Alabama wins, bounces back from heartbreak

By Ryan LavnerJune 2, 2013, 7:58 pm

MILTON, Ga. – Nearly a year ago today, Cory Whitsett watched helplessly as a herd of Texas fans stormed the 18th green at Riviera. He remembered weaving his way to the side of the green and kneeling beside his crimson Alabama bag, his head buried in his hands.

“That was the lowest I’ve ever felt on the golf course,” Whitsett said Sunday. “No one really wanted to talk to me because they didn’t know whether they should say something or hug me, and so I was just left alone.”

It was quite a contrast to this year. Once more he was in the match that decided the NCAA Championship, but this time his conceded bogey on the 15th hole was enough to clinch the Crimson Tide’s first national championship, 4-1, over Illinois at Capital City Club.

When it was over, Whitsett once again found himself looking for someone to hug, and he found no shortage of open arms.

He hugged Bobby Wyatt, who began his finals match with seven consecutive wins on his way to a 6-and-5 rout.  

He hugged Scott Strohmeyer, the team’s lone senior, who won three holes in a row on the back nine to turn an all-square match into a 3-and-2 victory.

And he hugged Trey Mullinax, who despite being so nervous he could barely grip his putter, two-putted from 50 feet on the final green for a crucial 1-up victory.

“I couldn’t think of a better person to have that happen to,” Alabama coach Jay Seawell said of Whitsett. “You get both sides of the emotion. That probably made me the happiest.”

Fortunately, this will no longer be remembered as the NCAA Championship that Cal did not win.

Lost in the Golden Bears’ historic 11-win season, which ended with Saturday’s semifinal loss to Illinois, was this: Alabama had something special brewing, too.

Entering nationals, the No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide had won seven times, including six of their seven spring starts. They captured the SEC title. They captured their regional, too.

Last year, they won the stroke-play portion at NCAAs, but that has proven a bad omen for every team. Since 2009, no top seed has gone on to win the championship, this year included.

Tied 2-2 in the 2012 final, each team’s title hopes came down to Whitsett and Texas’ Dylan Frittelli. After sailing his approach over 18 green, Whitsett cut completely under his flop-shot attempt, moving the ball nary an inch, and made bogey. Very few remember that blunder – Frittelli holed a 25-foot birdie putt to win in dramatic fashion.

The scene afterward was a whirlwind.

The senior captain tearfully gathered the team on the first tee.

Whitsett and then-assistant coach Scott Limbaugh broke down in the locker room, unable to speak.

The two coaches sped off to catch a flight at the airport.

Four players boarded a charter plane, en route to their U.S. Open sectional.

“We all went our separate ways and couldn’t say goodbye,” sophomore Justin Thomas said. “It was weird. That was a spot where you needed each other to lift you up.”

The gut-wrenching loss lingered for months – OK, exactly 364 days – and was erased only after the Alabama players hoisted a title of their own Sunday.

“That’s what losing last year does to you,” Illinois coach Mike Small said. “They were reinvigorated. They proved to the world that they’re good. Really good. They were on a mission today.”

Alabama boasts arguably the strongest 1-2-3 combination in the country, with Thomas (the 2012 Player of the Year), Whitsett and Wyatt. All three players were ranked inside the top 10 and combined for five wins and 20 top 10s this season.

But a Big 3 can only take a team so far in this format. Unlike in stroke play, the Nos. 4 and 5 players can’t hide at NCAAs. Each player – regardless of rank, experience, past results – counts the same in single-elimination match play. That’s where this story truly begins.

Three years ago, Strohmeyer was constantly bickering with his coach. Back then “Strobe” was a know-it-all sophomore who was under the impression that his big, brawny game would translate to immediate success. When it didn’t, he resisted coaching.

The turning point – for Strohmeyer and, most importantly, for Alabama – came at the Schenkel Invitational in March 2012. (“That changed our program,” Seawell said.) Strohmeyer was inserted into the lineup, in the No. 5 spot, and thrived there. He started the final six events, won two matches at the 2012 NCAAs and helped lead the team to the finals.

This week, he posted a 2-0-1 record in match play and walked away with the trophy in his final college start.

“We’ve had a nice labor of love,” Seawell said. “And now, I’d run through a wall for him.”

Mullinax was a highly touted freshman when he cracked the lineup at the 2011 NCAA Championship. Overwhelmed by that moment, however, he shot 84-80-84 and was part of an epic collapse that saw the Tide shoot 28 over in the final round to plummet from safely inside the match-play cut to 14th.

Fast-forward to Saturday’s semifinal against Georgia Tech, and Mullinax was 2 down through seven holes before he posted five consecutive 3s on his card to roll to a 4-and-3 win.

In the final against Illinois’ Charlie Danielson, Mullinax two-putted from 50 feet on the final green to win, 1 up – a strong close for a player who had three-jacked three times on the final day, including on Nos. 14 and 16.

“I was really excited about coming back to this big stage and proving that I can play well here,” he said.

Said Seawell: “Today will do more for his career in golf than anything I could have ever said.”

Alabama’s golf team is beginning to resemble its football squad, only with slighter builds, of course. They restock and rebuild, each year seemingly better than the previous.

The Tide’s Big 3 of Thomas, Whitsett and Wyatt are all expected back next season. They’ll also welcome Robby Shelton, the No. 1-ranked junior in the country, and Gavin Moynihan, the 2012 Irish Amateur champion. In other words, Alabama will likely be top team in the 2013-14 preseason rankings, as well.

“That’s the goal. That’s the reason I decided to come here,” Thomas said, his NCAA champion’s hat turned backward. “I wanted to be a part of something that could become a legacy.”

Erasing a crushing disappointment with a commanding finals performance a year later? Yes, that’s some legacy to forge.

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The Social: G.O.A.T., after G.O.A.T., after G.O.A.T.

By Jason CrookJanuary 23, 2018, 6:00 pm

Tom Brady compares himself to Tiger Woods, who coincidentally is returning to the PGA Tour this week, Jordan Spieth hangs out with some decent company and kids these days ruffle some feathers with their friendships.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

Well, it’s finally Farmers Insurance Open week and Woods has been spotted practicing for his official return to the PGA Tour on Thursday.

Some thought this day might never come after a 2017 filled with mostly downs for the 14-time major champ.

But as he has taught the golf world time and time again, you just can't count Tiger out.

So even as Jon Rahm attempts to overtake Dustin Johnson for No. 1 in the world this week at Torrey Pines, all eyes will be on one of the greatest we've ever seen do it, even if that guy is ranked No. 647 in the world.

Speaking of greatness …

There’s not many who can just offhandedly compare themselves to Tiger, but if anyone gets a pass, it’s Tom Brady.

The 40-year-old New England Patriots quarterback led his team back to the Super Bowl for the second straight year despite playing the AFC title game with a cut on his throwing hand.

When asked about it after the Patriots come-from-behind victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady answered, “I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that. It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament.”

So there you have it. A 40-year-old Brady is winning AFC Championships with his C game. Good luck, Eagles; you’re going to need it.

Also, if for some reason you wanted an update on Justin Thomas' life, it's still awesome:

Yeah, that's last year's PGA Tour Player of the Year hanging with Cy Young winner Cory Kluber in a suite at the Patriots game and teasing us with a possible #SB2K18 cameo.

Curtis Strange likes his competitive golf straight up, hold the friendliness.

This, according to Curtis Strange.

The two-time U.S. Open champ took to Twitter during the CareerBuilder Challenge to vent his frustration regarding the constant chit-chat and friendliness between Rahm and Andrew Landry:

This, of course, makes sense in theory. But good luck watching golf – or really any sport – from here on out. Sure there will be a few old school guys who buck the trend here and there, but for the most part, it’s really hard to share a private jet/dinners/vacations/(insert awesome thing here) with someone, and then completely turn off the friendship coming down the stretch of a big tournament.

Damn millennials. They ruin everything.

By now you've all seen that poor Philadelphia Eagles fan who lost his battle with a subway station pillar (from multiple angles), so instead here is a video of a man attempting to stand on an egg. Bet you can't guess how that goes.

Tony's gonna stand on an egg

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Seriously if you haven't seen the video of that Eagles fan, here's your last chance in this column. You'll be glad you did.

Jordan Spieth, Michael Phelps and Bryce Harper walk on to a golf course … there’s no punchline, that actually happened last week in Las Vegas.

Was the whole thing just a big advertisement for Spieth’s new Under Armour shoe? You bet.

But that doesn’t make the optics of three of the biggest superstar athletes on the planet teeing it up for a round any less awesome.

Off to the next. #Spieth2 #TEAMUA

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The trio has three major wins, five All Star Game appearances and 28 Olympic medals between them, and there they were over the weekend just fake laughing for the camera and driving around individual golf carts with their own personalized logos on them.

Just guys being dudes. Nothing better than that.

Matt Kuchar. Still good at golf. Still overly polite. This according to European Tour pro Eddie Pepperell who had the privilege of hitting on the range next to Kuuuuuch in Abu Dhabi last week.

That image is burned into your brain forever now, thanks Eddie. From now on when you think of Kuchar you're going to think of those Sketches ads and "oopsies."

Which, I suppose is better than a, "Did you get that?"

Blayne Barber's caddie, Cory Gilmer, collapsed and hit his head while at a restaurant at the Sony Open and has been mostly unconscious in the neurological intensive care unit ever since.

The outpouring of love and support from the golf community has been overwhelming on social media, and a GoFundMe page has been set up to help with the mounting medical costs for Gilmer and his family.

Check out the link below for more info or to donate to a worthy cause:

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Top-ranked amateur wins LAAC, earns Masters invite

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 23, 2018, 5:38 pm

Joaquin Niemann walked Augusta National Golf Club as a patron last year. He’ll be a competitor in 2018.

Niemann, the top-ranked amateur in the world, shot 8-under 63 Tuesday at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Santiago, Chile, to win the Latin America Amateur Championship.

And with the title, both redemption and an invitation to the Masters Tournament.

Full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Niemann finished runner-up in last year’s LAAC to fellow Chilean Toto Gana. He followed Gana around Augusta grounds, watching as his best friend played two rounds before missing the cut.

Niemann, who was going to turn professional had he not won this week, started the final round one back of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz. Niemann was sluggish from the start on Tuesday, but then drove the 313-yard, par-4 eighth and made the eagle putt. That sparked a run of five birdies over his next six holes.

Niemann was bogey-free in the final round and finished five shots clear of Ortiz, at 11 under.

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Judges Panel, Host Announced for Wilson Golf's "Driver vs. Driver 2," Premiering This Fall on Golf Channel

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJanuary 23, 2018, 4:15 pm

‘Driver vs. Driver 2 Presented by Wilson Currently in Production; Sports Broadcaster Melanie Collins Returns to Host

Morning Drive: Driver vs. Driver 2 Judges Announced

Golf Channel and Wilson Golf announced today the panel of judges and host for the second season of Driver vs. Driver, the innovative television series that follows aspiring golf equipment designers as they compete for the opportunity to have their driver idea or concept transformed into the next great golf driver from Wilson. The show is currently in production and will premiere this fall.

Joining judge Tim Clarke, President of Wilson Golf, are two newcomers to the series: 9-time National Hockey League (NHL) All-Star and current NHL on NBC hockey analyst Jeremy Roenick – an avid golfer with a single digit handicap and a self-described golf equipment junkie; and PGA Professional, golf coach, equipment reviewer and social media influencer Rick Shiels.

“Golf is a big passion of mine, and personally I enjoy learning about new equipment and concepts,” said Roenick. “To be able to see this side of the business in how equipment is developed first-hand is fascinating. Being a part of the process in reviewing driver concepts and narrowing them down to an ultimate winning driver that will be sold across the country is a tremendous honor.” 

“Jeremy, as an avid golfer, and Rick, as a coach, equipment reviewer and golf professional, bring incredible, real world insights and different perspectives to the show and this process,” said Clarke. “I’m excited to work alongside these two judges to push the boundaries of innovation and bring a next-generation driver to golfers around the world.”

Sports broadcaster Melanie Collins returns as the host of Driver vs. Driver 2. Currently a sideline reporter for CBS Sports’ college football and basketball coverage, Collins hosted the inaugural season in 2016 and formerly co-hosted Golf Channel’s competition series, Big Break.

Production for Driver vs. Driver 2 began in the fall of 2017 and will continue through the summer, including this week at the PGA Merchandise Show. The series is being produced by Golf Channel, whose portfolio of original productions include interview series Feherty hosted by Emmy-nominated sports personality David Feherty, high-quality instruction shows School of Golf, Golf Channel Academy and Playing Lessons and a slate of award-winning films.

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Tiger Tracker: Farmers Insurance Open

By Tiger TrackerJanuary 23, 2018, 4:00 pm

Tiger Woods is competing in a full-field event for the first time in nearly a year. We're tracking him at this week's Farmers Insurance Open. (Note: Tweets read, in order, left to right)