Russell Normandin's Final Words

By June 7, 2011, 2:00 am

First, I just wanted to thank everyone for all of the overwhelming support I have received since this journey began. Without all of my friends, the most talented group of golfers on Okinawa: the GAGGLE, the support from the United States Marine Corps, my swing coach of the All-Marine Golf Team, Andy Hinson, and my unbelievable family, none of this would have been possible. To you all I owe the greatest debt of gratitude and a sincere thank you for all that you have done for me!

Being selected for Big Break was a dream come true for the average guy like me. Sitting in my house in Okinawa Japan watching Big Break Dominican Republic my wife asked me why I have never tried out for the show. My immediate response was a laugh with 'guys like me never get picked for that show'! She told me you never know; you are a great golfer and have a great story to tell. Without my wife believing in me, I probably would have never submitted an application. For that baby, I will never forget what you had done for me! Giving a guy who’s a poor kid from Rhode Island the opportunity to potentially fulfill my greatest dream of becoming a professional golfer will never be forgotten.

The final show in which I was eliminated was one for the ages! The first two episodes I did not play particularly well... I was doing just enough to survive and move on, but I was not striking the ball very well. My swing has been rebuilt so many times over the years because of all the injuries I have had in my Marine Corps career. My swing is very flat because my left shoulder will not allow it to get on a higher swing plane because of the surgery I had on it a few years ago. Combine this, the surgery I had on my foot in September, and the very cold weather in the morning, meant I could not get loose. No one really knew this on the show but I was in the hot tub almost every morning around 0500 hours to help loosen up a bit.  That said, by the third episode, I was finally getting into the groove and was looking forward to playing but I did not even need to hit a shot - - SWEET! If anyone were to ask those guys if you would rather had broken glass or be safe to the next show, they all would have told you: 'I'll take safe please'.

My challenge with Will was an exciting one! Will hit a really good tee shot just short of the bunker’s right. I wanted to put some pressure on him so I took a really aggressive line and tried to carry the bunker on the left; that early in the morning that was a big mistake! I had one of the toughest shots in golf: the 40ish yard bunker shot with a 8 foot lip in front and did not pull it off. “Will the Thrill” hit another great shot that he almost holed out which lead me to have to make a shot which I did not. Great job Will; you really impressed me brother!

Now we turn to the Blackjack Challenge... I want to scream like Oren did during the commercial, HAHAH! The viewers will never truly know what is going on through the competitors’ minds when they are hitting these shots. Almost no one knows (except those who were there) that we got to hit two practice shots before the actual challenge. It was at that point where I saw Shank hit to Kings for a 20! I remembered the sound of the shots that he hit during the practice and they were the exact same when the challenge began. I was not far off because the 5 he hit just rolled out of the K which would have been a 20. My failure of that challenge was not the decision to hit on 18 but the first shot I hit a 3; HELLO BONEHEAD! When I decided to hit the fourth shot it was for one reason alone: I wanted to hold my own destiny in my own hands. If I chose to not hit that shot and Shank did have 20 I would have never been able to live with myself. The 3 was the first block in front of me. If it were in the middle of the grid I would have maybe stood but again, I wanted to hold my own destiny in my hands. If Shank did not have 15 but had 20 and I decided to hit again I would have looked like a genius but instead I will be forever remembered for the guy who hit on 18! I told myself that if I did not win the show I wanted to be remembered, not by being a clown on the show but just remembered. Boy, did I accomplish that objective!!!

Going into the final challenge with Dave was a chance at redemption for me. He had beaten me in our last three meetings and I wanted an opportunity for a win. David is an unbelievably talented young golfer and I knew beating him was going to be hard since I knew he was going to have at least a half-shot advantage. I was a little surprised when he purchased the half shot but it led me to my suspicion; he was nervous. I was hoping that he remembered the other times he beat me and I could have been possibly due for a win. The first stage was not that hard, Dave hit a great shot and I hit a little 9 iron bump ‘n run that just let out a little more than it should have; now I am 2 shots with Dave at 0! The second stage was a little tough shot, the rough was gnarly off a side hill lie. Dave hit his first one short and then nailed the second one - - HERE WAS MY CHANCE! I needed to hit a one, which I did. Going into the third shot anything could have happened. Dave hits his first one in by an inch or two. If that one would have been out who knows what would have happened... I missed my first one a little right and the second left and stuffed the third one. All Dave needed to do was hit the green form 180 which he did and the match was over... Well done Dave aka Young One... Keep fighting brother, you are going to do great things in the golf world!

As of this week, I will be heading to Afghanistan for another deployment with 3rd Battalion 6th Marines. I once again get the great opportunity to serve with some of the greatest Americans this country produces! Please keep them in your prayers and for a safe return home! Where the rest of my life goes from here will be much clearer after this deployment. The excitement, pain, sorrow etc... that comes with a deployment like this is indescribable but it is what Marines do best. Many of the Marine-isms that I used on the show were for entertainment value but is the mindset of a Marine: One Mind Any Weapon. You do not take your foot off them until the match is over. Yes, it is golf, but you are in a metaphorical 'fight' on the golf course...

To all of the golfers on Big Break Indian Wells, well done gentlemen... You are great golfers so please continue the dream of chasing happiness, to play on the PGA Tour! As Quintus Horatius Flaccus said 'Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero!” The viewers will never know how close of a group we all became in the short time we were there. You all are truly fine gentlemen and you are part of the reason why I have served my country for the last 18 years.

Finally, I would like to say to my children.. You are great kids and make my life that much more meaningful! I know you do not truly grasp what dad was trying to do on the TV right now but you will later in life. I wanted the opportunity to potentially give my children a life with their dad having to leave with the fear of him never coming home. That is why I was teary-eyed at the end of the show; I felt like I let them down... I love you JoJo and KiKi more than you will ever know!!!

Semper Fidelis

Master Sergeant Russell Normandin

United States Marine Corps



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Lopez fires flawless 63 for lead in Arkansas

By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 12:41 am

ROGERS, Ark. – Since its first year on the LPGA Tour in 2007, the crowds at the NW Arkansas Championship have belonged to Stacy Lewis.

Another former University of Arkansas star staked her claim as the hometown favorite Friday when Gaby Lopez shot a career-low 8-under 63 to take the first-round lead at Pinnacle Country Club.

Like Lewis, the two-time winner of the tournament, Lopez starred as a three-time All-American for the Razorbacks before joining the LPGA Tour in 2016. Despite flashes of potential, Lopez had yet to join Lewis among the ranks of the world's best - missing the cut in her last two tournaments and entering this week ranked 136th in the world.

For a day, at least, the Mexican standout felt right at home atop the leaderboard in her adopted home state.

''I feel like home,'' Lopez said. ''I feel so, so comfortable out here, because I feel that everyone and every single person out here is just rooting for us.''


Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship


Moriya Jutanugarn was a stroke back along with Minjee Lee, Catriona Matthew, Nasa Hataoka, Lizette Salas, Mirim Lee and Aditi Ashok. Six others finished at 6 under on a day when only 26 of the 144 players finished over par, thanks to some mid-week rain that softened the greens and calm skies throughout the day.

Jutanugarn finished second at the tournament last year and is trying to win for the second time on the LPGA Tour this year. Her younger sister, Ariya, is already a two-time winner this year and shot an opening-round 66.

Lewis, the former world No. 1 who won the event in 2007 in 2014, finished with a 66. She's expecting her first child in early November

Defending champion So Yeon Ryu, coming off a victory Sunday in Michigan, shot a 67.

Friday was Lopez's long-awaited day to standout, though, much to the delight of the pro-Arkansas crowd.

After missing the cut her last two times out, Lopez took some time off and returned home to Mexico City to rest her mind and work on her game. The work paid off with two straight birdies to open her round and a 6-under 30 on her front nine.

Lopez needed only 25 putts and finished two shots off the course record of 61, and she overcame a poor drive on the par-5 18th to finish with a par and keep her place at the top of the leaderboard. Her previous low score was a 64 last year, and she matched her career best by finishing at 8 under.

''(Rest) is a key that no one really truly understands until you're out here,'' Lopez said. ''... Sometimes resting is actually the part you've got to work on.''

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Harman rides hot putter to Travelers lead

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:28 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – There are plenty of big names gathered for the Travelers Championship, and through two rounds they’re all chasing Brian Harman.

Harman opened with a 6-under 64, then carded a 66 during Friday’s morning wave to become the only player to finish the first two rounds in double digits under par. The southpaw is currently riding a hot putter, leading the field in strokes gained: putting while rolling in 12 birdies and an eagle through his first 36 holes.

“Putted great today,” said Harman, who ranks 22nd on Tour this season in putting. “Got out of position a couple of times, but I was able to get myself good looks at it. I started hitting the ball really well coming down the stretch and made a few birdies.”


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Harman, 31, has won twice on the PGA Tour, most recently at last year’s Wells Fargo Championship. While he doesn’t have a win this year, he started his season in the fall by reeling off five straight finishes of T-8 or better to quickly install himself as one of the leaders in the season-long points race.

Now topping a leaderboard that includes the likes of Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy, he realizes that he’ll have his work cut out for him if he’s going to leave Connecticut with trophy No. 3.

“The putter has been really good so far, but I’ve been in position a lot. I’ve had a lot of good looks at it,” Harman said. “I’m just able to put a little pressure on the course right now, which is nice.”

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10-second rule costs Zach Johnson a stroke

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:06 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – Zach Johnson heads into the weekend one shot back at the Travelers Championship, but he was a matter of seconds away from being tied for the lead.

Johnson had an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 3 at TPC River Highlands, his 12th hole of the day, but left the ball hanging on the lip. As Johnson walked up to tap the ball in, it oscillated on the edge and eventually fell in without being hit.

Was it a birdie, or a par?

According to the Rules of Golf, and much to Johnson’s chagrin, the answer was a par. Players are afforded “reasonable” time to walk to the hole, and after that they are allowed to wait for 10 seconds to see if the ball drops of its own accord. After that, it either becomes holed by a player’s stroke, or falls in and leads to a one-shot penalty, resulting in the same score as if the player had hit it.

According to Mark Russell, PGA Tour vice president of rules and competitions, Johnson’s wait time until the ball fell in was between 16 and 18 seconds.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“Once he putts the ball, he’s got a reasonable amount of time to reach the hole,” Russell said. “Then once he reaches the hole, he’s got 10 seconds. After 10 seconds, the ball is deemed to be at rest.”

Johnson tried to emphasize the fact that the ball was oscillating as he stood over it, and even asked rules officials if marking his ball on the edge of the hole would have yielded a “bonus 10 seconds.” But after signing for a 2-under 68 that brought him within a shot of leader Brian Harman, the veteran took the ruling in stride.

“The 10-second rule has always been there. Vague to some degree,” Johnson said. “The bottom line is I went to tap it in after 10 seconds and the ball was moving. At that point, even if the ball is moving, it’s deemed to be at rest because it’s on the lip. Don’t ask me why, but that’s just the way it is.”

While Johnson brushed off any thoughts of the golf gods conspiring against him on the lip, he was beaming with pride about an unconventional par he made on No. 17 en route to a bogey-free round. Johnson sailed his tee shot well right into the water, but after consulting his options he decided to drop on the far side of the hazard near the 16th tee box.

His subsequent approach from 234 yards rolled to within 8 feet, and he calmly drained the putt for an unexpected save.

“I got a great lie. Just opened up a 4-hybrid, and it started over the grandstands and drew in there,” Johnson said. “That’s as good of an up-and-down as I’ve witnessed, or performed.”

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Travelers becoming marquee event for star players

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 11:29 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Get lost in the throngs following the defending champ, or caught up amongst the crowds chasing the back-to-back U.S. Open winner, and it’s easy to forget where this tournament was a little more than a decade ago.

The Travelers Championship was without a sponsor, without a worthwhile field, without a consistent date and on the verge of being jettisoned to the PGA Tour Champions schedule. The glory days of the old Greater Hartford Open had come and gone, and the PGA Tour’s ever-increasing machine appeared poised to leave little old Cromwell in its wake.

The civic pride is booming in this neck of the woods. Main Street is lined with one small business after the next, and this time of year there are signs and posters popping up on every corner congratulating a member of the most recent graduating class at Cromwell High School, which sits less than two miles from the first tee at TPC River Highlands.

Having made it through a harrowing time in the event’s history, the local residents now have plenty of reason to take pride.

The Tour’s best have found this little New England hamlet, where tournament officials roll out the red carpet in every direction. They embrace the opportunity to decompress after the mind-numbing gauntlet the USGA set out for them last week, and they relish a return to a course where well-struck shots, more often than not, lead to birdies.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Ten years ago, this tournament was also held the week after the U.S. Open. Stewart Cink won, and for his efforts he received a paltry 36 world ranking points. But thanks to a recent influx of star-power, this week’s winner will pocket 58 points – the same amount Rory McIlroy won at Bay Hill, and two more than Justin Rose got at Colonial. Now at the halfway point, the leaderboard backs up the hefty allocation.

While Brian Harman leads at 10 under, the chase pack is strong enough to strike fear in the heart of even the most seasoned veteran: McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson, they of the combined eight major titles, all sit within three shots of the lead. Former world No. 1 Jason Day is one shot further back, and reigning Player of the Year Justin Thomas will start the third round inside the top 20.

Paul Casey and Bryson DeChambeau, both likely participants at the Ryder Cup this fall, are right there as well at 8 under. Casey lost a playoff here to Watson in 2015 and has come back every year since, witnessing first-hand the tournament’s growth in scope.

“It speaks volumes for what Travelers have done and how they treat everybody, and the work that Andy Bessette and his team put in to fly around the country and speak highly of this event,” Casey said. “And do things which matter, to continue to improve the event, not just for players but for spectators.”

Part of the increased field strength can be attributed to the Tour’s recent rule change, requiring players who play fewer than 25 events in a season to add a new event they haven’t played in the last four years. Another portion can be attributed to the short commute from Shinnecock Hills to TPC River Highlands, a three-hour drive and even shorter across the Long Island Sound – an added bonus the event will lose two of the next three years with West Coast U.S. Opens.

But there’s no denying the widespread appeal of an event named the Tour’s tournament of the year, players’ choice and most fan-friendly in 2017. While Spieth’s return to defend his title was assumed, both Day and McIlroy are back for another crack this year after liking what they saw.

“Anyone that I talked to could only say good things about the tournament about the golf course, how the guys are treated here, how the fans come out, and how the community always gets behind this event,” McIlroy said. “Obviously I witnessed that for the first time last year, and I really enjoyed it.”

After starting the week with all four reigning major champs and five of the top 10 players in the latest world rankings, only Masters champ Patrick Reed got sent packing following rounds of 72-67. The remaining top-flight contingent will all hit the ground running in search of more low scores Saturday, with Spieth (-4) still retaining a glimmer of hope to keep his title defense chances alive, perhaps with a 63 like he fired in the opening round.

The Tour’s schedule represents a zero-sum game. Outside of the majors and WGCs that essentially become must-play events for the game’s best, the rest of the legs of the weekly circus become victim of a 12-month version of tug-of-war. Some players like to play in the spring; others load up in the fall. Many play the week before majors, while a select group block off the week after for some R&R far away from a golf course.

But in an environment where one tournament’s ebbs can create flows for another, the Travelers has continued a steady climb up the Tour’s hierarchy. Once in jeopardy of relegation, it has found its footing and appears in the process of turning several of the Tour’s one-name stars into regular participants.

Rory. Jordan. Bubba. JT.

It’s been a long battle for tournament officials, but the proof is in the pudding. And this weekend, the reward for the people of Cromwell – population 14,000 – looks to be a star-studded show.

“All the events are incredible,” Thomas said. “But this is kind of one of those underrated ones that I think until people come and play, do they realize how great it is.”