Timing, guts make Beljan's win memorable

By John HawkinsNovember 12, 2012, 2:00 pm

The longer I play this stupid game, the more inclined I am to believe the U.S. Golf Association handicap system could stand a fresh coat of paint, if not an extreme makeover. Sandbaggers and vanity caps will continue to exist regardless of the mathematical formula. My gripe is based primarily on the fact that we use stroke-play scores to balance the competitive scale when a vast majority of recreational golf is played in a best-ball format.

We all know guys who never miss a 5-footer when it matters and never make one when it doesn’t. They throw four birdies at you and shoot 82 with a grin, as opposed to the dude who calls himself a 7 but rakes everything inside 6 feet and hasn’t really broken 80 since July 2008.

I understand the reasoning behind equitable stroke control. I acknowledge the widespread obsession with pace of play and insist on giving you a putt of any length if it’s for triple bogey, but these are things that have a substantial impact on how many cookies you get at the start of the day. So let’s get real. Very few amateur golfers count every single shot. We play a two-man team game based on data compiled on individual performance, and in this context, it makes no sense.

How do you fix it? People smarter than me can handle that, but you start by factoring in a best score/worst score differential on the 20 posted rounds. You play matches with everyone getting 65 to 80 percent of their handicap in the current system, which would help counter the effect of meaningless strokes.

It really is a low-net world, and maybe that’s a good thing, but that doesn’t mean the process as we know it is working. It wouldn’t take a lot to revise the calculation structure. Just a couple of single-digit numerical engineers and a firm grasp of how the game is played at the grass-roots level.

ALTHOUGH I BASICALLY get paid to watch golf tournaments, I would have watched the final 36 holes of the CMN Hospitals Classic simply out of respect for the second-round leader who was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital (and held overnight for observation) right after signing his scorecard.

It sounds like something out of a Dan Jenkins novel. I’ll admit that I didn’t expect Charlie Beljan to hold on to his lead the rest of the way, much less win the tournament rather comfortably, which makes it a great story in any number of ways. It is unfathomably unique – always excellent copy. It comes with a happy ending – never a bad thing.

We’re talking about a guy who struggled mightily in his rookie season on the PGA Tour, which only adds additional frosting to the feel-good cake. A tie for third at The Greenbrier in July accounted for about 83 percent of Beljan’s regular-season earnings. He made $103,250 in a couple of Fall Series events before this past weekend, which is little more than lunch money in this day and age.

Beljan needed an industrial-strength miracle to retain his Tour card. If you had the big fella in the GolfChannel.com Fantasy Challenge, we’d like you to head straight over to the company’s drug-testing unit.

What struck me in the final hour Sunday was that Beljan moved and behaved very much like a guy who was super-nervous – a panic attack was the apparent reason for Friday’s medical emergency. I can’t recall any player leading a tournament and appearing so visibly consumed by it, but this was perhaps the weakest field all year, and nobody could chase down Beljan.

Does it rank among the 10 best stories of the year? Probably not, but Beljan’s victory underscores what should be the essence of the Fall Series: a chance to salvage something, a four-tournament window of hope. From there, the truth and fiction can become inseparable.

THE FIRST PGA TOUR event I covered for Golf World was the 1995 Walt Disney World Classic – long before the FedEx Cup and subsequent schedule changes relegated the event to Fall Series status. Seventeen years ago, Disney fields were considerably stronger than this latest gathering.

Tiger Woods picked up his second Tour victory in ’96, beating Payne Stewart in a head-to-head showdown, but that day became memorable for a bizarre incident that led to the disqualification of Taylor Smith, who would have faced Woods in a playoff. The Jean Van de Velde fiasco (1999 British Open) remains the nuttiest thing I’ve ever covered as a golf writer, but the Smith DQ ranks a strong second.

Van de Velde’s demise was self-inflicted. And though Smith couldn’t blame anyone but himself for continuing to use a long putter with an illegal grip – he’d been told it was non-conforming at a Tour event a couple of months earlier – he was turned in by veteran pro Lennie Clements, who was paired with Smith in the final round.

Clements didn’t report Smith to tournament officials until deep into the front nine. It led to a number of questions that were never really answered. How did Clements know of such a rule? Why did he wait until the two men had played seven or eight holes? Smith was told he likely would be DQ’d on the ninth hole but kept playing under the premise that he was appealing the ruling.

He shot 67 and caught Woods at 21 under, setting up the ultimate David-vs.-Goliath playoff that never happened. There wasn’t a dime of prize money that afternoon for a guy who would finish 102nd on the ’96 money list, then vanish from the Tour a year later. When Smith agreed to my request for an interview in 1999, he was struggling on and off the course.

He would run into problems with the law on charges of illegally forging prescriptions – his explanations on the matter didn’t check out when I began verifying facts for the article. A sad story would only get sadder. In 2007, Smith died at age 40 of undisclosed causes. By all accounts, he was a good man who struggled with certain elements of reality, a talented guy who never recovered from what happened at the 1996 Disney Classic.

ANTHONY KIM. CAMILO VILLEGAS. Golf’s two biggest young stars in 2008 have been missing from the competitive landscape for an extended period, and in 2012, things only got worse. Kim was playing horribly while battling assorted injuries in the spring, then ruptured his Achilles and hasn’t played since late March.

Villegas, as Rich Lerner pointed out on the Sunday telecast, is headed back to Q-School after managing just four top-25s in 25 starts. A T-18 in New Orleans was Villegas’ best finish all season. As his career took full flight in 2008, some Tour pros still thought Villegas was grossly overachieving, especially after he won back-to-back FedEx Cup playoff events and missed just three cuts in 22 tournaments.

They saw a hard worker whose swing had too many mechanical flaws – a guy whose putting wasn’t consistent enough to compensate for any ball-striking woes. Turns out the doubters were right. Amazingly, Villegas ranked fourth on the Tour in greens in regulation in 2012 but still finished well outside the top 125, largely because his putting stats were horrible across the board.

You can generate a ton of commercial income simply striking a low-to-the-ground yoga pose while you read greens. Eventually, however, those putts have to go in. Spiderman hasn’t come close to making his share over the last four years.

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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.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

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

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

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

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Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.