Finau ready to test game in major championship

By Will GrayJune 9, 2015, 3:20 am

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio – A rain delay at a U.S. Open sectional qualifier is a curious scene.

Phones chargers fill every outlet, with countless players scrolling through scoring pages for updates. Some veterans reach for a beer, eager to erase the sins of bogeys past, while those not yet of age compare course loads for the fall.

Shortly after the horn blew at Springfield Country Club to signal an hour-long weather delay, the club’s ballroom was filled with a variety of characters, each eager for the storm to pass.

Amidst them sat Tony Finau, coolly chatting with his back to a window that overlooked the course, a rare PGA Tour regular among a sea of unfamiliar faces.

Finau knew he was on the verge of punching his ticket to Chambers Bay, already in the fairway of his 35th hole of the day. Shortly after play resumed, he closed out rounds of 66-67 to put a notable name among the quartet of qualifiers from the 67-player field.

Finau made things look easy Monday, carding only one bogey across 36 holes to finish second. It extends a strong run of good play for the PGA Tour rookie, whose T-8 finish at the Memorial was his fourth straight top-20 result.

Finau now sits inside the top 50 in the FedEx Cup standings, but the 25-year-old has never played in a major. That drought ends next week.

“That’s one of my goals, is just to get in a major,” said Finau, who ranks No. 134 in the world. “Just to get that taste. I’ve never had that taste of the highest level of golf, and that’s playing in a major. It means everything to me at this point in my career.”

Scores: U.S. Open sectional qualifying results

Finau is second on Tour in driving distance, averaging 307 yards per poke, so at first glance his game wouldn’t appear well-suited for Springfield, a claustrophobic Donald Ross layout that barely measures 6,700 yards. But Finau got placed here last year, and while he failed to qualify he at least knew the course – which is more than he could say for his other nearby sectional option.

“I don’t know that it’s a golf course that I really like, but it’s one that I’ve seen at least,” he said. “The one in Columbus, there’s two courses that I haven’t seen, that I’m sure a lot of guys have. So I feel like I’m losing shots already.”

Finau’s gamble paid off, and he will play a course next week that would appear conducive to his long-ball approach. He’ll also bring with him some local knowledge in the form of caddie Greg Bodine, who grew up 10 minutes from Chambers Bay in nearby Lakewood and estimated that he has played the course 15-20 times.

“I got the Pierce County (Wash.) rate when I was in high school,” said Bodine, whose cousin Michael Putnam qualified in the Columbus sectional. “I hit it long and crooked, so I liked it.”

Of course Finau wasn’t the only player to leave Springfield with a smile, as the other three qualifiers proved the U.S. Open’s status as golf’s ultimate meritocracy. While PGA Tour veterans like Troy Merritt and Brian Stuard came up short, medalist honors went to Michael Davan – a 26-year-old with no status on any major circuit.

The third spot went to 19-year-old amateur Nick Hardy, who just wrapped up his freshman year at the University of Illinois. Hardy’s Illini team was eliminated from the NCAA Championships last Tuesday in Florida, and he equated the undulating greens at Springfield to those he had just seen at Concession Golf Club. The rest of the course, though, was reminiscent to the Ross designs he has grown up playing around Chicago.

“This is my home kind of turf,” Hardy said.

The day’s longest wait belonged to 26-year-old Stephan Jaeger, who may have worn a new path around the putting green with his post-round pacing.

Jaeger was among the first players to finish, carding rounds of 66-68, and then quickly began refreshing scores on his phone. It was a familiar situation after he sweated out a spot last month at local qualifying, but it was hardly a welcome position.

“I do not enjoy this,” he muttered to himself as the projections and scenarios began to pour in. Jaeger moved to Chattanooga, Tenn., from Germany at age 17, and was a teammate of former U.S. Amateur champion Steven Fox at UT-Chattanooga. A random room assignment at a college event created a connection with a host family, who just happen to be members and residents at Springfield.

Three years after their paths had last crossed, he contacted the host family about this week’s qualifier. They offered him a place to stay, and a little home cooking did the trick.

“Something like this can turn a season around real quick,” said Jaeger, who has made only three of 11 cuts this year on the Tour. “That’s what I’m hoping to do.”

Season assessments can wait, at least for a night – especially for guys like Hardy, Davan and Jaeger who have one prior PGA Tour start between them. Monday was about realizing a dream and punching tickets to a national championship. In a week they will be on equal footing with the best in the game.

The wait is now over. The fun will soon begin.

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.

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Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time.