Notes: Bay Hill, Memorial to award 3-year exemptions

By Doug FergusonJune 3, 2014, 9:25 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – The PGA Tour is honoring two of its most important players - Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus - by making their tournaments a little more meaningful in what has become a crowded golf schedule.

In a resolution approved at the last policy board meeting, winners of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and the Memorial will receive a three-year exemption, instead of the two-year exemption from other PGA Tour events.

The tour also is discussing whether to allow the prize money at their events to be the highest this side of a major, World Golf Championship or The Players Championship.

Palmer and Nicklaus, along with a half-century of star power in golf, led the move in the late 1960s to break away from the PGA of America and form what is now the PGA Tour. Palmer bought Bay Hill in the late 1970s, and it has become a staple on the Florida swing. Nicklaus started his tournament at Muirfield Village in 1976.

In some respects, the tour is acknowledging how difficult it is for tournaments to distinguish themselves. In the last 15 years, the PGA Tour has added four WGCs and three FedEx Cup playoff events to the schedule.

''This was more our desire to recognize two iconic figures who started and operate two world-class tournaments that for decades were lynch pins on our schedule,'' said Andy Pazder, the tour's chief of operations. ''We wanted to make sure their place on the tour calendar, as far as being a high-caliber, world-class event, was secure for well into the future.''

It was unlikely the Byron Nelson Championship would get the same treatment. That event was around for two decades in Dallas until Nelson's name was attached to it.

ALLRED IS ALRIGHT: What started with one good round has taken Jason Allred places he never imagined.

He shot 66 to qualify for the Northern Trust Open, and then parlayed that into a 64 in the second round at Riviera that carried him to a tie for third and more money ($388,600) than the 34-year-old had made in his entire PGA Tour career.

Allred made the most of his most recent chance. He was given a sponsor's exemption to the Memorial, shot 68 in the second round to make the cut and then closed with a 66 to tie for 15th and pick up another six-figure check.

''It's been such a fun journey the last couple of months,'' Allred said. ''If you sat me down at the start of the year and said, 'This is what's going to happen,' on the one hand I would have thought you were crazy. But at the same time, all along I've believed in my ability to do this. The thing is, I'm learning to believe in it more, which is fun.''

Allred played only two full years on the PGA Tour out of Pepperdine, the last time in 2008. Why it took him until 34 to figure it out can be explained in one word - golf.

This is not a guy who takes these chances for granted.

He still remembers where he was when tournament director Dan Sullivan called him on the Saturday night before the Memorial to offer him the spot. And he was at Muirfield Village deep into every evening during the tournament, enjoying the moment with his family. His third child was born a week after his tie for third at Riviera.

His letters requesting an exemption are not run of the mill.

''He wrote a nice, compelling, personal letter to the exemption committee,'' Sullivan said. ''And that stuck with them.''

Allred said he sent an email that included links to stories about his week at Riviera, along with photos of his family to give a glimpse of his life off the golf course, and then he followed that with a handwritten note.

''Just try to let them know how much I love this game,'' Allred said. ''We try to be a blessing to others, to engage the fans and really enjoy it.''

The season is getting short. There are only six tournaments remaining where Allred can hope for an exemption. He is the equivalent of 145th in the FedEx Cup standings. If he could get equal points to No. 125 before the playoffs, he would have his tour card. If nothing else, he is assured a spot in the four-tournament Web.com Tour Finals.

''That is such a bonus,'' Allred said. ''I feel like if you're playing well in four tournaments, you'll have a chance.''

ANOTHER U.S. OPEN: Few players are as experienced at U.S. Open qualifying than Kevin Sutherland. The 49-year-old from Sacramento, California, qualified for the eighth time in the U.S. Open (he was exempt twice), even though he hasn't played a PGA Tour event since last August.

''You play golf, and when you get done, you see where you are,'' Sutherland said Tuesday after qualifying in San Francisco.

Sutherland has played sparingly since a neck injury. A former World Golf Championship winner (Match Play), he has asked for only one exemption in his career, at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-am. He didn't get it. Instead, Sutherland drove down to Monterey as the sixth alternate and played a practice round at Spyglass Hill with longtime friend Paul Goydos.

Oddly enough, the first exemption he received was a few weeks ago from the USGA - to the U.S. Senior Open at Oak Tree. Sutherland turns 50 on July 4. He would have qualified on his own through career money, except the cutoff for the exemption was before he turned 50. The USGA asked him to write a letter asking for an exemption.

''I think they gave it more because it was a technicality than it was me,'' Sutherland said.

PADRAIG'S ROLE: Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley, longtime friends and World Cup partners for Ireland, had dinner in McGinley's home in London recently and covered just about every subject but one - the Ryder Cup.

McGinley is Europe's captain for the September matches in Scotland. Harrington has fallen out of the world 200 and last played in the Ryder Cup in 2010 as a captain's pick. He would seem to be an ideal vice captain.

''He'd never bring it up. I'd never bring it up,'' Harrington told Greg Allen of RTE radio in Ireland. ''Anyway, I would rather him be completely neutral when it comes to something like that.''

Harrington, however, left no doubt he'd take the job.

''I hope to be a Ryder Cup captain myself someday, and I see being a vice captain as part of the learning curve for that,'' he said.

DIVOTS: Patrick Rodgers is trying to make the most with whatever starts he can get on the PGA Tour. That's why he turned down an exemption into 36-hole sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, because he would have had to play the U.S. Open as a pro, and the Stanford star needs as much money (FedEx Cup points) as possible. Alas, the strategy didn't work when Rodgers didn't make it out of local qualifying. He makes his pro debut at the Travelers Championship a week after the U.S. Open. ... Pinehurst Resort & Country Club has acquired National Golf Club, which was designed by Jack Nicklaus and first opened in 1989. It will be renamed Pinehurst No. 9 and will be available to resort guests in July. ... Nick Faldo plans to play the Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen a week before the British Open at Royal Liverpool. ... The BMW Championship will return to Conway Farms north of Chicago in 2015.

STAT OF THE WEEK: In his last three PGA Tour events, Rory McIlroy is a combined 12 over par in the second round, and 35 under in the other three rounds.

FINAL WORD: ''I don't think age was a factor. I think desire was a factor.'' - Jack Nicklaus, going five years without a major from 41 until 46.

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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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.”