US Walker Cup Team Almost Finalized
The remainder of the squad will be selected following the U.S. Amateur Championship, which is scheduled to conclude Aug. 26 at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif. Chosen by the International Team Selection Committee of United States Golf Association, the squad will face an amateur team representing Great Britain and Ireland.
NCAA champions Jonathan Moore, 22, of Vancouver, Wash., and Jamie Lovemark, 19, of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., and three-time Walker Cup pick Trip Kuehne, 35, of Irving, Texas, are among the early selections for the USA squad. Kuehne qualified for the 2007 U.S. Open while Moore played in the 2006 Open.
They are joined on the team by Billy Horschel, 20, of Grant, Fla.; Dustin Johnson, 23, of Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Chris Kirk, 22, of Woodstock, Ga.; USGA champion Colt Knost, 22, of Dallas, Texas; and Webb Simpson, 21, of Raleigh, N.C. All but Kuehne are collegians or recent graduates who are playing on their first Walker Cup team.
The Walker Cup Match consists of 16 singles and eight foursomes (alternate shot) matches. The USA reclaimed the Cup with a one-point victory at Chicago (Ill.) Golf Club in 2005. Great Britain and Irelands team had won the three previous Matches, in 1999, 2001 and 2003, twice by scores of 15-9 and by 12 -11 in 2003. The USA leads the series overall, 32-7-1.
George Buddy Marucci, 55, of Villanova, Pa., who played on the USA Walker Cup teams of 1995 and 1997 and was runner-up to Tiger Woods at the 1995 U.S. Amateur, will serve as team captain. Marucci, who continues to add his total of having competed in more than 40 USGA championships, is co-owner of luxury car dealerships in the Philadelphia area.
It is a dream come true to be involved with the Walker Cup Match again, said Marucci, who played for the USA team in 1995 and 1997. I know firsthand how truly talented this group of golfers is. I will try to share my passion for this event with them and turn them loose. I know they will represent themselves and all of amateur golf well.
The GB&I team has not yet been announced.
Horschel has been among the top-five finishers at a handful of prestigious amateur competitions in 2007 ' the Azalea Invitational, Northeast Amateur, Porter Cup and Southern Amateur. Already a two-time first team All-American heading into his junior year at the University of Florida, he posted a USGA record 60 in the first round of stroke play at the 2006 U.S. Amateur. He also qualified for the 2006 U.S. Open.
Johnson took recent titles at the Monroe Invitational and the Northeast Amateur, where he was helped by a round of 64 in securing a two-stroke victory. He is a recent graduate of Coastal Carolina University where he was the Big South Conference 2007 Player of the Year.
Kirk won the 2007 Ben Hogan Award as the nations top collegiate golfer, representing the University of Georgia. He was the individual runner-up at the 2006 NCAA Championship and finished ninth in 2007. He played for the USA squad at the 2006 World Amateur Team Championship.
Knost won the 2007 U.S. Amateur Public Links title and played in the EDS Byron Nelson PGA Tour event, where he shot a second round 64 on his way to finishing tied for 67th. A recent graduate of Southern Methodist University, Knost was the 2007 Conference USA Player of the Year.
Kuehne qualified for his fourth U.S. Open in 2007 and reached the quarterfinals of the 2006 U.S. Amateur. In addition, he was runner-up at the 2006 Sunnehanna Amateur. A 1995 graduate of Oklahoma State University, Kuehne also was named to the 1995 and 2003 USA Walker Cup teams. He lost to Woods in the 1994 Amateur final.
Lovemark became only the eighth freshman to win the NCAA individual title in 2007, representing the University of Southern California. Playing as an invited amateur, he was runner-up at the professional 2007 Nationwide Tours Rochester Area Charities Showdown event, where he lost in a two-hole playoff. In July, he finished tied for 45th at the PGA Tours AT&T National.
Moore won the 2006 NCAA title as a freshman for Oklahoma State University, and shortly thereafter qualified for the 2006 U.S. Open. His NCAA title came by a comfortable four-stroke margin. Moore represented the USA at the 2006 World Amateur Team Championship and the 2007 Copa de las Americas Championship.
Simpson was named to the 2006 USA World Amateur Team and the 2007 USA Copa de las Americas team. He reached the semifinals of the 2006 U.S. Amateur. He won the 2006 Sunnehanna Amateur and the 2007 Azalea Amateur and the 2007 Southern Amateur.
Woods (70) better in every way on Day 1 at Honda
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Consider it a sign of the times that Tiger Woods was ecstatic about an even-par score Thursday at the Honda Classic.
It was by far his most impressive round in this nascent comeback.
Playing in a steady 20-mph wind, Woods was better in all facets of the game Thursday at PGA National. Better off the tee. Better with his irons. And better on and around the “scratchy” greens.
He hung tough to shoot 70 – four shots better than his playing partner, Patton Kizzire, a two-time winner this season and the current FedExCup leader – and afterward Woods said that it was a “very positive” day and that he was “very solid.”
It’s a small sample size, of course – seven rounds – but Woods didn’t hesitate in declaring this “easily” his best ball-striking round of the year.
And indeed it was, even if the stats don’t jump off the page.
Officially, he hit only seven of 14 fairways and just 10 greens, but some of those misses off the tee were a few paces into the rough, and some of those iron shots finished just off the edge of the green.
The more telling stat was this: His proximity to the hole (28 feet) was more than an 11-foot improvement over his first two starts this year. And also this: He was 11th among the early starters in strokes gained-tee to green, which measures a player’s all-around ball-striking. Last week, at Riviera, he ranked 121st.
“I felt very comfortable,” he said. “I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air.
“I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”
The Champion Course here at PGA National is the kind of course that magnifies misses and exposes a player if he’s slightly off with his game. There is water on 15 of the 18 holes, and there are countless bunkers, and it’s almost always – as it was Thursday – played in a one- or two-club wind. Even though it’s played a half hour from Woods’ compound in Hobe Sound, the Honda wasn’t thought to be an ideal tune-up for Woods’ rebuilt game.
But maybe this was just what he needed. He had to hit every conceivable shot Thursday, to shape it both ways, high and low, and he executed nearly every one of them.
The only hole he butchered was the par-5 third. With 165 yards for his third shot, he tried to draw a 6-iron into a stiff wind. He turned it over a touch too much, and it dropped into the bunker. He hit what he thought was a perfect bunker shot, but it got caught in the overseeded rye grass around the green and stayed short. He chipped to 3 feet and then was blown off-balance by a wind gust. Double.
But what pleased Woods most was what he did next. Steaming from those unforced errors, he was between a 2- and 3-iron off the tee. He wanted to leave himself a 60-degree wedge for his approach into the short fourth hole, but a full 2-iron would have put him too close to the green.
So he took a little off and “threw it up in the air” – 292 yards.
“That felt really good,” Woods said, smiling. And so did the 6-footer that dropped for a bounce-back birdie.
"I feel like I'm really not that far away," he said.
To illustrate just how much Woods’ game has evolved in seven rounds, consider this perspective from Brandt Snedeker.
They played together at Torrey Pines, where Woods somehow made the cut despite driving it all over the map. In the third round, Woods scraped together a 70 while Snedeker turned in a 74, and afterward Snedeker said that Woods’ short game was “probably as good or better than I ever remember it being.”
A month later, Snedeker saw significant changes. Woods’ short game is still tidy, but he said that his iron play is vastly improved, and it needed to be, given the challenging conditions in the first round.
“He controlled his ball flight really well and hit a bunch of really good shots that he wasn’t able to hit at Torrey, because he was rusty,” said Snedeker, who shot 74. “So it was cool to see him flight the ball and hit some little cut shots and some little three-quarter shots and do stuff I’m accustomed to see him doing.”
Conditions are expected to only get more difficult, more wind-whipped and more burned out, which is why the winning score here has been single-digits under par four of the past five years.
But Woods checked an important box Thursday, hitting the shots that were required in the most difficult conditions he has faced so far.
Said Snedeker: “I expect to see this as his baseline, and it’ll only get better from here.”
Players honor victims of Parkland school shooting
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – PGA Tour players are honoring the victims in the Parkland school shooting by wearing ribbons on their hats and shirts.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is located about 45 miles from PGA National, site of this week’s Honda Classic.
“It’s awful what happened, and anytime the Tour can support in any way a tragedy, we’re always going to be for it,” Justin Thomas said. “Anytime there’s a ribbon on the tees for whatever it may be, you’ll see most, if not all the guys wearing it. Something as simple and easy as this, it’s the least we could do.”
The school shooting in Parkland, which claimed 17 lives, is the second-deadliest at a U.S. public school.
Tiger Woods, who lives in South Florida, offered this: “It’s just a shame what people are doing now, and all the countless lives that we’ve lost for absolutely no reason at all. It’s just a shame, and what they have to deal with, at such a young age, the horrible tragedy they are going to have to live with and some of the things they’ve seen just don’t go away.”
Thomas' game on track for Masters
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas likes where his game is trending.
He said that on the eve of the Honda Classic.
With the Masters just six weeks away, that’s where trends are aimed as the Florida swing makes its start.
Thomas made another encouraging move Thursday to get his game ready for a chance at winning back-to-back major championships.
A 3-under-par 67 moved him a shot off the lead in the first round at PGA National’s Champion Course.
Thomas, who won five times on his way to winning PGA Tour Player of the Year honors last season, is feeling something special brewing as he seeks to claim his first title of this calendar year.
“I've been playing well all year,” Thomas said. “Just haven't had much to show for it. I feel like I'm close to reeling off a couple tournaments here. I just need to stay patient.”
Thomas put together a strong start playing in a pairing in front of Tiger Woods, a spot that comes with challenges, with galleries on the move setting up to watch Woods.
Thomas, who played with fans causing problems at Riviera last week, said galleries weren’t an issue.
The Honda Classic isn’t a major, but it looks like it will present the sternest test of the year so far.
The Champion Course is always a brute, but it sets up as a particularly grueling test this year, with Florida’s winter winds blowing briskly right from Thursday morning’s start.
“It was a very tough day out there, very windy, tough crosswinds,” Thomas said. “I was a little bummed to see that the weather showed a little bit more wind in the morning than the afternoom.”
The course is also playing firmer and faster than it typically does.
Thomas, 24, confirmed how solid his ball striking is in a round of six birdies and three bogeys.
“The players know it's a tough golf course,” Jack Nicklaus said earlier this week. “It's going to be a handfull this week, with a dry golf course. This golf course plays much more difficult when it's dry ... and it's a little breezy.
“You're going to see some very interesting rounds. You might hear a couple complaints.”
Not from Thomas, who lives in nearby Jupiter.
“Any time you're even or better on this course, on a day like today, was definitely positive,” he said.
Thomas’ 67 is confirmation his game is shaping up for the test at Augusta National, where he will be looking to add a green jacket to the Wanamaker Trophy he won at the PGA Championship last August.
“I love where my game is trending for Augusta,” Thomas said Wednesday. ”I feel like I'm getting, just very, very slowly, better every week ... I'm improving on the things I need to improve on.”
A victory would be the ultimate confirmation he’s getting major championship ready.
“I'd like to have a chance to win one of these next three events before Augusta,” he said.
Thomas is coming off a tie for ninth at the Genesis Open last week. He was T-17 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open before that and T-14 at the Sony Open before that.
Thursday’s round heated up with Thomas making four birdies in the middle of the round. He chipped in for birdie at the seventh (his 16th hole of the day) to get to 4 under before making bogey at the difficult 17th, where he just missed the green short playing into the wind and left his chip 20 feet short.
“I hit probably one of my better shots in the Bear Trap, that just ended up in a horrible lie,” he said.
Thomas headed home eager to keep his promising trend going.
“It's definitely a little better feeling going to sleep and waking up in your own bed,” Thomas said.
Hoffmann's goal: Use golf to cure muscular dystrophy
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Morgan Hoffmann sees more opportunities on a leaderboard than ever before.
His run into early contention at the Honda Classic Thursday gives him more than a chance to win a trophy and a big check.
He sees it as a chance to change more than his life.
Hoffmann has muscular dystrophy.
He shared that news with the world at the end of last year in a heart-rendering fashion.
“Today I know that am so damn lucky,” he wrote about his opportunities as a PGA Tour pro in a first-person story for The Players’ Tribune in December. “Because I’ve found my calling, and it’s one far beyond golf.”
With a 3-under-par 67 at PGA National’s Champion Course, Hoffmann moved into contention to win his first PGA Tour title. He also moved into position to advance his cause.
“Hopefully find a cure,” Hoffmann, 28, said after a round of four birdies and a bogey left him a shot off the lead.
Hoffmann believes that is why he was put on this earth.
“So that when a child is diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, there will be a cure,” he says.
Hoffmann has to overcome some physical challenges to keep playing, and he has been struggling with his game this year, but he says that is more about the dynamics of the swing than the disease. He arrived at the Honda Classic off five consecutive missed cuts and a first-round withdrawal from last week’s Genesis Open.
“I've lost a lot of speed in my swing, but my swing is still there,” Hoffman said. “I'm on plane. It's not like it's really killing my golf game. This isn't the reason for the last missed cuts. I've been working on a lot of things.”
Hoffman’s type of MD causes degeneration of muscles in the chest, back, neck, arms and sometimes the legs. He has particularly struggled with his pectoral muscles.
With a special diet, he’s attacking his issues. And with the help of his team of family and friends, he’s fighting for the larger cause. He’s aiming to build a wellness center, a kind of health superstore. He’s planning an inaugural fundraising pro-am Aug. 20 in Paramus, N.J.
Hoffmann was shaken by the blow when a doctor delivered the diagnosis in 2016, but his attitude since has been inspiring.
“The doctor wasn't nice,” Hoffman said. “He was like, `Yeah, you have it.’ I went, `Well, all right, I'm speechless . . . What can I do?’ He's like, `There's no cure,’ and he basically hung up. I was pretty pissed off.”
But Hoffman came out of that quickly. He’s excited about the doctor he’s working with today and the health and wellness plan he is following.
“I could become a recluse and feel bad for myself, but what's that going to do?” he said. “I love being out here, and I love playing on the PGA Tour, and that's my dream. To help people, ultimately, is my goal. I think I can do really special things with this platform.”