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Meet Tom Whitney: From nuclear missiles to PGA Tour

By Nick MentaNovember 3, 2017, 2:30 am

Update: Whitney shot 71-76--147, 5 over par and four shots above the projected cut line of 1 over.

LAS VEGAS – You’ll forgive Tom Whitney for being less than nervous on the first tee of his very first PGA Tour event Thursday at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

For starters, there weren’t Ryder Cup-style grandstands with screaming fans, leaving him a fairly calm environment.

He’s also had plenty of experience playing professional events on mini tours, PGA Tour Latinoamerica, and the Tour.

And he already knew his playing partners - Abraham Ancer and Andrew Landry - from his time in the minor leagues, so there wasn’t an opportunity to be starstruck.

But the primary reason Whitney didn’t sweat his first round on Tour was probably the result of the time he spent underground in a missile silo with his finger on the button.

Yes – THAT button.

Whitney, 28, was an intercontinental ballistic missile operator in the United States Air Force ... and that means exactly what you think it means.

“At F.E. Warren [Air Force Base], we have 150 nuclear missiles on alert at all times,” Whitney said.

“Our primary mission was to send the launch command if we were given the command from the president. Um, of course, we’ve never done that.”

And grateful we all are.

Backing up a bit, Whitney entered the Air Force Academy in 2006, was commissioned in 2010, and left the Air Force in May 2014 to finally pursue his dream of playing professional golf.

“My passion was a little bit stronger for giving myself a shot at this game than continuing in the military. Put it this way, if I didn’t have golf, I’d still be serving,” he says standing outside the clubhouse at TPC Summerlin, having just birdied the 16th hole before darkness suspended play Thursday night.

He will return Friday morning at 7:30 a.m., even par with two holes remaining in his first PGA Tour round.

Shriners Hospitals for Children Open: Articles, photos and videos

To be clear, Whitney didn’t just randomly decide to take up golf. He has always been able to play. He won five events while competing for the Air Force Academy’s Division I program and was in the top 25 of the individual ranking his senior year. He turned pro after college, knowing it would be four to five years before he could play full-time, and kept practicing as often as his day job would allow him while he was in the military.

Of course, he could only hit balls above ground, which was an issue during the 96 days a year he would spend underground.

Once he left the Air Force to take his shot at professional golf, he estimates he won eight mini-tour events and finished second nine times, a record both impressive and imperative for a mini-tour type with higher aspirations. He picked up his first victory on the E-Tour just seven days after departing the military.

Whitney and his family make their home in Fort Collins, Colorado. His wife Jessica, whom he met at the Academy, just transitioned to Air Force Reserves in July after spending seven years on active duty. The Whitneys have one boy, four-year-old Sky, one girl, two-year-old Zoey, and one more baby on the way. Whitney wears his children’s names on his golf spikes.

As for exactly how he wound up at the Shriners, Whitney made his way to PGA Tour Latinomerica in 2016, and earned his way to the Tour in 2017, where he made 8 of 15 cuts and recorded a season-best solo fifth at the Charity Championship. After finishing 89th on the money list, he was going to spend this week preparing for the second stage of Qualifying School next week in Texas as he attempts to regain his status, but ended up shooting a 9-under 63 to Monday qualify for the Shriners.

“The funny thing was, I was indifferent if I qualified or not,” he says with a smile. “My backup plan was to head out to TPC Craig Ranch for second stage. I was going to get four or five rounds in out there, just relax, enjoy the week, and now I’m hoping to fly out Sunday, and get a practice round Monday for the Tuesday start.”

Considering the winding road Whitney has taken to get here, it’s a detour he’s unlikely to mind.

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Elway to play in U.S. Senior Open qualifier

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 23, 2018, 10:25 pm

Tony Romo is not the only ex-QB teeing it up against the pros.

Denver Broncos general manager and Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway will try to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open next week, according to the Denver Post.

And why not? The qualifier and the senior major will be held in Colorado Springs at the Broadmoor. Elway is scheduled to tee off May 28 at 12:10 p.m. ET. The top two finishers will earn a spot in the U.S. Senior Open, June 27 to July 1.

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Jutanugarn sisters: Different styles, similar results

By Associated PressMay 23, 2018, 10:20 pm

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn play golf and live life differently.

The sisters from Thailand do have the same goal in the LPGA, hoping their shot-to-shot focus leads to titles.

The Jutanugarns are two of six women with a shot at the Volvik Championship to become the circuit's first two-time winner this year. The first round begins Thursday at Travis Pointe Country Club, a course six winners are skipping to prepare elsewhere for next week's U.S. Women's Open at Shoal Creek in Alabama.

''Everybody has a chance to win every weekend,'' Moriya said. ''That's how hard it is on tour right now.''

Ariya competes with a grip-it-and-rip-it approach, usually hammering a 3-wood off the tee.

Moriya takes a more calculated approach, analyzing each shot patiently.

That's perhaps fitting because she's 16 months older than her sister.

''It's funny because when we think about something, it's always the different,'' she said. ''But we pretty much end up with the same idea.''

Off the course, they're also different.

The 22-year-old Ariya appears careful and guarded when having conversations with people she doesn't know well. The 23-year-old Moriya, meanwhile, enjoys engaging in interesting discussions with those who cross her path.

Their mother, Narumon, was with her daughters Wednesday and the three of them always stay together as a family. They don't cook during tournament weeks and opt to eat out, searching for good places like the sushi restaurant they've discovered near Travis Pointe.

Their father, Somboon, does not watch them play in person. They sisters say he has retired from owning a golf shop in Thailand.

''He doesn't travel anymore,'' Moriya Jutanugarn said.

Even if he is relegating to watching from the other side of the world, Somboon Jutanugarn must be proud of the way his daughters are playing.

Ariya became the first Thai winner in LPGA history in 2016, the same year she went on to win the inaugural Volvik Championship. She earned her eighth career victory last week in Virginia and is one of two players, along with Brooke Henderson, to have LPGA victories this year and the previous two years.

Moriya won for the first time in six years on the circuit last month in Los Angeles, joining Annika and Charlotta Sorenstam as the two pairs of sisters to have LPGA victories.

On the money list, Ariya is No. 1 and her sister is third.

In terms of playing regularly, no one is ahead of them.

Ariya is the only LPGA player to start and make the cut in all 12 events this year. Moriya Jutanugarn has also appeared in each tournament this year and failed to make the cut only once.

Instead of working in breaks to practice without competing or simply relax, they have entered every tournament so far and shrug their shoulders at the feat.

''It's not that bad, like 10 week in a row,'' Moriya said.

The LPGA is hosting an event about five miles from Michigan Stadium for a third straight year and hopes to keep coming back even though it doesn't have a title sponsor secured for 2019. LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan told reporters he's confident Ann Arbor will be a long-term home for the circuit.

''I can't tell you the specifics about how we're going to do that,'' Whan acknowledged.

LPGA and tournament officials are hosting some prospective sponsors this week, trying to persuade them to put their name on the tournament.

Volvik, which makes golf balls, is preparing to scale back its support of the tournament.

''We're coming back,'' said Don Shin, president of Volvik USA. ''We just don't know in what capacity.''

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Wise: 'No hard feelings' over Nelson missed kiss

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 10:18 pm

Aaron Wise left the AT&T Byron Nelson with his first PGA Tour trophy and a seven-figure paycheck. But lost in the shuffle of closing out his breakthrough victory in near-darkness was his failed attempt for a celebratory kiss with his girlfriend on the 18th green.

Wise appeared to go in for a peck after his family joined him on the putting surface, but instead he and his girlfriend simply laughed and hugged. After the moment gained a bit of online notoriety, Wise told reporters at the Fort Worth Invitational that the young couple simply laughed it off.

"Yeah, I have been giving her some s--- about that," Wise said. "A lot has been made about it. It's really nothing. Like I was saying, she was just so excited to surprise me. I was kind of ruining the surprise a little bit that she was shocked, and she didn't even see me going in for the kiss."

At age 21, Wise is now one of the youngest winners on Tour. He explained that while both his girlfriend and mother flew in to watch the final round at Trinity Forest Golf Club, where he shared the 54-hole lead and eventually won by three shots, he took some of the surprise out of their arrival in true millennial fashion - by looking up his girlfriend's location earlier in the day.

Still getting used to his newfound status on Tour, Wise downplayed any controversy surrounding the kiss that wasn't.

"No hard feelings at all," Wise said. "We love each other a ton and we're great. It was a funny moment that I think we'll always be able to look back at, but that's all it really was."

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Giving back: Chun creates education fund at site of Open win

By Randall MellMay 23, 2018, 8:04 pm

South Korea’s In Gee Chun is investing in American youth.

Chun broke through on the largest stage in women’s golf, winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago, and she’s making sure Lancaster, Pa., continues to share in what that brought her.

Chun is preparing for next week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek outside Birmingham, Ala., but she made a special stop this week. She returned to the site of her breakthrough in Pennsylvania on Tuesday and Wednesday, launching the In Gee Chun Lancaster Country Club Education Fund. She announced Tuesday that she’s donating $10,000 to seed the fund. She’s expected to raise more than $20,000 for the cause in a fundraising dinner at the club Wednesday evening. The fund will annually award scholarships to Lancaster youth applicants, including Lancaster Country Club caddies and children of club employees.

“I’m excited to be back here,” said Chun, who put on a junior clinic during her stay and also played an outing with club members. “Winning the U.S. Women’s Open here in Lancaster gave me the opportunity to play on the LPGA and make one of my dreams come true.”

Chun also supports a fund in her name at Korea University, where she graduated, a fund for various “social responsibility” projects and for the educational needs of the youth who create them.

“Education is very important to me,” Chun said. “I would like to help others reach their goals.”

Chun made donations to the Lancaster General Health Foundation in 2015 and ’16 and to Pennsylvania’s J. Wood Platt Caddie Scholarship Trust last year. Lancaster Country Club officials estimate she has now made donations in excess of $40,000 to the community.

“We are grateful In Gee’s made such a wonderful connection to our community and club,” said Rory Connaughton, a member of Lancaster Country Club’s board of governors. “She’s a special person.”