Eulogizing a dear friend of the Nationwide Tour

By Jerry FoltzSeptember 23, 2010, 11:00 pm
nationwide tour truck accident

It was during the wee hours of the morning on a lonely stretch of highway in a desolate part of Northwest Texas that the Nationwide Tour suffered one of its most tragic losses in its 21-year history.

Thankfully nobody died, although Randy Usina remains hospitalized, but he’s expected to make a full and speedy recovery.
 
Reports are still sketchy at this point, but evidently a lonesome cow had heard about what a great family bond the Nationwide Tour fraternity enjoys and he wanted to be a part of it. So he jumped at his first opportunity. Bad timing I guess, as Jeff “Cowboy” Hill couldn’t slow quickly enough and he slammed into the cow causing the vehicle to roll. Cowboy walked away unharmed, but Randy was in the passenger’s seat and suffered the most serious injuries – except of course for the cow.
 
The legend began back in 1990, the inaugural year of the tour. And it was completely unintentional.
 
Since the Bakersfield Open in early 1990, the Nationwide Tour has been operated from the trailer of a big rig. Out of the back of that rig came all the equipment necessary for the tour to officially run a tournament: scoreboards, radios, caddie bibs, and a wide variety of essentials that many would never think necessary.
 
Since that big rig traveled to every event, it became the one constant in the constantly changing landscape that is the vagabond life of a touring professional. If you had a question, you’d go there first.  Just want to unwind and forget about things, you’d find a corner of the trailer and take in the tranquility. In short, from Day 1, it became the pulse of the entire tour.
 
Sometime during that very first year, the legend was born, and it was simply named, The Truck.
 
In the ensuing years, The Truck started to take on a life of its own. Every player, every caddie, every family member was welcome anytime. But so too were volunteers, sponsors, spectators and anybody else who cared to stop. Many of the vital friendships and relationships that are instrumental to the success of the Nationwide Tour to this day, were forged on the back of that truck.
 
Matt Delaney, current rules official and former Truck staff member (one of the originals from 1990) said it best 10 years ago when a new member of the crew wanted to remove the beer cooler from The Truck in an effort to avoid any negative publicity that may have ever pointed in the tour’s direction. “Having beer on The Truck built this tour,” Matt famously said to his then boss.
 
The Truck has become such an institution that volunteers from various tournaments will travel around the nation to other tournaments and volunteer to help out any way they can because that darn truck had become part of their family. Players from past years now send pin-flags and other mementos from PGA Tour events they win to proudly display on The Truck. And a few years back, Johnson Wagner promised a big flat-screen TV if he ever won again on the Nationwide Tour. Two days after his next victory, a rather large LCD was delivered. It had been on display since that day.
 
For the past two years, the PGA Tour would hold a Nationwide Tour reunion at The Players Championship at PGA Tour headquarters and it was always held at The Truck.
 
There are cookouts a dozen times per year, softball games between The Truck people and everybody else. There’s even an official Truck Cup golf tournament held every year on the Monday preceding the Ft. Smith stop pairing a Nationwide Tour player with a member of The Truck family.
 
Last year, when a lady who is a valuable member of The Truck family couldn’t rely on her old car to get her to all the events where she would volunteer, The Truck had an idea. They shared it with a few people that liked it and after the final day of the Nationwide Tour Championship, The Truck Mom, Lainey Keller, was presented with a new Subaru Outback completely paid for through donations of people who consider themselves members of The Truck family.
 
Almost to a man, every player, regardless of whether they’ve gone on to greatness, or returned to a normal life at home, remembers their days on the Nationwide Tour as the happiest of their career. That all started on The Truck.
 
While The Truck had a physical existence, it also carried with it a somewhat mystical reputation that meant so much more. It may have been just a trailer, but it was unquestionably an institution. It never mattered who you were – rich and famous or despondent and homeless, a player or the guy who empties the trash, a King or a Pauper. And although you may have entered as a stranger for the first time, you always left as a friend.
 
And so it was, earlier this week, on that stretch of Texas highway that wasn’t too far from where Ben Hogan nearly died in a head on collision in 1949, that The Truck was severely injured. The physical shell is a complete goner, but its soul is alive and well. And much like the “Wee Iceman” himself, The Truck will be back, and it will again rise to prominence. It’s going to take a lot of work, but there will never be a shortage of volunteers to help. A new “Great White” (the name of the huge ice chest that has been through 11 retirement ceremonies when a new one is donated) is on order and will be delivered in two weeks.
 
I would ask you to say a prayer for The Truck but that isn’t necessary – it’s going to be just fine. Direct those to Randy – I know he’d appreciate it. But if you’re ever in the vicinity of a Nationwide Tour event, do yourself a favor and stop in The Truck. You won’t regret it.
Getty Images

Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

Getty Images

Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

Getty Images

Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

Getty Images

Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”