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.”

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.

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There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”

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Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''