Family tragedy puts Q-School in perspective

By John FeinsteinNovember 30, 2012, 4:30 pm

People still mention it to Jaxon Brigman. Now, 13 years later, he’s OK with that.

“They usually say, ‘I’m sorry to bring this up …’ or, ‘Was that you?’ And I say, ‘Yes, it was me but I’m fine to talk about it.’ The scar’s still there but the wound’s gone.”

Brigman knows his name is still whispered among players in locker rooms and on practice ranges. He may be the best-known golfer – at least among PGA Tour players – who has never had exempt status on the PGA Tour. There were times, Brigman jokes, that he wondered if his real name wasn’t That Poor Guy.

It happened in 1999 when PGA Tour Q-School finals were held at Doral – not on the famed Blue Course, at the Gold Course next door. Brigman was 28. He had been a good college player at Oklahoma State and had patiently worked on his game, thinking, after five years on what was then the Nike Tour, that he had a realistic chance to make the PGA Tour.

He went into the final day at Doral knowing he had to go low to get inside the qualifying number, but believing he had the ability to pull it off.

“The story of my life in golf has been getting myself to believe in my game,” he said recently, just before heading off to play second stage of this year’s Q-School. “I remember years back I was hitting balls with a buddy of mine and he said to me, ‘Jaxon, you aren’t practicing, you’re searching.’ That was probably pretty accurate.”

Not on that last day at Doral. All day long, Brigman was in the zone where he wanted to be, firing at flags, knowing he needed to make birdies – and making them. By the time he reached the ninth hole – his 18th of the day – he was 7 under par and convinced he was right on the qualifying number.

“I figured I had to make par,” he said. “I had a difficult second shot about 190 to the hole, under pressure and I hit it pretty close. It was one of the few times in my life I was impressed with myself. Then I missed a 6-footer for birdie. I made par and when I got to the scorer’s tent I saw a board on Golf Channel that said 15 under was the number – which was where I was.

“I went into the scoring tent and I was so excited I was actually shaking. I was wound up, nervous even. I was having trouble focusing on my card. Jay Hobby (another Nike Tour player who had kept his card) had circled all my birdies. There were seven – and no bogeys. I counted the circles and signed my card. I’d shot 65.”

There was one problem. Hobby, no doubt nervous himself, had written down a 4 on Brigman’s card on the 13th hole when he had actually made a birdie 3. He had circled the 4 to indicate the birdie but had written down the wrong number. Brigman didn’t catch it. Once he signed the card, his official score became 66.  Tour official Steve Carman, who runs Q-School, had to give him the news while he was celebrating with his family.

“When I saw it I was sick,” Carman said years later. “But there was absolutely nothing I could do.”

The only saving grace – if there was one – for Brigman was that he wasn’t disqualified. Since he had signed for a higher score, he had to accept that as his score.

“At least I had a job,” he said, years later. “Not the job I wanted, but a job.”

Brigman went back to second stage a year later and lost in a four-for-three playoff for the final spot. Carman was there that day, too, and watching the players struggle in 35-degree weather and near-darkness during that playoff, decided to change the rules for the first two stages: now, all those who tie for the last spot move to the next stage. It might be called “The Jaxon Brigman Rule.”

Brigman is still playing today, grinding on mini-tours at 41, believing he still has some good golf left in him. Now though, there’s another reason he’s playing: escape.  Last spring, real life intervened in Brigman’s search for a better golf swing in the most tragic way possible.

On the morning of May 16 he was in the shower in a house he had rented in the Dallas suburb of Frisco. He and Ami had separated several months earlier and Brigman had found a place nearby so he could see his daughters – Malyn, who was 5 at the time and Tatum, who was 3 – as often as possible.

Brigman heard the phone ring but didn’t see any need to rush to get it. A few minutes later, the phone rang again. He didn’t recognize the number but he answered it anyway.

It was the police. There had been an accident. Ami had been en route to school with the girls when a car had tried to cut into traffic on heavily traveled Lebanon Road, a four-lane road that many people took in the morning to get to the Dallas-area toll road.

“There was a woman in the median trying to get in to traffic,” Brigman said. “It’s very hard at that hour. She apparently thought Ami was past her but mistimed it. She hit the side of the car and Ami fish-tailed and went into the middle of a tree.

“My first thought was it couldn’t be that serious because you can’t drive much more than 40 on that road in the morning,” Brigman said.

“But when I got close to the accident site I saw a helicopter taking off from an apartment complex across from where the police had told me they had hit the tree. When I got there, Ami was in an ambulance – she’d had the wind knocked out of her when the air bag hit her, but was OK. I asked about the girls and someone said, ‘Your little one (Tatum) is in bad shape.’ They had taken both of them in the helicopter.

“I got in the ambulance with Ami and we took off heading for the Children’s Medical Hospital in downtown. I kept thinking, ‘It can't be that bad, they weren’t going that fast.’ The guy had the siren going to get us there as fast as possible. We had gotten into downtown when all of a sudden he turned the siren off. He didn’t say anything but that’s when I knew.”

At the hospital they were told Malyn was doing well. Tatum had not made it.

“Everyone reacts differently to that kind of tragedy,” Brigman said quietly. “My instinct was to avoid – to run – to not want to talk about it. Even now, when Malyn and I talk about Tatum we do it in the present tense. It’s as if we feel we’re keeping her spirit alive that way.”

Jaxon and Ami are now divorced but have worked closely together to deal with theirs and their daughter’s grief. Jaxon and Malyn have gone to grief counseling together. Through it all, the best therapy has been the game that, prior to May, had caused most of the pain in his life.

“Golf has always been my passion,” he said. “It’s not as if playing and competing gets me completely away from my thoughts but it does provide some escape. When I’m playing, I have to force myself to try to focus on hitting the next shot and that’s a good thing.”

Brigman’s biggest problem as a golfer was always lack of length. When he almost made the Tour in 1999 he was 5-foot-8, 140 pounds. “I always needed a golf course that wasn’t that long and I needed the stars to align to really play well.”

That’s why he decided a few years ago, not long after a fifth-place finish at the Byron Nelson Classic, that he needed to gain strength and length. He has worked with a trainer and his weight is now up to 175 pounds. “I’m longer now than I’ve ever been,” he said. “But the game still baffles me – like everyone else, I guess.”

He cruised through first stage in October and was in contention for two rounds at second stage before a 75-74 left him way outside the number. It was a setback, but not one likely to faze him at this point in his life.

“If I’ve learned anything this year it’s that the golf course is the best place for me to deal with what’s gone on in my life,” he said. “I’m sorry Q-School is going away. To me, it’s the place where you can go to dream. If you play well, you get to live your dream. I haven’t given up on that yet.

“But if I don’t ever live it, I’ll know I did handle the pressure once. And I also know, in the grand scheme of things, it’s great to have success in golf but it isn’t that important.”            

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Garcia bounced in Austin: 'On to Augusta'

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 6:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – For the 16th time in his career, Sergio Garcia’s week at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play ended earlier then he would have hoped, but this time he has plenty of distractions to ease the sting.

Garcia lost his Saturday morning match to Kyle Stanley, 3 and 1, marking the 15th time in his Match Play career he’s failed to advance to Sunday, but at least he has plenty to keep him busy with a newborn at home and his return to the Masters looming in two weeks.

“On to Augusta,” said Garcia, who is not playing next week’s Houston Open. “It's exciting. Obviously when we get there, it's going to be interesting to see how we feel and everything. But it is definitely exciting.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

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Garcia defeated Justin Rose in a playoff to win last year’s Masters, his first major triumph, so his return to Augusta National will be unlike anything he’s ever experienced.

His duties as defending champion will include hosting Tuesday’s Champions Dinner. No word on Garcia’s menu for the event, but various sources have confirmed it will be something “Spanish.”

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JT advances to quarters, closing in on No. 1 ranking

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 5:40 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Justin Thomas continued his impressive run at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and finds himself another step closer to overtaking Dustin Johnson in the World Golf Ranking.

Thomas rolled past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the first knockout stage and will face Kyle Stanley in the Elite Eight. He must advance to Sunday’s championship match to overtake Johnson as the new world No. 1.

“It wasn't anything crazy or special. Just played solid golf tee to green. And it was forcing him to make a lot of putts,” said Thomas, who has played 61 holes this week, won 24, lost six and hasn’t trailed in four matches.

Stanley, who needed a playoff victory over Paul Casey on Friday to advance to the weekend, defeated Sergio Garcia, 3 and 1.

Bubba Watson also continued his solid play, rallying from an early deficit to beat Brian Harman, 2 and 1. He will play Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who defeated Charles Howell III, closing with back-to-back birdies for a 1-up victory.

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But as impressive as Thomas has been, Sweden’s Alex Noren has quietly continued to impress, going undefeated in pool play and closing out Patrick Reed on the 15th hole for a 5-and-3 victory.

“He's such a tough competitor,” said Noren, who will face Australian Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals. “I managed to hole a few birdie putts. When we both had good chances, he just missed and I managed to make those.”

Former Match Play champion Ian Poulter also advanced with a 2-and-1 victory over Louis Oosthuizen. He will play Kevin Kisner, who converted a 10-foot putt at the 18th hole to defeat Matt Kuchar, 1 up.

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Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Sweet 16

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 24, 2018, 5:40 pm

Here is how things played out in the Round of 16 on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The week began with 64 players taking on Austin Country Club,but the field is dwindling. Click here for Day 3 match results:

Match 97: Bubba Watson (35) def. Brian Harman (18), 2 and 1. Watson was 1 down going to the eighth hole, but he won four of the next five holes to turn around this battle of lefties. A 12-foot putt for eagle at the 12th dropped, giving him a 3 up lead coming home. It was Watson’s second eagle of the day. He looks as if he’s still riding the confidence from that Genesis Open victory last month. Watson will advance to play Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the quarterfinals.

Match 98: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Charles Howell III (59), 1 up. Aphibarnrat won in a late comeback, winning the final two holes. He holed a 9-foot putt for birdie at the 17th to square the match and won with an 8-foot birdie at the last. He had not led all day, not until that last birdie putt dropped. The 28-year-old Thai improved to 4-0 on this world stage after sweeping his group in the round-robin play. A four-time European Tour winner, Aphibarnrat is looking for his first PGA Tour victory. He will meet Bubba Watson in the quarterfinals.

Match 99: Kyle Stanley (45) def. Sergio Garcia (7), 3 and 1. Stanley birdied the eighth, ninth and 10th holes to go 3 up, and then he held off Garcia’s run at him, eliminating the world No. 10 with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes. With the victory, Stanley has a chance at a nice Texas two-step, a chance to eliminate the two highest ranked players left in the field, the only players left among the top 10 in the world ranking. But, there’s hard work to do in the quarterfinals, where Stanley will meet world No. 2 Justin Thomas.

Match 100: Justin Thomas (2) def. Si Woo Kim (50), 6 and 5. Thomas remains on fire in this format, steamrolling Kim a day after completing a round-robin sweep of his group by blowing away Francesco Molinari, 7 and 5. The Kim match felt like it was over shortly after it started, with Thomas making the turn 5 up. Thomas will advance to play Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals.

Match 101: Cameron Smith (46) def. Tyrell Hatton (12), 2 and 1. Smith found himself behind early, falling 2 down after Hatton opened with back-to-back birdies, but Smith quickly rallied to win one of the best matches of the day. He birdied four of the next five holes to go 1 up. Hatton lost despite making seven birdies on the round. He lost despite making birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to the red-hot Smith, who made eight birdies. Smith will meet Alex Noren in the quarterfinals.

Match 102: Alex Noren (13) def. Patrick Reed (19), 5 and 3. In this Fire vs. Ice match, Ice won, with Noren making easy work of Reed. Really, though, Reed never got a flame going, and Noren wasn’t going to help him the way Jordan Spieth did a day before. Reed was 2-over on his card before finally making his first and only birdie of the day at the 13th. Somewhere, European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn must have been smiling, watching Noren easily take down the formidable American match-play dynamo. Noren will meet Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

Match 103: Ian Poulter (58) def. Louis Oosthuizen (25), 2 and 1. Poulter’s match-play mojo is going strong again, with the Englishman summoning the intensity that has made him so formidable in the Ryder Cup over the years. He was on fire Saturday, making eight birdies over the first 15 holes, if you count the concession he received hitting a wedge to 18 inches at the 13th hole. Poulter put a special putter in the bag this week, using the same flat stick that helped him lead the Euros to their historic comeback victory against the Americans at Medinah in 2012. Though Oosthuizen made four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, he still couldn’t make it close. Poulter will meet Kevin Kisner in the quarterfinals.

Match 104: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Matt Kuchar (16), 1 up. Kuchar applied all kinds of pressure on Kisner on the back nine, but he couldn’t get Kisner to fold in the best match of the day. Kuchar was 2 down with four to go but managed to pull all square going to the last. After missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 18th, Kuchar watched Kisner sink a 12-footer for his birdie to win. Kisner will meet Ian Poulter in the quarterfinals.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”