More Money Better Date Bring Top Players

By Associated PressJune 6, 2007, 4:00 pm
Stanford St. Jude ChampionshipMEMPHIS, Tenn. -- More cash and a date the week before the U.S. Open have done more for the Stanford St. Jude Championship than an easy golf course and lots of history ever could.
 
Six of the top 12 players in the world are in Memphis, led by fourth-ranked Adam Scott and No. 6 Vijay Singh, to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the tournament, an event that had been lucky recently if one of the top 20 showed up.
 
This is the first visit for Scott, along with Retief Goosen, Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington.
 
The field would have been even stronger if Phil Mickelson, who missed the cut in his only other visit in 2001, hadn't withdrawn to heal a sore wrist for the Open.
 
New sponsor Stanford Financial Group committed to upgrading the event by boosting the purse by $800,000 to $6 million, with $1.08 million to the winner. Stanford replaced FedEx Corp., which now sponsors the tour's new season-long points competition and playoff.
 
David Toms, who won here in 2003 and 2004 and will try to make his 12th straight cut at the TPC Southwind, said Wednesday he's glad some top players decided to play in Memphis this year.
 
'I know the players are excited about it and look forward to having a good week. I think that was their goal, just to upgrade what has always been here, a tournament that has been around for a long time and put their stamp on it,' Toms said.
 
'I think they've done a good job.'
 
Attracting top talent didn't used to be a problem for a tournament that started in 1958 and is outranked in terms of service by only a handful of tournaments and the majors.
 
Entertainer Danny Thomas was a big draw when he lent his name to help raise money for his St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. President Gerald Ford had a hole-in-one at the event then played at Cordova in 1977 as a prelude to Al Geiberger making tour history days later with his 59.
 
But the tournament, which moved to the TPC Southwind in 1989, struggled with a reputation as birdie heaven.
 
John Cook won at 26 under in 1996 and Toms went 20 under in 2003. The schedule didn't help either as the event bounced around between the sweltering months of June and August, making it an easy decision to skip Memphis.
 
The forecast isn't much better now, with temperatures in the low 90s expected through Sunday.
 
But TPC Southwind is a different course after a redesign that followed Toms' victory in 2004 at 16 under. Par was trimmed to 70 from 71 by changing the par-5 fifth to a 485-yard par-4 as part of adding more than 200 yards to stretch it out to 7,244. The greens also were switched from bent to Bermuda grass
 
'I might get a little impatient on the golf course knowing that I used to birdie this hole all the time,' Toms said.
 
Jeff Maggert ended a personal seven-year victory drought by winning here last year at 9 under, and the course ranked only behind Winged Foot -- site of the 2006 U.S. Open -- as the toughest on tour last year.
 
Maggert said that tougher reputation and not the timely spot in the schedule attracted the stronger field.
 
'You're always going to get some good players coming a week before a major tournament because they like to prepare. But certainly when you have a golf course that's difficult and tests your game, I think you draw a lot more players,' Maggert said.
 
Maggert will try to become the only golfer not named Tiger Woods to defend his title successfully this year. Maggert said he now is fully recovered from a broken rib and tied for 12th at Colonial two weeks ago.
 
'It took a while to get my competitiveness back, and I feel good now. There are no excuses now,' he said.
 
That is why Geoff Ogilvy, who heads to Oakmont as the defending U.S. Open champ, came to Memphis for only his fourth visit. He is hoping to prepare under tournament pressure conditions despite not making the cut here between 2002 and 2004.
 
'You can't replicate playing with nerves and under pressure at home on the range, and out here you can. Nothing is going to replicate next week. It's an incredible place, it's very different and very hard,' Ogilvy said.
 
Divots:
Local favorite John Daly, who hasn't missed playing here since 1997, is here on a sponsor's exemption even though he hasn't finished five of those. He has withdrawn twice since finishing seventh in 2001. ... Toms has not missed a cut at this course since 1994 when he shot consecutive 74s. He skipped in 1995. The tournament record for consecutive cuts made is 14 straight by Gene Littler (1958-1971). ... Loren Roberts, who lives nearby and is now on the Champions Tour, will tie Lou Graham's record by playing here for the 24th time. He had been tied with Littler, John Mahaffey and Mason Rudolph at 23. Roberts won the Champions Tour event last week in Florida.
 
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    Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

    By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

    Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

    “I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

    “It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

    The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

    “All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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    Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

    He picked up his clubs three times.

    That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

    This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

    Not that he was concerned, of course.

    Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

    “It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

    At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

    “I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

    Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

    Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

    Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

    In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

    That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

    “He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

    “I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

    Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

    Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

    So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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    Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

    By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

    Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

    Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

    Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

    He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

    “I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

    “With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”

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    Reed's major record now a highlight, not hindrance

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 2:46 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The narrative surrounding Patrick Reed used to be that he could play well in the Ryder Cup but not the majors.

    So much for that.

    Reed didn’t record a top-10 in his first 15 starts in a major, but he took the next step in his career by tying for second at the 2017 PGA Championship. He followed that up with a breakthrough victory at the Masters, then finished fourth at the U.S. Open after a closing 68.

    He’s the only player with three consecutive top-4s in the majors.

    What’s the difference now?


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “The biggest thing is I treat them like they’re normal events,” he said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I’ve always gone into majors and put too much pressure on myself, having to go play well, having to do this or that. Now I go in there and try to play golf and keep in the mindset of, Hey, it’s just another day on the golf course. Let’s just go play.

    “I’ve been able to stay in that mindset the past three, and I’ve played pretty well in all three of them.”

    Reed’s record in the year’s third major has been hit or miss – a pair of top-20s and two missed cuts – but he says he’s a better links player now than when he began his career. It took the native Texan a while to embrace the creativity required here and also to comprehend the absurd distances he can hit the ball with the proper wind, conditions and bounce.

    “I’m sort of accepting it,” he said. “I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with doing it. It’s come a little bit easier, especially down the stretch in tournament play.”