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Ridley's Augusta legacy may lie in the course

By Rex HoggardOctober 18, 2017, 2:00 pm

Fred Ridley began his tenure as chairman of Augusta National Golf Club this week, replacing Billy Payne who announced he was stepping down from the position in August.

That change in title, however, didn’t alter his enthusiasm on his way to work. That has never changed.

“When I drove down Magnolia Lane as my first day as chairman of the club, I promise you that I did so with the same excitement and anticipation that I had over 41 years ago,” said Ridley, who first visited Augusta National as the 1975 U.S. Amateur champion and had been invited to play the ’76 Masters.

There are those who correctly contend that Augusta National’s chairman is among the most influential people in golf, and Ridley conceded that there’s no on-the-job training that can prepare someone for such a prominent gig, although having Payne as his predecessor will certainly help.

Payne’s 11-year tenure was defined by substantial change, from his business savvy to his ambitious infrastructure projects that included construction of a new tournament range, media center, tournament office and high-end hospitality.


Photo gallery: Fred Ridley through the years


They say nothing really changes at Augusta National, and officials work hard to maintain that notion, but Payne’s time as chairman was nothing short of an extreme makeover.

Ridley will continue to oversee that expansion and talked at length on Tuesday about the club’s continued commitment to growing the game, which has always been a central tenet at Augusta National, but it took on renewed urgency under Payne.

“I don't really know exactly what might come of that, I will tell you that we have several ideas that are being discussed,” Ridley said. “There's nothing definite, no commitments, but I think you'll see in the coming months, that we will be doing other things because I think there is a lot more to be done.”

Where Ridley may forge a new path, however, is on the competitive front.

A lawyer by trade and former USGA president, Ridley has spent the last 11 years as chairman of the Masters competitions committee. He was also an accomplished amateur who played college golf at the University of Florida and the kind of person those who gather under the sprawling oak behind the Augusta National clubhouse call a “golf guy.”

Where Payne was a businessman who skillfully coaxed the club into the new millennium, albeit at a genteel pace, Ridley seems poised to leave a different mark, a mark that could resonate well beyond the gates of Augusta National.

Ridley was asked on Tuesday in his first give-and-take with the golf media as chairman his thoughts on possible changes to the storied course and his answer was equal parts reserved and resounding.

“Some of the most significant changes occurred back in the late 1990s, early 2000s under Hootie Johnson's chairmanship, and I think that time has proven that those were very wise decisions,” he said. “I will tell you that we will take whatever action, whatever course of action is necessary to protect the integrity of Augusta National.”

There’s been speculation in recent months following news that the club had purchased a parcel of land from Augusta Country Club that officials could lengthen the 13th hole, and the rerouting of Berckmans Road could also allow for changes to the course.

While Augusta National, more so than any other course, has been able to withstand the test of time and increased driving distances, the club may be approaching another tipping point, particularly at the celebrated par-5 13th that is regularly played as a two-shot hole even by players who are considered middle-of-the-pack on the modern distance scale.

There are precedents on this front in Ridley’s past. At the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, then-chairman of the USGA’s championship committee Ridley converted the second hole from a par 5 to a par 4.

“I've noticed a lot of the players have commented that, really, records are kept in scores, not necessarily in relation to par,” Ridley said at the time. “I would agree with that. The U.S. Open record of 272 is 8 under par, and I believe Ben Hogan's record of 276 was also 8 under par. We [the USGA] recognize scores.”

Ridley, then the USGA vice president, oversaw a similar adjustment to the ninth hole at Olympia Fields at the ’03 U.S. Open; but it seems wildly unlikely Augusta National would convert the backend of Amen Corner to a par 4 simply to protect par.

There is another, more intriguing option. It’s possible Ridley could take a much more dramatic step to mitigate distance gains and introduce a limited-distance tournament golf ball for the Masters.

“The USGA and the R&A now have a more concentrated effort about that issue,” Payne said in April when asked about a possible “tournament” golf ball. “We have great confidence in their ability to forge a solution. But, of course, as you would imagine, we always reserve the right to do whatever we have to do to preserve the integrity of our golf course. I don't think that will ever happen.”

But that’s not to say it couldn’t happen, particularly with a new chairman who spent decades helping craft and create those same USGA policies, and someone who understands the issue better than anyone.

It remains to be seen what kind of chairman Ridley will become, but if his history is any indication his tenure could be just as profoundly groundbreaking as Payne’s, but for much different reasons.

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Wise wins first Tour title at AT&T Byron Nelson

By Nick MentaMay 21, 2018, 1:22 am

On the strength of a final-round 65, 21-year-old Aaron Wise broke through for his first PGA Tour victory Sunday, taking the AT&T Byron Nelson at Trinity Forest. Here's how Wise beat the field and darkness following a lengthy rain delay:

Leaderboard: Wise (-23), Leishman (-20), Branden Grace (-19), J.J. Spaun (-19), Keith Mitchell (-19)

What it means: This is Wise’s first PGA Tour win in just his 18th start as a member. Tied with Leishman to start the final round, Wise raced ahead with six birdies in a seven-hole stretch from Nos. 4-10 and never looked back. He'd make eight straight pars on his way into the clubhouse and the winner's circle. The 2016 NCAA Division I individual champion just locked up Tour status through 2019-20 season and guaranteed himself a spot in the PGA Championship.

Best of the rest: Leishman reached 20 under par but just couldn’t keep pace with Wise. This is his second runner-up of the season, following a solo second in the CJ Cup in October.

Round of the day: Grace carded a 62 – where have I heard that before? – with eight birdies, an eagle and a bogey to end up tied for third, his best finish of the season on Tour.

Biggest disappointment: Adam Scott looked as though he had done enough to qualify for the U.S. Open via the Official World Golf Ranking when he walked off the golf course. Unfortunately, minutes later, he’d drop from a four-way tie for sixth into a three-way tie for ninth, narrowly missing out on this week's OWGR cutoff.

Break of the day: Wise could very well have found the hazard off the tee at No. 9 if not for a well-placed sprinkler head. Rather than drop a shot, he took advantage of his good fortune and poured in another birdie putt to extend his lead.

Quote of the day: "It's a dream come true to win this one." - Wise

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Otaegui wins Belgian Knockout by two

By Associated PressMay 21, 2018, 1:20 am

ANTWERP, Belgium – Adrian Otaegui beat Benjamin Hebert by two shots in the final of the Belgian Knockout to win his second European Tour title.

The hybrid format opened with two rounds of stroke play on Thursday and Friday, before the leading 64 players competed in nine-hole knockout stroke play matches.

Otaegui and Hebert both finished three shots off the lead at 5 under after the first two days and worked their way through five matches on the weekend to set up Sunday's final at the Rinkven International Golf Club.


Full-field scores from the Belgian Knockout


''I'm very happy, very relaxed now after the last nine holes against Ben that were very tight,'' Otaegui said. ''I'm just very proud about my week.

''I just tried to play against myself. Obviously your opponent is just next to you but I just tried to focus on my game.''

Scotland's David Drysdale beat James Heath of England by one shot in the playoff for third spot.

Herbet said he was ''just a little short this week.''

''Adrian is a very good player, especially in this kind of format,'' he said. ''He's already won one tournament in match play last year. This format is fun, it puts you under pressure almost every hole because everything can happen. I think it's a great idea.''

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Spieth looking forward to Colonial after T-21

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:10 am

DALLAS – Jordan Spieth finally got a few putts to drop at the AT&T Byron Nelson, but after a frustrating week he’s looking forward to heading across town.

Spieth shot a 4-under 67 amid soggy conditions at Trinity Forest Golf Club, his lowest score of the week but one that still left him in a tie for 21st at 11 under par. His frustrations had a common theme throughout the week, as he ranked seventh among the field in strokes gained: tee to green but 72nd in strokes gained: putting.

“Felt like I played better than I scored,” Spieth said. “Just burned the edges or barely missed, and I misread a lot of putts, too. Overall just struggled a little bit matching line and speed and kind of getting it all together out here.”


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


Spieth remains in search of his first win since The Open in July, but his results in the interim haven’t exactly been a struggle. This marks his seventh top-25 finish in his last nine starts as an individual.

Spieth is in the midst of a busy part of his schedule, and will play his third of four events in a row next week at the Fort Worth Invitational. With runner-up finishes in 2015 and 2017 sandwiched around a victory there two years ago, Spieth did little to contain his excitement for a return to venerable Colonial Country Club.

“It’s one of those courses where whether I have my A game or not, I seem to find my way into contention, which is really cool,” Spieth said. “It’s one of four or five places I go into, no matter where the game is at, I’m excited to get started and feel like I have a chance to win.”

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Razorbacks, Fassi scrambling to recover in NCAAs

By Ryan LavnerMay 21, 2018, 12:56 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – We’re not even halfway through this NCAA Championship, and the top women’s player in the country is already worn out.

Indeed, it’s been three rounds of hard work for Maria Fassi as she tries to claw herself and second-ranked Arkansas back into contention at Karsten Creek.

“I haven’t been able to create momentum of any kind,” she said after a third-round 73 left her at 16-over 232, 23 shots off the individual lead and outside the top 90. “I’ve been fighting every single hole. It’s just been exhausting.”

It’s been that way for her teammates, too.

Arkansas entered nationals as one of the pre-tournament favorites. The Razorbacks won the SEC Championship for the first time. They won seven events, including a regional title in which they shot 26 under par on the University of Texas’ home course. They were comfortable knowing that they not only had Fassi, the top-ranked player and a six-time winner this season, but also a strong supporting cast that includes Baylor transfer Dylan Kim and Alana Uriell.

And then the first two rounds happened. The Razorbacks had shot a team score in the 300s just once all season, but they posted two in a row here at Karsten Creek (308-300).

Fassi’s play has been even more of a mystery. In the opening round she shot 81 – with two birdies. She followed it up with a second-round 78, then birdied her last two holes just to shoot 73 on Sunday. She thought she had a smart game plan – taking fewer drivers, putting the ball in play on arguably the most difficult college course in the country – and it just hasn’t worked out.

“I just need to stay really patient, be true to myself and keep fighting,” she said. “I know what I’m capable of doing, and if I play my game it’s going to be plenty good.”

So what’s been the conversation among teammates the past two nights?

“It involved a lot of cuss words,” Fassi said. “We know this is not Arkansas golf. We know this is not the game that we play.”

The top-15 cut line should have been an afterthought for a team as talented as the Razorbacks, and yet they needed a 1-over 289 just to play Monday’s fourth round of stroke-play qualifying.

“Backs against the wall, they had to go get it done and they did an awesome job,” said Arkansas coach Shauna Taylor. “In our locker room we call it ‘Do the Possible.’ It’s doing what you’re capable of doing.”

And now the Razorbacks sit in 11th place, just six shots off the top-8 cut after their two worst rounds all season. They still have a chance to advance.

“You can’t panic,” Taylor said. “We’ve played great golf all year. We’ve put ourselves in a hole and it was time to go to work and dig yourselves out of it.”