Second Season Begins

By September 28, 2004, 4:00 pm
Big Break II LogoThe Golf Channel debuted the first episode of The Big Break II Tuesday night, the networks follow-up to its hit series from last fall where 10 highly skilled golfers from around the country compete in a weekly showdown using a variety of golf skills challenges. The last man standing after the 11-week season wins the Big Break of his golfing career - a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete in four Nationwide Tour events televised on The Golf Channel in 2005.
Flying in from all over the country, the 10 competitors were a bit confused as to why they all were meeting inside an airport in Ontario, Calif. But shortly after all had arrived and spent a little time getting to know one another they were escorted outside to a bus that they figured was going to take them the rest of the way into Vegas.
Why are we in Ontario, Calif., when were supposed to be in Las Vegas? Whats going on? wondered schoolteacher Jay McNair from Brandon, Fla.
The Big Break IIAnd then off the bus steps none other than Matt Griesser, better known to most as Sign Boy from the FootJoy television commercials, and co-host with Peter Jacobson on The Golf Channels Plugged In series. Knowing Sign Boy and his antics, the group soon began to realize that something was up, especially after the bus pulled into a deserted Air Force base.
All I see is all these little Cessna planes. Im like dude, Im not getting on one of those planes, said McNair about the shows first apparent twist. I dont know what they got planned, but I aint getting on with a personal pilot on no Cessna. I aint doing it.
So after they all pile out of the bus, Sign Boy informed them that the beautiful private jet that they pulled up alongside (not the Cessna) will be taking to Vegas those competitors who can complete this seasons first challenge.
A makeshift green was ready on the tarmac and the players would have to make a simple 3-foot putt if they wanted to ride on the charter plane provided by Net Jets. If they missed, it was back on the bus with Sign Boy for a long, long bus ride to Sin City.
Youre like, Its a 3-footer and, well, a 3-footer is not that big of a deal. But then (you see) the wind is flying by the flagstick, remarked Bart Lower about the suddenly not so simple task. It was exciting; it got the heart pumping a little bit. And you dont want to gag the first challenge.
One by one they stepped up and drained the putt that put them on the Net Jet, except for one, Mike Foster Jr., who ended up pushing his putt just a little and watched as it lipped out.
I think I was just too excited, a little bit of the adrenalin running, said Foster, who is known as Hawaiian Mike. I wasnt disappointed that I missed, I just felt that I shouldve made it.
With that, the lucky nine who made the putt reveled in the comforts of the Net Jet as they were finally en route to the bright lights of Las Vegas where a fabulous penthouse suite was awaiting, complete with a virtual golf simulator and other amenities any golfer would love.
Its absolutely ridiculous. We got our own putting green, said a wide-eyed David Gunas Jr., a golf professional from Manchester, Conn. We got our own slot machine. We cant get any money out of it, but were trying.
After getting a tour through the resort and settling into their room assignments, the group looked forward to the following day where they would begin their Big Break II quest.
Meeting the next morning on the range of the Stallion Mountain Country Club with new co-host Lesley Swanson - who will set the stage for each episode and guide the contestants through the various challenges ' the competitors were introduced to Rick Smith, famed golf instructor for 2004 Masters champion Phil Mickelson.
Smith, who will be on hand to offer advice, tips and other needs for the players, was excited to set up the days first challenge as well as pass along some other wonderful information. First was the news that Nationwide was sweetening the pot of the four Nationwide Tour exemptions to also include $10,000 in cash. Secondly, Ford Motor Company was offering a new Ford 500 luxury sedan to the lucky winner of the Big Break II.
The Big Break IIOther good news was that this first challenge was a chance to let the competitors get their feet wet and that no one would face elimination. It also, much to the delight of everyone, afforded them a chance to win a new Ford 500 outright, even before things were to get serious.
Sitting on the tee box, a target green was located 300-yards away and the players were told that the person that wound up closest to the pin would have a chance to knock his next shot into the cup for the luxury sedan.
If you can get up-and-down from 300-yards you win a new car? Youve got to be kidding me? said driving range owner Bart Lower of Ann Arbor, Mich.
Each competitor then took turns trying to knock it stiff but ultimately it was Lower who ended up closest to the pin following a ripped 3-wood that finished some 23 feet from the hole.
Pulling off any golf shot when you have to pull it off is a great feeling, said Lower. Whether its $10 with your buddies or a shot like that.
But with the pressure squarely on his shoulders, his putt for the car unfortunately drifted left and settled a few feet from the hole.
No one ever said winning in Las Vegas was easy.
I just didnt play enough break and it kinda hopped a little bit and the wind just pushed it and pushed it, said Lower on his nerve-racking putt. Im like, Sorry honey, no car.
With that initial skill challenge over and the players more aware of what to expect, the group returned to their suite knowing the next day things were going to get serious, and that someone was going to become the first sent packing for home.
Not lost among the surroundings of Las Vegas though was what the Big Break could ultimately mean to them individually.
It would give me a chance to chase my dream one more time, remarked Hawaiian Mike. This is all anyone could ask for.

The chance to get four Nationwide Tour starts is very important to me, reiterated Kip Henley III, a golf teaching pro from Crossville, Tenn. I mean it would be my true Big Break.
Be sure to tune in to The Golf Channel next Tuesday at 9:00 p.m.(ET) as the first competitor will fail to capitalize on what could have been his Big Break.
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    Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

    According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

    Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

    Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

    And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

    Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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    Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

    The Monday morning headline will be …

    REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

    RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

    MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

    JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

    Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

    HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

    LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

    BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

    COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

    Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

    HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

    LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

    BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

    COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

    What will be the winning score?

    HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

    LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

    BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

    COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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    Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

    Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

    Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

    This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

    While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

    Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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    McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

    Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

    “It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

    “Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

    He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.