Arnies Inspiration Open to All

By Randall MellAugust 11, 2009, 4:00 pm
Editor's note: As Arnold Palmer approaches his 80th birthday Sept. 10, we reflect with some of our best Palmer stories.
 
His 80th birthday is a little more than three months away, but Arnold Palmers influence still touches U.S. Open hopefuls today.
 
Fifty-six years after he played in his first U.S. Open, 15 years after he played in his last, Palmer is the common thread unexpectedly stitching together the stories of the oldest and youngest players attempting to make it to the national championship in Mondays sectional qualifiers.
 
Jerry Tucker, 59, of Stuart, Fla., is the oldest player trying to advance to Bethpage Black outside New York City June 18-21. Grayson Murray, 15, of Raleigh, N.C., is the youngest.
 
Theyre among the 767 players competing for 65 or so U.S. Open qualifying spots available in Mondays 13 sectionals across the land.
 
They both credit Palmer for inspiring them.
 
Tucker is a teaching pro who works out of Trump International in West Palm Beach, a former head professional at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis. Hes a four-time South Florida PGA Section Senior Player of the Year who counts playing with Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus among his favorite moments in golf. His career highlights, however, are the three rounds he played with Palmer at senior events.
 
'Arnold Palmer was my idol, said Tucker, who does short-game work coaching LPGA rookie Vicky Hurst. When Arnold won the Masters in 1962, thats what got me going in the game. I was 13. I told him that when we played together.
 
Tucker was setting up in the rain to play a practice round before 2001 Senior PGA Championship at Ridgewood Country Club when Palmer strolled to the tee.
 
'Who are you playing with? Palmer asked.
 
Just myself, Tucker said.
 
Not anymore, Palmer said.
 
Tucker told Palmer that he was such a devoted follower of Palmers that he only uses red tees, just like the King.
 
At the second hole, Arnie pulls out a yellow Pennzoil tee and uses it, Tucker said. I told him he made an impression on me writing in his book that he only uses red tees and that he drinks Coke in the middle of the night. Arnie says, `Jerry, now I only use yellow tees and I drink beer in the middle of the night. It was great, but I asked him, `Arnie, what am I supposed to do with the 10,000 red tees I have in my garage?
 
Tucker will tee it up Monday at Lake Nona Country Club in Orlando, where he will be among 57 players competing for three U.S. Open spots. He is trying to make it to his third U.S. Open, but his first in 25 years. He qualified in 1981 at Merion and 84 at Winged Foot. He also played his way into two PGA Championships as a club professional. John Cook, the 11-time PGA Tour winner, is the biggest name attempting to make it through Lake Nona.
 
Murray, a rising junior who is a three-time winner at the Callaway Junior Worlds, also counts Palmer as an inspiration.
 
Though Palmer hasnt won a tour event of any kind in Murrays lifetime, Palmer made a giant impact on Murray when they met during a Wake Forest University golf dinner. Murray was 9.
 
Its one of the highlights of my life, Murray said. He told me to keep up the hard work, that the game could take me anywhere I wanted to go in life if I worked at it. Ive never forgotten that, and Ive used it as motivation.
 
Grayson would like to follow Palmers footsteps to Wake Forest.
 
From the moment Grayson met Arnold, theres been no doubt in his mind where he wanted to go to school, said Eric Murray, Graysons father.
 
If you go to the Arnold Palmer Memory Book at the U.S. Golf Association Web site, where the organization is preparing to celebrate Palmers 80th birthday, youll find Murrays memory recounted among so many others.
 
The other thing that Arnold told Grayson was that, more than anything, he should have fun with his golf, Eric said.
 
Murray, who is 15 years and eight months old, will be looking to have the time of his life if he makes it through the sectional qualifier at Hawks Ridge Golf Club outside Atlanta. Forty-three players are competing for three U.S. Open spots there. Murray is bidding to become the second youngest qualifier to make it to a U.S. Open. Tadd Fujikawa was the youngest when he made it at 15 years, five months and seven days old.
 
Graysons going to Atlanta with all cylinders clicking, said Ted Kiegel, Murrays swing coach. He has a great chance.
 
Kiegel also works with PGA Tour pro Webb Simpson, whos also trying to make it through Mondays sectional qualifying.
 
Ive played a lot of golf with Webb and learned a lot from him, Murray said. It would be great if we both made it.
 
Monday is what makes the U.S. Open the most democratic of major golf championships. Two-time U.S. Open winner Lee Janzen will compete with 120 players at Brookside and The Lakes golf clubs in Columbus, Ga. Janzens 10-year U.S. Open exemption expired this year, requiring him to play his way into the field. Janzen has played in 18 consecutive U.S. Opens. David Duval and Davis Love III are other former major champions in a field heavily populated with PGA Tour pros stopping off after playing at the Memorial.
 
Two-time major champ John Daly will be among 110 players trying to make it through the qualifier at Germantown and Ridgewood country clubs in Memphis.
 
Related Links:
  • Send Arnold Palmer Your Birthday Wish
  • Palmer recalls memorable shots at Bay Hill
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    In the battle of bros, Koepka 1-ups DJ

    By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2018, 1:12 am

    SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – It’s a scene that occurs on a regular basis at the Joey D Golf Training Center, frenzied workouts driven by an intense combination of competition and desire.

    Under the watchful eye of longtime PGA Tour trainer Joey Diovisalvi, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson will turn even the most mundane elements of their workouts into winner-take-all contests – from the duo’s warmup on stationary bikes to the various exercises that have turned the twosome into a pair of the game’s most imposing figures.

    It was during one of these hyper-fueled sessions a few months ago when Koepka suggested he could become No. 1 world.

    “I think Brooks was 11th in the world at the time, and Dustin said, ‘Yeah, if you add a ‘1’ to that,’” Diovisalvi recalled. “Brooks said, ‘You wait and see; you want to come to my party and put the banner up?’ Dustin just laughed, ‘Not while I’m alive, it’s not happening.’”

    That rivalry, which is a friendly as it is genuine, was taken to a new level on Sunday at the U.S. Open when the duo set out for the final lap in the day’s penultimate group. Golf’s undisputed Bash Brothers going head-to-head after having traded titles at the last two U.S. Opens, the prototype of the modern professional playing on golf’s most demanding stage.

    To the New York masses, the twosome must have looked like the guy most likely to ask how long you’re going to be using the bench press at your local gym, a pair of golfing unicorns who have combined unrelenting power with wildly under-rated precision.


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    With apologies to all those who set out for the final round at Shinnecock Hills with the greatest expectations, this was always going to come down to either Koepka or Johnson.

    Koepka won his first U.S. Open in dominant fashion last year at Erin Hills and Johnson got on the board in 2016 at Oakmont, so it should have been no surprise that, as the duo went through their normal “game day” workout early Sunday together, there was the unspoken realization that the day’s competition was just beginning.

    “[Koepka] likes to beat DJ,” said Claude Harmon III, the swing coach for both men. “We’re in an era now where it’s a great time in golf that all the guys are friends and there are great friendships, but trust me – all these guys want to win. Brooks wants to beat everybody, including DJ who is his closest friend out here. He wants to beat him in the gym, in everything they do.”

    Even in the Official World Golf Ranking, which currently features Johnson atop the pack?

    “Absolutely, he tells him all the time,” Harmon said.

    Koepka won’t climb to No. 1 in world on Monday, but he did one-up his South Florida stablemate by becoming the first player since Curtis Strange, in 1989, to win back-to-back U.S. Opens.

    It was a perfectly Koepka performance.

    A day that began with a no small measure of apprehension following Saturday’s inexplicable setup snafu – that prompted some players to contend that the USGA had “lost” the golf course for the second consecutive championship at Shinnecock Hills – quickly settled into the kind of competitive grind for which the U.S. Open is known.

    Koepka broke out of a four-way tie for first place with a 20-footer for birdie at the second, added another at the third to go two strokes clear and appeared to be on cruise control. But then U.S. Opens, real U.S. Opens where par is a good score and the USGA dances dangerously close to the edge, are never that easy.

    The first crack came at the par-3 11th hole when Koepka airmailed the green and needed to convert a 12-footer for bogey. He scrambled again at the 12th with a 6-footer for par and salvaged his advantage at the 14th hole after finding the fescue with his drive.

    With Tommy Fleetwood – who became the sixth player to shoot 63 in a U.S. Open to settle into the clubhouse lead at 2 over par – watching from the range, Koepka walked to the 72nd tee with a two-stroke advantage. There was no suspense, no moments of anxiety, no reason to think he would allow this opportunity to slip away.

    For all the complaints about Saturday’s setup, which even USGA CEO Mike Davis said were justified, this was the kind of U.S. Open Koepka relishes.

    “This week is just back to a typical U.S. Open, where 1 over par wins the golf tournament,” said Koepka, who closed with a 68. “It's just a lot of grinding. But I couldn't be happier with the way I played.”

    Picking your favorite major is often like picking your favorite child – they are all special in their unique way – but Koepka had no problem giving his second turn as U.S. Open champion its proper place.

    This was special. Special because he outplayed Johnson, who closed with a 70 to finish in third place at 3 over. Special because of the workmanlike performance Shinnecock Hills demanded. And special because the last year hasn’t exactly been a celebration.

    Toward the end of 2017, Koepka began to feel pain in his left wrist. He would miss the Masters with a partially torn tendon and spend 3 ½ maddening months on his couch recovering.

    “We were worried that he wasn’t even going to be able to come here and defend,” said Koepka’s father, Bob. “I’m just thankful that he’s been able to recover. It’s been a long three months for him.”

    Although he didn’t start hitting full shots until the Monday after the Masters, his return to competitive form was nothing short of meteoric, even by modern standards. And when he finished runner-up at last month’s Fort Worth Invitational, just his fourth event back, his confidence quickly returned.

    “He’d never really been a golf nerd and I think he fell in love with golf again,” Harmon said. “When he came back there was something I hadn’t seen with him wanting to play again. He watched the Masters. He never watches the Masters.”

    He also was back in the gym, alongside Johnson, rekindling the duo’s ongoing bout of one-upmanship. Early Sunday during their pre-round workout it was the status quo for Koepka and Johnson, friendly banter that both lightens the mood and inspires excellence.

    But it was different once the two set out for the final round. There were no jokes, no trash talking, no talking of any kind, in fact.

    “I love Dustin. He's one of my best friends,” Koepka said. “To play alongside him, it was fun today. I was excited about it. I figured he would be the guy to beat. But I didn't talk to him today. Maybe I said something on [No.] 3, and that was about it.”

    There will be plenty to talk about next week when they renew what is one of the game’s most unique friendships and rivalries. Koepka won’t ascend to No. 1 in the world just yet, but he will hang a banner in Diovisalvi’s gym – 2018 U.S. Open champion – and Johnson wouldn’t miss that moment.

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    Balky putter dooms DJ's run for second U.S. Open

    By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 12:31 am

    SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – While the course conditions during the final round of the U.S. Open were decidedly different than the day before, Dustin Johnson’s struggles on the greens remained the same.

    Johnson appeared in command of the tournament at the halfway point at Shinnecock Hills, building a four-shot lead as the only player under par. But he, like many of the leaders, fell victim to borderline third-round conditions and struggled to a 7-over 77.

    That still left him with a share of the lead at 3 over heading into the final round and a great chance to earn his second U.S. Open title in the last three years. Instead, he couldn’t keep pace with playing partner Brooks Koepka, shooting an even-par 70 to finish alone in third while Koepka went two shots better to successfully defend his title.


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    Johnson declined to speak with media following his round.

    Johnson was 2 over for the week heading to the back nine on Sunday, only one shot behind Koepka. But he made three bogeys on the inward half, including dropped shots on Nos. 11 and 14 that effectively ended his title chances.

    The culprit for Johnson’s regression was clear. After leading the field in strokes gained: putting through the first two rounds, he couldn’t get comfortable on the greens on the weekend.

    Johnson needed 38 putts to complete his third round, T-64 among the 67 players who made the cut, and his 35 final-round putts were T-63 in the same category.

    Despite the putting woes, Johnson has now finished T-4 or better at the U.S. Open four times in the last five years. In addition to his third-place showing this week and his win at Oakmont in 2016, he also tied for second at Chambers Bay in 2015 and was T-4 at Pinehurst the year prior.

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    Closing double bogey on Sunday costs Finau $217K

    By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 12:18 am

    SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Despite a costly final hole, Tony Finau had plenty to smile about after notching a career-best major finish at the U.S. Open.

    Finau made it past the 36-hole cut with only a shot to spare, and his third-round 66 came hours before the leaders played on a course that quickly became burnt to a crisp. Finau explained that it was “nuts” watching his name slowly creep up the leaderboard until he had a share of the 54-hole lead and a spot in Sunday’s final pairing alongside Daniel Berger, who, like Finau, shot a third-round 66 in easier conditions.

    But Finau struggled out of the gates in the final round, with consecutive bogeys on Nos. 2-4 to fall well off the pace while eventual champ Brooks Koepka birdied three of his first five. Finau eventually steadied the ship, making five birdies in the middle of his round and ultimately stood over a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 17 that would have brought him within a shot of Koepka’s lead.


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    “I don’t know what it is with this golf course. I can never get off to a good start,” Finau said. “It was that way every round. I don’t know what the deal was. I couldn’t get off to a good start any of the rounds.”

    Finau headed to the 72nd hole in third place, but a wayward drive led to a closing double bogey that left him in solo fifth at 5 over. It was his first top-5 in a major and paid $474,659, but that was $217,746 less than he would have earned with a par on the final hole to join Dustin Johnson in a two-way tie for third.

    Finau has never played in a Ryder Cup before, but he entered this week at No. 16 on the U.S. points race and will improve that standing with his performance at Shinnecock Hills. Throw in a T-10 finish in his Masters debut and the 28-year-old is officially compiling credentials that could give captain Jim Furyk something to think about come September.

    “Reflecting on the week, it’s a cool thing. It’s a goal of mine to be on the team,” Finau said. “I haven’t won this year. That’s something I want to do. But hopefully, just proving to the captains, whether I play myself onto the team or not, that, you know, I step up on the big stage and I can compete.”

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    Koepka watches as named engraved again on U.S. Open trophy

    By Golf Channel DigitalJune 18, 2018, 12:10 am

    For the second consecutive year, Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open. So, once again he got to watch as his name was forever etched onto the trophy.