U.S. Walker Cuppers meet former President

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 5, 2013, 9:30 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – So you want to be a U.S. Walker Cupper?

Buckle up. It’s a steady stream of once-in-a-lifetime moments.

Most of the 10 U.S team members arrived in New York City on Aug. 30 and promptly checked into the swanky W Hotel downtown.

The next morning, they were led on an informal tour of the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero. “To see that, up close, was pretty moving,” said Jordan Niebrugge, a 20-year-old from Oklahoma State.

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Later that afternoon, they headed to Arthur Ashe Stadium for the U.S. Open tennis tournament.  They watched Caroline Wozniacki lose – sorry, Rory – and ventured down into the bowels of the stadium, where they bumped into Roger Federer – OK, technically his agent – who was warming up for his late-evening match. It didn’t take much coaxing before Fed was posing for pictures, wishing the boys good luck.

“So sweet,” former Alabama star Justin Thomas said.

On Sunday, they finally began focusing on the task at hand, squeezing in a practice round at the Creek Club in Locust Valley, another C.B. Macdonald design.

The next day, they practiced here at National Golf Links, which is hosting the Walker Cup for the first time since 1922, but their round down the road at Shinnecock was rained out Tuesday.

“The lowlight of the week,” Cal’s Michael Weaver said with a smirk.

The highlight, then, might have come Thursday, when they ate lunch with former President George W. Bush before playing four holes with '43,' whose great-grandfather, George Herbert Walker, is the namesake of this biennial event.

No ramen noodles here: During the four-course lunch, players feasted on a lobster appetizer, choice of soup (popular choice: chicken and sausage gumbo), a main course that included such options as swordfish, scallops, chicken and shepherd’s pie, and dessert. Hey, it’s called The Big Lunch for a reason.

Sure, the grub was good, but the best part, players say, was gathering around Bush and listening to his stories, specifically his memories of the infamous day nearly 12 years ago. Though many of the players were only in elementary school on 9/11, they can vividly recall where they were when the towers were hit.

“It was dead quiet as he talked, just running through his whole day,” Weaver said. “I had chills the whole time.”

After lunch, five players teed it up with Bush on Nos. 1 and 2, while the other five team members played the finishing two holes. Despite not hitting any balls or warming up, Bush piped one down the first hole, a 326-yard par 4, and displayed a soft touch around the greens.

“It was a pretty incredible experience, just to see how much goes into it with the Secret Service and everything,” Niebrugge said. “He’s such a down-to-earth guy. It was just like he was one of us.”

On Friday, players will practice early in the morning before the opening ceremonies at 5:30 p.m. Foursomes and singles sessions loom on both Saturday and Sunday, when a 44th Walker Cup champion will be crowned.

“It’s one of those things where I wish this week would never come to an end,” former Cal standout Max Homa said, “but I also can’t wait for Saturday. This is not something people our age should be doing. Emotionally, I’m just at such a high. It’s a high I’ll probably never touch again.”

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.