New to the game, Patterson crashing Volvik WLD party

By Will GraySeptember 5, 2017, 8:25 pm

THACKERVILLE, Okla. – When asked to assess the length of his burgeoning long drive career, Wes Patterson started counting and paused.

“Today’s the fifth, right?” he asked.

His is not a typical path to the Volvik World Long Drive Championship, instead a circuitous route that started with professional baseball and more recently detoured into professional golf. Patterson, 28, considers himself a “nomad” who apparently packs enough athletic ability to succeed at nearly any sport he touches.

That now includes long drive, as his improbable run that started in a satellite qualifier last week has now netted an unheralded player a spot in Tuesday’s Round of 16 at the Winstar World Casino and Resort.

The group of contenders still standing includes several household names: defending champ Joe Miller is still alive, as is two-time winner Tim Burke. But Patterson is holding his own against a stacked field of top-ranked participants despite the fact that he hasn’t played in enough events to even garner a ranking.

A month ago, he didn’t expect to be here. A week ago he considered withdrawing. But after toppling the world No. 1 – twice – he suddenly has a shot at the $125,000 top prize.

“It’s gone really fast. I kind of showed up on Friday and didn’t know what to expect,” Patterson said. “Didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I was just trying to hit the ball hard and straight.”

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Patterson doesn’t sport a bodybuilder’s frame, and his soft-spoken Southern drawl is a stark contrast to many of the outspoken personalities of the sport. But like many others, Patterson has a background in another discipline that he has parlayed into success on the grid.

A standout pitcher at the University of Tennessee-Martin, Patterson signed with the Atlanta Braves in 2011 as a free agent pending a physical. But he blew out his elbow in the last week of his senior season, tearing his UCL and effectively ending his MLB career before it started.

After Tommy John surgery, he bounced around independent leagues, tried coaching and ultimately spent a year pitching in Australia. But he went through unexpected visa issues and got deported – meaning he couldn’t return to Australia for three years even though his team had offered him a contract renewal.

“I basically had to retire right there,” he said.

Patterson quickly turned his attention to golf. While he played competitively growing up, he didn’t turn pro until March 2016 – and even that planned path was temporarily derailed by an ill-timed car accident. Earlier this summer, Patterson had expected to spend this week at Tour Pre-Qualifying with hopes of jump-starting a pro career in his backup sport.

But the 54-hole qualifier brought with it a $2,700 entry fee, a price tag that would only climb if he advanced. Patterson made an earnest assessment of both his game and bank account and decided to change course.

“I had enough money if I made it through the first couple stages, but I was just being honest with myself,” he said. “I haven’t been playing too well to be able to make that big of an investment.”

Patterson found himself back at the drawing board, but his instructor Brian Delaney saw potential off the tee. Just three weeks ago, Delaney shipped out a trio of extra-long drivers and told Patterson to check the mail.

“I’m not taking no for an answer,” Delaney told Patterson.

Patterson started pounding the ball, and he saw some favorable numbers. He decided to take a shot at the world championship, but even this week’s entry fee was partially funded by his mom (“Don’t tell my brothers,” he joked) and almost led to another 11th-hour exit.

“The last day of sign-up, I was thinking about withdrawing,” he said. “Because it was going to be $1,400 on my credit card bill, and that’s a lot of money.”

In another turn of events, Patterson had some late equipment issues. While he’s based in St. Louis he also trains part of the year in Houston, and his equipment became inaccessible after the flooding caused last week by Hurricane Harvey.

But thanks in part to encouragement from Delaney and his family – and some equipment assistance from long-drive peers like Ryan Riesbeck – Patterson stayed in the 61-man qualifier where 26 spots in the final, 96-man field were available.

He made it through that gauntlet and continued to advance, but as the lowest-ranked player remaining in the field he drew world No. 1 Maurice Allen in the double-elimination Round of 32. In the first match of the day Monday, he pulled off an improbable upset with a pair of 350-yard bombs.

In a win-or-go-home rematch later in the day, Patterson beat Allen again, knocking out one of the sport’s most recognizable faces with a 373-yard strike into the breeze.

“Wes is an awesome hitter. When you look at his numbers, the Trackman when it comes up (Tuesday) night, you’ll see that he’s hitting the ball and smoking it,” Allen said. “The balls he hit against me were just perfect balls. Perfect flight, perfect speed into the wind. Can’t argue with that at all.”

So now, the pitcher turned golfer turned long drive specialist has a spot in the Round of 16, where he’ll face off with Riesbeck, the man who spotted him a new driver head at the start of the event. At the very least, Patterson has turned a profit on his investment – a loss tonight will still earn him $3,500.

But a win under the lights means a spot in Wednesday’s finale, where he could potentially turn a sport that is largely identified by the success of a handful of top-tier players firmly on its head.

“You don’t know what to expect until you get here,” Patterson said. “I don’t really get too nervous, especially when I see the first one get in the grid. That kind of settles me down. But it’s been pretty much a whirlwind.”

Def. champ Fitzpatrick grabs lead at Euro finale

By Associated Press, Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 1:50 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a second straight 5-under-par 67 to secure a one-stroke lead halfway through the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship on Friday.

At 10 under after two rounds on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estate, Fitzpatrick leads English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton, whom he beat by one shot to win the title last year.

Hatton moved into contention with a brilliant 9-under 63, a round soured only by a closing bogey on the par-5 18th hole.

In the Race to Dubai, main protagonists Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose experienced contrasting emotions to their opening rounds. Fleetwood boosted his chances by rising into a tie for 11th at 6 under after a 65. Rose endured a three-putt bogey on the 18th to finish with a 70, and dropped on the leaderboard so he's just two shots ahead of Fleetwood.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit, stayed in contention by adding a 69 to his opening 70 to be one shot behind Fleetwood.

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Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

Fitzpatrick made two bogeys but eagled the 14th, and five birdies contributed to his 67.

Overnight leader Patrick Reed is now three back following an even-par 72. Reed is in the field thanks to a European Tour regulation that allows the Presidents Cup to count as an official event, thus allowing him to meet his quota of tournaments played.

Fitzpatrick was helped immensely also by the 18th, where Hatton, Rose, and Reed all made bogeys. Fitzpatrick birdied the hole for a second straight day with a 25-foot putt.

''I said to my caddie, we were putting really, really well all week so far,'' Fitzpatrick said.

''The thing is, you get so many fast putts around here, even uphill into the green, they are still running at 12, 13 (on the stimpmeter) even. You've just got to be really sort of careful. Every putt is effectively a two-putt. You've got to control your pace well and limit your mistakes, because it's easy to three-putt out here.''

Rose, hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey, was disappointed with his finish despite playing solid golf from tee to green.

''To make six (on 18) just ends the day on the wrong note, but other than that, I played really well on the back nine,'' Rose said.

''I was aware of the scores and who had done what today. But listen, halfway stage, I'd probably have signed up for that if somebody said on Wednesday you would be in this position after two rounds. It's a position you can build on the weekend.''

Fleetwood resurrected his chances of winning the Order of Merit with a 65, eight shots better than his opening round. His only bogey of the day came on the seventh after an errant drive, but that was the only mistake on a solid day that saw him make eight birdies.

Fleetwood spent hours on the putting green after his first round.

''I needed a low one today for (a tournament win and the Order of Merit),'' he said. ''Luckily, I got a good score.''

Closing eagle gives Kirk 1-shot lead in RSM

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 12:16 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Chris Kirk holed an 18-foot putt for eagle on his final hole for a 9-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the RSM Classic.

Kirk played the par 5s on the Plantation Course at Sea Island Golf Club in 5 under.

''I kind of hit my putter on the fringe a little bit and I wasn't sure it was going to get there, but that was just kind of the day that it was,'' Kirk said. ''Even when I thought it wasn't quite going to work out, it still went in the middle of the hole.''

The seven lowest scores of the opening round came on the Plantation Course during a picturesque afternoon on the Golden Isles. Sporting a University of Georgia hat Thursday, Kirk won at Sea Island four years ago for the second of his four PGA Tour victories.

''It's a big Georgia territory out here on St. Simons,'' Kirk said. ''Hopefully, my hat will bring me some luck the rest of the week.''

The tournament is the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, and Kirk is sorting out equipment changes.

''I'm still trying to get it all worked out and figure out what I want to do going forward,'' Kirk said. ''But keep shooting 9 under, so I won't have to worry about it too much.'

Joel Dahmen had a 64.

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''I think it played a little easier today,'' Dahmen said. ''The wind was down, greens were a little softer over here on the Plantation side. But just kept the ball in front of me and made a bunch of 8- to 10-footers.

''I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

Sea Island resident Hudson Swafford was at 65 at the Plantation along with Jason Kokrak and Brian Gay.

''I feel like I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

He played alongside fellow former Georgia players Bubba Watson and Brian Harman.

''We are right in the heart of Dawgs' territory, mine and Harman's backyard, so it's kind of nice,'' Swafford said.

Though, his caddie wore an Auburn shirt.

''We don't need to talk about that,'' said Swafford, not needing to be reminded that Auburn beat Georgia in football last week.

Nick Watney and Brice Garnett each had a 5-under 65 on the Seaside Course, which will be used for the final two rounds.

Brandt Snedeker opened with a 67 in his first return from a sternum injury that sidelined him since the Travelers in June.

Harman shot 69, and Watson had a 71.

Co-leader Smith credits Foley's influence

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:33 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sarah Jane Smith is making the most of the devoted efforts of Sean Foley this week.

Foley’s prize pupil, Justin Rose, is in the hunt at the World Tour Championship in the United Arab Emirates, looking to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, but Foley isn’t there with him.

Foley promised to help Smith this week, and he’s living up to the pledge, making the trip to Naples.

“At 33, Sarah is in her prime,” Foley told “She is going to hold a trophy at some point. She is too skilled not to win.”

Foley's extra attention is paying off for Smith.

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With a 6-under-par 66, Smith moved into early contention to make her first LPGA title memorable at the CME Group Tour Championship. She’s tied for the first-round lead with Taiwan rookie Peiyun Chien.

“I just seem to play my best with him,” Smith said.

Foley, the former coach to Tiger Woods, was No. 10 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 teacher rankings released this fall.

Foley sees a lot coming together in Smith’s game. She is a 12-year veteran building some momentum. She tied for third at the Women’s Australian Open earlier this year and is coming off three consecutive top-15 finishes in Asia. She is sixth on tour in birdies this season. 

“As a coach, you try to get a player to see something in themselves that is already there,” Foley said.

Rose, by the way, opened with a 6-under-par 66 in Dubai and is one shot off the lead.

Seeking awards sweep, Park 1 off lead

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:03 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park made a strong start in her bid to make LPGA history with an epic sweep of the year’s major awards.

Park opened the CME Group Tour Championship Thursday with a 5-under-par 67, moving her a shot off the lead.

Park is looking to join Nancy Lopez as the only players to win the Rolex Player of the Year and Rolex Rookie of the Year awards in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park has already clinched the Rookie of the Year Award.

Park, 24, can also walk away with the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Race to the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot.

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Nobody has ever swept all those awards.

There’s even more for Park to claim. She can also take back the Rolex world No. 1 ranking. She’s No. 2, just two hundredths of a point behind Shanshan Feng.

“I think the course suits my game really well,” Park said through a translator. “I think I can play well in the next rounds.”

Park played the course just once before Thursday’s start, in Wednesday’s pro-am.

The reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion, Park won twice this year. She also won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open this summer.