Schwab, Pierce back from injury in a big way

By Ryan LavnerMay 30, 2015, 9:18 pm

BRADENTON, Fla. – The week after he accepted the head coaching job at Vanderbilt, Scott Limbaugh cut short his family’s annual summer vacation in Highlands, N.C., and hopped on a plane bound for Austria.

The team’s prized recruit had just lost in the finals of the British Amateur, and Limbaugh desperately needed a face-to-face meeting, to make sure the verbal commitment was still solid.

Limbaugh’s wife, Kate, a former college basketball player, knew the drill, so Scott left behind a dozen relatives, jumped in the car and drove from Cashiers to Atlanta. From there he flew to Amsterdam and then on to Vienna, where he went straight to the course to watch the recruit play in the Austrian Open.

Yep, Matthias Schwab was that important to this emerging program.

“I knew he was a program changer,” Limbaugh said Saturday. “He immediately changes the program the moment he walks on campus.”

But it hasn’t exactly worked out that way, both for Schwab and Vandy. 

Schwab’s impact has come only in spurts – he won his first college tournament in the fall of 2013 and had a few other top 10s, but then his back began to ache. And then it got worse. And then, finally, it got serious, as Limbaugh and Schwab’s parents decided it was in his best interest to shut it down for the rest of the spring season.

“I could have ruined my career,” he said.  

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Turns out Schwab, 20, had two stress fractures in his back (L-4 and L-5 vertebrae), and he wouldn’t play again for the Commodores for another 12 months.

Vanderbilt sorely missed him in the lineup, and without its No. 2 man the ’Dores stumbled on the final day of stroke play at Prairie Dunes and missed the match-play cut.

“You can’t replace guys like that,” Limbaugh said. “He has run the race so many times.”

There were days when Schwab wondered whether his career was over. He didn’t touch a club last fall, and it wasn’t until Brandt Snedeker and Ben Crane recommended a physical therapist named Tom Boers that Schwab felt optimistic.   

He played his first nine holes in December, went home to Austria for the winter break, and returned with a more positive outlook.  

Schwab’s injury necessitated a few changes – standing taller and closer to the ball, to take the strain off his back – but by mid-February he was confident enough to rejoin the lineup. Within six weeks, he’d posted three consecutive top-5s, including a win at the Mason Rudolph. At NCAA regionals earlier this month, he tied for second.

“He’s always solid,” senior Hunter Stewart said. “It’s hard to play poorly when you hit it as solidly as he does.” 

“He believes he belongs,” Limbaugh said. “He gives everybody a sense of confidence because I’ve never seen somebody so in control of their emotions and in control of their golf ball.”

Schwab’s absence helped shape this Vanderbilt team that entered this week’s NCAA Championship as the No. 5 team in the country.

Without their second-best player, the Commodores have relied heavily on Stewart, and the All-American has delivered in a big way. This has been by far the best year of his career – he has top-11s in all 11 starts (including three wins), and he’s a finalist for every national award.

Put them together, and Stewart and Schwab are one of the most feared 1-2 punches in college golf.

Here in the second round of NCAAs, Schwab and Stewart combined to shoot 4 under Saturday to help Vandy rise 14 spots in the standings, to sixth overall.

“You know what you’re getting from those guys,” Limbaugh said.

A stress fracture is a common sports injury, especially for guys who have been going at it as long and hard as some of these elite college players, but nothing was ordinary about how LSU sophomore Brandon Pierce handled the adversity.

Pierce battled all last spring just to crack the Tigers’ lineup, but his season came undone after an event in mid-March.

He doesn’t know what specifically caused his stress fracture – the strain of weightlifting in the fall, or maybe the jolt of hitting a root a few days earlier – but Pierce collapsed to the ground after making a practice swing. He played the last two holes, but knew something was wrong.

Pierce ended up sitting out seven months, until last November.

The 20-year-old is a die-hard Tigers fan, following both his dad and grandfather to Baton Rouge, so he did all he could to help while he was out of action.

“I was like a cheerleader,” he said.

Every day he watched his teammates practice, zipping around in a cart to offer words of encouragement.

Before the team left for an event, he would type out a one-page note to each starter, drive to the university course and stick it in their lockers. He’d be there every time the Tigers returned home too, whether it was 11 p.m. Tuesday or 3 p.m. Sunday.  

On a roster of eight to 10 players, it’s easy for those outside the traveling five to not feel like part of the team. As much as a coach might try to make it inclusive, they are inherently separate, the starters and the bench players.

“Most young men 18-22, they probably don’t have the maturity to handle it and be genuinely pulling for those other guys,” LSU coach Chuck Winstead said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Pierce is back helping his team on the course, and he’s a major reason why the Tigers are even at this week’s NCAAs.

After a runner-up finish during a winter amateur event told him that his body was ready, Pierce has been one of the steadiest contributors for No. 9 LSU, finishing in the top 30 in all seven spring starts. It was his closing 65 at the New Haven regional that helped the Tigers erase an 11-shot, final-round deficit and move inside the top-5 bubble.

And here at Concession, he has continued to roll, sitting only a few shots off the individual lead after back-to-back rounds of 71. As a team, LSU is second among the early starters Saturday, at 5-over 581.

“I’m just really happy to be back with my team,” he said.

With the way Schwab and Pierce are playing, their teammates are happy they’re back, too.

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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