A Spartan Life

By Mercer BaggsFebruary 22, 2011, 7:57 pm

Editor's note: GolfChannel.com will be following four mini-tour players – Tim Hegarty, Zack Sucher, Benoit Beisser and Jack Newman – over the course of 2011 in our new feature, 'The Minors.' Check in each week for the players' progress, updates, photos and more.

ORLANDO, Fla. – The range balls are all Top-Flites with the red double stripes, worn out like a two-term president. The smell of sunscreen permeates the air and everyone seems dressed for the part – micro-fiber, sweat-soaking shirt; slightly too-tight slacks; and the requisite I’m-so-stylish belt.

Cars in the parking lot are littered with golf clubs and shoes. One guy opens the trunk of his SUV and pulls out a pair of soft spikes – from one of eight wooden, shoe housing compartments.

Some of the faces are familiar. David Gossett is on the range, beating away at those beat-up balls. Some of the names are recognizable, too. Sam Saunders, grandson of Arnold Palmer, is three players down, doing much the same – with an Arnold Palmer Iced Tea next to his bag.

The scene takes place at Rio Pinar Golf and Country Club on the east side of Orlando. The Black course is playing host to the week’s NGA Hooters Tour Winter Series event.

Walking off the par-4 ninth, his final hole of the first round, is Jack Newman. While you can tell by sight that several players practicing their swings and their putting have already reached the pinnacle of their professional success, Newman looks different.

He looks like he belongs – on the Nationwide Tour, on the PGA Tour, anywhere playing golf at a high level.

For one, he’s a handsome, strong kid, standing nearly 6’4”. For another, he’s dressed in more classic attire – his appearance isn’t forced, there is no white belt.

Then there is his attitude. Five under through 17 holes, Newman caught a flier out of the rough on No. 9 and made double bogey.

“That's golf,” he said afterwards. It’s not a care-free response. You can tell he’s unhappy. But he’s not in a sulking mood either. It’s off to Chipotle for lunch.

Newman’s story is nothing unusual. He grew up the youngest of five kids (three brothers and one sister) and used to tag along with his siblings when they’d go out to practice at a public course in Des Moines, Iowa.

He was 5 years old then, hitting a sawed off 5-wood and trying to stay out of everyone’s way. He’s 23 now, a former collegiate star, the 2008 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion and a 2009 Masters Tournament participant.

Well, his story’s not the usual, either.

In Newman’s senior year at Hoover High in Des Moines, he was named the 4A Iowa State Golfer of the Year and won the high school state championship. Not bad for a guy whose first love was basketball.

“I was a tall, slow kid who could only shoot the 3,” he said of his court prowess. “It proved a little too much for me.”

Still, Jack inherited athletic genes from his father, Bob, who played baseball for Illinois State. He even gave swimming a try during his senior year of high school just to get bigger and stronger – and because he had the ability to do so at a competitive level.

It took him a little while to warm up to the idea of trading away other sports to focus solely on golf, but his ultimate dedication paid off.

In 2005, then Michigan State University golf coach Mark Hankins took one look at his video and resume and told him to come on over to East Lansing.

“From the moment I got there, I fell in love with the campus. I also liked the guys on the team and that was it,” Newman said.

In four years, Newman won three tournaments, was voted Second Team All-Big Ten three times and was a three-time member of the Academic All-Big Ten team.

During his junior year, he defeated John Chin, 5 and 3, at Murphy Creek Golf Course in Aura, Colo., to capture the 2008 U.S. Publinx title. With the victory came an invitation to Augusta National.

Newman missed the cut in the 73rd Masters Tournament, but nearly won the Par 3 Contest, finishing tied second behind Tim Clark. He also birdied four of his final five holes in the opening round for an even-par 72.

Unfortunately, the wind picked up in Round 2 and took Newman's score with it – a 4-over 76.

He didn't leave his first major empty-handed, however. John Deere Classic tournament director Clair Peterson offered Newman a sponsor's exemption into the July event held in his native Iowa. Newman accepted and recorded three sub-par rounds on his way to a tie for 39th – and no money, since he was still an amateur.

Now a professional, Newman has a well thought-out plan to make it full time on the PGA Tour.

“I’m playing primarily on the Pro Series (on the Hooters Tour) and will try and Monday qualify on the Nationwide Tour,” he explained. “I just hope to get hot at the right times. If I can get hot, Monday qualify for a few Nationwide Tour events, top 25 and keep rolling.”

Finishing in the top 25 of a Nationwide Tour event gets a player into the following tournament.

Newman is currently living outside Orlando and will stay there while the Hooters Tour contests events in Florida and Georgia to start its main schedule. He’ll then move to Ohio and live with his former Michigan State assistant coach – and current Miami, Ohio head golf coach – Casey Lubahn. Incidentally, Lubahn and his wife, Rachel, were a team on “Big Break X: Michigan.”

Newman just wrapped up play on the Hooters Tour’s Winter Series, where he made seven of 11 cuts and claimed $10,734, good enough for 22nd on the money list out of 181 participants.

This past week, he tied for 19th in the tour's Members Only Shootout, carding modest rounds of 68-71-71. He was pleased with his first round, but described the other two days as 'so-so.'

As Newman knows well, so-so won't get you where you want to be in professional golf. Case in point: the Shootout. Jesse Hutchins won the event with an 11-under 61 in the final round and a 23-under total over three days.

Hutchins has played in well over 100 Hooters Tour events. This was his first win.

'The depth of talent is great (in all ranks of professional golf), especially on the Hooters Tour. I don't know if people really understand how low the guys can go out here,' Newman said. 'You have to be prepared for stuff like that to happen and be ready to go low yourself.'

In an effort to do just that, Newman recently teamed up with Mike Bender, the 2009 PGA of America Golf Professional of the Year and swing coach for fellow Iowan Zach Johnson.

'We're just getting started, but I think we're headed in the right direction,' Newman said. 'I'm trying to tighten up my swing, get it more rounded. It's a matter of being able to get more consistent.'

Monday afternoon in Orlando, Newman spent time at Orange County National practicing alongside fellow Spartan Matt Harmon.

Harmon, who was a senior when Newman joined the MSU golf team, has won four times on the Hooters Tour over the last four years and has earned nearly $250,000 on the circuit. Yet, like Newman and countless others, he's still an unsettled golf soul searching for one good shot at the big leagues.

'There are thousands of players out there trying to make it (on the PGA Tour),' Newman said. 'You can't get frustrated. You have to be patient. Keep working and keep practicing, and eventually your time will come. You have to believe your time will come.'

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G-Mac has Ryder Cup on mind with Genesis in grasp

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 2:12 am

LOS ANGELES – Graeme McDowell is four years removed from his last start in a Ryder Cup and golf is more than seven months away from this year’s matches, but then it’s never too early to start daydreaming.

Following a third-round 70 that left him tied for third place and just two strokes off the lead at the Genesis Open, McDowell was asked if the matches are on his mind.

“I feel like I've got a lot of things to do between now and getting on that team,” he said. “Standing here right now it's probably not a realistic goal, but if I continue to play the way I'm playing for the next few months, it may start to become a realistic goal.”

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

McDowell began his week at Riviera Country Club fresh off four consecutive missed cuts and has drifted to 219th in the Official World Golf Ranking. But his play this week has been encouraging and the Northern Irishman has always relished the opportunity to play for Europe.

“Deep down I know I'm good enough, but I've got to show, I've got to put some results on the board, I've got to take care of my business,” he said. “The greatest experience of my career bar none, and I would love to play another couple Ryder Cup matches before it's all said and done.”

McDowell does have a potential advantage this year having won the French Open twice at Le Golf National, site of this year’s matches.

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Bubba on McGrady block: 'Just trying not to get hurt'

By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2018, 1:56 am

LOS ANGELES – A detour to the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game didn’t keep Bubba Watson from leading this week’s Genesis Open, although an on-court brush with Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady nearly derailed his chances for a third tournament win.

Watson enters the final round at Riviera with a one-shot lead over Patrick Cantlay after firing a 6-under 65 in the third round. The day before, the southpaw left the course around lunch time and headed across town to participate in the All-Star festivities, where during the celebrity game he tried to score 1-on-1 over McGrady.

Watson’s move into the lane went about as well as you’d expect given their five-inch height disparity, with McGrady easily blocking the ball into the stands. According to Watson, he had only one thought as McGrady came barreling towards him across the lane.

“When I saw him, all I saw was, ‘This is my moment to get hurt,’” Watson said. “This big tank is about to hit me, and I was like, ‘Just knock it into the stands. Just don’t touch me.’ So it worked out, he didn’t touch me so it was good.”

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

Watson’s attempt went against his wife Angie’s advice to avoid the paint area, but it provided a fun moment for a player used to carving up fairways and greens – not to mention the guy who played 15 seasons in the NBA.

“Well, he’s got like just under 800 blocks for his career, so I gave him one more, you know?” Watson said. “It was just, it was a blast. I wanted to see how good he was, see if he could miss it. He hasn’t played in a while.”

Watson took some heat on Twitter from his PGA Tour peers for the rejection, but few were still laughing as he rocketed up the leaderboard Saturday with five birdies and an eagle. Now he has a chance to win this event for the third time since 2014 – even if he doesn’t plan to go toe-to-toe with McGrady again anytime soon.

“Some guys wanted to try to win MVP, so I was trying to pass it and let them have their fun and their moment,” Watson said. “I was just trying not to get hurt.”

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Spieth on third-round 69: 'Putter saved me'

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 1:37 am

LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth has spent the last few weeks talking about his putting for all the wrong reasons.

Two weeks ago when he missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open he lost 3.76 shots to the field in strokes-gained putting, and last week he wasn’t much better.

It looked like more of the same at the Genesis Open when he lost about a half stroke to the field on Day 1 with 29 putts, but since then his fortunes on the greens have gotten progressively better.

“I thought each day last week I progressed,” said Spieth, who needed just 24 putts on Friday and moved into a tie for 20th after taking 26 putts on Day 3.

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

Spieth said he started to feel things turn around at Pebble Beach after working with his swing coach Cameron McCormick and Steve Stricker, who has become something of a putting sounding board for players on Tour.

“I got set up really nice. I got really comfortable on the greens even though they were very difficult to putt last week and this week,” said Spieth, who rolled in a birdie putt of 14 feet at No. 12 and a par putt of 35 feet at No. 14. “Any putt, I either made it or I left it just short today. It was one of those days that with the way I struck the ball, it was an off day, but that putter saved me and allowed me to shoot the lowest score so far this week.”

Spieth’s third-round 69 is his best of the week and moved him to within seven strokes of the lead, which is held by Bubba Watson.

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Bouncing back: Watson seeks a third Riviera win

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 1:25 am

LOS ANGELES – Yeah, but can Tracy McGrady smoke a 7-iron from 203 yards to kick-in range for eagle on Riviera Country Club’s opening hole?

The way Bubba Watson’s mind drifts there’s no telling if, as he began his day at the Genesis Open, he revisited his play from Friday night at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. If he did, it would have been an apropos conclusion after McGrady sent his weak floater into the cheap seats midway through the second quarter.

Either way, Watson made it clear playtime was over on Saturday. The eagle at the opening par 4 ½ sent Watson on his way to a third-round 65 and the outright lead at the Left Coast event that’s starting to feel like a second home for the lefthander.

In 11 starts at Riviera, Watson already has two victories. A third on Sunday could get folks talking about renaming the layout Bubba’s Alley. Or not.

What is certain is that Watson has emerged from a funk that sent him tumbling outside the top 100 in the world ranking and he’s done it in quintessential Bubba style.

If Friday’s detour to the celebrity game received worldwide attention it was only a snapshot of Watson’s Tinseltown itinerary. He taped a segment for Jay Leno’s Garage show, visited with Ellen DeGeneres and watched a taping of The Big Bang Theory. You know, L.A. stuff.

Oh, and he’s curved and carved his way around Riviera with signature abandon.

“You've got to hit shots from every different angle, you've got to move it right to left and left to right, so it's just fun,” said Watson, who also led by one stroke when he won here in 2016, his last victory on the PGA Tour. “Then the greens are the equalizer so it makes me look like I putt as good as the other guys.”

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

He “hammered” a 7-iron from 203 yards at the first to 1 ½ feet for his opening eagle, chipped in at the sixth to begin a run of four birdies in five holes and played the three par 5s in 3 under to move into a familiar spot after enduring his worst season on Tour in 2017 when he failed to advance past the second playoff event.

That he’s turned the tide in Los Angeles is as predictable as it is peculiar. Despite Watson’s record at the Genesis Open, Riviera wouldn’t seem to be the tonic for all that ails Bubba.

Ask a player - any player will do - the keys to playing Riviera and the answers range wildly from it being a bomber’s course to the need for ball-striking precision. But the word that comes up with regularity is "patience."

“Patience and pretty much just not being stupid, to be honest,” Justin Thomas said when asked the key to his third-round 67 that left him tied for eighth place. “Just stop trying to hit at pins with 5-irons and 6-irons, and when I hit in the rough, realize just try to make a par. When I get in places, when I'm out of position, realize that sometimes even bogey is what I need to make.”

While that thought dovetails with conventional wisdom, Watson’s not exactly known for his patience.

“Oh, for sure I do. Haven't you seen me in the last 12 years?” Watson laughed when asked if he had patience on the course. “The tougher the golf course, the more focus I have. The tougher the shot, I've been able to focus better. When I get my mind on something, I can focus and do pretty well at the game of golf.”

While Bubba drifts between artist and antagonist with ease, both on and off the golf course, his primary challenge on Sunday is the picture of thoughtful composure.

Patrick Cantlay, who returned to the Tour last season after struggling with back issues for years, began the third round with a share of the lead but quickly faded on the front nine. He rallied on the closing loop with birdies at Nos. 10, 11 and 18, where he capped his day with a 54-footer that assured him a spot in Sunday’s final threesome. Although he’s just 25 and playing his first full season on Tour, Cantlay’s approach to the game is patently different from Watson’s.

“I feel like if I can just engage and not worry about where I am on a particular hole or what's going on and I just engage and stay present in whatever I'm doing at that particular time, it all turns out better than what you would expect,” explained Cantlay, who attended nearby UCLA and played dozens of practice rounds at Riviera. “Making sure you stay present and having that confidence in yourself that if you just click in and focus, it all will be good and that's kind of the head space I'm in.”

It will be a clash of wildly contrasting styles on Sunday – Watson, who admitted he “(doesn’t) focus very well,” and Cantlay, whose approach to the mental side of the game borders on the clinical.

One player relishes the challenge of hyper-focus, the other is Bubba, but that’s not to say Watson is void of patience, only that he needs to be properly motivated.

“Like last night when Tracy McGrady was coming at me, I was focused on not getting hurt and I didn't, so it worked out,” Watson smiled.

And besides, T-Mac can’t bomb it like Bubba.