Father-son bond strengthened by golf and Pinehurst

By Will GrayJune 15, 2014, 12:05 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – I was sitting next to my father the first time I fell in love with Pinehurst.

Fifteen years old and fresh off the golf course from a junior tournament, I grabbed a seat with my dad, Bill, at a hotel lobby bar in Orlando, Fla., and we watched the final round of the 1999 U.S. Open together. For much of the afternoon, we were the only two people in the room, munching on popcorn and watching as Payne Stewart and Phil Mickelson dueled in the foggy mist at No. 2. We sat transfixed as the drama unfolded across a course the likes of which I had never before seen, one where every mound and undulation appeared to be crafted with such distinct purpose.

We passed hour after hour watching Stewart will himself to victory, then shared in celebration when he holed his famous putt. It was one of those rare instances in life when you realize the gravity of a moment in real time: by that point, the two of us had watched a ton of golf together, but we both knew that the round we had just witnessed was special.

That afternoon remains one of my favorite childhood memories.

I was with my father when I first visited Pinehurst. Inspired by the events of ’99, I signed up for a winter series of tournaments in 2000 across several of the resort’s layouts. He and I flew up from Florida, scouted some of the venues and shared a first-hand appreciation for all that the place had to offer to those who love the game. We returned again in 2005, the week before Michael Campbell won his U.S. Open, and took a resort tour that allowed us to walk the fairways of the final three holes of No. 2.

From watching on a TV screen six years prior to strolling the tournament grounds, our appreciation for this place had only grown.

I remember getting my first set of golf clubs from my father when I was 9 years old. Over the next two decades, he instilled in me a passion for golf – the man loved a good challenge, and in his mind there was no greater challenge than trying to conquer a game that remains unbeaten. I grew up immersed in golf, spending summers scuttling from tournament to tournament, with my father/caddie/swing coach/sports psychologist at my side every step of the way.

A 1992 car accident crippled my father, crushing his back and leaving him in a wheelchair for most of the subsequent years. Despite the pain, he would hobble into a golf cart and ride along while I played thousands of rounds, either coaching me from the seat beside or watching tournament play from afar. Regardless of venue, or weather, or how wrecked it would leave him at the end of the day, he was there.

He and I both knew that while his physical condition kept us from sharing many activities, we would always have golf.

This week, I returned to Pinehurst without him.

Last June, I was covering a U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, trading texts with my dad about the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the event. About 45 minutes after our last exchange, he suffered a heart attack and died at age 63.

I have been filled with mixed emotions over the past few days, back in a place that he loved, that I loved, and that we loved together. I have walked through rooms where we once dined, and crossed holes that we once played, and I have thought of him often. But I have also enjoyed being at a tournament that we both cherished so much.

More so than any other event, the U.S. Open is about bridging generations. It is an annual ode to fathers and sons, to men who teach their children the game with the hopes that they might someday pass it on to the next generation. It is grandfathers describing the 1962 playoff between Arnie and Jack to their grandchildren, who will someday recount the duel between Tiger and Rocco with similar passion.

Two weeks after my father died, I watched Justin Rose cap off his U.S. Open win at Merion and point to the sky to his father Ken, who passed away in 2002. Given my circumstances I found it especially poignant, but it served as a reminder that every golfer can trace his roots in the game back to the person that first handed them a club.

Today the tournament will end on Father’s Day as it has for many years, a staple on the calendar that allows us to recall with ease past Opens. For nearly 20 years, I spent that third Sunday in June in front of a TV along with my dad  – watching Tiger’s romp at Pebble, or Tom Lehman and Phil Mickelson both come up painfully short so many times, and of course Payne’s putt in 1999.

I’ll walk the fairways as another Open winner is crowned on Father’s Day, and while I still miss the man that first introduced me to the game, I know exactly the words he would impart were he here.

“Well, my son … ain’t this something."

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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.