A year later, Tosti knocking on LAAC door again

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 15, 2016, 9:52 pm

LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic – Alejandro Tosti’s story can come full circle this week at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The winner here at Caso de Campo receives a spot in the Masters – a tournament Tosti has been itching to play ever since he was 5 years old, when he watched the telecast on TV, grabbed a barbecue stick and smacked a deodorant ball around his family’s home in Rosario, Argentina.

“I was hitting the ball all over and breaking glasses,” he recalled Friday. “My mom would scream, ‘Stop doing that!’ And I said, ‘I’m sorry, but I want to go play golf.’”

Tosti’s parents didn’t play, and his mother, Patricia, asked why he didn’t want to try soccer or tennis or rugby – the popular sports in their home country. He still wouldn’t budge. His parents flipped through the Yellow Pages to find a spot to practice.

The nearest course was in Perez, about 10 miles away. Tosti started playing there on the weekends, but with his parents’ busy work schedule – his father, Juan Carlos, was an electronic engineer and his mother a secretary – the 8-year-old often walked seven blocks to the bus station and took the one-hour ride to the club, alone.

“I was loving the sport and nobody was telling me to go practice,” he said. “I went because I wanted to.”

Echavarria takes 3-shot lead

Tosti won his first national junior title when he was 8, on a short course with 120-yard par 3s, 200-yard par 4s and 250-yard par 5s, and with seven mismatched clubs gifted from his first swing coach, Lincho Romero.

A few years later, Tosti joined the Argentina Golf Association and attended a high-performance institute in Buenos Aires. At age 15, he took his first trip to the U.S., but his English was so limited that he couldn’t even ask for a Coke. Several college golf coaches still extended scholarship offers, even though Tosti hadn’t even considered the possibility of playing in the States.

“But then I started looking at all the guys in my country who were playing really good amateur golf and turning pro at 18, after high school,” he said. “They really struggled, because it’s a profession. You have to work and know the world, know how to speak English. Those guys had a problem at the age of 22 without a plan B in their life.”

With a year off between high school and college, Tosti spent every afternoon with a tutor to learn the language. He passed the SAT exam and chose to play at the University of Florida, largely because of his relationship with Gators assistant coach John Handrigan.

In June 2014, J.C. Deacon was one day into his tenure as Florida’s head coach when he reached out to Tosti to gauge whether he was still interested in coming to Gainesville after the coaching change. Tosti never answered the call, instead sending back a text: “I don’t speak English.”

Not surprisingly, then, it was a turbulent freshman year. He struggled with the language barrier and expressing himself with his teammates and coaches, with the balance of golf and coursework, with his parents being a 16-hour flight away.

“It was really difficult to keep up with everything,” he said.

Yet his fortunes appeared to improve at last year’s Latin America Amateur, in his home country of Argentina. One shot off the lead with two holes to play, with a Masters berth on the line, he missed a 4-foot par putt on the 71st hole and failed to birdie the last even after eventual winner Matias Dominguez made bogey to open the door.

Tosti was devastated, but he found solace in his college coach. In the 2005 U.S. Amateur semifinals, with a Masters berth on the line, Deacon held a 1-up lead with two to play against Dillon Dougherty. He dropped the last two holes and lost the match.

“I’ve felt those feelings, of getting the Masters snatched away from you, and it was fun in a way to tell him that story,” Deacon said by phone Friday. “He understood. But I told him: ‘It’s what you make of it now.’”

Tosti’s game was trending upward after the LAAC, but a tooth infection that went untreated sent him to the hospital during the NCAA postseason. Suffering from severe headaches, vomiting and fatigue, Tosti’s doctors determined that he had encephalitis – essentially, swelling of the brain – which required nine days in a hospital bed with a catheter, and 20 more days at home where he administered the IV himself.

When his health finally improved, his game wasn’t nearly sharp enough to contend for any of the major titles over the summer. In fact, Deacon said, “it wasn’t until the last three events this fall [which included a win at FGCU Classic] that we started seeing the Tosti that we all know.”

Now he has returned to the Latin America Amateur, where the memories of last year’s near miss are still fresh. After a rocky opening-round 75, Tosti improved 10 shots on Friday, making nine birdies during a 7-under 65 that moved him into a share of second place, three behind leader Nicolas Echavarria of Colombia.

“I feel the other guys are going to ask themselves how he did that with a double bogey,” Tosti said. “It is the round at the right moment for this tournament.”

“None of his coaches or teammates are surprised by any of this,” Deacon said. “He has no fear on the golf course. He thinks he can hit every shot and, honestly, he can. He’s so explosive. He’s very powerful and has a great touch. He’s really the whole package, and when he gets in a rhythm there’s almost no one that can hang with him.”

Tosti has one of the most natural swings Deacon has ever seen – a powerful, efficient action that was groomed by watching the Masters, by whacking around a deodorant ball with a barbecue stick, and now has improved with the help of Hernan Rey, a member of the Argentina Golf Association who teaches at the Gary Gilchrist Academy in central Florida.

“What he can do with the golf ball and the technique and kind of form he’s learned somehow, some way, it was like he was touched by the golf gods,” Deacon said. “He has the talent and ability with the short game that no one else can do. I’ll ask him how he hit a shot, and he’ll say: “Coach, I just do it.’ He puts that picture in his mind and his body creates it. It’s truly a gift that he has.”

The next step – the only step left – in his progression is to win a major amateur title, to gain more exposure on the global stage.

Perhaps after learning the hard way last year, Tosti has expressed little interest in talking about what a spot in the Masters would mean until he holes out on the 72nd hole, until he lifts the trophy.

“But trust me, it would mean everything to him,” Deacon said. “Every time he practices or plays, it’s with that Masters logo in the back of his mind.”

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

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Green jacket tour

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Man of the people

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Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

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Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

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Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm