Playing With A Heavy Heart

By Rex HoggardJune 2, 2011, 7:28 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – This is not Augusta National and Rickie Fowler is not Ben Crenshaw, although many have predicted the personable PGA Tour sophomore will have a similar Hall of Fame career. But if Thursday’s opening round seemed strangely reminiscent of the 1995 Masters it’s because it was.

Rickie Fowler rounded Muirfield Village in an eventful 68 strokes and is two strokes off the lead a little more than a week after his longtime swing coach Barry McDonnell died in a California hospital.

By comparison, Crenshaw’s ‘95 Masters victory the same week he attended the funeral for his coach Harvey Penick was one for the ages, as they say when the azaleas are in bloom. But Fowler’s opening effort was no less inspirational.

There were no “Harvey bounces,” as Crenshaw’s wife called her husband’s good fortune in 1995, but on Thursday at Muirfield Village there were more than enough moments to think that the man who taught Fowler to be self-sustaining, as well as his swing, was looking out for his most high-profile student.

Like on No. 13 when Fowler chipped in from 15 feet, or at the next hole when his drive sailed right and into a “sod seam.” He took a fortunate drop, laid up and from 133 yards Fowler’s wedge landed right of the pin, spun left and didn’t stop rolling until it rattled into the cup. For those scoring at home, Fowler covered Nos. 12-15 in 11 strokes (5 under) and just two putts.

Not all was cool and clear on a Chamber of Commerce day, however. There were also five bogeys and just five pars, but given the circumstances, Fowler was pleased. Chances are McDonnell would have been just as content.

The driving range pro began working with the prodigy when he was 7 years old – the same year (1995), for those who believe in omens, that Crenshaw made Masters magic – teaching him the swing but, more importantly, teaching him how to self correct. Doctor heal thy self.

In an age of entourages, Team Rickie feels more like an intimate dinner party – with caddie Joe Skovron and conditioning coach Chris Noss the extent of Fowler’s inner circle.

Of all McDonnell’s accomplishments with Fowler – Ryder Cup star, Rookie of the Year – it’s that independence of constant feedback that may be his best work.

“The last four years since I’ve been at college and out on Tour I’d see him maybe once a year when I’d go home. Maybe hit balls with him. Basically just been on my own,” Fowler told

“He taught me to basically be on my own, to figure it out myself. I’d get on the range, throw down a few sticks to make sure I’m lined up right and go from there.”

In this, Fowler seems to have plucked a page from Memorial host Jack Nicklaus’ book. Unlike the lion’s share of today’s professionals, Nicklaus would famously huddle with Jack Grout, his only swing coach, at the beginning of each season and then go about his business solo from there.

The last time Fowler worked with McDonnell was prior to his season-opener at Torrey Pines.

“I was probably with him two hours right before San Diego at the start of my year. We had a good session,” Fowler said. “It wasn’t like I’d go work with him for a day. We’d hang out, hit some balls for maybe an hour or two and take off. Like a little check up.”

On Thursday at the Memorial the news of McDonnell’s passing still seemed to be sinking in for Fowler. McDonnell had been struggling with skin cancer and suffered what Fowler called a major “heart attack” on May 20. But in recent days he’d appeared to stabilize.

“He was doing alright, but I guess they had some complications that Tuesday night,” Fowler said of McDonnell who died last Tuesday.

The 22-year-old conceded that he had not yet completely digested the news. That moment won’t likely arrive until next Thursday when he attends a memorial service for McDonnell at Murrieta (Calif.) Valley Golf Range where the two spent countless hours simplifying Fowler’s whiplash action.

“That will be where it really hits me,” Fowler reasoned.

Until then Fowler still has 54 holes on a golf course that seems to fit him like a pair of bright-orange Oklahoma State pants. He finished runner-up here last year, his Sunday charge derailed by a double-bogey at No. 12, the same hole he birdied on Thursday to start his late-round run.

“Little redemption there,” Fowler smiled.

And who knows, a couple more “McDonnell bounces” and he might have his first Tour title to take home as a tribute. It may not have a Crenshaw-Penick punch to the emotional solar plexus, but as inspirational victories go, it wouldn’t be too bad.

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm