Lovemark back at site where back once gave out

By Will GrayApril 1, 2016, 10:46 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – Before there was Jordan Spieth, before there was Justin Thomas or Patrick Reed, there was Jamie Lovemark.

Can’t-miss prospects are in the midst of a heyday right now on the PGA Tour, where wins prior to age 25 are becoming commonplace. But the landscape was far different nine years ago, when Lovemark emerged as a player with seemingly unlimited potential.

Back in 2007, Lovemark had capped his freshman season at USC by winning the NCAA individual title, shooting 64-64 over the weekend in Williamsburg, Va., to win by two shots. As the reigning NCAA Player of the Year, he not only had a spot on the decorated 2007 U.S. Walker Cup team, but he was seen as one of the best players on a squad that included Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Billy Horschel and Chris Kirk.

“You definitely looked at him as one of the guys that you thought had the most potential, somebody that you saw making a name for himself on the PGA Tour kind of straight away,” Fowler recalled. “He was someone that everyone knew had a lot of talent.”

The two grew up playing junior golf against each other in California, and Fowler has vivid memories of their first high school match against each other. Playing for Torrey Pines High, Lovemark stepped to the tee box and promptly dropped a 5-under 31 on Fowler in their nine-hole match.

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“It was like, hey, what’s up. Yeah, we’re playing. Cool, 31, thanks,” Fowler said. “So obviously I knew he was a good player.”

Lovemark turned pro after his junior season at USC, and it looked like that smooth transition to the big leagues was well underway when he lost in a playoff at the 2010 Open in just his fourth start as a pro.

But plans have a funny way of changing.

Lovemark is now once again on a leaderboard, this time at the Shell Houston Open where he trails by one shot after rounds of 67-68. But his journey from amateur stud packed with promise to PGA Tour contender has been anything but seamless.

It was right here at the Golf Club of Houston in 2011 where things began to go awry. Lovemark arrived in the midst of his rookie season, still looking for a follow-up performance to his runner-up. But during the Wednesday pro-am, he felt his back give out.

“Couldn’t really bend over to get into my set-up, and I knew that day that I was in trouble,” Lovemark said. “I just knew I couldn’t swing. I could barely walk.”

He shot an opening 80, then withdrew. He hoped some rehab would do the trick, but it got him nowhere. The diagnosis turned out to be a herniated and bulging disc in his back, and at age 22 Lovemark underwent a microdiscectomy – the same procedure that has sidelined Tiger Woods in recent months.

The surgery was in August 2011, and Lovemark wouldn’t hit a competitive shot for another five months.

“It was tough. I’m just sitting at home, not able to do much,” he said. “Watching from the sidelines is never fun, especially after having a good college career and a good ( season in 2010. So it was tough just sitting there.”

Since that setback, Lovemark has bounced back and forth between the PGA and tours. At 6-foot-4 with an athletic build, he has always had the raw power and natural ability to play at the highest level.

Translating that potential into results, however, has proven to be a struggle.

But Lovemark teamed with swing coach Chris Como two years ago, and he earned his card back last year on the circuit. Now age 28 and equipped with a new perspective, he has finally found his footing against the game’s best, with four top-10 finishes this season.

He tied for sixth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in his most recent start, and he appears poised to build upon that momentum this week at the Golf Club of Houston.

“I’m playing better. I’m older, more mature. Got my stuff together,” Lovemark said. “Lot of patient stuff, just not putting too much into one single shot. It’s been a big key for me the last couple years.”

Lovemark has always possessed prodigious length off the tee, and this season he is averaging more than 306 yards per drive. It’s a powerful edge at any venue, but especially this week’s layout where – like at Augusta National, after which it is styled – the bombers tend to thrive.

“I’m super aggressive, probably a little too aggressive. I would love to hit driver on every hole,” he said. “I might hit 11 or 12 drivers around here. Just hit it hard and then go find it again. No rough, perfect conditions – just be aggressive.”

Back at the place where his body once failed him, Lovemark is healthy, confident and ready to challenge for his breakthrough victory.

It’s a testament to the circuitous route he has taken to get here, but also shows that the potential he once flashed as an amateur was hardly a mirage.

“Feels great to be playing at a course where I couldn’t even compete five years ago,” he said. “I’ve come a long ways, and hopefully I’ll be able to win it. That will be a cool story.”

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.