Am Tour: Championship, Palmer flights crowned at 2016 National Championship

By Brandon TuckerSeptember 17, 2016, 2:01 am

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- It came down to a final putt on the 18th hole in the Championship flight. Gant Bills, from Plano, Texas had a five-shot lead going into the final round at the Copperhead Course, but watched it deteriorate to nothing at the 8th hole.

By the time they reached the start of the Snake Pit at No. 16, he was two up on Earl Morley, from Palm Desert, California. Morley and Bills were tied for the lead halfway thru the event before Bills pulled away in round three. But Morley made his presence felt in the final round. 

On the 18th, with a one-shot lead, Morley striped it down the middle and Bills found the bunker. Facing 205 yards in the sand to an uphill green, his 3-iron found the putting surface. Morley had about 20 feet for birdie to tie, but missed, and Bills' two-putt was enough.

Morley, despite falling short, can take comforta in the fact that his final-round, one-under 70 meant he was the only golfer to break par on the Copperhead Course in the entire Nationals field and finished ten shots clear of third place, held by Eric Condry of Fresno, California.

Bills played on the golf team at Texas Tech for two years in 1997-98, but following his college career, he walked away form the game for awhile.

"I didn't pick up a club for seven years," he said. "I kinda lost the love for the game.

"Then I started playing on the weekends, starting having fun, then I just kinda got back into it."

Bills, 37 years old with two small kids, is a member at Prestonwood Country Club in Dallas. He doesn't practice like he used to back in college, and admits his game isn't quite grooved like back in his hayday, but was able to play four rounds at Nationals in 287 (3-over par). While he had a few top 10 finishes in events in college, he admits this nationals win is his first true victory since back in his AJGA days.

This isn't the last big event for Bills. He'll ride this wave of confidence into his club championship in October and then consider some other national qualifying amateur events next season along with his Golf Channel Am Tour schedule.

Steady Prok takes home Palmer flight

Many of the golfers in the Palmer flight (4.0-7.9 handicaps) certainly show flashes of golf good enough to flirt with scratch. For Joshua Prok, from Baberton, Ohio, a recent 67 shot during a casual round revealed he may very well have scratch game in him somewhere. Now 31, he didn't pick up golf until his baseball career ended in high school due to a throwing injury.

"It was addicting," he said, liking the fact that unlike baseball, golf is a sport you can play and practice by yourself.

He joined the Golf Channel Am Tour in 2013 as a player who normally shot in the high-80s.

Fast forward to 2016 and Prok found himself close to the lead all four rounds in his first national championship. Early in the final round, he was two shots back, but made a 25-footer for bogey on the 5th hole and birdied the next two holes to take the lead.

With a two-shot lead in the final round heading to the 18th tee. A brief lightning delay of 30 minutes forced him to sit and think about a tough tee shot coming up on Innisbrook's Island course.

"I was a bit nervous," Prok said. "The 18th tee shot is kinda tough, sitting there, dwelling on everything that can go wrong.

"But I got up there and I hit it good."

Prok shot 76 and won by two shots over Cole Phillips, from Phenix, Alabama, who bounced back from a 3rd round 84 on the Copperhead course with a 76 of his own. Greg Bubela, from Whitby, Ontario, Canada, placed third. Also in the final group was Michael Rizarri, who won the National Championship in 2015 in the Hogan flight. Now in the thick of the race for the Palmer crown, he found himself in the lead heading to the back nine thanks to largely to great scrambling around the green. But ultimately his ball striking wasn't up to snuff, hitting just one green all day. 

"They just started throwing darts," said Rizarri of his playing partners. "[Prok] didn't have a putt outside ten feet.

"It shows what I have to improve on. But I'm up for the challenge and doing it again."

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Dunlap, in 'excruciating pain,' shares early Dominion lead

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:29 pm

RICHMOND, Va. – Scott Dunlap and Fran Quinn shot 5-under 67 on Friday to share the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Fighting a left wrist injury that will require surgery, Dunlap matched Quinn with a closing birdie on the par-5 18th on The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course.

''Maybe excruciating pain is the key to playing good golf because I'm not getting nervous on a shot, you're just trying to get through it,'' Dunlap said. ''The worst parts are gripping it and getting the club started ... that's when that bone hits that bone.''

The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 on Sunday will get spots next week in the Invesco QQQ Championship in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

The 55-year-old Dunlap entered the week 29th in the standings. Playing through the wrist injury, he's coming off ties for ninth and seventh in his last two starts.

''I think I finally taped it the right way,'' Dunlap said. ''Or maybe it's the pain meds kicking in. I don't know, one of the two.''

Quinn is 64th in the standings.

''I finished up strong last year, too, kind of secured my privileges for the following year making eagle on 18,'' Quinn said. ''I played solid all day. I had a lot of opportunities. A couple hiccups.''

Jay Haas was a stroke back with Kent Jones, Stephen Ames, Woody Austin and Tim Petrovic. The 64-year-old Haas won the last of his 18 senior titles in 2016.

Vijay Singh and Miguel Angel Jimenez, second in the standings, were at 69 with Joey Sindelar, Tom Gillis, Billy MayfairLee Janzen, Glen Day and Gene Sauers.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer opened with a 70. The 61-year-old German star won the SAS Championship last week in North Carolina to take the points lead. He has two victories this year and 38 overall on the 50-and-over tour.

Defending Charles Schwab Cup champion Kevin Sutherland had a 71. He's 14th in the standings. No. 3 Jerry Kelly shot 72. No. 4 Scott McCarron, the 2016 tournament winner, had a 74.

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Weather continues to plague Valderrama Masters

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 7:55 pm

SOTOGRANDE, Spain  -- Marc Warren helped his chances of retaining his European Tour card by moving into a tie for second place behind Englishman Ashley Chesters at the rain-hit Andalucia Valderrama Masters on Friday.

Bad weather interrupted play for a second straight day at the Real Club Valderrama in southern Spain before darkness caused the second round to be suspended until Saturday, with overnight Chesters still ahead at 5-under.

Weather delays on Thursday, including a threat of lightning, had kept 60 golfers from finishing their opening round. They included Scottish player Warren, who went out on Friday and finished his first round with a 2-under 69.

He then made three birdies to go with one bogey on the first nine holes of the second round before play was halted. He joined Frenchman Gregory Bourdy one shot behind Chesters.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

''I'm hitting the ball as well as I have in a long time,'' Warren said. ''Hitting fairways and greens is the most important thing around here, so hopefully I wake up tomorrow with the same swing.''

Chesters and Bourdy were among several golfers unable to play a single hole in the second round on Friday.

Warren, a three-time European Tour winner, has struggled this season and needs a strong performance to keep his playing privileges for next year.

Currently ranked 144th, Warren needs to break into the top 116 to keep his card.

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Watch: Is this the up-and-down of the year?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 3:30 pm

Play away from the pin? Just because there's a tree in your way? Not Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Watch him channel some Arnie (or, more appropriately, some Seve) with this shot in the Valderrama Masters:

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Cut Line: Johnny's exit, Tiger's fatigue

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2018, 2:06 pm

In this week’s edition we bid farewell to the most outspoken and insightful analyst of his generation and examine a curious new interpretation that will require players to start paying attention to the small print.

Made Cut

Here’s Johnny. After nearly three decades Johnny Miller will hang up his microphone following next year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Miller called his first tournament as NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst in 1990 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and he told Cut Line this week that at 71 years old he’s ready to relax and spend time with his 24 grandchildren.

“I was the first guy with an open microphone,” Miller said. “That requires a lot of concentration. It’s not that I couldn’t do it but the handwriting was on the wall; it would be more of a challenge.”

Miller will be missed for his insight as much as his often-blunt deliveries, but it’s the latter that made him one of a kind.

A long ride to the right place. After nearly four years of legal wrangling a group of PGA Tour caddies dropped their class-action lawsuit against the circuit this week.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in early 2015 in an attempt by the caddies to secure marketing rights for the bibs they wear during tournaments as a way to create better healthcare and retirement benefits.

The district court largely ruled against the caddies and that ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year, but better healthcare options may still be in the cards for the caddies.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies.

Sajtinac told Cut Line that the Tour has offered a potential increase to the longtime stipend they give caddies for healthcare and in a statement the circuit said talks are ongoing.

“The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

It’s rare when both sides of a lawsuit walk away feeling good about themselves, but this particular outcome appears to have ended with a favorable outcome for everybody involved.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A long haul. Tiger Woods acknowledged what many had speculated about, telling a group this week at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach that his season-ending push and his first victory in five years took a physical toll at the Ryder Cup.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

Woods went 0-4 for the U.S. team in France and appeared particularly tired on Sunday following the European victory at Le Golf National.

For Woods the result was worth the effort with his victory at the Tour Championship ending a five-year drought, but his play and concession that it impacted him at the Ryder Cup does create some interesting questions for U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who sent Woods out for both team sessions on Saturday.

Tweet(s) of the week: @BobEstesPGA (Bob Estes) “I spoke to a past Ryder Cup captain yesterday. We both agreed that there should be a week off before the [Ryder Cup] to adequately rest and prepare.”

Given Woods’ comments this week it seems likely he would agree that a break – which may become the norm with the Tour season ending three weeks earlier – would be helpful, but Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts had a slightly different take in response to Estes’ tweet. “I’m afraid a different schedule wasn’t gonna make the fairways wider. On that particular course with how we played, [the United States] had absolutely no chance. Hasn’t more than half the euros played playoffs too?” Colsaerts tweeted.

It’s never too early to get a jump on the 2020 trash talking.

Missed Cut

By the book. The USGA and R&A’s most recent rulemaking hill involved the use of green-reading materials. On Monday the game’s rule-makers unveiled new interpretations on what will be allowed starting next year.

Out will be the legal-sized reams of information that had become ubiquitous on Tour, replaced by pocket-sized books that will include a limited scale (3/8 inch to 5 yards).

While the majority of those involved were in favor of a scaled-back approach to what to many seemed like information overload, it did seem like a curious line to draw.

Both sides of the distance debate continue to await which way the rule-makers will go on this front and, at least in the United States, participation continues to be a challenge.

Banning the oversized green-reading books may have been a positive step, but it was a micro issue that impacted a wildly small portion of the golf public. Maybe it’s time for the rule-makers to start looking at more macro issues.