Mini-tour players unite to help tornado victims

By Jason SobelMay 30, 2013, 2:46 pm

This is a story about tragedy and the human spirit. No, that’s far too simple. This is a story about tragedy and the human spirit and helping people – people you’ve never even met – in a time of adversity, and doing the courageous thing, the right thing and the honorable thing, and how the game of golf was able to tie it all together.

An entire nation watched last week as one of the worst tornados in recorded history ripped through Moore, Okla., leaving a tight-knit community completely ravaged and the rest of us feeling completely helpless. It would be shortsighted – read that, wrong – to myopically claim that professional golfers were at the forefront of this relief effort for the sake of this story, but like so many others who wanted to contribute somehow, anyhow, they were certainly part of the effort. And not just the professional golfers whose names you already know.

It wasn’t long after the devastation was measured that Mike Dunphy, the player development manager for Cleveland/Srixon, knew some grassroots fundraising could be done at the game’s grassroots level. He texted Paul Apyan, an NGA Pro Golf Tour member and the purveyor of the popular Mini Tour Problems handle on Twitter. “You have an account that can reach a lot of people,” Dunphy told him. “You can do something about this.”

Apyan, 26, from Chattanooga, Tenn., already knew about the disaster. His friend and fellow mini-tour regular Jason Meece had forwarded a video taken by yet another player, Mack Hamilton, showing the tornado ripping through Moore. As Oklahoma natives, both Meece and Hamilton understood the destruction being done in their home state.

It wasn’t long until “5 Percent Moore” was born. The objective behind the idea was exactly what it says in the title. Apyan asked his fellow mini-tour players to donate five percent of their tournament earnings last week to the relief efforts. Just five percent to help out a community struggling to find what was left of their homes through the rubble.

This is the part of the story where the difference needs to be explained between PGA Tour players traversing the country in private jets and mini-tour players living week-to-week on limited funds. “Just to tee it up, to have that opportunity, it’s $900-950,” Apyan explained. “And you’ve got to get there – that’s another $100 in gas. If you don’t have host housing, then you’ll have to go on Priceline trying to outbid guys you’re playing against for a two-star hotel room. Then you’re going to have to feed yourself, maybe $10 per meal, but sometimes you have to think about even doing that.”

Let’s not belittle the contributions of Rickie Fowler, the Oklahoma State product who matched the first $100,000 donated by fans. Or Hunter Mahan, another Cowboy who gave money to the Red Cross. Or Stuart Appleby, who tweeted that since he wasn’t even supposed to play in the Crowne Plaza Invitational last week, he’d give the $16,864 that he received for a share of 48th place. Or the so many other elite players who donated either without much publicity or anonymously.

But quite frankly, those players donating earnings and mini-tour players donating earnings are two entirely different scenarios.

Even so, Apyan was immediately barraged by mini-tour regulars wanting to help. He received text messages. He received tweets. He placed a sign-up sheet at last week’s Knoxville, Tenn., event and 28 players penciled in their names. And those are just the ones he knows about. Apyan keeps hearing from more players on other tours asking how they can join.

In many instances, it’s not a lot of money. A tie for 48th place earned a grand total of $903 for Apyan last week. Do the math and that’s $45.15 – but it’s better than nothing.

“One tank of gas is not make or break for me, but it could really do something for someone,” he said. “It can get people food or water, maybe help a kid in the area. I don’t know. All you can do is try to help out.”

Conrad Shindler hadn’t heard about “5 Percent Moore.” But like so many of his fellow mini-tour golfers – and like so many of his fellow Americans – he felt compelled to contribute to the relief effort. So prior to competing in last week’s Gateway Buick GMC Classic on the Adams Golf Pro Tour Series, the 24-year-old Texas A&M grad pledged to donate his entire paycheck to the Moore school system.

“There was a little extra motivation,” he said. “It was like, let’s try to dig down deep and get up and down or let’s go birdie this hole, because that’s more money I can raise.”

Shindler indeed dug deep and made plenty of birdies, posting scores of 65-69-66-66 to win his first professional title by four strokes. And yes, the entire $15,000 paycheck went right to Oklahoma.

“I just realize where I come from and the opportunities I have,” he continued. “I’m just blessed and fortunate to step on the course every day for my job. I don’t have to sit behind a desk. I get to play a game. There are going to be many more opportunities down the road to make more money. Even though it was a winning check, that’s not going to be the difference maker later on. It’s obviously a big boost of confidence to win at this level, but me receiving this check is not going to be anything that defines future success.”

That’s been the rallying cry for so many mini-tour golfers over the past week, from those donating $15,000 to those donating $45.15 to those donating even less. It’s money that these players need, but it’s also money that they know the people of Moore, Okla., need even more.

That was the idea behind “5 Percent Moore.” It’s part of a story about tragedy and the human spirit, but that’s not the entire story. There’s so much more to it – and the game of golf was able to tie it all together.

Anyone wishing to join the “5 Percent Moore” pledge may contact the NGA TOUR offices at 800-992-8748 or mail their donations to the NGA TOUR c/o #5PercentMoore at 550 Hwy 9 E, Unit B, Longs, S.C., 29568.

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Bhatia loses U.S. Am match after caddie-cart incident

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 2:21 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – One of the hottest players in amateur golf had his U.S. Amateur run end Wednesday under unusual circumstances.

Akshay Bhatia, the 16-year-old left-hander who has been dominating the junior golf circuit over the past year, squandered a late lead in his eventual 19-hole loss to Bradford Tilley in the Round of 64.

Bhatia was all square against Tilley as they played Pebble Beach’s par-5 14th hole. After knocking his second shot onto the green, Bhatia and his caddie, Chris Darnell, stopped to use the restroom. Bhatia walked up to the green afterward, but Darnell asked what he thought was a USGA official for a ride up to the green.

“The gentleman was wearing a USGA pullover,” Darnell explained afterward. “I asked if I could get a ride to the green to keep up pace, and he said yes. So I hopped on the back, got up to the green, hopped off and thought nothing of it.”

Conditions of the competition prohibit players and caddies from riding on any form of transportation during a stipulated round unless authorized.

It turns out that the cart that Darnell rode on was not driven by a USGA official. Rather, it was just a volunteer wearing USGA apparel. A rules official who was in the area spotted the infraction and assessed Bhatia an adjustment penalty, so instead of winning the hole with a birdie-4 to move 1 up, the match remained all square.

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Even more interesting was what Darnell said happened earlier in the match.

“I had already seen the other caddie in our group do it on the ninth hole,” Darnell said. “Same thing – USGA pullover, drove him from the bathroom up to the fairway – so I assumed it was fine. I didn’t point it out at the time because everything seemed kosher. He had the USGA stuff on, and I didn’t think anything of it.”

Bhatia won the 15th hole to go 1 up, but lost the 17th and 19th holes with bogeys to lose the match. He didn’t blame the outcome on the cart incident.  

“What can you do? I’ll have plenty of opportunities to play in this tournament, so I’m not too upset about it,” he said. “It’s just frustrating because I deserved to win that match. That wasn’t the outcome I wanted, but I can’t do anything about it.”

Bhatia, of Wake Forest, N.C., has been a dominant force in the junior ranks, going back-to-back at the Junior PGA (including this dramatic hole-out), capturing the AJGA Polo, taking the Sage Valley Invitational and reaching the finals of the U.S. Junior.

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1, 2, 3 out: Thornberry, Suh, Morikawa lose at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 1:14 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The top three players in the world had a tough afternoon Wednesday at Pebble Beach.

Braden Thornberry, Justin Suh and Collin Morikawa – Nos. 1-3, respectively, in the World Amateur Golf Ranking – all lost their Round of 64 matches at the U.S. Amateur.

Thornberry lost, 2 and 1, to Jesus Montenegro of Argentina. As the No. 1 amateur in the world, the Ole Miss senior was in line to receive the McCormack Medal, which would exempt him into both summer Opens in 2019, provided he remains amateur. But now he’ll need to wait and see how the rankings shake out.

Suh and Morikawa could have played each other in the Round of 32, but instead they were both heading home early.

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Suh, a junior at USC, never led in his 1-up loss to Harrison Ott, while Cal's Morikawa lost to another Vanderbilt player, John Augenstein, in 19 holes.

Englishman Matthew Jordan is the fourth-ranked player in the world, but he didn’t make the 36-hole stroke-play cut.

The highest-ranked player remaining is Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, who is ranked fifth. With his college coach, Alan Bratton, on the bag, Hovland beat his Cowboys teammate, Hayden Wood, 3 and 2, to reach the Round of 32.

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Fiery Augenstein outduels Morikawa at U.S. Amateur

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 12:55 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Around the Vanderbilt golf team John Augenstein’s nickname is “Flash,” and it’s easy to see why.

The swing loaded with speed.

The on-course charisma.

The big shot in the big moment.

The Commodores junior added another highlight to his growing collection Wednesday, when he defeated world No. 3 Collin Morikawa in 19 holes during a Round of 64 match at the U.S. Amateur.

Out of sorts early at Pebble Beach, Augenstein was 2 down to Morikawa after butchering the short seventh and then misplaying a shot around the green on 8.

Standing on the ninth tee, he turned to Vanderbilt assistant coach/caddie Gator Todd: "I need to play the best 10 holes of my life to beat Collin."

And did he?

“I don’t know,” he said later, smirking, “but I did enough.”

Augenstein won the ninth hole after Morikawa dumped his approach shot into the hazard, drained a 30-footer on 10 to square the match and then took his first lead when he rolled in a 10-footer on 14.

One down with three holes to go, Morikawa stuffed his approach into 16 while Augenstein, trying to play a perfect shot, misjudged the wind and left himself in a difficult position, short and right of the green. Augenstein appeared visibly frustrated once he found his ball, buried in the thick ryegrass short of the green. He told Todd that he didn’t think he’d be able to get inside of Morikawa’s shot about 6 feet away, but he dumped his pitch shot onto the front edge, rode the slope and trickled it into the cup for an unlikely birdie.

“Come on!” he yelled, high-fiving Todd and tossing his wedge at his bag.

“It was beautiful,” Todd said. “I’m not sure how he did that, but pretty cool that it went in.”  

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Morikawa answered by making birdie, then won the 17th with a par before both players halved the home hole with birdies.

On the first extra hole, Augenstein hit his approach to 15 feet while Morikawa left it short. Morikawa raced his first putt by 6 feet and then missed the comebacker to lose the match.

It may not have been the best 10-hole stretch of Augenstein’s career, but after that pep talk on 9 tee, he went 4 under to the house.

“He’s a fiery little dude,” Morikawa said of his 5-foot-8-inch opponent. “You don’t want to get him on the wrong side because you never know what’s going to happen. He’s not going to give shots away.”

The first-round match was a rematch of the Western Amateur quarterfinals two weeks ago, where Augenstein also won, that time by a 4-and-2 margin.

“It’s the most fun format and where I can be my true self – emotional and aggressive and beat people,” Augenstein said.

That’s what he did at the 2017 SECs, where he won the deciding points in both the semifinals and the finals. He starred again a few weeks later at the NCAA Championship, last season went 3-0 in SEC match play, and now has earned a reputation among his teammates as a primetime player.

“I’ve hit a lot of big shots and putts in my career,” said Augenstein, ranked 26th in the world after recently winning the Players Amateur. “I get locked in and focused, and there’s not a shot that I don’t think I can pull off. I’m not scared to fail.”

The comeback victory against Morikawa – a three-time winner last season at Cal and one of the best amateurs in the world – didn’t surprise Todd. He’s seen firsthand how explosive Augenstein can be on the course.

“He’s just fiery,” Todd said. “He does things under pressure that you’re not supposed to do. He’s just a special kid.”

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Fowler (oblique) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:44 pm

The injury that slowed Rickie Fowler at last week's PGA Championship will keep him out of the first event of the PGA Tour's postseason.

Fowler was reportedly hampered by an oblique injury at Bellerive Country Club, where he started the third round two shots off the lead but faded to a tie for 12th. He confirmed the injury Tuesday in an Instagram post, adding that an MRI revealed a partial tear to his right oblique muscle.

According to Fowler, the injury also affected him at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he tied for 17th. After receiving the test results, he opted to withdraw from The Northern Trust next week at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.

"My team and I feel like it's best not to play next week in the Northern Trust," Fowler wrote. "I will be back healthy and competitive ASAP for the FedEx Cup and more than ready for the Ryder Cup!!!"

Fowler is one of eight players who earned automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team when the qualifying window closed last week. His next opportunity to tee it up would be at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship, where Fowler won in 2015.

Fowler has 12 top-25 finishes in 18 starts, highlighted by runner-up finishes at both the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in the fall and at the Masters. He is currently 17th in the season-long points race, meaning that he's assured of starts in each of the first three playoff events regardless of performance and in good position to qualify for the 30-man Tour Championship for the fourth time in the last five years.