Playing With A Heavy Heart

By Rex HoggardJune 2, 2011, 7:28 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – This is not Augusta National and Rickie Fowler is not Ben Crenshaw, although many have predicted the personable PGA Tour sophomore will have a similar Hall of Fame career. But if Thursday’s opening round seemed strangely reminiscent of the 1995 Masters it’s because it was.

Rickie Fowler rounded Muirfield Village in an eventful 68 strokes and is two strokes off the lead a little more than a week after his longtime swing coach Barry McDonnell died in a California hospital.

By comparison, Crenshaw’s ‘95 Masters victory the same week he attended the funeral for his coach Harvey Penick was one for the ages, as they say when the azaleas are in bloom. But Fowler’s opening effort was no less inspirational.

There were no “Harvey bounces,” as Crenshaw’s wife called her husband’s good fortune in 1995, but on Thursday at Muirfield Village there were more than enough moments to think that the man who taught Fowler to be self-sustaining, as well as his swing, was looking out for his most high-profile student.

Like on No. 13 when Fowler chipped in from 15 feet, or at the next hole when his drive sailed right and into a “sod seam.” He took a fortunate drop, laid up and from 133 yards Fowler’s wedge landed right of the pin, spun left and didn’t stop rolling until it rattled into the cup. For those scoring at home, Fowler covered Nos. 12-15 in 11 strokes (5 under) and just two putts.

Not all was cool and clear on a Chamber of Commerce day, however. There were also five bogeys and just five pars, but given the circumstances, Fowler was pleased. Chances are McDonnell would have been just as content.

The driving range pro began working with the prodigy when he was 7 years old – the same year (1995), for those who believe in omens, that Crenshaw made Masters magic – teaching him the swing but, more importantly, teaching him how to self correct. Doctor heal thy self.

In an age of entourages, Team Rickie feels more like an intimate dinner party – with caddie Joe Skovron and conditioning coach Chris Noss the extent of Fowler’s inner circle.

Of all McDonnell’s accomplishments with Fowler – Ryder Cup star, Rookie of the Year – it’s that independence of constant feedback that may be his best work.

“The last four years since I’ve been at college and out on Tour I’d see him maybe once a year when I’d go home. Maybe hit balls with him. Basically just been on my own,” Fowler told

“He taught me to basically be on my own, to figure it out myself. I’d get on the range, throw down a few sticks to make sure I’m lined up right and go from there.”

In this, Fowler seems to have plucked a page from Memorial host Jack Nicklaus’ book. Unlike the lion’s share of today’s professionals, Nicklaus would famously huddle with Jack Grout, his only swing coach, at the beginning of each season and then go about his business solo from there.

The last time Fowler worked with McDonnell was prior to his season-opener at Torrey Pines.

“I was probably with him two hours right before San Diego at the start of my year. We had a good session,” Fowler said. “It wasn’t like I’d go work with him for a day. We’d hang out, hit some balls for maybe an hour or two and take off. Like a little check up.”

On Thursday at the Memorial the news of McDonnell’s passing still seemed to be sinking in for Fowler. McDonnell had been struggling with skin cancer and suffered what Fowler called a major “heart attack” on May 20. But in recent days he’d appeared to stabilize.

“He was doing alright, but I guess they had some complications that Tuesday night,” Fowler said of McDonnell who died last Tuesday.

The 22-year-old conceded that he had not yet completely digested the news. That moment won’t likely arrive until next Thursday when he attends a memorial service for McDonnell at Murrieta (Calif.) Valley Golf Range where the two spent countless hours simplifying Fowler’s whiplash action.

“That will be where it really hits me,” Fowler reasoned.

Until then Fowler still has 54 holes on a golf course that seems to fit him like a pair of bright-orange Oklahoma State pants. He finished runner-up here last year, his Sunday charge derailed by a double-bogey at No. 12, the same hole he birdied on Thursday to start his late-round run.

“Little redemption there,” Fowler smiled.

And who knows, a couple more “McDonnell bounces” and he might have his first Tour title to take home as a tribute. It may not have a Crenshaw-Penick punch to the emotional solar plexus, but as inspirational victories go, it wouldn’t be too bad.

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Bjorn adds four Ryder Cup veterans as vice captains

By Will GrayMay 22, 2018, 1:05 pm

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn has added a quartet of vice captains for the biennial matches this fall in Paris.

Bjorn had already named Robert Karlsson as his first assistant, and he announced Tuesday at the BMW PGA Championship that his group of advisors will also include major champions Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell, and former world No. 1s Lee Westwood and Luke Donald.

Westwood is among Europe's most decorated Ryder Cup players, and his addition in this role signals he likely won't participate as a player in the matches for the first time since 1995. The Englishman has spoken openly about his desire to captain the European squad at Whistling Straits in 2020, but he's been quiet on the course in recent months, with a missed secondary cut at the Houston Open his only start since mid-February.

Harrington is seen as another possible captain for the 2020 matches, and he'll don an earpiece for the third straight Ryder Cup, having represented Europe as a player on six straight teams from 1999-2010.

Donald played on four Ryder Cup teams from 2004-12, with the Europeans winning each time he was on the roster. This will mark his first stint as a vice captain, as Donald announced last month that he would be sidelined indefinitely while recovering from a back injury.

At age 38, McDowell will be the youngest vice captain in the room, having holed the winning putt eight years ago at Celtic Manor. He won the French Open in both 2013 and 2014 at Le Golf National, site of this year's matches, and will also be making his debut as a vice captain.

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Bidder pays $50,000 to caddie for Woods

By Grill Room TeamMay 22, 2018, 12:28 pm

Someone has paid $50,000 to caddie for Tiger Woods at this year’s Hero World Challenge.

An unnamed bidder paid for the opportunity at an auction Saturday night at Tiger Jam, where monies are raised to support the Tiger Woods Foundation.

The Hero World Challenge will be contested Nov. 29-Dec. in Albany, Bahamas. The pro-am is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 28.

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NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 11:28 am

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams have advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals will be contested on Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.


TV Times (all times ET):

11AM-conclusion: Match-play quarterfinals (Click here to watch live)
4-8PM: Match-play semifinals

4-8PM: Match-play finals

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Arizona grabs last spot with eagle putt, playoff win

By Ryan LavnerMay 22, 2018, 3:18 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – With her team freefalling in the standings, Arizona coach Laura Ianello was down to her last stroke.

The Wildcats began the final round of the NCAA Championship in third place, but they were 19 over par for the day, and outside the top-8 cut line, with only one player left on the course.

Bianca Pagdaganan had transferred from Gonzaga to compete for NCAA titles, and on the 17th hole Ianello told her that she needed to play “the best two holes of your life” to keep the dream alive.

She made par on 17, then hit a 185-yard 6-iron out of a divot to 30 feet. Not knowing where she stood on the final green, Pagdaganan felt an eerie calm over the ball. Sure enough, she buried the eagle putt, setting off a raucous celebration and sending the Wildcats into a play-five, count-four team playoff with Baylor at 33 over par.

Their match-play spot wasn’t yet secure, but Ianello still broke down in tears.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring

“Bianca is such an inspiration for all of us,” she said. “She’s the kind of kid that you want to root for, to have good things happen to.”

Arizona prevailed on the second playoff hole. As the 8 seed, the Wildcats will play top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals Tuesday at Karsten Creek.

Though the finish had plenty of drama, no teams played their way into the coveted top 8 on the final day of stroke-play qualifying.

Baylor came closest. The Bears barely advanced past regionals after a mysterious stomach virus affected several players and coaches. They competed in the final round with just four healthy players.

On Monday, Gurleen Kaur put Baylor in position to advance, shooting 68, but the Bears lost by three strokes on the second extra hole.

Arkansas finished one shot shy of the team playoff. The second-ranked Razorbacks, who entered NCAAs as one of the pre-tournament favorites, having won seven times, including their first SEC title, couldn’t overcome a 308-300 start and finished 10th. Player of the Year favorite Maria Fassi finished her week at 19 over par and counted only two rounds toward the team total.