Worthington second black club pro to qualify for PGA

By Ryan LavnerJuly 27, 2016, 6:53 pm

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – When Tom Woodard heard the news, he knew it was an opportunity he couldn’t afford to miss. So on Tuesday, he flew from his home in Littleton, Colo., and arrived in time to meet Wyatt Worthington II on the range here at Baltusrol.  

Woodard (above, left) posed for pictures. He shared his own experiences. And he offered a few words of advice.

After all, they are the only black club professionals who have qualified for the PGA Championship.

“To be able to come out here and reminisce and meet him,” Woodard, 60, said Wednesday morning, “it just was a perfect opportunity.”

Last month, Worthington finished sixth (6-under 282) at the PGA Professional Championship at Turning Stone to punch his ticket to the year’s final major, becoming the first black man since Woodard to accomplish the feat.

Woodard’s breakthrough came 25 years ago, at a complicated time in the sport’s history. In 1991, golf was a year removed from the controversy at Shoal Creek, which forced leaders of the major tours to examine racial diversity and accessibility for the first time.

Tiger Woods became a household name a few years later, but the introduction of an immensely popular, multiracial athlete didn’t dramatically reshape what is still seen as a predominantly white sport played by the wealthy. Harold Varner III is the only other PGA Tour member of color.

But on a micro level, at least, Woods helped solidify Worthington’s career plans, after a life-changing encounter at a clinic 15 years ago.

A promising soccer player, Worthington picked up the game after watching his father, also named Wyatt, smack balls on the range after school.

“The second ball he hit, I swear, it was just, Pewwwwwww,” the elder Wyatt said, moving his hand through the air like a missile. “He looked back at me, and I said, ‘Uh-oh.’ He hit the sweet spot. He was hooked.”

The Worthingtons had two courses within a few miles of their home in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, about 10 miles east of Columbus. Blacklick Woods was an executive course they could play for $10, but Worthington always had his eyes set on Turnberry, the big-boy venue down the road.

As a kid, Worthington practically opened and closed the range, stopping only for lunch. The story goes that the worse score he ever shot – ever – was an 86. “Talent,” his father said.  

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Desire, too, because the head pro at Turnberry let Worthington play the course for free, so long as he replaced his divots in the fairway and repaired his ball marks on the green.

“But I needed to see how badly he really wanted this,” his father said, “so I’d tell him that we’re going to walk to Turnberry” – about two or three miles away – and “play golf. And he didn’t say no. He threw his bag over his shoulder and we went. I’d created a monster.”

When he was 13, Worthington was introduced to Gerry Hammond, the head pro at Bridgewater Golf Course, who began working with him pro bono. What started out as drills every other week soon became a daily lesson. Since then, Hammond has become a best friend, a mentor and a confidante.

“When you get a kid like that,” Hammond said, “money is not a factor. He was the kind of kid that he set the bar, and then he was going to get to that bar and go past it.”

Then he met Tiger.

In 2001, Woods was at the height of his powers, but he often hosted junior clinics through his foundation. The community rallied together and secured the bid. That’s how Worthington first met Woods, 15 years ago Friday, in Columbus.

“My palms were sweaty, just anticipating what was going to happen,” Wyatt said. “But he was just a normal guy, like everybody else.”

Said Hammond: “When you’re in that type of environment like that, and you’re a young kid and a golfer and you want to be great, the impact of that, I can’t even imagine. To share that time and those insights with you, it just gives you confidence.”

And so when he returned home from the clinic that night, Worthington told his parents that he’d made up his mind: “I’d like for that to be my lifestyle.”

Sure enough, Worthington graduated in 2010 from Methodist University in Fayetteville, N.C., with a degree in PGA Golf Management.

Almost every PGA professional aspired to play on the big tour at some point, but for a variety of reasons (time, access, money) they take a detour. After college, and following a stint at Jefferson Country Club, Worthington returned home and began working alongside Hammond at The Golf Depot in Gahanna. He has come full circle: Much of his time is spent teaching and mentoring promising junior golfers, just as he was 15 years ago.

In the past three years, Worthington’s scores have dropped, his focus has sharpened, and he’s dedicated himself to working out, eating right and preparing for the next level. He came up one shot shy of qualifying for the PGA at last year’s Professional National Championship, after missing a 12-footer on the last hole. But this time, after a third-round 69, Hammond felt more confident in his pupil’s chances – so much so that he flew to Verona, N.Y., to watch the final round in person.

“I knew,” he said. “I knew.”

Worthington shot 69 on the final day and made the cut by four shots.

The past few days have been a whirlwind. He has received so many interview requests, from so many outlets, that Worthington went into a media shutdown as of Wednesday morning. At some point he had to begin, you know, preparing for the tournament. He figures to have plenty of interested observers this week.

“It’s huge,” Hammond said, “and it’s bigger than him, bigger than all of us. We know what the game looks like, and it shouldn’t look like this. The world doesn’t look like this. But it takes time, and him pioneering is just the start.”

Why it took a quarter century for another black club professional to qualify for the PGA is a difficult question to answer.

“It’s an expensive game,” Hammond said, “and resources are only available to so many. Our world is like this, the haves and the have-nots, and some slip through the cracks.”

Woodard, the qualifier in 1991, said that it’s simply a numbers game – there are roughly 28,000 PGA club pros and about 15,000 courses in the U.S. “Supply and demand,” he shrugged. “The industry is tough.”

But Woodard is hopeful that young black professionals, and PGA members, will be encouraged by Worthington’s appearance here, that they’ll see that they, too, can become a club pro and still enjoy a fulfilling, competitive playing career.

“What I love about this game,” he said, “is that nobody gave him a spot or chose him to play here. There were no shortcuts. He had to earn it.”

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Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

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Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.