Trip Dispatch: Warburton Celebrity Golf for Kids golf tourney rocks Palm Springs

By Mike BaileyMarch 4, 2014, 8:26 pm

PALM DESERT, Calif. -- As far as celebrity-am golf tournaments go, the Patrick Warburton "Golf for Kids" event conducted this past weekend at the JW Marriott Desert Springs and Classic Club rates pretty high. It might not have the "A" list of Academy Award-winning celebrities like the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on the PGA Tour, but it does a nice job of filling the celebrity void left by the old Bob Hope Classic (now the Humana Challenge), which no longer fields TV and movie stars.

Best of all, only in its fourth year, Warburton's weekend raised close to $900,000 for St. Jude Children's Hospital, a place in Memphis, Tenn., where no child with cancer is turned away and no family ever pays. Warburton's passion for the cause belies the monotone characters he played on TV such as David Puddy on "Seinfeld" and the macho Jeff Bingham on "Rules of Engagement," although he deflected praise to his tournament chairman Clarke Rheney, who Warburton says spends more than 1,000 hours working on this event.

Warburton and his wife Cathy got sucked into the cause a few years ago after Warburton played in Jim McMahon's Super Bowl tourney in Miami. McMahon's event benefits St. Jude, too, and Warburton decided to visit the hospital afterwards to read to the children, showcasing his natural talent, considering how many voices he does for animation projects. He soon decided to host an event himself.

"It's not a sad place. It's set up so the kids have fun there," said Warburton, who plays golf to a 16 handicap. "It's the best place in the world if you're a sick child and for those parents who have nowhere else to go. St. Jude is a place with answers."

I was fortunate enough this past weekend to play in Warburton's event and attend the festivities surrounding it. Hosted by the fabulous JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, more than a couple hundred golfers and nongolfers joined about 50 celebrities in what was deemed a "party for a cause." It started with a songwriters session on Thursday night, a jam session on Friday night, followed by a  more formal gala and auction Saturday night.

Friday's jam, by the way, absolutely rocked. Backed up by a terrific collection of musicians known as Sixwire, the evening went past midnight, featuring talent from some of rock 'n' roll's best bands. Musicians included such greats as Mike Mills from R.E.M., Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and John Elefante of Kansas. I was even impressed with CNN anchor Robin Meade, who rocked out a duet with Mickey Thomas, formerly of Jefferson Starship.


Mike Mills of R.E.M. jams at the J.W. Marriott Desert Springs. 

On Saturday night, though, there was hardly a dry eye in house after Rick Shadyak and Craig Dismuke addressed the crowd during the gala. Shadyak, CEO for St. Jude, spoke eloquently of the mission of the great hospital, which has taken the cancer survival rate of its young patients from less than 20 percent 50 years ago when late actor Danny Thomas founded it to close to 90 percent now.

"We won't stop until no child dies of cancer," he said.

Dismuke shared the story of his 5-year-old son Ingram's battle with a rare brain cancer, Anaplastic Ependymoma. His moving recount of what his family and son, nicknamed "Ingram the Conqueror," have been through over the past two years reminded everyone of what this was about.

But as Warburton said, "While we're here, everybody celebrates life and nobody needs to apologize for that. It's a party but everyone is really cognizant of why we're really here."

Golf at the JW Marriott Desert Springs and Classic Club

Golf was Saturday and Sunday respectively on the recently renovated JW Marriott's Palms Course and the Classic Club (in the Bob Hope rotation from 2006-'08) down the street. Both courses were in terrific shape, our weather held out (there was a severe threat of rain on Saturday) and some of these celebrities, not to mention guests, had game.

My group got to play with Eric Dickerson, who has a daughter with health challenges. Eric and his wife Penny know what it's like to spend sleepless nights at the hospital worrying about a sick child. At the same time, though, Dickerson, who plays to a 7, showed the same athletic drive he had as a player in the NFL when he set (and still holds) the NFL single season rushing record at 2,105 yards in 1984 as a Los Angeles Ram. Dickerson, who hits a power fade about 320 yards off tee, fired a 76 when we all had to play our own ball on Sunday at the Arnold Palmer-designed Classic Club (I lost a side wager to him, by the way).

The best player of the celebrity lot, however, was Oliver Hudson, one of Warburton's co-stars on "Rules" and a regular on the series "Nashville." The handsome lefthander, who is the son of Goldie Hawn and sister of Kate Hudson, has been as a good as a plus-2. Warburton says playing with Hudson is like competing with a tour player. Apparently, he can't get enough strokes.

One of the most entertaining highlights on Sunday, however, came when long drive champion and trick shot artist Dan Boever employed comedian Gary Valentine of "King of Queens" in his act before the second round. Boever dressed Valentine (who is the older brother of Queens star Kevin James) up in protective gear, including a baseball player's cup, as he fired skulled wedge shots (with soft nerf-like balls, fortunately) into Valentine's mid-section:


In the end, the most important part, though, was the check, which was presented for $881,000 to St. Jude. It  brings the four-year total to well over $2.5 million. The 2014 money doesn't even cover a day's operating expenses of $1.9 million, but it's a pretty good start, Warburton said.

"There are times where you feel that we're not able to get as much done as you want," he said, "but it's all good because what you do with an event like this is also create more awareness."


Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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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.