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.”

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Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

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Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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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.