The King Holds Court

By Mercer BaggsMarch 13, 2002, 5:00 pm
ORLANDO, Fla. - With age comes wisdom, or so the saying goes. Based on that philosophy, media gathered Wednesday to hear the thoughts of Arnold Palmer.
The King held court at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge, site of this weeks Bay Hill Invitational, where he is tournament host.
Palmer spoke on a myriad of topics, ranging from the recent course changes at the Masters to the prospects of new tours to his future in the game.
Augusta National Alterations
Palmer won the Masters Tournament four times, the last coming in 1964. And with those victories, the 72-year-old earned more than a quartet of green jackets; he earned a lifetime exemption into the seasons first major.
But times have changed, and, so too, has the course. Nearly 300 yards has been added to the overall length, stretching it to 7,270 yards. Palmer has played from the championship tees on two occasions since the renovation, and liked what he saw ' even if it didnt benefit him.
I think its appropriate, he said. I hear some remarks about they were doing something to keep Tiger from winning; hell, if anything, (the changes) favor him. The long hitter is the guy thats going to be rewarded.
Palmer wouldnt disclose what he shot in those two practice rounds, only saying, with a dry laugh, Were not talking about that.
He added the most significant changes were at the opening and closing holes.
At 1, with a fair drive, Im hitting a 5-wood or a 3-wood into the green. At 18, unless I really catch a good drive, its a 3-wood. And I have to hit the hell out of both of them to get them on the green.
But really, thats not very significant, because the comparison is not a good one. These young people are just hitting the ball a really long way.
Bay Hill Changes
Augusta National wasnt the only subject of change. Like the aforementioned major venue, this weeks Bay Hill course has undergone a facelift, though slight in comparison.
We changed all the greens, said Palmer, who noted there was a new type of Bermuda grass called Tifeagle on the surface.
The rough is not any higher than its ever been, but it is thicker. And, of course, the obstacle there will be to get it out of the rough and hold it on the much harder greens.
The greens have been the primary focus this week. Publicly, players have been praising the tough terrain. Privately, there have been grumblings that the surface will not hold accurate approach shots.
Even Wednesday mornings heavy rain shouldnt have much of an effect on the firmness of the greens when play starts Thursday.
The most obvious change can be seen at the par-5 16th.
We changed the entire green, moved it more to the right, and we reduced the size to approximately 5,000 square feet and put some, I would call, modestly severe to severe undulation on the green.
The left side of the green will be a dangerous target if you hit the left side and the ball is pulling left, it is very likely to go into the water.
Overall, the golf course is in the best shape in my 33 years here, without question.
His Future
Every year, Palmer sits down and says hes contemplating a full exit from competitive golf. This year was no different.
I wont say the Masters particularly or Bay Hill particularly, but its getting to the point where I probably will be very careful about where I play.
Ive decided not to play the Hope anymore, and thats going to be the general trend.
Palmer has played in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic 32 times.
In reference to the changes to Augusta National, Palmers friend and long-time rival Jack Nicklaus said they might embarrass the older player, forcing them to quit making the annual trip.
Said Palmer, I think hes given a pretty good evaluation, really. The fact that we dont hit the ball anywhere near like we once did - that is going to be a factor for us.
As I get older and try to play golf courses like Augusta or Bay Hill, I realize its time for me to give way.
On the prospect of a tour such as the proposed Majors Tour, where major winners from the ages of 37-55 would compete, Palmer said, Could you imagine a player winning a major championship and giving up his PGA (Tour) membership? I couldnt.
In my thinking, I suppose someone could come along with deep pockets, and form another tour. But right now, at the moment, I dont think thats a factor.
On Augusta National introducing their own specs for equipment: That is a conversation that has been going on around the world, not just at Augusta, but everywhere.
Jack Nicklaus and I have been, for a number of years, suggesting that they take a look at the golf ball and slow it down. Now, they can do that one of two ways. They can slow the golf ball down generally by making different specs on all golf balls. Or, they can do a two-game situation, one for the professionals and one for the amateurs.
On speaking out on non-related golf issues, which Tiger Woods has been criticized for not doing: I really dont think theres much to gain by getting involved in social issues and other things hes handled it very well.
And how did he handle such situations in his prime: The same way Im handling them now, he said with an evasive laugh. My father taught me a few things, and that was one of them.
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Five-time Open champ Thomson passes at 88

By Associated PressJune 20, 2018, 1:35 am

MELBOURNE, Australia – Five-time Open Championship winner Peter Thomson has died, his family said Wednesday. He was 88.

Thomson had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for more than four years and died at his Melbourne home surrounded by family members on Wednesday morning.

Born on Aug, 23, 1929, Thomson was two months short of his 89th birthday.

The first Australian to win The Open Championship, Thomson went on to secure the title five times between 1954 and 1965, a record equaled only by Tom Watson.

On the American senior circuit he won nine times in 1985.

Thomson also served as president of the Australian PGA for 32 years, designing and building courses in Australia and around the world, helping establish the Asian Tour and working behind the scenes for the Odyssey House drug rehabilitation organization where he was chairman for five years.

He also wrote for newspapers and magazines for more than 60 years and was patron of the Australian Golf Writers Association.

In 1979 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to golf and in 2001 became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his contributions as a player and administrator and for community service.

Thomson is survived by his wife Mary, son Andrew and daughters Deirdre Baker, Pan Prendergast and Fiona Stanway, their spouses, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were to be announced over the next few days.

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Gaston leaves USC to become head coach at Texas A&M

By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2018, 11:00 pm

In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.

This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.  

Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.

Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.

The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.  

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Spieth 'blacked out' after Travelers holeout

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 9:44 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – It was perhaps the most-replayed shot (and celebration) of the year.

Jordan Spieth’s bunker holeout to win the Travelers Championship last year in a playoff over Daniel Berger nearly broke the Internet, as fans relived that raucous chest bump between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller after Spieth threw his wedge and Greller threw his rake.

Back in Connecticut to defend his title, Spieth admitted that he has watched replays of the scene dozens of times – even if, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t exactly choreographing every move.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“Just that celebration in general, I blacked out,” Spieth said. “It drops and you just react. For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”

Spieth and Greller’s celebration was so memorable that tournament officials later shipped the rake to Greller as a keepsake. It’s a memory that still draws a smile from the defending champ, whose split-second decision to go for a chest bump over another form of celebration provided an appropriate cap to a high-energy sequence of events.

“There’s been a lot of pretty bad celebrations on the PGA Tour. There’s been a lot of missed high-fives,” Spieth said. “I’ve been part of plenty of them. Pretty hard to miss when I’m going into Michael for a chest bump.”

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Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break

By Randall MellJune 19, 2018, 9:27 pm

Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.

Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.

Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.

“Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”

Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.

“Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”

Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.