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.”

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x