All Grown Up

By Jay CoffinMarch 25, 2011, 10:37 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Spencer Levin is all grown up.

The one-time bad boy of amateur golf has softened now that he’s 26 years old. His temperament has settled, his attitude has improved immensely and he now listens intently to everything his swing coach/father tells him. He’s even switched to a belly putter that, more than anything else, has helped him convert more key putts from outside 12 feet.

It’s an oxymoron of sorts but Levin is best described as a new-school throwback. Whatever the moniker, he is one shot back of the lead halfway through the Arnold Palmer Invitational, shooting 66-70 for an 8-under-par 136 total.

“I scored a lot better than I played today,” Levin said of his 70 that ended with a birdie from 22 feet on the 18th hole. “I didn’t drive it very good. But all in all, I’m happy with that for sure.”

Levin grew up in California and burst onto the amateur scene some eight years ago when he opted for the glitz and glamor of college life at UCLA. That stint didn’t work well because, as a student-athlete, Levin was more interested in being an athlete than he was a student. So he and Bruins’ coach O.d. Vincent decided it was best to part ways and Levin transferred to the University of New Mexico.

Spencer Levin
Levin ranks third on Tour this year with a 69.45 scoring average. (Getty Images)

The first major national exposure for Levin came in, well, his first major. Playing in the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Levin tied for 13th and was low amateur of the championship. He converted a ticklish 4-footer for par on the last hole that sealed a top-15 finish, which earned him a spot in the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. The highlight of the week came late Thursday following a weather delay when he aced the par-3 17th hole. That hole-in-one was aired repeatedly over the next few days and put Levin on the golf map.

That same summer Levin won the California State Amateur at Pebble Beach (he was runner-up there in 2003), the Porter Cup and the Scratch Players Championship – all three amateur events of major prestige.

With all the amateur success, those in the know always believed that Levin’s attitude was what kept him from being more successful. He would often rub people the wrong way with the way he chain-smoked cigarettes and blew ashes and butts all over a golf course. His language was rarely rated PG and his swagger and popped shirt collar always gave off the impression that he was arrogant.

All has not changed. He still smokes and, at 5-9, 155 pounds, has that unmistakable swagger. But he’s mellowed a bit now that he’s in his third full year on the PGA Tour.

“I still get frustrated, but I’m able to keep it together better,” Levin said Friday. “I’m getting older and more mature. That must be it.”

Levin has grown up and so has his game. He has recorded four top-15 finishes in his last five starts and has only missed one cut this year. His biggest chance at his first PGA Tour victory came a month ago when he lost a playoff to Johnson Wagner at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. Still, he did shoot a final-round 65 to get into that playoff.

“Right after that I was disappointed,” Levin said. “But I earned enough money to secure my card for next year and overall it gave me a lot of confidence.”

Five years ago, a disappointment like that could’ve evoked different emotions. Now, he used that to play without pressure and continue to perform at a high level. The following week at the Honda Classic Levin opened with at 67 in howling wind and ended the week in a tie for 14th place.

This week has been more of the same. The opening-round 66 here at the Arnold Palmer Invitational was considered by several of his fellow pros one of the best three rounds of this year. The 30 mph winds produced more scores in the 80s than it did scores in the 60s.

The second-round 70 also was impressive, but for different reasons. Levin opened with two birdies in his first six holes and held a 7-shot lead on the rest of the field through eight holes. But he started to leak oil some on the closing stretch when others – Steve Marino, Charles Howell, Tiger Woods – started to heat up. Levin stopped the bleeding on 18 when he drained the 22-footer for birdie.

“His putting is just unbelievable,” said Marino, Levin’s good friend who is only three shoots off the lead. “He made almost everything he looked at and just played awesome.

“Today, on the front nine, he made a bunch of long putts for birdies and save some putts. He missed a couple on the back but overall very impressive. I’ve never really seen anyone putt like that for two days.”

It’s the next two days that will test Levin’s moxie. It’s not a dud leaderboard here at Arnie’s Place. Marino and Rickie Fowler are hungry for their first Tour victory, Woods is looking to continue his domination of Bay Hill while finding form before The Masters and Howell posted a second-round 65 to get into the mix.

“If you’re making a bunch of birdies out here, there is somebody else who is going to make a bunch of birdies,” Levin said. “If you think you’re playing great, somebody else is going to be playing great. That just shows you the competition is so packed that one shot is always huge at the end of the week.”

It took Levin awhile to get into this position. It’s one that he’s capable of handling now that he’s all grown up.

Follow Jay Coffin on Twitter @JayCoffin

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Koepka: Second-place finishes becoming 'annoying'

By Al TaysMay 28, 2018, 12:02 am

Brooks Koepka didn't go down without a fight.

Trailing Justin Rose by four shots going into the final round of the Fort Worth Invitational, Koepka shot his second 7-under 63 of the week - and made up precisely one shot. He finished solo second at 17 under par, three shots behind Rose.

He could only marvel at the Englishman's performance in closing with a 6-under 64.

"It was pretty impressive," he said. "Justin played well. Hat's off to him. Any time you can come into a lead with four shots and play the way he did today, that's impressive."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Although Koepka was pleased with his own play - especially his putting - he said it felt "annoying" to come in second. Again.

"I feel like we've had so many second-place finishes," he said. "Always seem to run into a buzz saw, whatever it is."

Since May of 2016, Koepka has five solo second-place finishes and one T-2. But he also has a U.S. Open title, won last year at Erin Hills. He'll attempt to defend that title June 14-17 at Shinnecock Hills. "It's nice to finally be playing well and get going into the season," he said. "Kind of peaking right where I need to be."

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Minjee Lee birdies 18 to win on her birthday

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:59 pm

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Minjee Lee's task was simple: A birdie on No. 18 would win her the tournament. It was a manageable par 5, the easiest hole on the course in the final round.

After a good drive, her second shot came closer to trouble than much of the gallery probably realized.

''I almost clipped the tree,'' Lee said. ''I overcut it a little bit, but it finished out in a good position.''

Lee's shot came to rest just to the right of the green, and from there it was a simple chip and putt for the birdie that gave her a one-stroke win over In-Kyung Kim at the LPGA Volvik Championship on Sunday. Lee, who turned 22 on Sunday, won for the first time since 2016. It was the Australian's fourth career victory.

Lee three-putted for a bogey on No. 17, dropping into a tie with Kim, who finished her round about the same time. So Lee needed a birdie to win on 18. The 18th hole was 470 yards Sunday. There were 44 birdies there in the final round.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

''The tee was up,'' she said. ''I was pretty confident that I could get there in two if I had a good drive.''

Lee made her winning putt from about 3 feet. She finished at 4-under 68 and 16 under for the tournament. Kim (67) shot a 32 on the back nine and birdied No. 18, but it wasn't enough to force a playoff at Travis Pointe Country Club.

''I kind of knew that 16 was the number and I mean, I give my best,'' Kim said. ''I make some good shots and birdies.''

Moriya Jutanugarn (65) finished third at 14 under.

Lee took a two-stroke lead into the final round, and that was her margin over playing partner Stacy Lewis before Lewis (71) bogeyed No. 7 and 8. Kim emerged as the biggest threat to Lee when she birdied four of the first five holes on the back nine. Lewis is playing four months' pregnant with her first child.

Kim and Lee were briefly tied at 15 under, but then Lee made a tap-in birdie on the par-5 14th, while Kim bogeyed 15. Lee saved par on 15 despite a wayward drive into a bunker.

''I wasn't sure where I was score-wise then. That par 5 is reachable in two, so I think a lot of people would have made birdie there,'' Lee said. ''The next tee shot I just pulled into the bunker. ... I think that was really important for me to hole that par putt just to keep the momentum going.''

Lee had gone 38 consecutive holes without a bogey before making one on the par-4 17th. That, combined with Kim's birdie on 18, left the two golfers tied, but Lee still had the 18th to come.

Su Oh (68) and Lindy Duncan (69) finished at 13 under, and Megan Khang (67) was another stroke back. Lewis finished at 11 under along with Ariya Jutanugarn (69) and Danielle Kang (70).

Lewis birdied three of the first six holes, but Lee did as well.

''It's hard to get close when somebody does that,'' Lewis said. ''She played great all day and played solid. When she needed to make a par putt, she did, and didn't make any mistakes.''

Lee lost this event by one stroke last year. Shanshan Feng, the 2017 winner , finished tied for 21st this time.

The LPGA has had a different winner in each of its 13 tournaments this year. The U.S. Women's Open starts Thursday at Shoal Creek.

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Spieth: Improvement is 'right around the corner'

By Al TaysMay 27, 2018, 10:50 pm

Not that Dallas native Jordan Spieth didn't enjoy the two-week home game that is the AT&T Byron Nelson and the Fort Worth Invitational - he certainly did. But he's eager to get out of town, too.

"It was a great showing these last couple weeks by the fans," Spieth said after closing with a 2-under 68, a 5-under total and a T-32 finish. "Obviously extremely appreciative here in DFW. Wish I could do more. These couple weeks can be a bit taxing, and it's awesome to kind of have that support to carry you through.

"So, you know, I had a great time these couple weeks on and off the golf course as I always do, but I'm also really excited to kind of get out of town and kind of be able to just go back to the room and have nothing to do at night except for get ready to play the next day."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Spieth will have that experience this coming week in Dublin, Ohio, site of the Memorial. He's hopeful of improving on his T-21, T-32 finishes the past two weeks, and he thinks the main thing holding him back - his putting - is ready for a turnaround.

"I think good things are about to come," he said. "I feel a good run coming for the second half of the season. Today was - each day I've felt better and better with the wedges and the putter and the short game; today was no different. My only bogey being just kind of trying to do too much on a par-5; 3-wood into the hazard.

"So, you know, I'm getting into where I'm not making bogeys, and then soon - the not making bogeys is great, and soon I'll get back to the five, six birdies around and shoot some low rounds.

"So I know it's right around the corner."

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Broadhurst fires 63 to easily win Senior PGA

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:45 pm

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – Paul Broadhurst wishes he had played this well in his 23 years on the European Tour.

''I know a lot more about my swing now and I guess you get that with age and experience,'' the 52-year-old Englishman said after shooting an 8-under 63 on Sunday to win the Senior PGA Championship by four strokes and match the best 72-hole score in tournament history.

Broadhurst finished at 19-under 265 at Harbor Shores for his second senior major victory. The 63 was the best fourth-round score by a winner. Rocco Mediate also shot 19 under at Harbor Shores in 2016.

Also the 2016 British Senior Open winner, Broadhurst led the field with 26 birdies and passed third-round co-leaders Tim Petrovic and Mark McCarron with a 4-under 31 on the back nine.

Petrovic was second after a 69. McCarron had a 70 to tie for third at 14 under with Jerry Kelly (65).

Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

Broadhurst earned a career-high $585,000 for his fourth PGA Tour Champions victory and moved to the top of the money list. He won six times on the European Tour, was a 1991 Ryder Cup player for Europe and has three European Senior Tour victories.

''It was really a special week,'' he said. ''It got a little bit tense out there. I knew I was playing well but I didn't seem to making any progress against Tim Petrovic. He was side-by-side on the back nine it seemed.''

He learned his lead was three strokes standing on the 18th tee when his caddie asked a television announcer.

''So we put my driver away and reached for the rescue club,'' he said. ''If I made a 5 there that would be fine.''

Broadhurst started the round two strokes behind Petrovic and McCarron, birdied the first hole and was tied with Petrovic for the lead by the turn. He took his first lead with a birdie on the 12th hole, led by two after 16 and birdied the final two holes, including a dramatic 40-foot putt for birdie at the 18th hole.

''I guess it would have been a bit of anti-climax if I would have three-putted the last green, but that would have given Tim a chance of holing his second shot,'' he said. ''I actually spoke to my caddie about that going down the last - we don't want to three-putt and five him the opportunity because stranger things have happened in golf. To see it go in the middle of the hole was just a special feeling.''

Petrovic said missed birdie putts on Nos. 7 and 8 were costly, but it might not have mattered with the way Broadhurst was playing.

''In hindsight it was all for naught,'' he said. ''He was so far ahead of us. Hat's off the guy. It was a great week - we just got beat. When he made the putt on 18 ahead of us I almost started clapping in the fairway and waving a white towel. It was well-deserved. That was great playing. He won the championship for sure.''

Broadhurst shot 72 in the first round, started rolling in putts with a 66 in the second round and was 15 under on the weekend. In addition to the leading 26 birdies, he topped the putts per greens in regulations numbers for the tournament as well with a 1.574 average.

''I wasn't aware I made that many birdies,'' he said. ''That's pretty impressive around this course.''

He said his game has long been unpredictable.

''I'm not blessed with a consistent swing like Bernhard Langer, but when it's on, it works,'' he said. ''If I'm putting well, then anything can happen, really.''