Stephanie Sparks Blog - Big Break 7

By Stephanie SparksMay 24, 2007, 4:00 pm
Editor's Note: Stephanie Sparks is the Co-Host for The Big Break 7. She will share her insiders perspective following each episode this season.
Host's Blog - Final Episode
From the start of the match it was apparent that Tommy meant businessIm thinkin about sending her a messageright off the go! Well, send it he did with an impressive eagle at the first. From there, Tommy put it on cruise control as Ashley struggled to ignite a rally. That rally never came.
Ashley fell short in the end but put up a strong fight show after show. She made difficult up and downs look effortless, and repeatedly knocked down pressure putts to ensure herself a spot in the final two. As she admitted, there were times in this final that she played scared and battled negative thoughts. She, in a way, had two opponents'Tommy and herself.
Tommy, on the other hand, appeared more confident than he had at any other point in the series. Though he missed every fairway in this match (some by just a few yards), he managed to hit every green which forced Ashley to beat him with a birdie. Tommys iron game brought him to the finals and it is what ultimately led him to victory.
Ashley: You made all of us very proud with your gutsy play. The times that you successfully conquered your nerves definitely out weighed the moments where they affected your play. Though it took just a glance to see the competitive intensity in your eyesone of my favorite moments in the match was when you told Tommy to knock it in on No. 7. He responded, I would love to, and you answered through your laugh I bet you would. It was obvious to all of us on the crew that you both had a mutual respect for one another. Both of you wanted to win, but knew only one could walk away the champion. You graciously and sincerely accepted defeat, but I think anyone who has seen you compete knows that this experience will light a fire and motivate you to chase your dream even more. Good luck, Ashley!
Tommy: You completely disprove the theory that the golf swing needs to be picture perfect in order to be effective. Your fresh, honest approach to the game is refreshing. In a way, your technique mirrors how you represent yourself off the coursereal, unassuming, and practical...with a hint of a unique Southern flair. You are a true gentleman and always treated me and the rest of the crew with the utmost respect. Though you missed the cut at the Wachovia Championship, I think you will have many more opportunities to prove to yourself that you belong. Use this victory as a springboard to elevate your game and your career. Congratulations!!!
Sadly, this family Reunion came to an end. Hugs were exchanged, phone numbers were traded and feeble promises were made to keep in touch. It ended as it all began'with hope. Some hoped for a quick flight home, while others left with the hope of returningnot to The Big Break, but to another venue that would test their skills and satisfy their craving to compete. A handful will find it in their favorite Saturday group at the local course; others will attempt to quench their thirst at a higher level. Hope is what brought them to The Big Break. Hope is why they returned to the Reunion, and hope is why all of us continue to play this amazing game. Whether we strive for the Tour or merely to lower our scorewe hope to achieve.
From all of us here at the GOLF CHANNEL, we wish Tommy the best of luck in the Nationwide Tour event and hope that he eventually finds success on the PGA TOUR. Go get em Two Gloves! Yes siryou are The Big Break VII: Reunion champion!

Host's Blog - Episode 11
You have to love this game. Just when you think you have the upper hand, it brings you humbly to your knees. As this episode illustrated, anything is possible in the game of golf.
Tommy took a comfortable lead in this match and never looked back. With three birdies and a bogey, there is no doubt he could have gone much lower. Time after time he positioned himself for excellent birdie opportunities'but could not convert. However, his solid, steady performance throughout the series earned him a spot in the final pairing.
This match quickly became a head to head battle. While Tommy was on cruise control, Mike and Ashley were battling it out for the last seat.
Back to back bogies on No. 2 and No. 3 had Mike playing catch up, and this rough start allowed Ashley a comfortable two shot lead through three holes of play.
She had many key up and downs in this match, but probably the most impressive was on No. 5 from the bunker'the pressure, the shot, the puttphenomenal. At the time, it appeared that Mike would pull within one, but Ashley slammed the door. You could tell the momentum had shifted in her direction.
Another arrant iron shot led to her bogey on No. 6, and all of the sudden things were very interesting. After a routine par, Mike pulled within one with three holes to go.
I cant emphasize enough how impressive it was to see these two wrestle and fight for the win. Both were struggling with their games, but they never quit. Ashley scrambled to maintain her lead, while Mike waited patiently for an opportunity to gain some ground.
After a spectacular par save on No. 8, Mikes opportunity came at the par 5, 9th. His birdie on the final hole forced the match into a sudden death playoff, but his journey would end there. Ashley advanced, and Mike joined the gallery of eliminated contestants.
While watching this match, I could not help but think how different our finalists were from each other'Tommy with his unorthodox style, Ashley with her unwavering confidence, and Mike with his ah shucks attitude that endeared everyone to him immediately.
The majority of us did not have a favorite. Like most of the eliminated contestants, we were simply hoping for an exciting match, and they did not disappoint. I can honestly say that any three of these contestants would have been worthy champions based on their talent, poise, and hunger to winbut only two made it to the end.
Tommy Gainey and Ashley Gomes'one will walk away the champion of BBVII.
Mike: You showed a lot of determination day after day. Not once did I see you give up. Not once did you throw in the towel and give it away. You made Ashley earn her spot in the second stage of the finaljust as you earned your place in the final three. Your talent was evident, but it was your heart and genuine disposition that made you such a joy to be around. You are a true gentleman.

Host's Blog - Episode 10
Double Ds moneyup for grabs!
Tommy vs. Mike
On paper, most would have chosen Tommy as the favorite. Mike, however, had to fight and endure many elimination challenges in order to make it this far. Though Tommy did experience the pressure of the elimination stage previously, his matches were certainly not as grueling and trying as Mikes. With each dayeach challengeMike gained more and more confidence within himself. In this match, it showed. Two pars sealed his victory, $2500 cash, and a spot in the finals.
Ashley vs. Dave
You can let your nerves kill you or you can use them to make you stronger.
Ashley was a tough one to read in regards to nerves. More times than not, she carried herself and her game with an assured confidence'never letting the other contestants see her sweat. If there were nerves, you didnt see them. If there was doubt, you never heard about it. Ashley, the last woman standing, made it to the finals.
Tommy vs. Dave
Tommy, again, was favored to win, but as Daves little girl saysGunnis dont quit!
By now you know the outcome'Tommy captured the last spot. Dave, however, gave him a run for his money. Throughout this series, Daves short game was his crutch, and it saved him when everything else failed. You saw him hang by a thread for three holes in the elimination challenge, but what you do not know is that this match was even longer than what was shown on air. Because of time constraints, the producers could only use one hole of sudden death in the show'where in actualitythere were three. Thats right; Gunnis took Tommy to three sudden death playoff holes. On those not shown, Tommy had birdie attempts within twelve feet, but was not able to convert on both occasions. So Dave stayed alive with four straight pars, but his erratic long game on the final hole led to his demise.
  • Tommys second shot'his impressive slinging hook around the trees on the first hole of play put him back onto the fairway and gave him an opportunity to make birdie.
  • After two weak shots to start the second hole, Dave put the pressure back on Tommy with a fantastic pitch shot that set him up for par.
  • Tommys drive on the final sudden death playoff hole'his frustration was evident I am going to take driver and beat it. Remember that he had realistic attempts for birdie on the previous two holes (which you did not see). His aggressive decision to hit driver could have cost him the match had Dave capitalized on his errant drive.
  • Daves second shot on the final hole from the fairway'his 3 wood to the fairway bunker diminished his opportunity for birdie and placed the control back in Tommys hands. Dave never had the advantage again.
    In true Gunnis form, he left us with an entertaining quote that only he could pull off'Being eliminated was very similar to kissing your sistergetting this far and not going any further.
    Dave: I must first compliment you on your very strong short game. There were times when we thought you were out of the hole, but you never quit. You either made a putt or executed some amazing pitch shot to get up and down to force an extra hole. It was never dull Dave, and for that we thank you. Your positive attitude was infectious, and I applaud you for being just as much a cheerleader to others as you were to yourself. You will be missed.

    Host's Blog - Episode 9
    I know I have touched upon the atmosphere at the elimination challenges before, but I would be remiss if I did not pass on some insight concerning this one. Lets just say, Tommy and Dave counted their lucky stars that they watched it from the sidelines.
    This elimination challenge environment resembled a final exam day in collegeeerie silence peppered with a dash of nervous anticipation. Mike and Ashley were the lucky two to pass the exam.
    Automatic Immunity to the final four or $5,000what would you do?
    Considering the outcome, it is very easy for us to criticize Don Donatellos decision to participate in the elimination challenge rather than cash in and pay his way onto the next show. Had he succeeded, I think we would all be singing a different tune. At this point, I would be congratulating him for having so much confidence in his game rather than questioning why he chose to take such a risk.
    Unfortunately, his questionable decision making did not stop there. The second time they played the par 3, Don could have been free and clear had he not tried to hit his first chip close. Once it looked like Mike and Ashley would both bogey, everyone thought Don was a lock...all he had to do was knock it on the green and two putt for a bogey.
    In the playoff, his club selection could also be argued. Mike doubted his choice of iron from the tee, and most of us thought putter was not the play on his second shot. Typically, Don handled pressure well; but it was obvious that the Don Donatello that showed up that day was not the BooYah yelling Double D of old.
    He self-destructed because of the pressure he put on himself to win. That pressure led to his elimination.
    As he openly admitted, Don let his pride get in the way. Unfortunately, sometimes the best lessons hurt the most.
    Don: I have to admit that you were one of the most entertaining contestants to watchyour passion for winning is off the charts. You kept everyone waiting for your next reaction...your next pump fistyour next prayer before a shot. You gave everything you had Donon every shot and every minute you were out there. It was obvious that you wanted nothing more than to win. I believe we learn the most from our losses rather than our wins. That being said, I know you have learned a lot from this experience. I hope this will help you in the future.

    Host's Blog - Episode 8
    They say golf is a game of inchesit was more a game of seconds in Episode 8.
    The reunion within the Reunion was not welcomed by allespecially Ashley Is this a joke? Gomes. After hearing that the eliminated contestants would not be playing their way back onto the show, there was a huge sigh of relief that rippled through the remaining six. Their fake, strained smiles turned into broad, jubilant grins.
    Ashley and Don, with the help of Kim, scored a 9.2 in the speed challenge to narrowly escape with the victory and immunity over Laura, Tommy, and Valeria.
    While Tommy was struggling with the heat (and missing Bri), Dave knocked down his last two shots to win the dice challenge and avoid elimination.
    Tommy, Mike, and Laura had no such luck. Two Gloves handled his first time in the hot seat impressively with a flawless up and down record ' 3-for-3. Laura, usually tremendous under pressure, was not able to convert and saw her hopes diminish as her final shot from the waste bunker fell short.
    Miss Laura London said goodbye!
    After working with Laura on two Big Breaks, it became apparent that she was upbeat and friendly on the outside, but underneath she hid a fierce, clawing competitor that did not comprehend the definition of quitting. She certainly gave it her all.
    Laura: The perseverance that you showed throughout your Big Break experience is commendable. Even when your illness drained your energy, you fought to stay alive. Time and time again you proved that you can handle pressure and make the play. That alone should give you a great deal of confidence in whatever you choose to tackle in your life. Good luck and thank you for coming back for the Reunion.
    As we saw in Episode 8, one of the major components of The Big Break is the element of surprise. Months before the shoot, every member of the crew and anyone affiliated with the show was required to sign a confidentiality agreement. With words like felony scattered throughout the text, it took only a glance to realize how determined they were to keep the inner workings of the show (especially the results) protected and hidden from the general public'including other employees within the company.
    In an effort to prevent other employees from discovering which contestant had been eliminated, producers cover the windows of the edit rooms and refrain from saying the winners name in meetings and in the hallways. Trust me: every precaution is taken to uphold the integrity of the show.
    During the taping, the contestants were sequestered and their cell phones were taken away. Contact with the outside world was brought to an abrupt halt. They had each other24/7which explains why unbreakable bonds formed and patience sometimes wore thin.
    Once at home, they were expected to keep the results and details of the show a secret. Imagine being the champion of The Big Breakyouve won an exemption, a Chrysler Aspen, $50,000 in cash and prizes from Ginn Resorts, an Adams Golf endorsement contract which includes $10,000 cash, and also a $10,000 gift card from Dick Sporting GoodsBUT you could not tell anyone because you were contractually obligated. That would certainly be a tough smile to hide. I know how often I am asked who won, and I am sure the contestants probably get it ten times worse. Fortunately, we are very close to crowning our Big Break: Reunion champion.
    Who will it be? Dave, Tommy, Mike, Don, or Ashleyone will eventually take it all when the secret is finally revealed.

    Host's Blog - Episode 7
    Two contestants say good-bye'one experienced elimination for the very first time, one left on her own free will.
    Never, in Big Break history, had we witnessed something as shocking as we did that morning. Every season, we have had personality conflicts that pushed the barriers and raised the tension, but nothing prepared us for Pams decision to walk away.
    The morning started in normal fashionVince and I grabbed some coffee, discussed the days challenges, and debated about who would possibly be the one to go. As we headed to the first challenge, we were told that the shoot was delayed'indefinitely.
    At that point, we were informed that the contestant breakfast, which normally welcomed friendly banter and bravado, had somehow turned into an open confessional. Speculation ran rampant among the crew. What happened? Is Pam really going to quit? No one thought she would do it, but as you sawshe did, and that was the last we saw of Pam Garrity.
    The question I am most often asked is whether situations, like this dramatic departure, are staged throughout the competition? I have mentioned this before in a previous blog, but I would like to reiterate that the interaction among the contestants is 100% authentic. No one prompted Bri to confront Pam at the breakfast table or urged Pam to throw in the towel. As much as the producers strive to create a compelling and entertaining show, none of them would have chosen this outcome. They want the contestants to enjoy their time and the overall experience.
    Its unfortunate that Pam chose to leave, butthe show had to go on and by the end of the day'she had company.
    In episode 7, four players advanced via the Immunity Challenges.
  • Don showed impressive course management'proving he is not just 100% emotion.
  • Tommy played very aggressive off the tee, but did not show that same confidence from the fairway.
  • Ashley, a newcomer to gambling, doubled down with her wedge to remain safe.
  • Dave, the sound bite machine, talked his way out of eliminationwithout even hitting a putt.
    So whether they used their swing, mind, or mouth'they all successfully moved on to the next show.
    The elimination challenge is where we went to school. Here, the players strengths and weaknesses were exposed which allowed us to see how they balanced their adrenaline, nerves, and expectations. The scrappy Laura London passed the test. With a birdie on the first hole, she proved once again that she is a pressure player. Mike got the gold star for his stellar up and down from the bunker and his final birdie which clenched the victory. Bri, on the other hand, did not have the opportunity to continue on this field trip. Had her iron game been sharper, this might have been an entirely different outcome.
    Bri Vega, the Big Break VI Champion, took that lonely walk for the very first time.
    Bri: Congratulations! I know you were disappointed with your play during this series, but remembernot every player can walk away knowing that they won a Big Break. You can and for that, you will have many shots and moments that you can draw upon when you are competing in future events. Good luck this year!
    Pam: Thank you for returning to the Reunion. Though it was short, I hope that you can take away some positive moments from this Big Break experience. You have a great deal of natural talent which was certainly revealed throughout the series. I wish you luck in all your future endeavors.

    Host's Blog - Episode 6
    1.Golf is, and will always be, an individual sport.
    Most professional golfers are born with natural ability. Their childhood pictures consist of stylish, plaid slacks and a big, blue plastic golf club that they carried from room to room (or was that just me?) Even at an early age, there is an understanding'golf is an individual sport.
    Regardless of how much the Big Break contestants (in most cases) enjoyed their partnerships; they were very excited about competing on their own. Team competitions are a pleasant change of pace for professionals, but I venture to say that if you took a poll, most would prefer living and dying by their own sword. If they hit a great shotits all them. If they flounder down the stretch and three putt to lose by oneits all on their shoulders. Their focus is on their game and individual expectations.
    Probably the best example of this would be Ashley. She did everything in her power to strengthen and support her team when paired with Don, but once that bond was brokenthe gloves came off. On site, it was a noticeable change. Teams that were buddy/buddy before resorted to good luck and nice shot rather than high fives and hugs. The intensity of the competition definitely increased after the teams were terminated.
    2.Course management is just as important as the dynamics of the swing.
    Course management is one of the most underestimated factors in scoring. I think we all know many long hitters that are unable to take it deep. Some are erratic while others have a weak short game or have difficulty managing the course.

    I thought the grid in the driving challenge forced the players to think. As we saw in many cases, it was very easy to run the ball through the grid on the left side. For the right to left players, there were also trees to contend with running along the right side of the fairway. For a few, driver was not necessarily the play.

    It would have been interesting to see how the contestants would have played their drive in a tournament. My guess is that many would not have hit driver.

    Tommys length and draw required him to try to go up and over the trees on the right. His failed strategy sidelined him for the rest of the day'proving he truly does live and die with the driver.
    This was a true risk/reward challenge that emphasized consistency and controlnot just length.
    3.Short game: Can save your score or make it soar.
    Stage 2 had a mental component as well. This pitching challenge forced the players to avert their focus from the hole to a spot on the green. The only problem with this was that the green was elevated and the contestants could not see the back of the green. There was no visual reference so they had to visualize the spot. On top of that, the hitting area was aligned directly in the line of site with the flag.
    Before the contestants arrived, I tried the challenge and it was amazing how my eyes and brain were so conditioned to fixate on the hole. The closer I got to the hole, the more I had to concentrate and visualize a spot.
    It was not surprising that Laura and Don, who were familiar with the drill, performed the best.
    4. Pam and Bri are definitely not on the same page.
    I think the issues with Pam and Bri went beyond Bris behavior on the course. They had very different motivations for returning to the show. Bri wants a career in professional golfPam does not. That alone put them in a very different mind-set from the beginning.
    There is no doubt Bri is intense in competition. To be honest, when I competed I made the same mistake'berating myself for less than perfect shots. It took me stepping away from competition and watching more tournament coverage to learn how the champions handled their mishaps. I never realized how many errant shots many tournament winners make throughout the course of a round. They accept them, move on, and prepare for the next shot.
    If I had any advice for Bri, I would tell her to increase the amount of time she spends watching Tour coveragefrom start to finish. Watch how a player like Tiger Woods recovers from a poor start. Hearing it is one thingseeing it makes you truly grasp how the great players maneuver themselves throughout an event. It taught me a great deal and it is something I wish I would have comprehended while still competing.
    In this game, you need to be your own best friend'not your own worst enemy. So Bri, take this from someone that understands and appreciates your intensity, but learned a little too late.

    5. Don Donatello gets upset if his little daughter beats him in Chutes N Ladders.
    I am a threat. I can easily eliminate any of you with the game I have. I wanted to put fear in them.
    I have never met anyone as competitive as Don Donatello. He absolutely thrives on competition'more importantly winning. Don is not the guy that will just let his clubs do the talking. He will tell you, to your face, that he is going to win. Though over the top at times, this attitude has probably pulled him through to victory on many occasions.
    Players like Don love the heat of battle. The more pressure the better which explains his reaction when Ashley stepped up and hit the green in two during the final challenge. With a smile on his face, he exclaimed, Its onthe game is on!
    On that day, Don won the game and walked away with $5,000 from Dick Sporting Goods. We will find out soon enough whether he was able to cash the check or if he used it to avoid elimination.
    Trust me, you do not want to miss the next episode!
    Host's Blog - Episode 5
    Host's Blog - Episode 5
    Everybodys losing their minds!
    Laura London could not have said it any better.
    It is not surprising considering this unique experience forces competitors to spend 14 to 16 hours a day with each other. Imagine, for a second, the guy at your club that you have absolutely nothing in common with except for golf, or the woman you played with in a tournament that incessantly whined about the condition of the greens. Nowpicture yourself eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, traveling to and from the course, or worse yet, being partnered with them day after day. That is what The Big Break contestants endure on a daily basis.
    This competition is not just about golf. Its about survival. Who can tolerate the unavoidable personality conflicts and the heat of competition'both on and off the course? Yes, you need to have game to win The Big Break, but you must also be able to withstand and block out the extraneous hoopla that goes hand in hand with this style of competition. If nothing else, The Big Break forces you to focusone day at a timeone shot at a time.
    In Episode 5, a few unfocused decisions led a couple of teams to the elimination challenge. Take for instance Kellys 3-wood choice for Nikki off of a tricky, side-hill lie in the alternate-shot format in the first stage of the Chrysler Immunity Challenge. This was obviously a mistake. Nikki should have trusted her own instincts and picked a club that she was confident with and that would have kept the ball in play.
    With a lie like that, balance and alignment are of the utmost importance. There was no doubt that the ball would naturally shoot to the left. Solution: You must choke down on the club because the ball is above the feet (which Nikki did), and aim to the right of the target to factor in the slant of the hill. Another factor to consider is your natural ball flight. If you draw the ball, you have to aim even further to the right since the lie itself promotes a right-to-left shot automatically. Keep in mind, you dont want to close your stance (which would promote more right to left spin), you want to merely align yourself to the right of where you want the ball to ultimately land. Many players also think about keeping their lower body quiet in order to maintain their balance throughout the swing.
    Unfortunately, if you look at the video closely, Nikki was aimed at the left greenside bunker which gave her a slim chance of advancing the ball toward the green. She also had a couple of other of factors working against her. She kicked her left knee to the right and out on her backswing which for her created a reverse pivot'weight was predominantly on her left side (instead of transferring back to the right instep) and her left shoulder dipped down toward the ball. This created a much steeper angle of attacksomething you definitely do not want with a 3-wood and certainly not when the ball is above your feet.
    With her length, she could have reached the green in two; however, the percentage shot would have been to take an iron or even a utility club to advance it safely down the fairway. There are times to play aggressive and there are times when you should just throttle back.
    Another tactical error I think they made was in the wall challenge. In my opinion, Kelly should have hit the fade shot'his bread and butter. The fade was also the more difficult of the two choices. The wind was blowing significantly from right to left and there was not much green to work with on the left side. They had to carry it the entire way for the fade shotwhich made Tommy and Daves efforts that much more impressive.
    The draw shot had much more green to work with and it also had help from the wind. Basically, you could hit a straight shot to the right side of the green and let the wind bring it back toward the hole. I am not taking anything away from Nikki, but if you had to compareKelly is the stronger player in regards to working the ball.
    I also question Dave and Pams decision to have Dave hit the draw in the playoff. Perhaps, Dave felt more confident at the time, but you cant disregard that Pam had just hit that shot three times. Not to mention that there was a lot of pressure on her third attempt. She had to hit the green to force a playoff. By then, she had the feel for the shot and knew what yardage and how much draw she needed to hit the green.
    Having said this, it is very easy for me (as a spectator) to observe and speculate on what could have been a better choice, but ultimately it comes down to the team and there mind-set at the time. Sometimes a situation on paper calls for a particular strategy; yet, other times it is best to follow your gut and let it rip.
    Dave and Pams strategy certainly worked in the elimination challenge where they were able to salvage the day with their solid performances. His strong short game and her steady, consistent play ensured that they would see yet another day. As for Kelly and Nikki, they started the competition as a team and left as team'fitting for a pair that worked so harmoniously together (most of the time.)
    Kelly: Your shot-making abilities leave me in awe. You are a true artist of the gameand for that matter life. It was pleasure to work with you once again and I wish you nothing but the best. Never stop being youyou are a good guy.
    Nikki: Thank you for coming back to the Reunion. I know you didnt stay as long as you had hoped, but you can certainly walk away with some very positive moments from the show'on and off the course. Your pitch/flop shot in the elimination challenge was phenomenal. That is what you should hold ontoa difficult shotunder pressurenothing but net. Its the little victories that eventually spur success in the future.
    Host's Blog - Episode 4
    Heres the Don Donatello Ive been waiting for'blunt, boarder-line cocky, and full of emotion!
    Yes, at times, this was irritating to his fellow competitors, but you have to admit, he brings an intensity and pulse to the competition.
    We watch Double D for the same reason we watched John McEnroe. We cant wait for the next explosiongood or bad. The problem with running your mouth is, as Tommy stated, You better be able to back it up.
    One player that certainly backed up her credible reputation is LPGA Tour star Brittany Lincicome. I could tell that everyone expected to play AGAINST her, certainly not with her (insert sighs of relief from the competitors). Lincicome, who won her first LPGA Tour event at the 2006 HSBC Womens World Match Play Championship, performed just as expected'like a professional. She got up and down two out of the three times in the wheel challenge to assist Kim/Mike and Laura/Mark.
    Unfortunately, for Ashley and Don, the third time was not a charm. Donatello had a lengthy putt from the front of the green and Ashley had no chance to be aggressive with her attempt. She was above the hole, putting downhill with a severe right-to-left breakthe kind of putt where you emphasize speed first, line second. Brittany also failed to find the bottom of the cup, so Ashley and Don found themselves one shot back.
    The conditions for the final stage of the Chrysler Immunity challenge were a little tougher than how they appeared on television. There was a fairly strong wind and the major mental obstacle was finding a target. Stepping up and focusing on the entire grid would have been an amateur mistake. It is challenges such as these where they really needed to pick a spot on the grid, commit to a distance, and trust it.
    Unfortunately, Mark struggled, Laura scored a three; but many players stepped up with some impressive swings. Ashley hit the grid in her first attempt and Kim answered right back. Under pressure and after numerous self-inflicted pep talks, Donatello proved that he could back it up. That was definitely a confidence boost for him heading into the next show. Finally, when Mike missed on his second attempt, his face said it all. You could see the frustration and pain he carried with him, long after the producers yelled cut. Letting yourself down is one thing'letting your teammate down stings a bit more. His failed attempts forced his team into the elimination challenge along with Mark and Laura.
    As usual, the final challenge of the day brought the players strengths and weaknesses to the surface, such as the following:
    Kim: Players underestimate Kim. This mother of two has the competitive fire that few rarely get to see. Its easily masked because she is innately genuine and a caring individual. If she asks you, How are you doing, she really wants to know. But dont let this fool you; in competition she wants to win. This former Tarheel had intensity in her eyes every time she approached a shot. Her elimination was because Laura beat her'not because she beat herself.
    Laura: Beware of the sick golfer. Laura showed a great deal of fortitude to fight through her ailment and prevail. Being sick on these shoots is never fun. I had the pleasure to experience this in Hawaii on BBV, and I can attest that the only thing you want to do is crawl back into bed. But in true BB style, that is not an option. Rain or shine, sick or injuredthe show must go on. For Laura, the show will go on thanks to her steady, gutsy play.
    Mark: After struggling in the previous challenge, Mark fought to regain his confidence, but even that fell short. As golfers, we need to protect ourselves from negative thoughts, but Mark fell victim to self-sabotage on the first shot as he admitted to thinking, Whatever happensdont leave it in the bunker. He achieved his goal by picking the ball clean and flying the green. I know his performance throughout the series was disappointing to him, but the experience will only reinforce his strength. It takes a lot of moxie to stand in the line of fire on national televisionevery error and flaw analyzed and dissected. From the brief time of knowing him, one thing is certain, he is a man of great character and perseverance. He sees a loss not as a failure, but as a learning experience. Dont forget, this is an individual that once worked as a janitor and is now a CEO.
    Mike: I have to admit that out of the four players in the elimination challenge, Mike really stood out. It was not because of his execution; rather, it was his course management and the way he utilized the rules to his advantage. The first shot in the elimination challenge had a significant downhill slope. As you saw, Mike used the rules and took two club lengths, which significantly improved his lie. Another intelligent decision is when he backed away from the 3-foot putt at location No. 1. Flashbacks of BBII had entered his thoughts and instilled an element of doubt. (In his defense, I think that bus ride would haunt most people for awhile.) Instead of forcing the shot, he stepped back and started his routine again. Simply put'thats smart golf!
    We say goodbye to Kim and Mark, two contestants that brought a ray of sunshine to the setday in and day out. You will both be missed.
    Kim: Words cant begin to describe how proud I am of you. Though your priorities have changed over the years, it was exciting to see the same spark that you possessed back when you wore Carolina blue. You represent all of us that have let go of the dream, moved on in our careers, yet still hunger for the intensity and thrill of competition. Way to go Kim and good luck with your team!
    Mark: You are truly an inspiration to all. From rags to riches, you give credibility to the notion that anything is possible. If you have a dream, pursue it. If you fail, pick yourself up and try again. There is no doubt in my mind that you are the same man today as you were many years agoemptying out the trash. That is your trophy and our reward. You have taught us an unforgettable lesson of resilience, determination, and humility. Thank you.
    Host's Blog - Episode 3
    The great thing about golf is that there is no set formulano definitive techniqueand no instructional manual that can guarantee success. There is more than one way to swing the club.
    Individuality within the game stands out like a loud pair of plaid pants. Were not sure if we understand it, but we respect the courage and confidence it requires.
    After seeing the Reunion contestants back in action, it was apparent that we certainly had a vast array of personalities that scoffed at tradition and embraced the beat of their own drum.
    Kelly, of course, is the first player that comes to mind. From his practice routine (or lack thereof), to his mental approach, to his driver off the deck, he exudes shameless originality that is often questioned by his opponents ' that is until he pulls off the shot.
    Tommy is a player who, on the range, initially looks like an amateur ' two gloves, baseball hat, and a grip that is so strong it would make any instructor cringe. Opinions quickly change once he hits the ball 300 yards. I am sure many coaches have tried to alter his grip throughout the years, but he has stayed true to his method ' an unorthodox approach that somehow works for him.
    His approach also seems to find the grooves on the putting green, as we witnessed in Episode 3. Even with gloves on, Tommy is probably one of the more conventional putters ' right hand low with an ordinary stance. Others have their own twist.
    Dave uses a long putter with a split-hand grip. His hips and shoulders are open, the top of the grip rests against his left shoulder, and his right wrist locks into the putter shaft. But, he has a completely different grip for his shorter puttsthe claw.
    Kelly, on the other hand, looks as if he is sweeping the floor when he strokes a putt. The grip rests in the palm of his right hand which faces away from his body. His left hand has a more traditional position, but features a propped up wrist. His shoulders are slightly open with his right shoulder dropping down.
    Their approaches varied, but the results spoke volumes. All three putted quite efficiently ' proving it doesnt matter how you do it, as long as the ball finds the bottom of the cup.
    In the elimination challenge we witnessed a rare pace of play that we dont see too oftenspeed golf.
    Eddie and Val are probably the fastest players I have ever seen. Everything about their routine would suggest that they might not care about the results because they quickly step up and hit it. That could not be further from the truth. It is merely their styleno show, no fluff, just a swing.
    They are both very talented players and the elimination challenge was certainly not a reflection of their true game. I think if they saw the challenge unedited, they would see that their rhythm was faster than normaland for them, speeding up was costly.
    Unfortunately, we had to say goodbye to two more colorful characters who certainly brought a great deal of flair and entertainment to the show. They left the same way they startedplaying their own game, their own way ' no excuses.
    Val: Your lack of confidence in your short game may have sent you packing, but its your confidence and commitment to being a mother that truly made you leave a winner. Thank you so much for taking time away from your family!
    Eddie: I will always remember our round of golf at Carnoustie. If you caddie like you playfast and accurateIm sure you have a list of players waiting for your services. I wish you the best of luck in whatever area you choose to pursue. I hope you enjoyed the experience!
    Host's Blog - Episode 2
    REALITY- def.
    1.the state or quality of being real
    2.resemblance to what is real.
    3.a real thing or fact.
    The Big Break is, in definition, a reality show...nothing is scripted and the competitors are certainly not told how to act or what to say. You would think by now, having worked on five series, nothing would surprise me. Ohwas I wrong.
    Realityhas officially set in.
    In every series, there seems to be a time, usually four or five shows in, when the competitors true personalities start to emerge. By then, everyone is used to the cameras and the general flow of the competition so they tend to open up and converse more freely and without hesitation. This opening up phase also has another sidea darker sidewhere competitiveness and ego prevail. It starts with a piercing stare, a sarcastic dig, or even an overt confrontation. Inevitably, there comes a time when things just flat out get real.
    Well, folks'things just got real.
    Donatello, in true form, proclaimed he would step up and hole the shot in the wedge challenge. Val mimicked Dave for praising Ashley. Ashley fired back with a candid response to Val. Mark graciously told Gary to play like a champion in the elimination, and Gary shot back with a resentful stare.
    Their personalities have arrived and we can hear them loud and clearespecially when faced with the prospect of going home.
    Lets face it, no one wanted to be the first to depart. Kim/Mike and Ashley/Don escaped dismissal by executing a stellar showing in the first couple of challenges. But Laura/Mark and Cindy/Gary were the first teams to face the gut-check of elimination.
    Notoriously, the elimination challenges are the quietest and most tension packed moments of the day. The banter drops to low whispers, smiles drop to frowns, and every player involved attempts to maintain a confident facade.
    This elimination was no different. Gary got rattled early and Cindy lost her tempo. For themreality was saying goodbye to BBVII a little earlier than planned.
    Gary: Thank you for coming back to join us for the Reunion. I hope that you are able to take away some positive moments from your experience. I wish you the best of luck with your teaching and future golf endeavors.
    Cindy: Good for you for choosing to get better, not bitter. I know that you will continue to share your knowledge and love for the game to everyone around you, just as you shared it with us. It was certainly our pleasure to have you back. You are a true professional.

    Host's Blog - Episode 1
    Family Reunions'sometimes theyre a blast, sometimes you wonder how you could possibly share the same DNA.
    Inevitably, the first ten minutes are spent saying hello to cousins you havent seen since you were five, making small talk with relatives you barely know, and hugging aunts you never even knew existed.
    The contestants of The Big Break VII were not related, but their initial meeting certainly had all the dynamics of a Family Reunion.
    All of our favorite characters are back. Some were happy to be reunitedBri and Ashleywhile others tentatively mustered an obligatory greetingDon and Eddie. From the start it seemed like we had it all'talent, humor, tension, and yes, even a hint of romance. We knew this was going to be an interesting ride.
    Day one of was unique for everyone involved. Vince and I would typically spend the first day of competition sizing up the field in regards to talent and personality. This Reunion show, however, was a different beast. We knew what every player had in their arsenal, but what we didnt know is how they would interact and compete as a group.
    Would these 16 seasoned veterans merge into one big, happy Big Break family? Or, would it end up like most reunions with a few quarrels that would be talked about for yearsor at least until the next reunion?
    Only time would tell, but it became apparent from the start that some teams had an immediate bond. The teams that initially stood out to me were the Ashley/Don and Nikki/Kelly pairings.
    Don is notorious for his intense competitiveness and occasional outbursts, but Ashley appeared to rein him in earlyand dare I say, had a calming effect. Ashley stepped up in the last two challenges and made some key plays to ensure a number one seed heading into the next show. They established themselves as the team to beat.
    Nikki and Kelly, on the other hand, finished in the middle of the pack thanks in part to the unfortunate penalty they were assessed due to Kellys extra clubs.
    There was a hushed silence that fell upon our crew when news of the infraction had spread. After a year of preparation, the last thing the producers wanted to do was to penalize a player on the very first day. Butthe rules are the rules.
    Some players would have been rattled by this, but it didnt seem to faze Nikki and Kelly. These two were a pair made in heaven.
    Stretching, whispering, meditating, and breathingthey formed their bond like a fluid Zen-like dance. Whereas Bri could not relate to Kellys style of play in The Big Break VI, Nikki, it appeared, spoke the same language. Feel the shotfeel the rhythm.
    As the series continues, you cant help but notice that some teams find this rhythm, while others miss the beat.
    Day one of the Reunion is complete. The family is still together and talkingsuccess. But what happens when elimination is on the line?
  • Getty Images

    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)

    Getty Images

    Wie's goal to reach goals: Just. Stay. Healthy.

    By Randall MellJanuary 23, 2018, 3:30 pm

    Michelle Wie’s player bio should come with medical charts.

    Her caddie would be well served if he could read X-rays as well as he reads greens.

    Remarkably, Wie will begin her 13th full season as a pro when she tees it up Thursday in the LPGA’s season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic.

    Wie is only 28, but on some days, she must feel like she’s going on 40.

    It isn’t the years, it’s the mileage. Her body has too often been like an exotic sports car, a sleek and powerful machine capable of thrilling rides ... when it isn’t sitting it in the shop for weeks for repairs. There’s been one breakdown after another, spoiling her rides.

    That’s why one burning desire trumps all others for Wie as she begins this new year.

    “Being healthy, staying healthy, it’s my No. 1 priority,” Wie told “I hired private physios at the end of last year, to work on my body. I’ve been working with my doctors in New York, and they’ve been doing a great job of getting me to a place where I’m pain free.

    “For the most part, I’m feeling pretty good and pretty healthy. I’ve got little aches and pains from hitting so many balls over the years, but I’m really excited about starting this year. I feel really driven this year. I just want to be healthy so I can build some momentum and be able to play at 100 percent.”

    Wie would love to see what she can do in an injury-free, illness-free year after all the promising work she put into rebuilding her game last year. She seemed on the brink of something special again.

    “We worked last week, and Michelle looked really, really good,” said David Leadbetter, her swing coach. “It’s quite impressive the way she’s hitting the ball. She is hitting it long and feeling good about her game. So, the main goal really is to see if she can go injury free.”

    After winning twice in 2014, including the U.S. Women’s Open, Wie battled through a troublesome finger injury in the second half of that year. Hip, knee and ankle injuries followed the next year. She didn’t just lose all her good momentum. She lost the swing she grooved.

    Wie rebuilt it all last year, turning her draw into a dependable fade that allowed her to play more aggressively again. She loved being able to go hard at the ball again, without fearing where it might go. The confidence from that filtered into every part of her game. She started hitting more drivers again.

    And Wie found yet another eccentric but effective putting method, abandoning her table-top putting stance for a rotating trio of grips (conventional, left-hand low and claw). She would use them all in a single round. It was weird science, but it worked as she moved to a more classic, upright stance.

    “It’s not pretty, but it’s working,” Stacy Lewis said after playing with Wie at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship last summer.

    Wie said she’s going back and forth between conventional and left-hand low now.

    “I can’t promise I’ll stay the same way all year,” Wie said. “But even with different grips, I stayed with the same putting philosophy all year. I want to keep doing that.”

    Leadbetter calls Wie a rebel in her approach to the game. She’s a power player, but she carried a 9-wood and 11-wood last year. She says the 11-wood will be back in her bag this week. Her unorthodox ways go beyond technique, strategy and equipment. She’ll be sporting pink hair come Thursday.

    “She has never been orthodox,” Leadbetter said. “She doesn’t like to conform. She’s always liked to buck the system in some way.”

    Wie looked as if she were poised to make a run at her fifth career title last season. She logged six finishes of fourth place or better the first half of the year. She contended at the ANA Inspiration, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

    And then a neck spasm knocked her out of the U.S. Women’s Open.

    And then emergency appendectomy surgery knocked her out for six weeks at summer’s end. It kept her from playing the year’s final major, the Evian Championship.

    “I can’t list all the injuries Michelle has had in her career,” Leadbetter said. “I don’t think there is one joint or bone in her body that hasn’t had some sort of injury or issue.”

    Over the last three seasons alone, Wie has played through bursitis in her left hip, a bone spur in her left foot and inflammation in her left knee. She has battled neck spasms and back spasms. There have been platelet rich plasma injections to aid healing, and there have been too many cortisone injections for her liking.

    There also have been ongoing issues in both wrists.

    In fact, Wie, who broke two bones in her left wrist early in her career, is dealing with arthritic issues in both wrists of late. She underwent collagen injections this off season to try to be more pain free.

    “I’ve had to pull back the last couple years, restrict the number of balls I hit, not practice as much as I would like, but I was able to put in a lot of work this offseason,” Wie said. “I’m excited about this year, but I’ve been smart about things.”

    Leadbetter says he has been focusing on injury prevention when working with Wie. He worries about the stress that all the torque she creates can have on her body, with her powerful coil and the way she sometimes likes to hold off shots with her finish. His work, sometimes, is pulling her back from the tinkering she loves to do.

    “Everything we do with her swing now is to help prevent injury,” he said.

    Leadbetter relishes seeing what’s possible in 2018 if there are no setbacks.

    “Michelle would be the first to admit she hasn’t reached anywhere near her potential,” Leadbetter said. “We all know what she is capable of. We’ve had fleeting glimpses. Now, it’s a matter of, ‘OK, let’s see if we can really fulfill the potential she’s had from a very young age.’

    “She’s really enthusiastic about this year. She can’t wait to get back in the mix.”

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    How Rahm can overtake DJ for OWGR No. 1 this week

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 23, 2018, 2:50 pm

    Editor's note: Information and text provided by Golf Channel's Official World Golf Ranking expert, Alan Robison.

    Despite having fewer worldwide wins, fewer top-5 finishes, fewer top-25 finishes and more missed cuts over the past two years, Jon Rahm is poised to overtake Dustin Johnson for No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win in this week’s Farmers Insurance Open. 

    The Rise of Rahm is meteoric, but how is this possible? After all, Rahm has five worldwide wins vs. eight for Johnson in the same span? 

    We’ll start with the raw numbers over the 104-week cycle of the Official World Golf Ranking. These numbers include a win for Rahm in this week’s Farmers (the only way he could get to No. 1; DJ is not playing):

      Dustin Johnson Jon Rahm
    Events   46 40
    Wins  8 (1 major, 3 WGCs) 5 (3 PGA Tour, 2 Euro)
    Top 5 finishes   20 16
    Top 10 finishes  26 19
    Top 25 finishes  37 26
    MC or 0 OWGR Pts earned  4 7

    Johnson leads Rahm in every possible category, so you may be wondering, again, how is Rahm replacing DJ possible? 

    To understand this, you would need to understand the Official World Golf Ranking, which is all about the power of math, a recency bias and the divisor.

    The ranking system can feel a bit overwhelming, so here are a couple of topline bullet points:

    • The ranking is a 104-week period (two years) that evaluates a player’s performance.
    • Events are given a certain weight and bigger events have a higher point total.
    • Majors are worth 100 points to the winner. The Players champ is given 80 points. From there, you will see events weighted in the 70s for most WGCs, down to 24 for PGA Tour events opposite WGCs and majors.
    • The number assigned to an event has to do with the quality of field – the more top 10/20/50/100 players that are in a field, the higher the weighting.

    Next, you can look at how recent the event was to determine its true value to a player. Dustin Johnson’s 2016 U.S. Open victory was given 100 points, but now he’s only receiving 23.9 percent of its original weight. Conversely, Rahm’s win at the CareerBuilder Challenge was only worth 40 points, but because it happened on Sunday, he’s receiving the full allotment of points.

    Why is DJ getting 23.9 percent of his U.S. Open total? Doesn’t that seem arbitrary? Actually, the OWGR has an intricate formula to determine the value of events. Any event a player has started in the previous 13 weeks is given full value. For the remaining 91 weeks, events drop off at a rate of 1.09 percent until they eventually fall off. Here’s an example:

    • Event 25 weeks ago: 86.96 percent of value
    • Event 50 weeks ago: 59.78 percent of value
    • Event 75 weeks ago: 32.61 percent of value
    • Event 100 weeks ago: 5.43 percent of value

    With a win at Farmers, Rahm would have three victories and a runner-up finish inside the last 13 weeks.  That would total to 175.60, given full-point value. After this week, DJ would only have three events in the last 13 weeks and those finishes are T9-win-T14, for a total of 67.32.

    Rahm is taking advantage of the full value for three of his five professional wins.

    There is still one more important piece of the formula and that’s the divisor.

    The OWGR has determined that each player must have a minimum number of events and a maximum number of events, in order to protect players.

    For instance, when Rahm won the Farmers a year ago he received 54 points. It was his 13th event and if 13 had been his divisor he would have had an OWGR total of 4.15, immediately placing him inside the top 20. Instead, to be more fair, it’s divided by the minimum number of 40 events played, giving him 1.35, which was around 110th (Rahm, though, had received enough points in his other 12 events that his win moved him to 46th in the OWGR at the time).

    The maximum number is as important as the minimum. Many players compete in up to 60 events over the course of two years. Instead of hurting them by counting every event, the OWGR only counts the 52 most recent events in the 104-week cycle.

    Why is the divisor so important? Because math. If a player wins a major (100 points) and has the minimum divisor, that major is worth 2.5 points (100/40). A player winning that same major who has the max divisor (52 events) only gains 1.92 points.

    In the case of Rahm and Johnson, it’s Rahm who is taking advantage of his divisor in attaining maximum value for his play. Here’s a table of what it would look like after this week (again calculating for a Rahm win) to help explain:

      Dustin Johnson Jon Rahm
    Total points earned:  960.82 557.26
    OWGR valued points 493.08 433.39
    OWGR divisor/events 46 40
    Projected OWGR after Farmers 10.72 10.83

    What’s amazing about these numbers is that Rahm is still maintaining 77.78 percent of his original value on the points that he’s earned. As we said earlier, three wins are 100 percent. His Irish Open win is 81.82 percent, while even his 2017 Farmers victory is still earning 56.5 percent of its original value.

    On the other side, DJ is only maintaining 51.3 percent of his total points earned.

    And there you have it. The math favors Rahm, who is still on the outset of his career. Eventually, it will hurt him. But, for now – and right now – Rahm has an opportunity to take all of these numbers and turn them into the world’s No. 1 ranking.

    To do that, the scenario is quite simple: Win this week.

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    Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 1:00 pm

    Each week on, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.


    Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.

    Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.

    Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.

    Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.

    Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.


    Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.

    Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.

    Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.

    Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.

    Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.