen in Maracana Stadium on Friday; as will the LPGA’s Julieta Granada who will carry Paraguay’s flag in the Opening Ceremony.

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There are really only two things that separate the Games from almost any other week in professional golf, the Opening Ceremony and the medal ceremony, and, let’s face it, the latter will be a limited engagement for only the top players. It’s a reality that has given the Opening Ceremony added importance for some Olympic players.

The format, 72 holes of stroke play, is standard fare and there will be no team competition, which must have come as a blow to competitor Matt Kuchar when he realized it this week.

Even the way players plan to prepare will not vary from the norm. Stenson, the highest-ranked player in the men’s event at fifth in the world, said he will take this weekend to fully enjoy the Olympic experience before getting back to his day job on Monday.

“Treat it as a normal week from Monday onwards,” Stenson said.

That isn’t an indictment against golf’s return to the Games after more than a 100-year hiatus or a dismissive assessment of the competition; it’s just a proven formula for success. Unlike most other Olympic athletes, professional golfers are geared toward peaking four or five times a year, not once every four years.

For golfers, the Olympic experience may be new but the basic tenets of the competition are very much status quo – practice rounds, practice, play, repeat. Maybe the pressure on Sunday (Saturday for the women) will be different for those vying for medals, maybe there will be more butterflies on the first tee when the gravity of wearing one’s flag is suddenly part of the equation.

But until that competitive epiphany arrives, the most tangible Olympic moment for many players will be putting on the tracksuit, as England’s Paul Casey joked earlier this summer, and marching with one’s country into Maracana Stadium.

Until he won the RBC Canadian Open two weeks ago, the Opening Ceremony was likely going to be the highlight of Jhonattan Vegas’ year, and even a suddenly full dance card because of his improved competitive fortunes didn’t diminish the opportunity to march with his fellow Venezuelans.

“As an athlete walking with all the other athletes representing your country there’s not a greater honor,” Vegas said last week at the PGA Championship. “For us, we don’t get to represent our country very often so there is no better honor.”

For some players, Friday’s Opening Ceremony will likely be an once-in-a-lifetime event, where months of security, scheduling and health concerns can finally be put behind them and they can join the other athletes.

The medal ceremony will undoubtedly prove to be an emotional and rewarding moment for a handful of players, but for the vast majority, for those who ignored the noise and focused on the nostalgia of the moment, the Opening Ceremony will be the pinnacle of their Olympic experience.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.