When losing is normal, pros learn to move on quickly

By Rex HoggardMay 9, 2016, 12:16 am

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – There’s always next week.

The defense mechanism employed by Chicago Cubs fans for the better part of a century is just as common in golf circles, particularly on a Sunday like the one that transpired at the Wells Fargo Championship.

A final round that featured more lead changes than a NBA playoff game has a tendency to produce a more measured assessment from those not involved in the trophy presentation.

Consider Rickie Fowler, the 54-hole leader and consensus favorite. He has four worldwide titles in the last 12 months, but Fowler stumbled early on Day 4 with bogeys at two of his first four holes, fell even further back when his “mud-ball” addled approach at the seventh sailed wide right for a double bogey, and yet he still finished just two strokes out of a playoff won by James Hahn.

But in the moments after signing for his closing 74 there was no lamenting his play or poor fortune, no endless second-guessing, just a shrug and an onward mentality.

“It's just learning from it and feeling good about being in the position and dealing with what I had today and not letting it get away from me,” said Fowler, who tied for fourth place at 7 under. “I was able to kind of fight through it, deal with some tough breaks, deal with not swinging it well off the tee and figuring out a way to still get it around and hang around.”

Rory McIlroy, a two-time winner at Quail Hollow, shouldn’t have started Sunday with any real title hopes after a pair of 73s left him eight strokes out of the lead, but the world No. 3 went out in 33 more than two hours before the front-runners and cut the lead to two strokes with a 3-foot birdie putt at the 16th hole.



He could have fixated on his closing bogey or the three missed birdie putts from inside 23 feet midway through his back nine, or his missed eagle attempt at the par-4 14th hole after driving the green. But the golf season, particularly this golf season, is far too short and compact to allow the luxury of self-pity.

“I feel like it's been a step in the right direction this week, and hopefully I'll continue to make some forward strides next week at The Players and onwards, hopefully the U.S. Open,” said McIlroy, who tied for fourth with Fowler.

Onward.

Perhaps the most snake-bitten among the oh-so-close crowd was Phil Mickelson.

In a baker’s dozen trips to Quail Hollow, Lefty has finished second (2010), third (2007 and ’13) and has been outside the top 25 just twice. But he’s never won.

If Mickelson wanted to indulge in the “what if” game he’d likely start and finish at Quail Hollow’s 18th hole, where he made a quadruple bogey-8 to close his round on Saturday. It was a miscue that sent him tumbling to 1 under to start the final round.

In quintessential Mickelson style, however, he scorched the front-nine on Sunday with two birdies and an eagle and rattled off three straight birdies at Nos. 14-16 to get to 7 under, just two behind the eventual champion.

Yet there was no effort, at least externally, to examine what could have been. Instead, only an eye toward TPC Sawgrass and a game he feels is trending in the right direction.

“I hit a lot of good shots over the weekend,” said Mickelson, who also finished at 7 under after a final-round 66. “Unfortunately, one bad hole yesterday kind of cost me. But today's round gives me a little bit of momentum heading into The Players.”

Justin Rose may have been the only player among the contenders who showed signs of ruing a missed opportunity, and justifiably so.

Rose took a share of the lead with a birdie at No. 2 and the outright advantage at 9 under with another at the fifth, but he started to fade with a bogey at the 12th hole after airmailing the green with his approach shot and three-putted from 17 feet at No. 16 to drop a shot behind the leaders.

“Obviously today was an opportunity come and gone, but I know the way I'm playing,” said Rose, who finished with a 1-under 71 and was alone in third place at 8 under. “I'm looking forward to the major championships this year. We would love to have won this week and give me some confidence to finish one off. The rest is just, you know ...”

Get on with it, as the English are fond of saying.

Call it a defense mechanism, call it denial, but loss is a reality in a game where winning percentages are often measured to the right of the decimal point.

At this level trying to dissect a defeat like this can be maddening. How, for example, can one explain Hahn’s playoff victory over Roberto Castro?

The 34-year-old former women’s shoe salesman was fresh off eight consecutive missed cuts and hadn’t broken 70 on Tour since February, and he conceded he’s spent the last two months searching for answers.

Asked to explain his sudden turnaround, Hahn’s answer was priceless.

“I can’t,” smiled Hahn, who finished at 9 under and won on the first extra hole with a par. “The mind is a powerful thing and it was going bad for a while. Just didn't have the confidence, didn't believe in myself. You're playing bad and you're missing cuts and there's nothing funny about that.”

Certainly none of Sunday’s cast found humor in the outcome. The flights will be long to Jacksonville, Fla., and there will likely be moments of retrospection, maybe even regret, but just as it is in every sport you can only have painful association with the past.

“This golf course has played tough over the weekend, so proud of the way I hung in there,” Fowler offered when asked how long this loss will stay with him.

The silver lining for players not named Hahn, there’s always next week.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com 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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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.