Zanotti looks to grow Paraguayan golf with Olympic appearance

By Rex HoggardFebruary 3, 2016, 12:40 pm

One-by-one the world’s best players were asked the year’s most ubiquitous question: Would you rather win a major or a gold medal in 2016?

“Major championship,” said Rory McIlroy without a moment of hesitation. “I think a major championship is the pinnacle of our sport.”

World No. 1 Jordan Spieth was a little more careful with his response: “Both,” he smiled. “That's a question that really only would get me in trouble to actually answer.”

There is no right answer, not for the game’s biggest names, who have been conditioned since they first laid an over-lapping grip on a golf club that major championships stand above all else.

But as Fabrizio Zanotti slumps into a leather chair in the Abu Dhabi Golf Club clubhouse at a recent European Tour event a more appropriate question arrives like an epiphany.

For a player like Zanotti, a 32-year-old with an easy smile who grew up in Paraguay, what would have a greater impact on his country – a bronze medal in August in Rio or a third-place finish in April at Augusta National?

“If I’m going to finish third [at the Masters], I’d prefer a bronze medal. For Paraguay, it’s going to be much bigger than a third at the Masters,” Zanotti said. “For Paraguay, for sure. I think Paraguay only has one [Olympic] medal in the history, in soccer. It’s going to be huge.”

Although it will be the game’s stars who will be under the microscope when golf returns to the Olympics this year, it’s the likes of Zanotti who possess the potential to make the kind of impact organizers hoped for when golf returns to the Games.

Video: Zanotti wins 2014 BMW International Open in playoff

At 119th in the Official World Golf Ranking, Zanotti is virtually unknown to U.S. golf fans and after eight years on the European Tour he doesn’t have much traction on the Continent either. But in Paraguay, where golf is dwarfed by soccer, he has the chance to be a trailblazer.

Currently, Paraguay has just three athletes qualified to play in this summer’s Games, and two of those currently bound for Brazil are golfers – Zanotti and LPGA veteran Julieta Granada.

It’s the type of exclusive club that Zanotti says has thrust golf into a rare spotlight in Paraguay, where, like many South American countries, golf is the definition of a niche sport.

“I tell you how many golf courses we have,” Zanotti smiled. “We have six golf course’s in all the country [of 6.8 million people].”

One of those bastions of the ancient game is Yath y Golf Club Paraguayo in Asuncion where Zanotti grew up playing the game.

“My father was a member. He played golf and I was there always with him since I was a little kid. Watching him competing with his friends and I never stop playing,” said Zanotti, who started playing when he was 6 years old.

Zanotti stopped playing soccer to focus on golf and elected to skip a potential college career in the United States to turn pro, a move that paid off in 2007 when he won the Abierto Mexicano Corona, an event co-sanctioned by the Challenge Tour that paved the way for his journey to Europe.

For Zanotti progress has always come in measured steps and it would be another seven years before his next breakthrough, winning the 2014 BMW International Open in a playoff that included the likes of Henrik Stenson.

“It was very tough for me at the beginning to play in Europe with the weather,” said Zanotti, who finished 26th last season on the European Tour in earnings. “Playing in the wind and the rain and the cold, it was pretty hard. But after two years I get used to it and start liking to play in that weather.”

Zanotti has modeled his career after Carlos Franco, Paraguay’s most famous golfer who won four times on the PGA Tour and mentored Zanotti during the 2007 World Cup when the two were teamed together.

“He was great with me,” Zanotti said.

Franco, who didn’t win on the PGA Tour until he was 34 years old and played his best golf late into his 40s, has also provided Zanotti with an example of perseverance.

Zanotti remembers, for example, the year Franco finished tied for seventh at the Masters in 2000. Growing up in Paraguay, Zanotti’s only exposure to professional golf was during the majors. It’s what drove him to golf when all of his friends gravitated to soccer.

“I always liked to watch the Masters on TV. I remember the time Greg Norman and Nick Faldo played against each other [1996], I watched them and imagined me there also,” Zanotti said.

But the Olympics transcend the traditional hierarchy of Grand Slam success. For a developing golf country like Paraguay, this year’s Games represent a chance to bring golf to the masses beyond the occasional cameo during the season’s majors.

Zanotti – who, because of how players will be selected to play this year’s Games, is virtually assured a spot in the Olympic field – said he plans to make the most of the experience, including showing up early for the Opening Ceremony and the Parade of Nations.

“It’s going to be a great experience. It’s a new experience, I want to live it,” said Zanotti, who considering the limited Olympic contingent from Paraguay likes his chances to be able to carry his nation’s flag in that Parade of Nations. “There is not going to be a big group of people there, no more than eight or nine.”

From small things, however, Zanotti is confident big things can happen for golf.

“Everybody in Paraguay is looking forward to us playing,” he said. “People can’t believe it, we have three sports qualified and two are golfers. Golf in Paraguay gives people a lot of satisfaction.”

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.