Trump's club pro realizes dream at Merion

By Randall MellJune 12, 2013, 7:20 pm

ARDMORE, Pa. – Donald Trump loves his towering structures.

He loves his golf, too.

That’s why he’s beaming this week with John Nieporte towering over all the club pros in the land.

Nieporte is one of the best stories in this U.S. Open. He’s also Trump’s head professional at Trump International in West Palm Beach, Fla., and the only club pro to qualify to play at Merion Golf Club this week.

“It’s an amazing story,” Trump told Wednesday in a telephone interview. “John’s a head pro who can really play great. He’s a fabulous ball-striker, but it’s always surprising when a club professional makes it to the U.S. Open because it’s so hard to get in.”

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Nieporte’s a good story on so many levels. He represents what U.S. Open qualifying is all about. Yes, he has a prized job as the head professional at one of the best clubs in the land, but he’s still the U.S. Open dreamer who persevered against the odds. At 46, he’s finally playing in his first U.S. Open. After 20 failed attempts to qualify, two of those failures by a single shot in sectional qualifying, Nieporte finally realized his dream this week. He made his long-time club pro father proud qualifying through the U.S. Open sectional at Ritz-Carlton Members Club in Sarasota, Fla.

There are U.S. Opens in Nieporte’s blood. His father, Tom, now 84, estimates he played in 13 U.S. Opens. Tom played the final 36 holes of the U.S. Open at Southern Hills in 1958 alongside Ben Hogan.

“At the first tee, Ben hits one down the middle, and I say, ‘Great shot, Ben,’” Tom said in a telephone interview from his Boca Raton home. “He hits it on the green, and I say, ‘Great shot, Ben.’ He hits the next fairway, and I say, ‘Great shot, Ben,’ and finally he says to me, ‘Tom, hitting a fairway and hitting a green aren't great shots. I’ll tell you when I hit a great shot.’”

A few  holes later, Hogan carved a long iron in tight to a tough pin placement.

“Now, Tom, that was a great shot,” Hogan told him.

John loves hearing his father tell that story. Tom was the long-time head pro at Winged Foot Golf Club, but also was the winner of three PGA Tour titles. He’s the last club pro to win a PGA Tour event, claiming the Bob Hope Desert Classic in 1967.

“I’m so proud of John,” Tom said. “It’s wonderful he will get to play in a U.S. Open at Merion. It means so much to him.”

To Trump, too.

“Mr. Trump was so excited when I called him to tell him,” John said. “He loves golf, and he wants all his pros to play well. He’s such a competitor, such a good player himself, and he likes to brag about his pros.”

Trump wasn’t the only big name encouraging Nieporte to persevere. Lee Trevino convinced Nieporte he could get to Merion with his game. Trevino won the 1971 U.S. Open at Merion, and when he visited Trump International last winter, he told John all about the wonder of Merion while they played golf together.

“Lee told John that he had to keep trying to qualify for the U.S. Open, that he had the game to make it to Merion,” said Joe Nieporte, John’s brother, a teaching pro at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Pa., and at Boca Resort in South Florida. “Lee even gave John his cell phone number and told him to call him after he qualified.”

Joe will be following John around Merion this week. Trump wanted to make it to Merion, too, but dozens of the most beautiful women in the United States are keeping him away.

“I have the Miss USA in Las Vegas this weekend,” Trump said.

Trumps owns the beauty contest, but he said he will have an eye on Merion and the televised broadcast.

“I’ve dreamed of playing in the U.S. Open since I started playing,” John said while working on his game at Merion’s driving range. “Making any U.S. Open would be great, but qualifying to play at Merion, a place with so much history, with the quarry holes, with the wicker baskets on top of the flagsticks, with the stately old clubhouse, it makes it really special.”

John also dreamed of playing the PGA Tour, but honing his game on mini-tours became a grind. Married, with four daughters, he got recruited into following his father’s footsteps as a club pro. Trump recruited him.

Back 14 or 15 years ago, Trump was playing in one of his club championships with Nieporte as his caddie.

“I won it,” Trump said. “John was an excellent caddie. That’s how I got to know him. Two months later, I’m reading the New York Times and I see the name John Nieporte leading the New York State Open at Bethpage. There are a lot great players in that tournament, and he won it by four shots. I said, ‘Why is he caddying?’ I made him one of my teaching pros.”

That was 12 years ago. Nieporte worked his way up from assistant pro to head pro at Trump International. Teaching and running the club meant less time to compete, though.

“John’s a great teacher,” Trump said. “The members love him.”

Though Nieporte has played few tournaments over the last seven years or so because of club duties, he kept his U.S. Open dream alive by instilling it into the head and hearts of some of the more talented youth he works with at Trump International.

“I like to stand behind them and say, ‘Ladies and gentleman, now on the first tee at the 2025 U.S. Open, from West Palm Beach, Fla., please welcome ...’ A couple months ago, I told my wife I still wanted to hear that, I still wanted to play in a U.S. Open,” John said. “This really is a dream come true.”

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Football coach hates golf: Don't need practice swearing

By Jason CrookApril 20, 2018, 10:15 pm

Some football coaches are a little more talkative than others. On one side of the spectrum, there's Bill Belichick. On the other sits Washington State football coach Mike Leach.

Leach always delivers the goods, and when asked recently if he liked golf, he didn't hold back:

As wrong as the 57-year-old is on the topic (golf is awesome), the man makes some hilarious points:

• “It’s boring. I don’t care where that ball goes.”

• "Golfers are always practicing their swing. But you know what I never did? I never practice fishing in my living room.”

• "They'll line up over the ball and they'll say they're going to do something that you can't do with a sniper rifle and a scope, but they're going to do it with a stick and a ball."

• “Golf’s pretty much for people that don’t swear effectively enough or need practice. And so there are people that need golf, and I don’t think I do.”

So in conclusion, it's confirmed: Mike Leach - not a golf guy.

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Quiros takes 1-shot lead in Morocco

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 8:22 pm

RABAT, Morocco - Alvaro Quiros shot a solid 2-under 70 in windy conditions to push into a one-shot lead after two rounds of the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco on Friday.

Quiros fought the elements, carding seven birdies and five bogeys to move to 7 under overall and take the outright lead at the halfway point of the European Tour event.

The Spaniard was one clear of Andrew Dodt, who moved into contention with a 4-under 68 at the Royal Golf Dar Es Salam course. Dodt dropped two shots in his first six holes but the Australian recovered from that shaky start to collect four birdies and an eagle.

Full-field scores from the Trophee Hassan II

Erik van Rooyen of South Africa was another shot back in third on 5 under after his 71.

Bradley Dredge of Wales, who shared the first-round lead with Quiros, slipped off the pace with a 1-over 73. He's tied for fourth with Austin Connelly of Canada (71), 4 under par and three shots behind Quiros.

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Bogey-free Moore shares Valero lead

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 8:20 pm

Amid the swirling winds on a difficult track at the Valero Texas Open, Ryan Moore has yet to blink.

Moore was one of only two players among the 156-man field to go bogey-free during the opening round at TPC San Antonio, and he's now the only player still boasting a clean scorecard after a second-round 67 that included five birdies and the rest pars. At 9 under, the veteran shares the lead with Zach Johnson and was three shots clear of any other player at the end of the morning wave.

"Really, around this golf course what matters is the right distance," Moore told reporters. "You can get in some pretty tough spots if you're long and short. So I kind of hit it the right distance all day, gave myself plenty of good birdie opportunities and didn't stress myself out too much with too many up-and-downs."

While many players struggle to find a true offseason, Moore took nearly three months off between starts at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba and Waste Management Phoenix Open. During that time he shed nearly 20 pounds thanks to changes to his diet and teamed up with a new swing coach, Drew Steckel, in December.

The results have been solid if not spectacular, as Moore tied for fifth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and finished T-16 last week at the RBC Heritage.

"It's been solid golf, especially the last few weeks. I haven't got a ton out of it," Moore said. "The putter just wasn't there. So this week, just got a little more comfortable with the putter and knocked a few putts in that kind of matter early in my rounds, and it's going in. That's kind of what's been missing lately."

Moore had a breakthrough season in 2016 that included his victory at the John Deere Classic and spot on the Ryder Cup team, but he hasn't sniffed career win No. 6 since a T-3 finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions 16 months ago. Should he keep a clean card this weekend in San Antonio, his chances to end that victory drought appear bright.

"I played some really nice golf yesterday, I just controlled the ball nicely all the way around and was bogey-free yesterday, so thought, 'Let's go try and do that again,'" Moore said. "So to play in tough, windy conditions, to go bogey-free (again), it was some good solid golf."

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Former champ Z. Johnson surges at Valero

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 7:31 pm

Midway through his opening round at the Valero Texas Open, Zach Johnson appeared far closer to a missed cut than a spot on the leaderboard.

Johnson initially struggled in the winds at TPC San Antonio, playing his first 13 holes in 3 over. But he eagled No. 14 and closed with three more birdies to post a 2-under 70, then went unconscious during a second-round 65 where he made six birdies over his first 10 holes.

It added up to a 9-under total at the halfway point, and instead of packing his bags the two-time major champ now shares the lead with Ryan Moore.

"You just never know. That's the beauty of this game," Johnson told reporters. "I didn't have anything going putting-wise. I felt like I was hitting some solid shots and wasn't getting rewarded, and you've just got to stay in it. You've got to persevere, grind it out, fight for pars. Shoot, I made some good pars all while being 3 over. You just never know."

Johnson won this event in both 2008 and 2009, but that was when it was held across town at La Cantera Golf Club. Since the switch to TPC San Antonio in 2010, he has only one top-10 finish and two missed cuts, including last year's early exit with consecutive rounds of 74.

But Friday he played like a man unaware of the venue shift, with four straight birdies on Nos. 12-15 and a hole-out eagle from the greenside bunker on the par-4 fifth hole. His closing bogey on No. 9 was his first dropped shot in the last 25 holes.

"The confidence is there, and when you can step on the tee with this kind of wind, you trust your clubs and trust your ball, that's pretty important," Johnson said. "I felt good. It was hard, I'm not going to deny that. That was one of the better 27-hole stretches that I've had in a long time."

Johnson's 65 was his first sub-70 score since an opening-round 69 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a span of 12 stroke-play rounds. The veteran has made every cut in 11 starts this season, but his T-8 finish at the RSM Classic in November remains his only top-10 finish.

"I felt really good coming into the week," Johnson said. "Confidence was there, it just wasn't showing up on the scorecard."