Doubting Thomas

By Rex HoggardJuly 14, 2011, 3:10 pm

SANDWICH, England – Where do you turn when the rock you’ve leaned on for so many years is gone? Where do you hide when the world’s spotlight swings in your direction? Where do you find peace when you’re surrounded by demon of deeds past?

For Thomas Bjorn the answers came with each of his 65 swings on Thursday at Royal Wind Whipped. From the moment the Dane arrived for his opening round long before the sunrise broke over the White Cliffs of Dover something was different.

“On the range this morning he was very quiet, which is unusual for Thomas,” said his swing coach Pete Cowan. “You could see it on the course when things wouldn’t go his way. Normally that would cause him problems, but not today.”

Not on Thursday, not on this golf course, not even with the ghosts of Opens past swirling about in the cold, wet wind.

When Bjorn’s 9-iron tee shot at the par-3 16th hole soared into the gale and settled within 8 feet for birdie he smiled sheepishly. As he is quick to point out golf owes no one anything, but it was impossible not to score one for karma. For the second consecutive round he’d stepped to Royal St. George’s 16th tee with a two-shot lead, but this time he signed for a 2. This time was different.

Not that Bjorn has any interest in living in the past and for good reason. He’s an “old” 40 with more peaks and valleys in his career than St. George’s first fairway. For nearly a decade he’s been defined by what transpired on the English coast in 2003.

There was the misplayed tee shot at the 16th hole on Sunday, followed by two unproductive swipes to exit a greenside bunker, which resulted in a double bogey, a standing three count or so it seemed. From there his game, if not his mind, spiraled into a deep, dark place.

A year after his St. George’s snafu, Bjorn walked off the golf course during a round at the European Open. He said he was “fighting demons at the moment” and has been ever since.

By 2008 he’d dropped all the way to 195th in European Tour earnings and his best Open finish since ’03 was a tie for 41st in ’06. “I’ve been very uncomfortable on the golf course for a long time,” he said on Thursday.

Whether his prolonged slump and the collapse at St. George’s in ’03 were mutually exclusive, Bjorn couldn’t say. Nor did it really matter. Bad golf, whatever the culprit, is difficult enough without unwanted self analysis.

But then Vijay Singh’s aging back began acting up and Bjorn, an Open alternate, was told to be ready to play. He arrived on Tuesday, played just a single practice round and committed himself to toeing the line between unrealistic expectations and the psychological trap doors that awaited him when he made his first trip back to St. George’s since ’03.

“It’s tough for him coming here,” Cowen said. “You think, do you want to come here? But it’s like falling off a bike.”

For Bjorn it was a no-brainer and considering everything he’s had to deal with in his career maybe a return trip to Sandwich is just the tonic he’s been looking for.

It also helps that his game had been starting to come around this year. He served as one of Colin Montgomerie’s vice captains in 2010, won the Qatar Masters in February, defeated Tiger Woods at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, and was well on the path to a comeback when his father, Ole, died in May.

It was a particularly painful blow for Bjorn who was asked what Ole would have made of his Thursday 65 and at the time, his one-shot lead. The often stoic Bjorn paused, tried unsuccessfully to gather himself and finally managed a simple and emotional, “He would have been very proud of what I did today.”

Bjorn’s news conference felt more like an intervention, each question cutting deeper into a fragile psyche.

“I never really expected to play so there’s no reason to get too uptight,” he reasoned. “Today was a massive step in the right direction for me because mentally I was very strong on the golf course and that seems to be the problem.”

At this pace Bjorn may be a problem for the rest of the wind-whipped field. In theory, he soared atop the leaderboard from the “bad side” of the draw, with Thursday’s forecast windy in the morning with calmer conditions as the day wore on. It’s a truth that didn’t escape those playing catch-up.

“That's exceptional. That won't be caught, I promise you that,” said Mark Calcavecchia, who posted an opening 69.

For the day Bjorn had seven birdies and two bogeys, at Nos. 9 and 18, with just one birdie putt over 12 feet. Heady stuff considering he opened his charge in 2003 with a 73 and yet was in complete control through 67 holes. And he could have been even further ahead had he not suffered a two-stroke penalty at the 17th hole in the first round after grounding his club in a bunker.

Early Thursday as Bjorn and Cowen began their work day the swing coach noticed a line of flags rippling in the cold wind, a reason for some to stay in bed but not Bjorn.

“I tried to remind him on the range this morning, you need to remember in Qatar the wind was horrible and you played fantastic,” Cowen said. “He plays his best golf in the wind.”

Bjorn didn’t find the answers to all the questions that regularly swirl about his busy mind, and true redemption comes on Sundays, not Thursdays. But there was no escaping the idea that he may finally be asking himself the right question.

“I never let my mind wonder. I’m quite proud of that,” he said.

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Childhood rivals share Sr. PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:00 am

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Kevin Sutherland birdied his last two holes Friday for a 5-under 66 and a share of the Senior PGA Championship lead with California childhood rival Scott McCarron.

Sutherland, the Charles Schwab Cup winner, played in the third-to-last group of the day at Harbor Shores, while McCarron reached 8 under in the morning wave to emerge from a championship-record group of six tied for the first-round lead.

Sutherland's only senior victory came in the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship. McCarron has six PGA Tour Champions wins, including a major at the 2017 Senior Players Championship.

Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

Sutherland's lone PGA Tour victory came at McCarron's expense in 2002 at La Costa in the Accenture Match Play Championship, when he beat the fellow Sacramento-area player 1 up in the 36-hole final.

Jerry Kelly shot a 65 to join Tim Petrovic (69), Chris Williams (68) and Joe Durant (67) at 7 under.

Durant tied for second last week in the Regions Tradition, also a major championship.

Nevada club professional Stuart Smith, tied for the first-round lead after a 66, had an 83 to miss the cut. He's the director of golf at Somersett Country Club in Reno.

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Wise, Simpson both miss cut at Colonial

By Nick MentaMay 25, 2018, 11:34 pm

The two most recent winners on the PGA Tour, Aaron Wise and Webb Simpson, missed the cut at the Fort Worth Invitational on Friday.

Wise and Simpson both came up short of the 2-over total by a shot following rounds of 70-73.

Wise was safely inside the number before playing his last four holes in 4 over par with two bogeys and a closing double following a trip into the water at the par-4 ninth.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Simpson, making his first start following his Players triumph, similarly struggled coming home, bogeying three of his final six holes.

Other notables who won't be around for the weekend at Colonial include Xander Schauffele (+4), Jason Dufner (+5), Patrick Cantlay (+6), Smylie Kaufman (+13), and Sam Burns (+13).

This is Kaufman's 11th consecutive MC and his 15th in his last 16 starts.

Jason Seaman and Kristi Hubly Seaman

Sr. PGA caddie learns of nephew's heroism in school shooting

By Tim RosaforteMay 25, 2018, 10:33 pm

Tracy Hubly caddied for her husband, club pro Chris Starkjohann, on Friday at the KitchenAid Senior PGA and learned after their round that her nephew was credited with helping stop the school shooting at Noblesville West Middle School in Indiana.

Jason Seaman, a 29-year-old science instructor and seventh grade football coach at the school, took three bullets but survived as what his aunt called a hero.

“You hear the stories about these shootings and I think about Parkland and the officer that was trained but didn’t go into the school,” Hubly said. “It’s really shocking to think it comes close to your family, but it does."

It’s not unusual for Hubly to caddie for her husband, a teacher at Carlsbad Golf Center and coach of a PGA Junior League program in Southern California. Hubly, who works in the pro shop at Emerald Island Golf Course in Oceanside, Calif., was on the bag when he was low golf professional at the 2009 Senior PGA Championship held at Canterbury GC. 

Starkjohann, 61, missed the cut at Harbor Shores with rounds of 76-79—155 and was heading to the Colorado State Open.

 “I didn’t hear about it until after my round was done,” Starkjohann said. “Everything happened after I got in.” 

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Rose (64) peaking just ahead of the U.S. Open

By Nick MentaMay 25, 2018, 8:40 pm

A former U.S. Open champion appears to be finding his form just three weeks ahead of the year's second major.

Justin Rose ascended to the top of the leaderboard Friday at the Fort Worth Invitational, with rounds of 66-64 pushing him to 10 under par for the week.

Through 36 holes at Colonial, Rose has marked down 12 birdies and just two bogeys.

"Yeah, I did a lot of good things today," Rose said. "I think, you know, the end of my round got a little scrappy, but until the last three holes it was pretty flawless. I think I hit every fairway pretty much and obviously every green to that point. ...

"Yeah, the way I played through, I guess through my first 15 holes today, was about as good as I've played in a long time."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Rose won in back-to-back weeks last fall, stunning Dustin Johnson at the WGC-HSBC Championship and riding that victory right into another at the Turkish Airlines Open.

Now the 2013 U.S. Open winner at Merion feels himself once again rounding into form ahead of this year's Open at Shinnecock. A final-round 66 at The Players gave Rose something to focus on in his recent practice sessions with swing coach Sean Foley, as the two work to shore up the timing of Rose's transition into the downswing.

As for his decision to tee it up at Colonial for the first time since 2010, "It was more the run of form really," Rose explained. "I feel like if I didn't play here it was going to be a little spotty going into the U.S. Open. I felt like I wanted to play enough golf where I would have a good read on my game going into Shinnecock.

"So rather than the venue it was more the timing, but it's obviously it's just such a bonus to be on a great layout like this."

For whatever reason, Rose does tend to play his best golf at iconic venues, having won PGA Tour events at Muirfield Village, Aronimink, Cog Hill, Doral, Merion and Congressional.