Shots Fired and Misfired

By Mercer BaggsMarch 24, 2009, 4:00 pm
Sometimes you dont even have to finish asking the question before you get the answer.
Think theres any chance
Zero. Zero.
Arnold Palmer laughed and smiled when he gave his interrupted response, knowing he didnt need to hear the predicate part of that question.
Arnold Palmer
Arnold Palmer was just left of the green, watching as Robert Gamez holed his incredible shot. (Getty Images)
Back in 1990, Robert Gamez holed a 7-iron from 176 yards for an eagle-2 on the 72nd hole to win the then Nestle Invitational.
Can you believe its been nearly 20 years? Palmer asks.
It would have been easy to interrupt him, knowing where he was going, but the question was rhetorical. And hes Arnold Palmer.
On this day, nearly two decades after Gamez stunned Palmer and everyone else surrounding the 18th green at Bay Hill ' and broke the heart of Greg Norman, or at least fractured it ' Palmer is recalling three of the most memorable shots in his tournaments history.
It was pretty exciting what was going on, Palmer says of the incidences nearly two decades prior. The crowd thought Greg Norman was a shoo-in to win. At best, we thought there might be a playoff.
Norman was standing on the 17th tee when he heard the unmistakable eruption.
''With a roar like that, you knew somebody holed a shot, but we didn't know who,'' Norman said at the time. ''Then we heard over the walkie-talkie that Gamez had made it and I knew I had to birdie one of the last two holes to force a playoff.''
Norman went on to miss a 10-footer for birdie at 17 and a 15-footer for birdie at 18.
Of course, no one remembers that. Everyone, however, remembers Gamez hole-out. And how could they ever forget? Theres a plaque honoring the shot, right from where it was struck.
As Palmer stares at the in-ground monument, he admits, Oh yeah, Ive hit a lot of balls from around that spot. Ive come close, but Ive never holed one.
You cant try and make a shot, and then make it.
Maybe not from the fairway, 176 yards from the hole. But when youre 24 feet away, its a different story.
Last year, Tiger Woods stared over a putt to win the now Arnold Palmer Invitational.
I was standing right in back of him and I said to our tournament director, I think hell make it, Palmer recalls. I felt like I was putting it for him.
I know that feeling. I know how it feels, what it means. The concentration level is so high. Either you let it get away from you or you make it. Like Tiger did.
After pouring in the putt to perfection, Woods celebrated with one of his most memorable post-victory reactions ever.
That was something we had never seen from Tiger. He did this little whirl and threw down his cap. It was great, Palmer says.
Asked to try and repeat that putt, Palmer drops a ball in the general vicinity, with the hole cut purposefully in its tournament Sunday position.
He takes one look at the hole, looks back down at his ball and slams it into the back of the cup.
I cant imagine why Tiger got so excited about it, Palmer says with his signature smile.
Just dont ask me to do it again.
Not every memorable shot from Palmers tournament evokes a grin, simply ask Vijay Singh (not that hed answer you) or Greg Owen (not that hed want to talk about his experience).
Then theres the curious case of Phil Mickelson on the 16th hole in 2002.
Mickelson hooked his tee shot on the then par-5 into the trees, his ball nestling among twigs and leaves. One stroke back at the time, he could have pitched out and had 175 or so yards left for a third shot and still given himself a chance for birdie.
But this was Phil Mickelson. Instead he tried to manipulate his ball with a 4-iron, trying to get it to go under a set of branches, over water guarding the front of the green, and onto a concrete landing area. He also needed the ball to slice a little first and then hook hard.
It sliced right into the middle of the pond. He lost by five.
Mickelson claimed at the time that he didnt have a pitch shot back to the fairway, which didnt appear entirely accurate, and that was his only shot.
I dont feel like the play was bad, he said after his round. I just didnt execute it. It wasnt very easy, but it wasnt impossible.
Standing in the same spot seven years later, Palmer agrees, both with Mickelsons explanation and approach.
There were a few more bushes (back then), but it was still very possible.
Oh, I would have done the same thing. In fact, I wrote him a little letter. I didnt want him to get too discouraged.
Mickelson has been called a modern-day Palmer, for his relationship with the fans and for his aggressive, unapologetic play.
Thinking back to his first PGA Tour win, Palmer recalls playing in the 1955 Canadian Open.
At the time, the person I had teamed up with was Tommy Bolt. We were traveling together, staying together, saving money, Palmer tells.
When we got to Canada, just by coincidence I was paired with Tommy (in the final round). On the sixth hole I hit a bad drive and hooked it into some trees. I knew my position (in the tournament) and looked at the ball. Tommy was very aware of the situation, very aware of what I was thinking of doing.
Just pitch it out! he screamed at me. I hit a 6-iron through the trees and onto the green. He chewed my ass out.
But Palmer won the tournament, the first of 62 Tour titles.
Its no wonder that Palmer, of all people ' and perhaps the only person ' would stand by Mickelson and offer encouragement.
But there is one thing, one difference between the two: I would have hit that shot, Palmer says, and then looks up and smiles, but for me, it would have worked out.
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    Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

    By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

    Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

    During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.


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    Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

    By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

    DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

    With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

    But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

    That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

    Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.

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    There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

    If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

    “I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

    While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

    While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

    “Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

    But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

    While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

    “I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

    Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

    But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Tour.

    Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

    “Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

    An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

    For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

    “It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”

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    5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2

    By Ryan LavnerMay 19, 2018, 11:35 pm

    The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:

    1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.

    2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.

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    3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.

    4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.

    5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.

    Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. …  Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.

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    Wise (21) makes Leishman (34) feel a little old

    By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 10:55 pm

    DALLAS – With the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson likely to take on a match-play feel, Marc Leishman likes his chances to close out another win – even if his opponent makes him feel a little old.

    Leishman, 34, shares the lead at Trinity Forest Golf Club with 21-year-old Aaron Wise, who was the youngest player to make the cut at the tournament’s new venue. The two men will start the final round at 17 under, four shots clear of their next-closest pursuers.

    Leishman played the third round alongside Wise and Brian Gay, and he originally didn’t realize just how fresh-faced his fellow co-leader is.

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    “He’s a solid player for, I heard this morning he’s only 21. I didn’t realize that,” Leishman said. “I guess I was in high school before he was born, so that’s – I don’t know. You hear guys talk about that all the time but I’ve never said that, I think. Yeah, he’s a good player.”

    Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual title while at Oregon, and he opted to turn pro after his sophomore season. While he could have been capping his senior season with a return to the NCAAs next week, Wise is pleased with the career choice and remains eager for a chance to close out his first career PGA Tour win against a seasoned veteran.

    “I feel like I’m in a great spot for tomorrow,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”