In final season, Furman's golf team hopes to finish strong

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 13, 2014, 8:45 pm

Heading into last week’s Board of Trustees meeting, Furman men’s golf coach Todd Satterfield was expecting a status update, not a death sentence.

He knew the Greenville, S.C., school – not just the athletic department – was in a dire financial situation, estimated to lose about $6.3 million in the 2014-15 fiscal year. And the board faced a simple economic question: Would it bring in more or spend less?

So last Thursday, a day before the board was scheduled to meet, Satterfield received a call from his athletic director, Gary Clark. He wanted to talk, in his office, now.

“I was so taken by surprise,” Satterfield said by phone Thursday, “that I couldn’t even process the information.”

Just last weekend Satterfield was on Hilton Head, recruiting at a junior tournament. Now, less than a week later, he would have to round up his 10-man team and tell them that this spring season would be their last together. The university’s board voted that the men’s golf program – which dates to the 1930s – would be discontinued.

Dazed, Satterfield didn’t sugarcoat the message to his players later that afternoon. The university is in trouble, he said. They need to make cuts, he said. And our team, he said, was merely “caught in the crosshairs.”

The players’ reaction was predictable. Some were angry. Many were upset. Everyone sat in disbelief.

This, after all, was a proud program that had fallen on hard times.

The Paladins have won 13 Southern Conference titles since 1970, seven more than any other school, but have failed to reach the NCAA Championship since the mid-1980s. After making regionals in 2010, Furman won a tournament in each of its next two seasons but is currently No. 122 in Golfstat’s team rankings.

In attempting to justify the decision, the school said in a statement that it conducted an “extensive evaluation of criteria, including public visibility, attendance, competitiveness and overall costs.”

Satterfield, however, admits that the decision “still doesn’t make any sense.”

• In terms of visibility, what more can a school with 2,700-plus students truly do? Furman has one home tournament, and the players are visible in the community and on campus. Satterfield is one of the most well respected voices in college golf, the president of the Golf Coaches Association of America. Todd White, a Furman alum, was a member of the 2013 Walker Cup team.

• From an attendance standpoint, well, the golf team will never be as big of a draw as the basketball team, and it’s fair to wonder how the school’s other sports stack up, too.

• Facing a $6.3 million deficit, the school decided that the only varsity sport it would eliminate was men’s golf, despite the fact that its budget – including salaries, travel and scholarships – is just $400,000.

“That’s like an eyedropper in a bucket full of water,” Satterfield said.

As for the competitiveness of the team?

“I know as well as anyone we’ve been down the last couple of years,” Satterfield said, “but we were starting to get some traction and get going in the right direction. Our finishes weren’t great, but our stroke average was getting better. I had some good recruits coming in next year.”

The reality, of course, is that men’s golf probably wouldn’t have been axed had it been a top-50 program. But it’s not, not this year at least, though the players seem hell-bent on making this last semester count.

That, in fact, has been the least surprising development of the past week. A day after the announcement, the Paladins were supposed to have a qualifying tournament for their spring opener. The outlook seemed bleak.

“You guys have the heart to play tomorrow?” Satterfield asked them.

The answer was a resounding yes, and the players have attempted to move on the best they can. They still rise for 6 a.m. workouts. They still work on their games despite the unseasonably cold winter.

“These guys are super resilient,” Satterfield said. “I’m hoping there’s some added motivation there.”

Away from the course, an unexpected groundswell of support has developed.

One of Satterfield’s former players, T.J. Blandford, a 2006 graduate, has started an online petition to appeal the decision. “The decision to end this program hurts me deeply,” he wrote. “It feels like a poorly considered decision that trivializes the efforts of so many people. We all deserve better.”

As of this writing, the petition has signatures from more than 2,300 former players, supporters and fans – nearly the population of the entire school.

Some of Furman’s most notable alums – PGA Tour winner Brad Faxon for the men, Betsy King, Dottie Pepper and Beth Daniel on the women’s side – also have voiced their disappointment with the decision.

Yes, Satterfield reads your messages, and he is warmed by your support. But when so many things still don’t make sense, when the emotions are still so raw, the school’s 18-year head coach simply wants to spend the remaining three months with his players, not be the face of some political movement.

“I hold out a lot of hope that something can be reversed,” he said, “but I’m not totally optimistic.”

When the spring season is over, the players likely will go their separate ways. Some have already been contacted by other schools. A few will probably need to sacrifice academics to pursue their dreams of being a professional golfer. These are the casualties of bottom-line decisions.

The Paladins aren’t moping. They’re not quitting. They’re not coasting through their final semester.

No, they’re inspired to do something incredible.

“I wouldn’t expect anything else,” Satterfield said.

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Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”