The Life of an Alternate Part 1
NORTON, Mass. -- Michael Clark walked through the front door of his Orlando, Fla., home Thursday, straight off an all-day practice session, expecting little more than a burst of air conditioning to soothe his sun-soaked and sweat-drenched body.
What he received altered more than his body temperature.
I got to the house at 5:00, my phone rings; the tour calls and says, Youre first alternate, he recounted Friday.
I thought they were talking about next week, in Canada. I was clueless. I thought they were trying to give me a spot in the Monday pro-am. So we went round-and-around for a second on that. I didnt have a clue it was about here.
Clark was told that there would likely be a spot for him in the Deutsche Bank Championship, which was played Friday through Labor Day Monday. You can better understand his surprise once you realize that he was the 14th and final alternate to make the 156-man field.
Everyone had already been registered ' a very important fact. Once players are registered to compete, they must somehow miss their tee time ' oversleep, become injured, etc. ' in order to be replaced.
The replacement has to be ready at a moments notice, or forgo the opportunity. Even if that means being on site, waiting ' and waiting.
Clark had twice before, in his rookie PGA Tour season of 2000, played the waiting game. And twice before he had been shutout.
That happens maybe 30 percent of the time ' maybe not even that much, he said of winning the waiting game.
So he vowed never again. And instead of traveling to the New England area this week, he stayed at home with his wife and two children.
Then he found out Nick Price would most likely withdraw from the tournament prior to Fridays first round due to a wrist injury. And that he was now first alternate.
Clark used his contacts to make sure that if he made the sudden and expensive trip that if would not prove to be Strike 3.
He discovered Prices exit probability was high, and the trip worth making.
I expected fully to be at home with my family through to next Tuesday, then I knew I was going to be on the road a couple of weeks after that. But they called; I got to go. You have to play when you can, he said.
Ive played so bad for so long, at some point Ive got to play good.
So the 34-year-old Tennessee native bought a plane ticket ' he flew up with fellow alternates Grant Waite and Tom Scherrer, packed his bags, and finally arrived in his hotel around 2:00 a.m. Friday ' all totaled, he shelled out in excess of $1,500. He got a couple of hours sleep, headed out to the TPC of Boston ' which he had never laid eyes on ' and began preparations for his 7:30 tee time.
Clark hasnt had a steady bagman this season, so the caddie master grabbed hold of Rick Hamilton ' a volunteer who was busy attaching the Velcro names onto the back of caddie bibs.
It was certainly a surprise, Hamilton said after their round. Its been a dream day.
At least for awe-struck Hamilton.
Playing the par-71, 7,415-yard course blindly, Clark managed a 1-over-par 72, which put him nine off the lead, but with a chance to make it past the first two rounds. Not bad for a man who had made only three of 13 prior cuts and was mired in 224th place on the money list.
Really, it was the best Ive felt all year, Clark said. I had no pressure, was relaxed. I just approached it as going out with one of the best players in the world, Darren Clarke.
It was so early; I knew there weren't that many people around, so I knew even if I embarrass myself it wouldnt be in front of that many people.
Lunch, a practice session and a sufficient amount of rest later, and it was time to try and validate his visit.
Clark teed off Saturday at 12:40 p.m. Three straight bogeys midway through his round dropped him to 3 over ' two shots on the wrong side of the projected cutline. He was still on that number when he approached the 543-yard, par-5 18th. After a perfect drive, he had about 200 yards to the pin.
At that point, I knew I had to make eagle, he said.
The only obstacle to overcome was the wetland guarding the green. With the pin located in the front, left portion of the kidney bean-shaped putting surface, Clark did what he had to do.
And did what he literally couldnt afford to do.
Clarks approach shot landed short, and finished lost.
I had to hit it high and soft, and all this week Ive been hitting it low. It really wasnt meant to be, he rationalized.
Clark took bogey for a round of 3-over 74. As it turned out, even an eagle wouldnt have helped his cause. His total of 4-over-par 146 left him four back of the cut, which eventually fell at even par.
I played well; I didnt make any putts. Maybe it was meant to be for me to come up here, get a little confidence in my game; I definitely did. Maybe itll carry over for the next few weeks, he said.
Clark is the third alternate for this week's Bell Canadian Open.
Read more on the life of a PGA Tour alternate Tuesday.
Van Rooyen holes putt after ball-marker ruling
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Erik van Rooyen was surveying his 10-footer for par, trying to get a feel for the putt, when his putter slipped out of his hand and dropped onto his ball marker.
The question, then, was whether that accident caused his coin to move.
The rules official looked at various camera angles but none showed definitively whether his coin moved. The ruling was made to continue from where his coin was now positioned, with no penalty.
This was part of the recent rules changes, ensuring there is no penalty if the ball or ball maker is accidently moved by the player. The little-used rule drew attention in 2010, when Ian Poulter accidentally dropped his ball on his marker in Dubai and wound up losing more than $400,000 in bonus and prize money.
After the delay to sort out his ruling Friday, van Rooyen steadied himself and made the putt for par, capping a day in which he shot even-par 71 and kept himself in the mix at The Open. He was at 4-under 138, just two shots off the clubhouse lead.
“I wanted to get going and get this 10-footer to save par, but I think having maybe just a couple minutes to calm me down, and then I actually got a different read when I sat down and looked at it again,” he said. “Good putt. Happy to finish that way.”
Lyle birdies last hole in likely his final Open start
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – If this was Sandy Lyle’s final Open appearance, he went out in style.
Playing on the final year of his automatic age exemption, the 60-year-old Scot buried a 30-foot birdie on the last hole. He missed the cut after shooting 9-over 151 over two rounds.
“I was very light-footed,” he said. “I was on cloud nine walking down the 18th. To make birdie was extra special.”
Lyle, who also won the 1988 Masters, has missed the cut in his last eight majors, dating to 2014. He hasn’t been competitive in The Open since 1998, when he tied for 19th.
To continue playing in The Open, Lyle needed to finish in the top 10 here at Carnoustie. He’d earn a future exemption by winning the Senior British Open.
“More punishment,” he said.
DJ, Thomas miss cut at Open; No. 1 up for grabs
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The top two players in the world both missed the cut at The Open, creating the possibility of a shakeup at the top of the rankings by the end of the weekend.
Dustin Johnson became the first world No. 1 since Luke Donald in 2011 to miss the cut at the year’s third major.
Johnson played solidly for all but the closing stretch. Over two rounds, he was 6 over par on the last three holes. He finished at 6-over 148.
Thomas added to what’s been a surprisingly poor Open record. Just like last year, when he struggled in the second round in the rain at Royal Birkdale, Thomas slumped to a 77 on Friday at Carnoustie, a round that included three consecutive double bogeys on Nos. 6-8. He finished at 4-over 146.
It’s Thomas' first missed cut since The Open last year. Indeed, in three Open appearances, he has two missed cuts and a tie for 53rd.
With Johnson and Thomas out of the mix, the No. 1 spot in the rankings is up for grabs this weekend.
Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can reach No. 1 with a victory this week.
TT Postscript: Woods (71) makes cut, has work to do
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Here are a few things I think I think after Tiger Woods shot a second consecutive even-par 71 Friday in the second round. And yes, he made the cut:
• Tiger said all 71s are not created equal. On Thursday, he made three birdies and three bogeys. On Friday, he made four birdie and four bogeys. Which round was better? The first. His theory is that, despite the rain, conditions were easier in the second round and there were more scoring opportunities. He didn't take advantage.
• This is the first time since the 2013 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that Tiger shot par or better in each of the first two rounds of a major. That’s quite a long time ago.
• Stat line for the day: 11 of 15 fairways, 13 of 18 greens, 32 total putts. Tiger hit one driver and two 3-woods on Thursday and four drivers on Friday, only one which found the fairway. An errant drive at the second led to him sniping his next shot into the gallery.
• In his own words: “I could have cleaned up the round just a little bit. I got off to not exactly the best start, being 2 over through three, but got it back. The golf course was a little bit softer today, obviously. It rains, and we were able to get the ball down a little bit further, control the ball on the ground a little bit easier today, which was nice.”
• At some point Tiger is going to have to be more aggressive. He will be quite a few shots off the lead by day’s end and he'll have a lot of ground to make up. Hitting irons off the tee is great for position golf, but it’s often leaving him more than 200 yards into the green. Not exactly a range for easy birdies.
• Sure, it’s too soon to say Tiger can’t win a fourth claret jug, but with so many big names ahead of him on the leaderboard, it’s unlikely. Keep in mind that a top-six finish would guarantee him a spot in the WGC: Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks. At The Players, he stated that this was a big goal.
• My Twitter account got suspended momentarily when Tiger was standing over a birdie putt on the 17th green. That was the most panicked I’ve been since Tiger was in contention at the Valspar.