Final Q-School of its kind yields heroics, heartbreak

By Rex HoggardDecember 4, 2012, 1:08 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Less than 10 minutes removed from a closing birdie on PGA West’s Stadium Course, Mathew Goggin stood with his head digging into the walls of the scoring trailer and his eyes closed tight.

Despite a birdie at his finishing hole the Australian finished the six-round stress test known as Q-School at 16 under par, one stroke outside the top 25 and a return trip to the PGA Tour. With that Goggin darted down the stairs and away from PGA West as fast as his weary legs would take him.

Not long afterward Q-School made a metaphorical dash into the history books.

The final Q-School with direct access to the big leagues didn’t disappoint, which is to say that there was plenty of disappointment, and a dollop of triumph, to send the institution into a fitting retirement as the circuit transitions to a new qualifying system next year and the Fall Classic becomes a feeder event for the secondary Tour.

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“I know you guys (media) enjoy this more than we do,” smiled Jeff Gove, who earned his first trip to the Tour via Q-School in nine starts thanks to a closing 67.

Perspective came easy for Gove, one of 26 players at 17 under or better to earn Tour cards for 2013. For Goggin, who declined interviews after his round, and many like him it will take days, if not weeks, to find that kind of solace.

Players like Edward Loar, who began the marathon with a 65 in June, or at least it felt like it started that long ago, maintained his spot inside the top 25 all week and stepped to the daunting 17th tee at 18 under. His tee shot caromed off a rock guarding the island green, hung in the air for a pregnant pause, ricocheted off another rock and finally dropped into the murky abyss.

Loar made double bogey on the hole and finished at 15 under.

After a week of record low scoring the pressure of Monday’s final turn finally put some teeth back into the Stadium Course, which got the best of some of final stage’s biggest names in Round 6.

Tour winners Camilo Villegas (15 under), Vaughn Taylor (14 under) and Heath Slocum (15 under) all failed to answer the call on Monday.

Slocum’s finish may have been the most gutting. At 16 under on the 18th tee the three-time Tour winner pulled his drive into the water left of the fairway for bogey to finish at 15 under. A day earlier he called a penalty on himself when his ball moved after he’d grounded his putter on the 17th hole of the Nicklaus Course.

“I’d never had anything like that happen in my entire career, so . . . lesson learned,” said Slocum, who closed with a 72. “They say crazy stuff happens at Q-School.”

Patrick Reed knows a thing or two about crazy. “Mr. Monday,” which he has been dubbed this season as a result of his nearly spotless record in Monday qualifiers, began the week 70-75 and was tied for 127th with four rounds to play.

Reed, who plans to marry his caddie/girlfriend on Dec. 21 in Houston, played the rest of the way in 18 under to finish on the number at 17 under and earn his first trip to the Tour.

“Every round was like a Monday and every Monday we try to shoot 6 under. That seems like a good number,” said Reed, whose closing 67 missed that mark by a stroke. “I’m six for eight on Monday (qualifiers). This improves me to seven for nine. It would be great next year if the U.S. Open ended in a playoff and I was in it. The other guy wouldn’t stand a chance.”

Reed, Henrik Norlander and Bobby Gates made the day’s biggest push to get inside the top 25, all three shooting 67 to vault from a tie for 46th to 22nd.

“I had a feeling all week that things were going to get better from playing the eGolf Tour,” Norlander said.

Si Woo Kim also made a solid jump, climbing from a tie for 30th to 20th, not that it realistically improved his fortunes for 2013. Kim became the youngest player to qualify for a Tour card thanks to a closing 68, but because he doesn’t turn 18 until June 28 he will not be allowed to become a member until next year’s abbreviated season is nearly complete.

Although Kim can play on sponsor exemptions and via Monday qualifying before his 18th birthday, and any money or FedEx Cup points earned would carry over after he becomes a member, he will have only about four starts before the start of the playoffs to secure his status for the 2013-14 season.

Fellow Korean D.H. Lee won’t have those issues. Lee closed with a 5-under 67 to take medalist honors at 25 under. Not bad for a player who lost two years of his professional career while serving a mandatory stint in the Korean military.

Lee overtook Steve Bowditch, who began the day with the lead but struggled to a front-nine 39 and weathered an eventful inward loop to finish tied for 10th place.

Joining him on Tour next year will be a pair of former European Ryder Cup players (Ross Fisher and Robert Karlsson); Chez Reavie, who became the second player to participate in Q-School a year after advancing to the Tour Championship, and two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton.

Eclectic? Sure, but that seems about right for the last Q-School. An end of an era highlighted by heartbreak and heroics, an institution that few will miss but many will remember. It’s a reality that made Gove something of a spokesperson for this final PGA Tour Q-School class.

“I’m glad we’re not doing it anymore,” Gove smiled. “And I’m just proud that I did it. If I didn’t make it it would have never happened.”

And it never will again.

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Els: Tiger playing well validates his generation

By Doug FergusonMarch 21, 2018, 12:42 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Tiger Woods has come close to looking like the player who ruled golf for the better part of 15 years, and Ernie Els is happy to see it.

Never mind that Els was on the losing end to Woods more than any other player.

He speaks for his generation of Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and others. Els keeps hearing about the depth of talent being greater than ever, and he has seen it. But he gets weary listening to suggestions that Woods might not have 79 PGA Tour victories if he had to face this group.

''I'm just glad he's playing like I know he can play to validate me – validate me, Phil and Vijay,'' Els said. ''We weren't bad players. This guy was a special player. To see him back, playing special stuff again ... is great for the game.''

Generational debates are nothing new.

Every generation was better than the next one. Then again, Jack Nicklaus used to lament that Woods was lacking competition from players who had more experience winning majors, such as Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros.

Mickelson, Els and Singh combined to win 12 majors. Els says Woods won 14 on his own because he was that much better.

Does it get under his skin to hear fans rave about this generation's players?

''It doesn't (tick) me off. Can you imagine how it must (tick) Tiger off?'' he said. ''He was leaps and bounds the best player. People forget very quickly, and then you see special players like we have now, the younger generation. But I know what I played against. You can't take anything away from anybody.''

Doug Ferguson is a golf writer for The Associated Press

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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.