Sucher heads back to school on familiar assignment

By Bailey MosierOctober 19, 2011, 2:00 pm

It’s exam time for professional golfers and Zack Sucher is sharpening his No. 2 pencils.

But unlike some of the other 1,200 Q-School applicants this fall, Sucher isn’t experiencing any test anxiety.

He’s not afraid he won’t have the answers. He’s not afraid of drawing a blank. He’s not afraid of freezing over a tough shot. Nope, none of those issues are a concern to Zack.

“I’ve been playing better and better as they year goes on, so I’m excited and feeling confident,” Sucher said.

Sucher heads to the first stage of PGA Tour Q-School this week at the Auburn University Club in Auburn, Ala., 110 miles southeast of his current Birmingham residence.

Having grown up in Alabama, the Auburn University Club is a familiar assignment for Sucher, where he’s played roughly 50 times. One of those times came at the first stage of Q-School last year, where he shot rounds of 67-69-72-67 to finish second and advance, ultimately making it to the final stage in 2010. He played six rounds at even par in the final stage and missed earning full Nationwide status for 2011 by three shots.

Sucher bested last year’s second-place finish at the Auburn University Club when he won two events held at the course in high school. We’ll have to consult the judges on this one, but all those reps must be the standardized test equivalent of SAT prep classes.

And it appears Sucher’s reps and prep work is paying off. The 25-year-old is coming off two recent made cuts on the Nationwide Tour – one at the WNB Golf Classic in Midland, Texas and the other at the Children’s Hospital Classic in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The made cut at Chattanooga marked Sucher’s fifth Nationwide made cut of the year and the first time wife Courtney had seen her husband play in 2011.

“I enjoyed it,” Courtney said. “I miss traveling that’s for sure.

“He looks so much more confident and laid back. He looks like he belongs out there.”

Courtney’s sentiments echo those we heard from Zack the last time we caught up with him in September, after having qualified for and made the cut in three Nationwide events in a row.

“I feel like an actual player now which is cool for a change,” Zack joked in September.

It’s those jokes, that laid-back attitude and easy temperament that have always given Zack a leg up on his competitors and why we nicknamed him ‘The Big Easy-Going’ earlier this year.

“Where I have an advantage over other players would be my mental game. Staying pretty mellow the whole round…I pretty much enjoy it the whole time. A lot of guys you watch out there don’t look like they have a lot of fun,” Zack has said in the past.

He’s mellow, confident and ready to try his hand at Q-School again this year. Both he and Courtney feel he’s grown greatly as a player and a person in 2011 and they’re both ready for what’s next.

“I thought I would be nervous, but I’m excited. He played better this year but mostly I feel like he has a whole better understanding. However it goes will be fine, but I just think he’s at such a better place this year,” Courtney said.

With her recent raise and promotion, Courtney’s at a better place now than she was this time last year, too – financially – and is able to lessen some of Zack’s monetary stress and worry.

“I mean, it alleviates some of the pressure but it would obviously be so nice to have Zack do well,” Courtney said.

If Zack plays well and earns his card, the two may begin to have more serious discussions about family planning.

“Well, we’ll see. Maybe after Q-School,” Courtney laughed.

Zack appears to be primed and ready for the first stage. His pencils are sharpened, his mind free and his spirit willing. He's put in the practice and the focus; now it's time to wait and see the results.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

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

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

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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

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

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

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

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

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

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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

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

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

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