Golfers should give thanks; 99 reasons why

By Jason SobelNovember 26, 2014, 11:59 pm

Ah, Thanksgiving. That one day each November when we gluttonously fill ourselves with copious amounts of turkey and count our collective blessings.

Well, golfers – and golf fans – are no different. We’ve all got plenty to be thankful for once again this year. Here’s a list of 99 of those things.

Why 99? Well, you’ll just have to read to the end to find out.

1. Because it takes only a few swings of some glorified sticks to hit a small ball into an only slightly larger hole in the ground some quarter-mile away.

2. Seriously. If you’d never heard of golf and someone suggested this as a realistic possibility, you’d think they were crazy.

3. I mean, really, the entire premise of the game sounds like some sort of outlandish bar bet.

4. Speaking of which: The 19th hole. Always be thankful for the 19th hole.

5. Because of those first footsteps on a dewy green at sunrise.

6. Those final swings of a quicker-than-lightning round at twilight.

7. And yeah, the twilight rate.

8. The wishful thinking that everything else in life had a twilight rate.

9. Because of the golf gods. They’re always watching.

10. So you replace your divots.

11. You fix your ballmarks.

12. Maybe a few other people’s ballmarks, too - just for the brownie points.

13. And you hope – no, you know – that at some point, in a tightly contested match when you need it most, a drive will carom off a tree and back into a fairway or a putt will take the side door into the bottom of the cup.

14. The golf gods don’t always taketh away. Sometimes they giveth.

15. Because of the pimento cheese sandwiches at Augusta National Golf Club.

16. The egg salad sandwiches at Augusta National Golf Club, which help mask the taste of the pimento cheese sandwiches.

17. Being confident enough in your own palate to insist the pimento cheese sandwiches aren’t anything special - even suspecting eternal, worldwide brainwashing from the folks in green jackets to convince us that they are some sort of delicacy.

18. Being smart enough to not propose this theory to anybody wearing a green jacket.

19. Because of Arnold Palmer.

20. Jack Nicklaus.

21. Gary Player.

22. The reputations of legends too often become stained and pockmarked after so many years of living in the spotlight and somewhere, somehow, ruffling our illusions of what they are supposed to be. That has never happened with golf’s ubiquitous Big Three.

23. It never will, either.

24. Tiger Woods.

25. Not all legends have to be infallible, you know.

26. Because of your local chapter of the fraternal order of golfers.

27. No, that’s not a real thing. But it refers to that knowing nod you give to the guy in the Starbucks line who’s wearing the same Titleist hat as you and the kinship you each share without ever saying a word.

28. How your mind immediately turns to whether you could beat that guy.

29. How after about three seconds of inner debate, you decide, “Oh yeah, I could take him.”

30.Because of Donald Ross. Old Tom Morris. A.W. Tillinghast. Alister MacKenzie. C.B. Macdonald.

31. Unless you wish the game was played in dreary, expansive, unimaginative grass fields, then be thankful for this quintet and all other influencers of early course design whose concepts have transcended generations.

32. But really, fellas: Did you have to make it so freakin’ hard?

33. Because the scorecard knows no age.

34. Tom Watson nearly won another Open Championship at 59.

35. Lydia Ko is kicking butt and taking names at 17.

36. Meanwhile, you can lose equally to the octogenarian who hits it a buck-fifty off the tee and that hotshot 12-year-old in the Rickie Fowler get-up.

37. Because of those famous movie quotes you say every time you play, no exceptions.

38. “Gambling is illegal at Bushwood, sir – and I never slice.”

39. “You don’t need to be thinking immortality. You need to be thinking, ‘Hit the 7-iron!’”

40. “Why don’t you go to your home? That’s your home! Are you too good for your home?”

41. Knowing whether you’re more of a Judge Smails, or a Roy McEvoy, or a Happy Gilmore.

42. Because of team golf.

43. Scrambles.

44. Shambles.

45. Better ball.

46. Alternate shot.

47. Oh, alternate shot. Do yourself a favor: The next time you and three buddies only have time for a quick nine holes, play 18 in an alternate-shot match instead. Then see if the losing team is still on speaking terms afterward.

48. Just don’t – I repeat, do not – wear matching sweaters in team golf.

49. Unless you’re playing in the Ryder Cup.

50. Wait, scratch that. Even in the Ryder Cup.

51. Because of your cartoonishly over-the-top swing that looks like you’re trying to hammer the grass back into the ground.

52. Your too-quick worm-burner pull-hook that sees less time in the air than Phil Mickelson leaping after a Masters victory.

53. The idea that, hell, if Jim Furyk can turn himself into one of the game’s best players with that tortured move through the ball, then who’s to say your repugnant swing can’t work, too?

54. Because of the handicap index.

55. Think about it: In no other sport can you play against the world’s best player on a level playing field based on your capabilities.

56. That said, don’t play against the world’s best player. You won’t win, index be damned.

57. Because of how social media has made the golf world so much smaller.

58. You’ll someday preach to your kids about crawling through a gallery 10 people deep just to press yourself against the rope line so you could yell to Ian Poulter that you hated his pants. Now you can just tweet him.

59. Or most other famous pros, for that matter. They might even respond to the criticism.

60. You could even tweet me about how much you hate this column. In fact, you’re probably doing that right now.

61. Because of the magic numbers.

62. Once PEDs ruined baseball’s hallowed all-time home run record of 755, the most ethereal number in career-long sports accomplishments became 18 – as in, the total of Jack Nicklaus’ major championships.

63. And sure, 59 has become more attainable in recent years, but it still holds mysterious allure when it shows up on the rare scorecard.

64. Because of the interlocking grip.

65. The overlapping grip.

66. Cross-handed.

67. Left hand low.

68. The claw.

69. The fact that there’s no right or wrong way to hold the club.

70. Just don’t anchor the damned thing. For the love of everything virtuous and true in the game, just don’t anchor it.

71. Because of that time you made an eagle in such unbearable heat that your sweat-soaked hat went right into the garbage can when you finished.

72. That time you made a birdie in torrential rain.

73. That time you made a par in a snowstorm.

74. That time you made a bogey in a hurricane.

75. OK, so maybe the hole was only playing into a three-club wind, but it was still a pretty damned good bogey.

76. Because playing with a rangefinder means knowing the exact yardage to the flagstick.

77. But playing without a rangefinder means you get to estimate and play more of a feel type of swing.

78. Hey, striving for perfection can get annoying after a while.

79. Because the future is so bright. Leave those doom and gloom scenarios about the industry to the bean-counters. Just look at the potential on the game’s highest level.

80. Rory McIlroy is a bona fide superstar at 25. Rickie Fowler is the same age and fresh off top fives at every major.

81. Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama and Patrick Reed and …

82. I can keep going.

83. Fine. I will: Brooks Koepka. Victor Dubuisson. Harris English. Matteo Manassero. Thorbjorn Olesen. Ryo Ishikawa. Cameron Smith. Seung-Yul Noh. Yup, the future is bright.

84. Because of Footgolf.

85. Yes, I’m serious about this one. Footgolf might only tangentially bring more golfers to the game, but it undeniably brings more traffic to the golf course, which in turn is a huge benefit to all those seeking the betterment of the game.

86. The understanding that golf courses being used strictly for traditional golf and nothing else is a major reason why so many golf courses are failing right now.

87. Because there are no trades.

88. No free agency.

89. Want to know where your favorite pro golfer will be playing next year? Just ask him.

90. Because of the statistical research of Columbia Business School professor Mark Broadie, who concluded that long game is more important than short game.

91. Why? Simple: There is a greater differential of success between players of varying levels the farther they are from the hole.

92. Which doesn’t mean you can’t also be thankful for your Uncle Fred, who chirps, “Drive for show, putt for dough” every time you stripe a tee shot.

93. Especially when it’s followed by that warm, fuzzy feeling knowing he’s wrong as you nod your head in response.

94. Because of mulligans.

95. And the idea that real golfers don’t take mulligans.

96. And the idea that, hey, if your playing partners don’t mind and you’re not gonna set the course record anyway and the tee shot you just hit sliced halfway to Topeka, sure, you’re allowed to go ahead and hit another one.

97. And the endless ribbing you’ll receive for doing it.

98. And how little you’ll care when the second one splits the fairway.

99. Because at some point – whether it was your fifth or 15th or 50th round – you finally kept it in double-digits.

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Lopez fires flawless 63 for lead in Arkansas

By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 12:41 am

ROGERS, Ark. – Since its first year on the LPGA Tour in 2007, the crowds at the NW Arkansas Championship have belonged to Stacy Lewis.

Another former University of Arkansas star staked her claim as the hometown favorite Friday when Gaby Lopez shot a career-low 8-under 63 to take the first-round lead at Pinnacle Country Club.

Like Lewis, the two-time winner of the tournament, Lopez starred as a three-time All-American for the Razorbacks before joining the LPGA Tour in 2016. Despite flashes of potential, Lopez had yet to join Lewis among the ranks of the world's best - missing the cut in her last two tournaments and entering this week ranked 136th in the world.

For a day, at least, the Mexican standout felt right at home atop the leaderboard in her adopted home state.

''I feel like home,'' Lopez said. ''I feel so, so comfortable out here, because I feel that everyone and every single person out here is just rooting for us.''

Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

Moriya Jutanugarn was a stroke back along with Minjee Lee, Catriona Matthew, Nasa Hataoka, Lizette Salas, Mirim Lee and Aditi Ashok. Six others finished at 6 under on a day when only 26 of the 144 players finished over par, thanks to some mid-week rain that softened the greens and calm skies throughout the day.

Jutanugarn finished second at the tournament last year and is trying to win for the second time on the LPGA Tour this year. Her younger sister, Ariya, is already a two-time winner this year and shot an opening-round 66.

Lewis, the former world No. 1 who won the event in 2007 in 2014, finished with a 66. She's expecting her first child in early November

Defending champion So Yeon Ryu, coming off a victory Sunday in Michigan, shot a 67.

Friday was Lopez's long-awaited day to standout, though, much to the delight of the pro-Arkansas crowd.

After missing the cut her last two times out, Lopez took some time off and returned home to Mexico City to rest her mind and work on her game. The work paid off with two straight birdies to open her round and a 6-under 30 on her front nine.

Lopez needed only 25 putts and finished two shots off the course record of 61, and she overcame a poor drive on the par-5 18th to finish with a par and keep her place at the top of the leaderboard. Her previous low score was a 64 last year, and she matched her career best by finishing at 8 under.

''(Rest) is a key that no one really truly understands until you're out here,'' Lopez said. ''... Sometimes resting is actually the part you've got to work on.''

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Harman rides hot putter to Travelers lead

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:28 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – There are plenty of big names gathered for the Travelers Championship, and through two rounds they’re all chasing Brian Harman.

Harman opened with a 6-under 64, then carded a 66 during Friday’s morning wave to become the only player to finish the first two rounds in double digits under par. The southpaw is currently riding a hot putter, leading the field in strokes gained: putting while rolling in 12 birdies and an eagle through his first 36 holes.

“Putted great today,” said Harman, who ranks 22nd on Tour this season in putting. “Got out of position a couple of times, but I was able to get myself good looks at it. I started hitting the ball really well coming down the stretch and made a few birdies.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Harman, 31, has won twice on the PGA Tour, most recently at last year’s Wells Fargo Championship. While he doesn’t have a win this year, he started his season in the fall by reeling off five straight finishes of T-8 or better to quickly install himself as one of the leaders in the season-long points race.

Now topping a leaderboard that includes the likes of Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy, he realizes that he’ll have his work cut out for him if he’s going to leave Connecticut with trophy No. 3.

“The putter has been really good so far, but I’ve been in position a lot. I’ve had a lot of good looks at it,” Harman said. “I’m just able to put a little pressure on the course right now, which is nice.”

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10-second rule costs Zach Johnson a stroke

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:06 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – Zach Johnson heads into the weekend one shot back at the Travelers Championship, but he was a matter of seconds away from being tied for the lead.

Johnson had an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 3 at TPC River Highlands, his 12th hole of the day, but left the ball hanging on the lip. As Johnson walked up to tap the ball in, it oscillated on the edge and eventually fell in without being hit.

Was it a birdie, or a par?

According to the Rules of Golf, and much to Johnson’s chagrin, the answer was a par. Players are afforded “reasonable” time to walk to the hole, and after that they are allowed to wait for 10 seconds to see if the ball drops of its own accord. After that, it either becomes holed by a player’s stroke, or falls in and leads to a one-shot penalty, resulting in the same score as if the player had hit it.

According to Mark Russell, PGA Tour vice president of rules and competitions, Johnson’s wait time until the ball fell in was between 16 and 18 seconds.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“Once he putts the ball, he’s got a reasonable amount of time to reach the hole,” Russell said. “Then once he reaches the hole, he’s got 10 seconds. After 10 seconds, the ball is deemed to be at rest.”

Johnson tried to emphasize the fact that the ball was oscillating as he stood over it, and even asked rules officials if marking his ball on the edge of the hole would have yielded a “bonus 10 seconds.” But after signing for a 2-under 68 that brought him within a shot of leader Brian Harman, the veteran took the ruling in stride.

“The 10-second rule has always been there. Vague to some degree,” Johnson said. “The bottom line is I went to tap it in after 10 seconds and the ball was moving. At that point, even if the ball is moving, it’s deemed to be at rest because it’s on the lip. Don’t ask me why, but that’s just the way it is.”

While Johnson brushed off any thoughts of the golf gods conspiring against him on the lip, he was beaming with pride about an unconventional par he made on No. 17 en route to a bogey-free round. Johnson sailed his tee shot well right into the water, but after consulting his options he decided to drop on the far side of the hazard near the 16th tee box.

His subsequent approach from 234 yards rolled to within 8 feet, and he calmly drained the putt for an unexpected save.

“I got a great lie. Just opened up a 4-hybrid, and it started over the grandstands and drew in there,” Johnson said. “That’s as good of an up-and-down as I’ve witnessed, or performed.”

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Travelers becoming marquee event for star players

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 11:29 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Get lost in the throngs following the defending champ, or caught up amongst the crowds chasing the back-to-back U.S. Open winner, and it’s easy to forget where this tournament was a little more than a decade ago.

The Travelers Championship was without a sponsor, without a worthwhile field, without a consistent date and on the verge of being jettisoned to the PGA Tour Champions schedule. The glory days of the old Greater Hartford Open had come and gone, and the PGA Tour’s ever-increasing machine appeared poised to leave little old Cromwell in its wake.

The civic pride is booming in this neck of the woods. Main Street is lined with one small business after the next, and this time of year there are signs and posters popping up on every corner congratulating a member of the most recent graduating class at Cromwell High School, which sits less than two miles from the first tee at TPC River Highlands.

Having made it through a harrowing time in the event’s history, the local residents now have plenty of reason to take pride.

The Tour’s best have found this little New England hamlet, where tournament officials roll out the red carpet in every direction. They embrace the opportunity to decompress after the mind-numbing gauntlet the USGA set out for them last week, and they relish a return to a course where well-struck shots, more often than not, lead to birdies.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Ten years ago, this tournament was also held the week after the U.S. Open. Stewart Cink won, and for his efforts he received a paltry 36 world ranking points. But thanks to a recent influx of star-power, this week’s winner will pocket 58 points – the same amount Rory McIlroy won at Bay Hill, and two more than Justin Rose got at Colonial. Now at the halfway point, the leaderboard backs up the hefty allocation.

While Brian Harman leads at 10 under, the chase pack is strong enough to strike fear in the heart of even the most seasoned veteran: McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson, they of the combined eight major titles, all sit within three shots of the lead. Former world No. 1 Jason Day is one shot further back, and reigning Player of the Year Justin Thomas will start the third round inside the top 20.

Paul Casey and Bryson DeChambeau, both likely participants at the Ryder Cup this fall, are right there as well at 8 under. Casey lost a playoff here to Watson in 2015 and has come back every year since, witnessing first-hand the tournament’s growth in scope.

“It speaks volumes for what Travelers have done and how they treat everybody, and the work that Andy Bessette and his team put in to fly around the country and speak highly of this event,” Casey said. “And do things which matter, to continue to improve the event, not just for players but for spectators.”

Part of the increased field strength can be attributed to the Tour’s recent rule change, requiring players who play fewer than 25 events in a season to add a new event they haven’t played in the last four years. Another portion can be attributed to the short commute from Shinnecock Hills to TPC River Highlands, a three-hour drive and even shorter across the Long Island Sound – an added bonus the event will lose two of the next three years with West Coast U.S. Opens.

But there’s no denying the widespread appeal of an event named the Tour’s tournament of the year, players’ choice and most fan-friendly in 2017. While Spieth’s return to defend his title was assumed, both Day and McIlroy are back for another crack this year after liking what they saw.

“Anyone that I talked to could only say good things about the tournament about the golf course, how the guys are treated here, how the fans come out, and how the community always gets behind this event,” McIlroy said. “Obviously I witnessed that for the first time last year, and I really enjoyed it.”

After starting the week with all four reigning major champs and five of the top 10 players in the latest world rankings, only Masters champ Patrick Reed got sent packing following rounds of 72-67. The remaining top-flight contingent will all hit the ground running in search of more low scores Saturday, with Spieth (-4) still retaining a glimmer of hope to keep his title defense chances alive, perhaps with a 63 like he fired in the opening round.

The Tour’s schedule represents a zero-sum game. Outside of the majors and WGCs that essentially become must-play events for the game’s best, the rest of the legs of the weekly circus become victim of a 12-month version of tug-of-war. Some players like to play in the spring; others load up in the fall. Many play the week before majors, while a select group block off the week after for some R&R far away from a golf course.

But in an environment where one tournament’s ebbs can create flows for another, the Travelers has continued a steady climb up the Tour’s hierarchy. Once in jeopardy of relegation, it has found its footing and appears in the process of turning several of the Tour’s one-name stars into regular participants.

Rory. Jordan. Bubba. JT.

It’s been a long battle for tournament officials, but the proof is in the pudding. And this weekend, the reward for the people of Cromwell – population 14,000 – looks to be a star-studded show.

“All the events are incredible,” Thomas said. “But this is kind of one of those underrated ones that I think until people come and play, do they realize how great it is.”