The Kid's Grown Up

By Mercer BaggsFebruary 9, 2011, 12:18 am

Editor's note: 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. – Tim Hegarty is nothing if not honest. The kid says what he thinks.

Kid. He's 28. I’ve known him for some time now, so I still find myself thinking of him in little brother terms.

Little. He’s 6’3”, 200 lbs. He’s neither a kid nor little. But he is honest.

“I hate golfers,” Tim says as we chat in the parking lot of Timacuan Golf Club in Orlando. He’s just come off a 1-under 71 in the first round of a Hooters Tour Winter Series event. He made seven birdies that day. And shot 71. We’ll delve into that in a bit.

Hegarty is a professional golfer, one of thousands dreaming of one day playing on the PGA Tour. Yet he hates golfers. Not the people, mind you. His disdain centers on the elite attitude of others he’s encountered during his years of playing for pay.

Hegarty grew up in a well-to-do family in Briar Cliff Manor, N.Y., and his father, Michael, is the financial backbone of his professional endeavor. But Tim has a blue-collar mindset. He worked construction when he was 16, laboring on projects like the Goldman Sachs Tower.  

In early 2005, he moved from the Empire State to the Sunshine State, working in the landscaping business in West Palm Beach. He’d begin his days at 6 a.m., wrap up at 2 p.m., and then head out to a public course to play money games, using his sweat equity as his stake.

“I had a better attitude back then,” he says. “I thought, ‘No way you can beat me.’”

And few people did. His game was so good that a local Tim refers to as 'Murph the Surf' convinced him he should give up manicuring lawns and start playing golf full-time.

And so he did.

Hegarty has been a professional golfer for more than five years now. He never played junior events, never played collegiately, rarely played amateur events. Aside from major championships, he doesn’t watch much golf either, nor does he pay attention to who does what or who is whom.

In one of his first mini-tour events, he played alongside Matt Every. After a little banter, and finding out that Every went to the University of Florida, Tim asked him, “Did you play golf there?”

Every was the reigning Ben Hogan Award winner, given annually to the top men’s NCAA Division I player.

“It was like asking the Heisman Trophy winner if he played football,” Tim said with a smile, noting his friends still make fun of him about that.

Golf, however, has been part of Tim’s life since he really was a kid.

Hegarty’s dad is a member at Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Scarborough, N.Y., as well as Winged Foot. Jim McLean was the director of golf at Sleepy Hollow during Tim’s formative years and was his first teacher.

Tim’s current coach is David Glenz, a former PGA Professional of the Year and Golf Magazine Top 100 instructor. I met Glenz, along with Hegarty’s buddy, Jesse Smith, who played on mini-tours and the Canadian Tour for the last seven years before running out of money and having to take a desk job this January, at Heathrow Country Club a few weeks ago.

For as long as I’ve known Tim – the better part of a decade – I had never played a round with him. In fact, for as long as I’ve known him, I never knew too much about him on a personal level.

Tim is the brother of Sean, 34, and Matt, 36. Matt is the news director at Golf Channel and one of my best friends – that’s how I met the youngest of the three Hegarty boys. Matt, I know well, very well, so well that his family feels like part of my family.

But there is no nepotism here. I asked Tim to take part in “The Minors” series because I believed he would be a great fit for the feature. For one, he is a true mini-tour player. He spent this winter playing on the Hooters Tour and will spend his spring and summer playing the eGolf Professional Tour in and around North Carolina. He’ll also be playing in several events in New York, while trying to qualify for the U.S. Open and eventually the PGA Tour, through Q-School.

I also wanted to have Tim as a subject because he’s a great kid with great character – and he is a character, in the sense that he has an ornate personality not always seen in aspiring Tour pros.

And then there was his game. I knew he was good; I wanted to see how good.

On Jan. 29, we teed it up as a foursome at Heathrow, playing the par-71 layout from 7,000 yards or so.

Over 18 holes, I learned a few very important things about Tim the player: He's long and accurate off the tee; he's solid with his irons; and he's streaky with his putter. In October 2009, he developed the yips during the third round of a PGA Tour Q-School pre-qualifier.  After trying everything but side-saddle style and selling his soul to the devil, he settled on a belly putter with a claw grip.

What he’s not, at least not yet, is a good thinker around the course, which he is first to admit.

“I’m a sports psychologist’s dream,” he says of his competitive mental make-up.

Case in point: the par-5 11th. Coming off a careless bogey on the par-5 eighth, Tim is dead center in the fairway after another monster drive. With 210 yards left, he’s thinking 3. He makes 6.

“That was an a**hole bogey,” he says coming off the green.

“I tried to step on a 6-iron and that was stupid. My miss was short of the green, just chip up and make my birdie – at worst.”

Instead, he pulled his approach left of the green. From there, he compounded his mistake, duffing his chip. He then compounded that mistake. With the pin on the lower tier of the green and his ball parallel to a severe slope, he should have taken the ridge out of play, chipping his ball below the cup and leaving himself with a 10-foot uphill putt for par. Instead he went for the perfect shot, misplayed the slope and needed two putts to finish off the hole.

“I’m such an a**hole,” he says.

Not really; not at all. He just knows what he’s capable of doing and thinks he can do it on every shot. He also has a tough time leaving his frustration on the green and not carrying it over to the next tee.

Hegarty can make birdies. Lots of birdies. As mentioned, he made seven at Timacuan in one round – and barely broke par. In his first 10 Winter Series events, Tim made 74 birdies and one eagle. He also made 61 bogeys, 16 doubles and four “others.”

“I’m literally in the top 10 every week in birdies made through 36 holes. I make too many mistakes,” he says, which is why he only played 36 holes instead of 54 in eight of his first 10 starts.

“I’ve got talent,” he says, noting that he shared the opening-round lead of the 2010 New York State Open after shooting 5-under 67 at Bethpage Black, before settling into a tie for eighth.

“We’re working on the mental part.”

There’s little doubt that he can hurdle this obstacle; he’s been doing such the majority of his adult life.

Tim is recognized by fellow players, particularly in North Carolina, as “the tattoo guy.” He has a pair of tattoos encompassing the lower half of his right leg. One is the full set of lyrics to Blind Melon’s “Walk,” a song about overcoming one’s personal issues.

He got the tattoos in 2003 and he's been regretting them ever since. “I hate them,” he says. And he honestly means it.

Tim’s grown up immeasurably since getting permanently inked. He doesn’t drink and just quit smoking. Nowadays, he spends his time with family and friends, watching movies with his live-in girlfriend, Amanda – and, of course, playing golf. Lots of golf.

Two over par through 15 holes at Timacuan, Hegarty birdies 16 and 17, and then makes a 6-footer for par on 18 for an even-par round.

“That was a good finish. Not a good round, but a good finish. I’ll take that with me,” he says.

That’s positive thinking. That’s already an improvement.

He’s not a kid anymore, even if I still call him that.

'The Minors' series continues next week, Feb. 15, with an introduction to Zack Sucher.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.