Alls Right in the World of Sammy
What is Sammy Rachels doing making a living playing professional golf? Hell never know. The pride of DeFuniak Springs, which is a little community in the panhandle of Florida, Rachels is a 50-year-old who still believes he will wake up someday and find he was just dreaming.
I keep looking over my shoulder expecting to see the FBI, Rachels says. I mean, this is a great life. I know this cant be legal.
Sammy Rachels has had the same P.O. box all his life. He is married to Pia, whose father delivered him. He played the PGA Tour a little some 20 years ago, but a bad back eventually knocked him out for good. He took a club pro job close to home in Florida and discovered it was just what he had been looking for.
As he closed in on 50, he began thinking the what ifs of a million other guys. Suddenly, hes on the tour, won two tournaments, and last week played in the Senior Tour Championship as one of the top 31 money-winners this year.
Hes the guy down the street in a pair of jeans, old Chevy cap, and a beard. He won in Nashville, then at Napa Valley, and he can hardly believe its happened to him. The Nashville win alone paid him $240,000.
First of all, they have a pro-am and I took home free shirts, free balls, free seats, all kinds of stuff, said Rachels. I said, I just won a quarter of a million dollars. I dont need this stuff now. Where were you guys a year ago?
Rachels has a hard time believing it. He never will. Hes a country boy, and he never will get used to the champagne-and-caviar life.
Never, he said emphatically. I mean, I am not a secure player. Im not a confident player. I think Im a fairly confident person with who I am ' if that makes any sense.
But I think I could win five tournaments in a row, and the sixth tournament Im afraid Im going to duck-hook my tee ball. And thats the way I feel.
Rachels still doesnt have a club contract. This particular day, he was wearing a white shirt with an Adams Golf logo and a Titleist cap. He isnt paid to wear any certain brand, the shirt just happened to be clean ' not necessarily a prerequisite - and he grabbed it.
I use their irons, he said of Adams. But I dont get paid to play anything. Not a dime from anybody. They gave me shirts, and Im glad to wear them. Tour motto: if its free, get three.
His nearest neighbor lives in the Florida panhandle a mile from him. Its a quiet life, a good life, one not prone to make him supremely self-confidant in the world of big-time athletics. He thought the hillbilly life would be his life until he breathed his last. And then
I made myself not think of doing this until I was well past 49, he said. Im sure I was afraid I would fail. In a little pond, I could still be a big fish if the pond were small enough.
A couple of little club pro things there, I was still the guy to beat. But sustaining play for a whole week? My first tournament when I went back out to play for a week, I nearly died. Thats just because I played so little golf for so long. There were a lot of years when I would play 20 rounds in a year.
Rachels paused a moment to reflect on the good fortune that has befallen him this year. Could it really be? Naw, it couldnt really be ole Sammy.
Its not like I thought I couldnt win, but I just never entertained the thought that I could win a tournament on the Senior Tour, much less two of them, he said.
He didnt think he could win, but he thought he could earn lots of money by panhandle Florida standards. That would be, oh, about $50,000 or so a year. If he could make $100,000, he could live life like a king. So he would take the leavings for a couple of years and steal away into the night with whatever earnings he could before returning to the life of a little club pro.
I did think I could $10-20,000 em to death, said Rachels. Thats the prime area of motivation for doing it to begin with, was a mercenary attitude. I knew how much money I was making working. And I could make more than that very, very easily out here. You could come out here and make $400,000 a year and they would call you a failure. That was a lot of the logic I used to make me practice and play hard.
So he was shocked beyond belief to win not just once, but twice, against the Hale Irwins and Tom Kites and Tom Watsons. This is Sammy Rachels, gentleman hillbilly, not S. Tindol Rachels III, golfer extraordinaire.
You do that thing where you can be silent and thought a fool ' or you can speak up and confirm it. As long as I wasnt playing, I could still be real good. It gets easy not to play. You get a lot of respect, as long as you dont come out here shooting 80s all the time, he said.
Sammy and Pia turned and left Gaillardia Country Club and its rows of million-dollar homes. They had things to do. It was time to find a place to park the motorhome. Life is good when you dont require many things to clutter it up.
Tiger putts way into contention at The Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – When Tiger Woods benched his trusty Scotty Cameron blade putter last month at the Quicken Loans National for a new TaylorMade mallet-headed version some saw it as a sign of desperation, but if his performance on Carnoustie’s greens on Saturday were any indication it could end up being a calculated success.
Woods stormed into contention on Day 3 with a 5-under 66 to move to within shouting distance of the lead at The Open, thanks in large part to his vastly improved putting.
“I hit so many good putts out there today, and this week from distance, I've had really good feels,” said Woods, whose 29 putts on Saturday belies his performance on Carnoustie’s greens. “Even as this golf course was changing and evolving, I've maintained my feels with the putter. I've made a couple of putts from about 40 to 60 feet, which is nice. I just feel like I've been able to roll the ball.”
The highlight of Woods’ round came at the par-4 ninth hole when he charged in a 40-footer for birdie from the front edge of the green to begin a run of three consecutive birdies. Perhaps more impressive, he didn’t have a three-putt, and has only had two all week, which is always a bonus on links courses.
Woods temporarily took a share of the lead with a lengthy birdie putt at the 14th hole and scrambled for a par save at the last after his drive nearly found the Barry Burn.
“I hit a few putts that I think should have gone in from 20, 30 feet today," he said. "So that's always a good sign.”
TT postscript: A 66, he's in contention - awesome
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Here are a few things I think I think after Tiger Woods went berserk Saturday and shot 5-under 66 to vault up the leaderboard at The Open at Carnoustie:
• THAT WAS AWESOME!
At 4:13PM here in Scotland, when Tiger two-putted for birdie on the par-5 14th hole, he held a share of the lead in a major championship. It was once unthinkable, but it happened. I saw it with my own eyes.
• Tiger’s last two weekend rounds in the 60s in The Open both happened at Carnoustie and both happened on July 21. In 2007, Woods shot 69 here. On Saturday, that score was clipped by three shots. Tiger shot 65 in the second round of The Open at Royal Liverpool in 2006. He won his third claret jug that week. Tiger last shoot 66 in a major during the second round of the 2011 Masters.
• This is the sixth time that Tiger has recorded three consecutive rounds of par of better to start The Open. He went on to win three of the previous five times.
• One bad swing, the only bad swing of the day according to Tiger, produced the luckiest of breaks. Standing on the 18th tee with an iron in hand, Tiger pulled his tee shot that hit on the top of the Barry Burn and very easily could’ve ended in a watery grave. Instead it ended in thick rough, some 250 yards from the pin. Tiger punted it up the fairway, but got up and down from 83 yards to save par and shoot 66. “I hit my number,” he quipped about hitting wedge to 2 feet.
• On the other hand, the lone bogey came from one poor putt. On the par-3 16th hole, with half of Scotland screaming his name, Tiger missed a 7-footer for par. It was deflating at the time because the last three holes are so difficult. Pars on the last two holes were stellar.
• Final stats: 12 of 15 fairways, 14 of 18 greens and 29 total putts. Tiger hit six drivers and one 3-wood, proving that he was way more aggressive. He hit four drivers on Friday and only one on Thursday.
• One of the aforementioned drivers that he hit on the ninth hole was well left and in some thick round, 170 yards from the hole. A safe approach to 40 feet set him up for and easy two-putt par. But he slammed the putt home and made an improbable birdie. “I hit so many good putts out there today, and this week from distance, I’ve had really good feels,” he said.
• In his own words about his chances of winning: “It certainly is possible. I’ve shown that I’ve been there close enough with a chance to win this year. Given what happened the last few years, I didn’t know if that would ever happen again, but here I am with a chance coming Sunday in a major championship. It’s going to fun.”
Yes, yes it is.
Watch: Guy sleeps next to many beers at Open
It's Moving Day at The Open Championship for all but one sedentary fan.
Cameras caught this potentially browned-out man having himself a Saturday snooze on the browned-out grasses of Carnoustie:
Browned out. That's a great term. Glad it's in the public domain. We've been using it all weekend. I imagine we'll continue to use it. A lot.
Watch: Tiger makes 6 birdies, 1 amazing par in Rd. 3
Tiger Woods started the third round of The Open at even par, having made seven birdies and seven bogeys over the first 36 holes at Carnoustie.
Following three pars to start on Saturday, Woods went on a birdie binge.
No. 1 came with this putt at the par-4 fourth.
No. 2 with this two-putt at the par-5 sixth.
No. 3 thanks to this 30-footer at the par-4 ninth.
No. 4 after nearly jarring his approach shot on the par-4 10th.
No. 5 when he almost drove the green at the par-4 11th and two-putted, from just off the green, from 95 feet.
And No. 6, which gave him a share of the lead, came courtesy another two-putt at the par-5 14th.
Woods bogeyed the par-3 16th to drop out of the lead and almost dropped - at least - one more shot at the par-4 18th. But his tee shot got a lucky bounce and he turned his good fortune into a par.
Woods shot 5-under 66 and finished the day at 5 under par.