Am Tour: Former pro athletes Babineaux, Figgins find new competitive edge in golf 

By Brandon TuckerSeptember 14, 2016, 10:06 pm

In what has become an annual tradition of sorts at the Golf Channel Am Tour National Championship, we ran into some ex-pro athletes you likely know well, having hung up the spikes on the big stage to now compete in amateur golf.

The most notable past pro-athlete of recent memory, Mark Mulder, has since moved on from his days competing on Am Tour to turn pro and win the American Century Celebrity Classic in Lake Tahoe. This year at Innisbrook, two well-known ex-pros are competing in this Hogan flight (8.0-11.9 handicaps).

Making his way all the way from the Pacific Northwest is former NFL safety and cornerback Jordan Babineaux. Babineaux spent his career with several teams and was most notably known for his time with the Seattle Seahawks from 2004-2010.

Known on the gridiron for a handful of game-changing plays at the end of games, he’ll be the first to admit he was "clutch" coming down the stretch of his first Am Tour major championship victory this summer at the Turning Stone Classic. After a first-round 77 that put him solidly in the lead, he went five-over over the final two holes in the final round to win by just one shot. Babineaux admits he felt a new kind of pressure during the experience. 

"This is different," said Babineaux. "You can’t hit anybody in golf. In football, you can make a big hit and feel jacked up.

"It's different pressure when you're not depending on anyone else."

Babineaux grew up in Port Arthur, Texas and played competitive golf. He continued to play a little bit during his football career, but didn’t start getting the itch for golf competition until last year. He joined the Golf Channel Am Tour last year and qualified for Nationals, but didn’t make the trip to PGA West. This year, after an eight-event campaign capped by his major win at Turning Stone, he decided to make the trip cross-country from Seattle during football season to Innisbrook Resort. He enlisted in the services of caddie Eric Meller, a PGA Tour caddie for Jerry Kelly, for the event.

"When I tell people I’m playing on the Am Tour," said Babineaux, "I tell them I’m not a professional golfer. I’m a professional competitor."

Desmond "Chone" Figgins tees off at Innisbrook Resort & Club during Round 1. 

While Babineaux is rekindling his competitive golf spirit, the game is a new endeavor for former Major League Baseball player Desmond “Chone” Figgins.

Figgins, 39, who played for the Angels, Mariners and Dodgers during his baseball career, now resides in Florida. His Am Tour schedule in 2016 has been a busy one: 27 events, most of which having taken place throughout the state. 

Figgins qualified for this year’s nationals in his first event of the year, placing T-3 at The Grand Cypress Challenge in Orlando last fall. But since then, he’s been moved up a flight to Hogan and has won two local events but hasn’t placed as high in the majors. He comes to Nationals

Figgins didn’t get into golf until later into his MLB career, when he went out to play on an off-day spring training with Garrett Anderson

"The more competitive golf you play,” said Figgins. "The more you understand how to play golf."

Figgins, who was an all-star in baseball on the strength of his hits and base running, isn’t sure how much further he’ll be able to take his competitive golf game, but he’s excited for the new ride.

"I just want to to get better," he said. "I’m young enough, you never know what could happen."

Halfway thru Nationals competition, Figgins (T-17) and Babineaux (T-27) find themselves in pretty good shape in the 153-person Hogan flight.

Golf Channel Am Tour National Championships: Leaderboard | Full Coverage

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Kang 'going with the flow,' one back of A. Jutanugarn

By Associated PressOctober 18, 2018, 9:43 am

SHANGHAI – Ariya Jutanugarn shot a 6-under 66 to take a one-stroke lead after the first round of the Buick LPGA Shanghai tournament on Thursday.

The Thai player had six birdies in a bogey-free round, including three straight on Nos. 4, 5, and 6.

''I always have so much fun when I play in Asia,'' said Jutanugarm, who added her key was ''just not to expect anything. Just go out have fun and enjoy everything.''

Sei Young Kim and Danielle Kang (both 67) were one shot back, with six other players only two shots off the lead.

Full-field scores from the Buick LPGA Shanghai

The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

Kang credited her improved play to new coach Butch Harmon.

''We just kind of simplify the game a lot,'' the American said. ''Just trying to calm it down and get back to how I used to play. Just more feel golf. Thinking less mechanics and going with the flow.''

Kang tied for third last week at the KEB Hana Bank championship in Incheon, South Korea.

''Today's round went very smooth,'' Kang said. ''Coming off very good momentum after last week, and I've been hitting the ball really well, playing great. I've just been trusting my game and just keep giving myself birdie chances. They kept rolling in.''

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Sharpshooting Reavie (68) leads tough CJ Cup

By Associated PressOctober 18, 2018, 9:34 am

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea – Chez Reavie overcame cool, windy conditions for a 4-under 68 and a one-stroke lead after the first round of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges on Thursday.

In the breezy conditions, the back nine of the course posed the most difficulty, but the 36-year-old American made two birdies and negotiated it in 35 after starting on the 10th tee, and then picked up three shots on his final nine.

Danny Willett and Si Woo Kim shot 69 while the large group at 70, and tied for fourth, included Ian PoulterNick Watney and Michael Kim.

Brooks Koepka, playing in his first tournament since being voted PGA Tour Player of the Year, shot 71 and was in a group three strokes behind and tied for 11th, which included Paul Casey and Hideki Matsuyama.

Jason Dufner and Brandt Snedeker shot 72. Defending champion Justin Thomas had a 73, as did Jason Day, Ernie Els and J.B. Holmes.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos

Marc Leishman, who won last week's CIMB Classic in Malaysia, and Adam Scott had 75s.

Reavie's only PGA Tour win came at the 2008 Canadian Open, and he finished second in back-to-back starts last year in Phoenix and Pebble Beach, losing at Phoenix in a playoff.

''It was a great day, I hit the ball really well,'' Reavie said of Thursday's round. ''The wind was blowing really hard all day long so you had to really start the ball well and keep it out of the wind. Luckily, I was able to do that.''

Despite the windy conditions, Reavie found all 14 fairways off the tee and hit 15 out of 18 greens in regulation, which he felt was the key to a good score.

''It's tough because once you get above the hole with this wind, it's really hard to chip it close,'' he said. ''The more greens you can hit, the better and that was key to my game.''

Willett, who has struggled with injuries and form since winning the 2016 Masters and has dropped to No. 342 in the world, made five birdies and two bogeys in his 69. Willett has just one top-five finish since finishing second in the Italian Open in September 2016.

Having committed to play on the PGA Tour by taking up membership this season, Willet said it was important to make a quick start to the season.

''I've done two tours for a couple of years, and it's very difficult,'' Willett said. ''We committed to play on the PGA Tour, to play predominantly over here this year and next. It's nice to kind of get in and get some points early if you can.''

The second of three PGA Tour events in three weeks in Asia has a 78-player field and no cut. Only 19 players broke par on Thursday.

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Koepka takes edge over Thomas in race for world No. 1

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 18, 2018, 5:50 am

Brooks Koepka got the inside track against Justin Thomas in their head-to-head battle this week for world No. 1.

Koepka shot 1-under 71 on Thursday at the CJ Cup, while Thomas shot 1-over 73.

Chez Reavie leads after 18 holes at Nine Bridges in Juju Island, South Korea, following a 4-under 68.

Koepka, currently world No. 3, needs to win this week or finish solo second [without Thomas winning] in order to reach the top spot in the rankings for the first time in his career. Thomas, currently No. 4, must win to reclaim the position he surrendered in June.

One week after 26 under par proved victorious in Malaysia, birdies weren’t as aplenty to begin the second leg of the PGA Tour’s Asian swing.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos

In chilly, windy conditions, Koepka and Thomas set out alongside one another – with Sungjae Im (73) as the third – on the 10th hole. Koepka bogeyed his first hole of the day on his way to turning in even-par 36. Thomas was one worse, with two bogeys and a birdie.

On their second nine, Koepka was steady with two birdies and a bogey to reach red figures for the day.

"I felt like I played good. I hit some good shots, missed a couple putts early and kind put myself in a little bit of trouble on the back nine, my front, but rallied pretty nicely," Koepka said. "I felt like I found a bit of rhythm. But it's a difficult day, anything under par, level par is a good score out there today. I'm pleased with it."

Thomas, however, had two birdies and a double bogey on his inward half. The double came at the par-4 fourth, where he four-putted. He nearly made up those two strokes on his final hole, the par-5 ninth, when a wild approach shot [as you can see below] traversed the contours of the green and settled 6 feet from the hole. But Thomas missed the short eagle putt and settled for birdie.

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Watch: Thomas' approach takes wild ride on CJ Cup green

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 18, 2018, 5:17 am

Two over par with one hole to play in Round 1 of the CJ Cup, Justin Thomas eyed an eagle at the par-5 ninth [his 18th].

And he nearly got it, thanks to his ball beautifully navigating the curves of the green.

Thomas hit a big draw for his second shot and his ball raced up the green's surface, towards the back, where it caught the top of ridge and funneled down to within 6 feet of the hole.

Unfortunately for Thomas, the defending champion, he missed the eagle putt and settled for birdie and a 1-over 73.