Thank You Notes

By Randall MellDecember 23, 2009, 5:59 am

With so much gloom and doom reported in December, here are notes of thanks to players who provided us some levity in 2009.

Dear Henrik Stenson:

In these hard times, it was encouraging that you could joke about losing your shirt in the Stanford Financial mess. It was, however, flat-out inspiring to see you laugh about losing everything but your boxers and your golf glove at the third hole at Doral. You did that in the first round of the CA Championship in March. Thanks for showing us that if you’re going to get caught with your pants down, it’s better to do it on the golf course, for all the world to see, than in a church parking lot, for a lone photographer to witness. It felt so much better knowing we were laughing with you when you disrobed to hit a shot from the water. There was no guilt or remorse in our laughter when late night comics had their way with you. We knew you were having more fun with it than we were.


Dear Denis Watson:

Though you’ve known a lot of pain in your career, from blown-out joints to heartache, thanks for the sense of humor you’ve offered along your journey, even in your failure this year. After starting the final round too far back to win at the Allianz Championship in your South Florida backyard in February, you shared how your wife, Susan, rooted you around while your five children decided they would stay at home.

“The Valentine’s card they got me said `Play better, Dad,’” you told us.

We knew you were joking, and we laughed with you.


Dear Lance Ten Broeck:

You made us think that that the PGA Tour’s old slogan “These guys are good” ought to extend to the caddies. You made us chuckle at the Valero Texas Open in May not just by becoming the first to play and caddie in the same PGA Tour event, but by beating your boss by three shots. Toting a bag, you helped Jesper Parnevik shoot 70-74. After borrowing a “mystery collection” of clubs, Tag Ridings’ putter, golf shoes from David Duval and a golf glove from Lee Janzen, you shot 71-70 on your own ball. Thanks for showing off in a way that had to make your caddie colleagues proud, if not Parnevik a little embarrassed.


Dear Laura Davies:

Thanks for being one of the best interviews in golf and someone who doesn’t take herself too seriously. With cameras running, you surprised a lot of folks at the Solheim Cup in August when you revealed you weren’t interested in being the European captain someday. “It looks like hard work, and I’ve always shied away from hard work,” you said. We all laughed in the interview room, but we also hoped you would change your mind.


Dear Anthony Kim:

We know current events are not your strong suit. If we didn’t know, we did after you were asked earlier this year how you thought the lousy state of the economy would affect the PGA Tour. “At one of the tournaments this year, we didn’t have courtesy cars,” you said. “From what I hear from people a lot smarter than me, the car industry is really having a tough time right now.” Don’t worry, Anthony, keep setting records in majors for birdies – 11 in the second round of this year’s Masters – and you’ll get the last laugh.


Dear Kenny G:

Thanks for hitting the right notes when you played the Honda Classic in March. We’re not talking about your work on the saxophone for children in the Nicklaus’ charity, though that was a terrific deal for the event. We’re talking about how you aptly summed up the game’s challenge by comparing it to music, or any other profession. “Here’s the thing about golf,” you told us. “You can practice and not get better. If you practice a musical instrument, you’re going to get better.”


Dear Michael J. Fox:

Though battling Parkinson’s disease, you saw the truths that make golf appealing to Kenny G and the rest of us. Asked about your affinity for the game at the Principal Charity Classic in West Des Moines, Iowa, you said: “Golf gives you a new opportunity to fail every couple minutes, but it gives you an opportunity to succeed every couple minutes, too.” You also joked about your reaction to teachers who stress the importance of staying still over the ball. If you can laugh, so can we. Thanks for permission to laugh at ourselves, even when it hurts.


Dear Gary Player:

Your tireless devotion to fitness and your competitive spirit continued to inspire us this year. At the Masters, your last year as a competitor there, you were asked if you would like to join Arnold Palmer as an honorary starter someday. “Would I?” you bellowed. “Of course, I would. I’ll even exercise harder to make sure I outdrive Arnold.” With Jack Nicklaus joining Palmer now, we’ll be eager to see if you’ll be getting your wish soon. Thanks for motivating us all with the idea that we’re never too old to take on a challenge.


Dear Charles Barkley:

Thanks for sharing your struggles and pain with us on The Haney Project. We don’t feel so bad about our games now. We admire how much you love the game, in spite of what it’s doing to you. “Little old ladies walking the street want to give me advice,” you said. “Everybody gives me advice. It’s hilarious.” The fact that you can laugh at your swing makes us feel a lot better about our swings.


Dear Padraig Harrington:

After missing five straight cuts, you channeled Charles Barkley for us. “My driver is an office club at the moment,” you said. “It works 9 to 5 and never on weekends.” We probably drive you batty analyzing your swing to death. But while we know how dedicated to improvement you are, we thank you for not taking the game or yourself too seriously.


Dear Phil Mickelson:

Following you on the back nine of the pro-am at the Deutsche Bank Championship, we got a first-hand glimpse why galleries so adore you. Sensing some fatigue, you turned to the gallery and declared that an energy boost was required. Like the Pied Piper, you waved for all of us to follow you to the concession stand, where you bought hot dogs and hamburgers for your pro-am partners and anyone in the gallery who wanted to eat. Thanks for making the Mickelson experience so satisfying.

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Lopez fires flawless 63 for lead in Arkansas

By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 12:41 am

ROGERS, Ark. – Since its first year on the LPGA Tour in 2007, the crowds at the NW Arkansas Championship have belonged to Stacy Lewis.

Another former University of Arkansas star staked her claim as the hometown favorite Friday when Gaby Lopez shot a career-low 8-under 63 to take the first-round lead at Pinnacle Country Club.

Like Lewis, the two-time winner of the tournament, Lopez starred as a three-time All-American for the Razorbacks before joining the LPGA Tour in 2016. Despite flashes of potential, Lopez had yet to join Lewis among the ranks of the world's best - missing the cut in her last two tournaments and entering this week ranked 136th in the world.

For a day, at least, the Mexican standout felt right at home atop the leaderboard in her adopted home state.

''I feel like home,'' Lopez said. ''I feel so, so comfortable out here, because I feel that everyone and every single person out here is just rooting for us.''

Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

Moriya Jutanugarn was a stroke back along with Minjee Lee, Catriona Matthew, Nasa Hataoka, Lizette Salas, Mirim Lee and Aditi Ashok. Six others finished at 6 under on a day when only 26 of the 144 players finished over par, thanks to some mid-week rain that softened the greens and calm skies throughout the day.

Jutanugarn finished second at the tournament last year and is trying to win for the second time on the LPGA Tour this year. Her younger sister, Ariya, is already a two-time winner this year and shot an opening-round 66.

Lewis, the former world No. 1 who won the event in 2007 in 2014, finished with a 66. She's expecting her first child in early November

Defending champion So Yeon Ryu, coming off a victory Sunday in Michigan, shot a 67.

Friday was Lopez's long-awaited day to standout, though, much to the delight of the pro-Arkansas crowd.

After missing the cut her last two times out, Lopez took some time off and returned home to Mexico City to rest her mind and work on her game. The work paid off with two straight birdies to open her round and a 6-under 30 on her front nine.

Lopez needed only 25 putts and finished two shots off the course record of 61, and she overcame a poor drive on the par-5 18th to finish with a par and keep her place at the top of the leaderboard. Her previous low score was a 64 last year, and she matched her career best by finishing at 8 under.

''(Rest) is a key that no one really truly understands until you're out here,'' Lopez said. ''... Sometimes resting is actually the part you've got to work on.''

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Harman rides hot putter to Travelers lead

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:28 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – There are plenty of big names gathered for the Travelers Championship, and through two rounds they’re all chasing Brian Harman.

Harman opened with a 6-under 64, then carded a 66 during Friday’s morning wave to become the only player to finish the first two rounds in double digits under par. The southpaw is currently riding a hot putter, leading the field in strokes gained: putting while rolling in 12 birdies and an eagle through his first 36 holes.

“Putted great today,” said Harman, who ranks 22nd on Tour this season in putting. “Got out of position a couple of times, but I was able to get myself good looks at it. I started hitting the ball really well coming down the stretch and made a few birdies.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Harman, 31, has won twice on the PGA Tour, most recently at last year’s Wells Fargo Championship. While he doesn’t have a win this year, he started his season in the fall by reeling off five straight finishes of T-8 or better to quickly install himself as one of the leaders in the season-long points race.

Now topping a leaderboard that includes the likes of Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy, he realizes that he’ll have his work cut out for him if he’s going to leave Connecticut with trophy No. 3.

“The putter has been really good so far, but I’ve been in position a lot. I’ve had a lot of good looks at it,” Harman said. “I’m just able to put a little pressure on the course right now, which is nice.”

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10-second rule costs Zach Johnson a stroke

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:06 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – Zach Johnson heads into the weekend one shot back at the Travelers Championship, but he was a matter of seconds away from being tied for the lead.

Johnson had an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 3 at TPC River Highlands, his 12th hole of the day, but left the ball hanging on the lip. As Johnson walked up to tap the ball in, it oscillated on the edge and eventually fell in without being hit.

Was it a birdie, or a par?

According to the Rules of Golf, and much to Johnson’s chagrin, the answer was a par. Players are afforded “reasonable” time to walk to the hole, and after that they are allowed to wait for 10 seconds to see if the ball drops of its own accord. After that, it either becomes holed by a player’s stroke, or falls in and leads to a one-shot penalty, resulting in the same score as if the player had hit it.

According to Mark Russell, PGA Tour vice president of rules and competitions, Johnson’s wait time until the ball fell in was between 16 and 18 seconds.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“Once he putts the ball, he’s got a reasonable amount of time to reach the hole,” Russell said. “Then once he reaches the hole, he’s got 10 seconds. After 10 seconds, the ball is deemed to be at rest.”

Johnson tried to emphasize the fact that the ball was oscillating as he stood over it, and even asked rules officials if marking his ball on the edge of the hole would have yielded a “bonus 10 seconds.” But after signing for a 2-under 68 that brought him within a shot of leader Brian Harman, the veteran took the ruling in stride.

“The 10-second rule has always been there. Vague to some degree,” Johnson said. “The bottom line is I went to tap it in after 10 seconds and the ball was moving. At that point, even if the ball is moving, it’s deemed to be at rest because it’s on the lip. Don’t ask me why, but that’s just the way it is.”

While Johnson brushed off any thoughts of the golf gods conspiring against him on the lip, he was beaming with pride about an unconventional par he made on No. 17 en route to a bogey-free round. Johnson sailed his tee shot well right into the water, but after consulting his options he decided to drop on the far side of the hazard near the 16th tee box.

His subsequent approach from 234 yards rolled to within 8 feet, and he calmly drained the putt for an unexpected save.

“I got a great lie. Just opened up a 4-hybrid, and it started over the grandstands and drew in there,” Johnson said. “That’s as good of an up-and-down as I’ve witnessed, or performed.”

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Travelers becoming marquee event for star players

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 11:29 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Get lost in the throngs following the defending champ, or caught up amongst the crowds chasing the back-to-back U.S. Open winner, and it’s easy to forget where this tournament was a little more than a decade ago.

The Travelers Championship was without a sponsor, without a worthwhile field, without a consistent date and on the verge of being jettisoned to the PGA Tour Champions schedule. The glory days of the old Greater Hartford Open had come and gone, and the PGA Tour’s ever-increasing machine appeared poised to leave little old Cromwell in its wake.

The civic pride is booming in this neck of the woods. Main Street is lined with one small business after the next, and this time of year there are signs and posters popping up on every corner congratulating a member of the most recent graduating class at Cromwell High School, which sits less than two miles from the first tee at TPC River Highlands.

Having made it through a harrowing time in the event’s history, the local residents now have plenty of reason to take pride.

The Tour’s best have found this little New England hamlet, where tournament officials roll out the red carpet in every direction. They embrace the opportunity to decompress after the mind-numbing gauntlet the USGA set out for them last week, and they relish a return to a course where well-struck shots, more often than not, lead to birdies.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Ten years ago, this tournament was also held the week after the U.S. Open. Stewart Cink won, and for his efforts he received a paltry 36 world ranking points. But thanks to a recent influx of star-power, this week’s winner will pocket 58 points – the same amount Rory McIlroy won at Bay Hill, and two more than Justin Rose got at Colonial. Now at the halfway point, the leaderboard backs up the hefty allocation.

While Brian Harman leads at 10 under, the chase pack is strong enough to strike fear in the heart of even the most seasoned veteran: McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson, they of the combined eight major titles, all sit within three shots of the lead. Former world No. 1 Jason Day is one shot further back, and reigning Player of the Year Justin Thomas will start the third round inside the top 20.

Paul Casey and Bryson DeChambeau, both likely participants at the Ryder Cup this fall, are right there as well at 8 under. Casey lost a playoff here to Watson in 2015 and has come back every year since, witnessing first-hand the tournament’s growth in scope.

“It speaks volumes for what Travelers have done and how they treat everybody, and the work that Andy Bessette and his team put in to fly around the country and speak highly of this event,” Casey said. “And do things which matter, to continue to improve the event, not just for players but for spectators.”

Part of the increased field strength can be attributed to the Tour’s recent rule change, requiring players who play fewer than 25 events in a season to add a new event they haven’t played in the last four years. Another portion can be attributed to the short commute from Shinnecock Hills to TPC River Highlands, a three-hour drive and even shorter across the Long Island Sound – an added bonus the event will lose two of the next three years with West Coast U.S. Opens.

But there’s no denying the widespread appeal of an event named the Tour’s tournament of the year, players’ choice and most fan-friendly in 2017. While Spieth’s return to defend his title was assumed, both Day and McIlroy are back for another crack this year after liking what they saw.

“Anyone that I talked to could only say good things about the tournament about the golf course, how the guys are treated here, how the fans come out, and how the community always gets behind this event,” McIlroy said. “Obviously I witnessed that for the first time last year, and I really enjoyed it.”

After starting the week with all four reigning major champs and five of the top 10 players in the latest world rankings, only Masters champ Patrick Reed got sent packing following rounds of 72-67. The remaining top-flight contingent will all hit the ground running in search of more low scores Saturday, with Spieth (-4) still retaining a glimmer of hope to keep his title defense chances alive, perhaps with a 63 like he fired in the opening round.

The Tour’s schedule represents a zero-sum game. Outside of the majors and WGCs that essentially become must-play events for the game’s best, the rest of the legs of the weekly circus become victim of a 12-month version of tug-of-war. Some players like to play in the spring; others load up in the fall. Many play the week before majors, while a select group block off the week after for some R&R far away from a golf course.

But in an environment where one tournament’s ebbs can create flows for another, the Travelers has continued a steady climb up the Tour’s hierarchy. Once in jeopardy of relegation, it has found its footing and appears in the process of turning several of the Tour’s one-name stars into regular participants.

Rory. Jordan. Bubba. JT.

It’s been a long battle for tournament officials, but the proof is in the pudding. And this weekend, the reward for the people of Cromwell – population 14,000 – looks to be a star-studded show.

“All the events are incredible,” Thomas said. “But this is kind of one of those underrated ones that I think until people come and play, do they realize how great it is.”