Royal journey

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2011, 8:23 pm

SANDWICH, England – Scenic Bushmills Road is the ultimate old country anomaly – suburban sprawl on one side dotted with trailer parks and brightly colored billboards, sweeping views of the north Atlantic and venerable Royal Portrush Golf Club on the other.

Expect that busy landscape to be even more cluttered when Darren Clarke motors home on Monday, and he couldn’t be happier.

By the time the 42-year-old father of two makes it back to Northern Ireland, there will be a “Congratulations Darren, 2011 British Open champion” sign erected along Bushmills Road to match a similar celebratory message the cozy seaside village put up following the 2010 U.S. Open victory by Graeme McDowell, another native son.

It will be the ultimate homecoming for a man who lost his way and his game following the 2006 death of his wife Heather, claret jug in hand, likely filled with his beloved Guinness, and major monkey off his back, scattered to the fierce winds that made the ’11 Open Championship a perfect fit for the lifelong “mudder.”

“We’ve had some pretty dark phone calls,” said Clarke’s longtime manager Chubby Chandler. “He lost about five or six years of his career.”

There are victories that transcend sport, emotional accomplishments that are worth more than the sum of their athletic parts, but this, the Four Seasons Open – with players often teeing off in a winter gale only to putt out under warm, sunny skies – was something else.

That Clarke finally broke through the grand slam ceiling just days after a closing-round collapse at the Scottish Open will only add to the legend, which promises to grow even if the man himself is looking to shrink. On Monday Clarke – who began the week at 111th in the World Golf Ranking, a 150-to-1 Open long-shot and weighing in at a generous 200 pounds according to the media guide – promised Chandler that he would begin a Weight Watchers program.

“Five (Weight Watchers) points for a pint of Guinness, it would be a bad week for me to start,” Clarke said flashing his signature smile. It was a smile, and a moment, that didn’t seem possible just a few years ago.

Following 2006 nothing came easy. Not the game that he took up with his father, Godfrey, at Dungannon Golf Club nearly four decades ago, not the putts that lifted him to 13 European Tour titles, not the motivation that drove him to be a Ryder Cup staple.

He’d fallen so low that one writer from the United Kingdom described his career in particularly unflattering terms as “an inexplicable slide toward irrelevance.” On Sunday, claret jug resting by his side, Clarke couldn’t help but offer a playful response.

“What is this a mirage?” he smiled at the offending writer and motioned toward the silver chalice. It didn’t seem Clarke was holding a grudge, however, when he had a few cases of champagne delivered to the press tent late Sunday.

The tipping point came late last year when he packed up his two boys and moved back home to Portrush from London. The results were almost instant. He won earlier this year in Spain and arrived at Royal St. George’s confident, yet frustrated by his pedestrian putting.

The final piece of the puzzle was waiting for him on Wednesday on St. George’s practice putting green in the form of Dr. Bob Rotella. The two had worked together for years but had drifted apart when Clarke began limiting his playing schedule in America.

For Rotella the fix was simple.

“Darren made a comment to me, ‘I’ve been through the tough times and the good times. I just want to play my best,’” Rotella said. “There is a relationship between being happy and becoming unconscious and being serious and being conscious.”

For 72 wind-whipped holes Clarke only appeared to be unconscious. Despite a four-club wind that dismantled umbrellas from Dover to Deal, the Ulsterman was two closing bogeys away from becoming just the fourth man to win the Open with four rounds in the 60s.

“As to what is going through my heart,” said Clarke, the first Northern Irishman to win the British Open since 1947. “Somebody up there (Heather) is looking down on me. She’d probably tell me, ‘I told you so.’”

Clarke closed with a 70 for a 5-under-275 total, three strokes clear of the American two-ball of Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.

In fairness, it wasn’t as easy as Clarke made it look. In fact, before he reached the turn on Sunday Mickelson had defied conventional wisdom and pulled even with him thanks to a flawless front-nine 30.

Lefty endeavored to play this Open, his 18th, like it was his first, and matched Clarke at 5 under with a 25-foot eagle putt at the seventh just as the tempest began building to the north, but ultimately he finished like a rookie.

A missed 3-footer for par at the 11th rattled Mickelson and he never recovered, following with back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 13 and 14 for a 68. Still, it was links progress. His runner-up showing was his best ever at the game’s oldest tilt and the moral victory didn’t escape Lefty.

“Oh man, that was some of the most fun I’ve had competitively,” Mickelson said. “I hit some of the best shots I’ve hit in the wind, not just today but really all week.”

There will be one shot into the teeth of the gale that Johnson, who began the final day of a major in the final group for the third time in his last six grand slam outings, will remember for some time. Just two strokes back and the par-5 14th waiting, Johnson (68) pushed his second shot closer to adjacent Prince’s Golf Club than the 14th fairway, out of bounds and out of contention.

It put an end to what was shaping up to be an American breakthrough of sorts. The red, white and blue major drought is now 1-for-7. It says much about the state of the game in the United States that after Mickelson and Johnson, it was 61-year-old Tom Watson who most stirred the American spirit.

Ivor Robson has been calling Open tee times since Old Tom was Young Tom (37 years). “On the first teeee, Tooom Watson,” he has announced in his singsong pitch for 33 years. It must never get old.

Although Old Tom was outplayed on Thursday by Young Tom (Lewis), Watson followed with rounds of 70-72-72 to tie for 22nd, his 15th top-25 finish at the Open.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Watson said. “I had a hole-in-one (No. 6 on Friday). I mean come on. It couldn’t get better than that.”

What would golf writers do without Tom Watson?

But then if a Watson miracle is too much to ask for, a Clarke comeback may be too much to believe. He wasn’t perfect by any measure, missing more fairways than he hit (23 of 56) and finishing tied for 31st in putting (1.65 average), but he was good enough.

“Twenty years he’s been trying to win it,” Godfrey Clarke said. “Between the kids being happy and him being happy it sort of settled him down, took some of the steam out of him.”

They say the ancient links at Royal Portrush, which hosted the 1951 Open Championship, doesn’t have the infrastructure to rejoin the secluded list of rotation courses, although whoever made that observation must not have checked the grand slam gridlock this week in Sandwich.

Two major champions in a little more than a year may finally change that thinking, but first the seaside enclave may need to tidy up all that sprawl along Bushmills Road.

Marc Dull (Florida State Golf Association)

Cops called in bizarre ending to Florida Mid-Am

By Ryan LavnerMay 20, 2018, 7:16 pm

In a one-paragraph post on its website, the Florida State Golf Association declared Marc Dull the winner of the 37th Mid-Amateur Championship on May 13 after his opponent – in a tie match with two holes to go – was unable to return because of an “unfortunate injury” sustained during a lengthy weather delay.

Left unreported was what allegedly happened.

According to a police report (see below) obtained by GolfChannel.com, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office received a call that afternoon from Dull’s opponent, Jeff Golden, who claimed that he’d been assaulted in the parking lot at Coral Creek Club, the tournament host site in Placida. In a statement provided to police, Golden said that he was sucker-punched in the face by Dull’s caddie, Brandon Hibbs.

Both in his statement to police and in a subsequent phone interview afterward, Golden, 33, said that the alleged incident stemmed from a rules dispute on the ninth hole during the championship match. As he surveyed his putt, Golden asked Dull whether the cup was damaged or if there was loose debris around the edge.

“Don’t worry about it,” Hibbs reportedly told Golden. “If you’re going to make it, you’re going around it.”

With tensions already running high because of what he perceived as breaches of etiquette by his opponents, Golden informed the rules official in the group that he believed Hibbs’ statement constituted advice. The penalty was a loss of hole, giving Golden a 2-up lead at the turn.

At that point, Hibbs told police, he recused himself and returned to the clubhouse. Dull and Golden continued their match, heading to the 17th hole all square when they were pulled off the course because of inclement weather.

Golden told police that he headed to the parking lot at 2:45 p.m. to retrieve some dry clothes from his car when Hibbs “approached him, apologized, then punched him on the left side of the face,” causing him to fall to the ground.

“I had a moment where I was happy to see him, because the first thing he said to me was, ‘I want to apologize,’” Golden said last week in a phone interview. “By the time he finished I was being punched.”

Asked why he believed Hibbs would strike him, Golden said: “It was from the earlier ruling, 100 percent. He had anger toward me because I called him out on a ruling.”

In a statement given to police, Hibbs, 36, said that he had “been in the clubhouse the entire time and did not batter [Golden], nor was he in the parking lot.” Hibbs, who caddies with Dull at Streamsong Resort in Central Florida, did not return a message seeking comment.

Police wrote in the report that there were no witnesses to the alleged attack, nor was there any surveillance video from the parking lot. While observing Golden the officer noted “no swelling or abrasions to the face,” but there was “some redness on the inside of [Golden’s] lip.” Hibbs’ hands and knuckles showed “no scrapes or abrasions.”

Golden, however, said that there were three bloodstains on his shirt and punctures inside his mouth that proved he’d been struck. He also described himself afterward as “dizzy” and seeing “weird shades of colors,” and that the area between his wrist and thumb was “very sensitive” from catching his fall. Still feeling woozy, he met with his doctor the day after the alleged incident and also underwent a CT scan on Friday.

“I was extremely shaken up,” he said. “I had concussion symptoms.”

Golden declined to press charges – he said later that he wasn’t given the option, because of a lack of physical evidence – and refused medical attention.

Reached by phone last week, Dull said that he had no knowledge of the alleged attack and was only made aware once the police arrived. He said he had waited out the delay in a storm shelter.

“It was shocking,” he said. “[Hibbs] said to me, ‘I didn’t touch the guy.’”

Once the police left, it was up to the FSGA to determine how to proceed.

With the course now playable after a two-hour delay, under the Rules of Golf, the players were expected back on the 17th hole.

Golden asked Dull whether he would concede the match.

“I said that I wasn’t going to concede,” Dull said. “Why would I concede the match when I was sitting in the shelter, and when I come back someone is accused of being hit?”

So Golden then decided to concede, handing the Mid-Am title to Dull, the reigning FSGA Amateur Player of the Year.

“I just wanted to get home,” Golden explained later.

Asked last week for more details about the final result, Jeff Magaditsch, the organization’s director of tournament operations, said in an email that Golden “expressed concern about a wrist issue” and that “not much additional information is available.”

A day later, once the details of the police report became available, FSGA executive director Jim Demick said that Golden “didn’t want to play anymore.”

“Regrettably, the golf course was very playable and Jeff understood that he needed to resume the match,” he said. “I think he was just ready to go.”

When asked to comment on the alleged attack, Demick said that the police “found absolutely no evidence of an assault.”

Last week Golden, who qualified for the 2007 U.S. Open and is now a tennis pro at Palencia in St. Augustine, appealed the FSGA’s decision, writing in a letter that tournament officials shouldn’t have accepted his concession.

Dull said that he was “annoyed by the whole incident.”

“I think it taints the entire championship,” he said. “It’s unfortunate. No golf tournament should end that way.”

Getty Images

Delayed start for Nelson might mean Monday finish

By Will GrayMay 20, 2018, 6:04 pm

DALLAS – Inclement weather  pushed back final-round tee times at the AT&T Byron Nelson by more than four hours, increasing the likelihood of a Monday finish in the tournament’s debut at Trinity Forest Golf Club.

With the field already scheduled to play in threesomes off split tees, the opening tee times for the day got pushed back from 9:23 a.m. CT to 1:23 p.m. because of steady rain in the area. The delay means that the final group won’t start their round until 3:35 p.m. local time.

With sunset in the Dallas area scheduled for 8:23 p.m., the leaders will likely have just under five hours to complete their rounds or face returning to the course Monday morning. Threesomes have been used for each of the first three days, and in part because of the intricacies of the new layout rounds have routinely approached 5 hours and 30 minutes in duration.

Should play spill over into Monday, those playing next week’s event will face one of the Tour’s shortest commutes, with Fort Worth Invitational host Colonial Country Club less than an hour away.

Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise share the 54-hole lead at 17 under, four shots clear of the field. They’ll be joined in the final trio by Australia’s Matt Jones, who is tied for third with Kevin Na.

Getty Images

Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.

 

A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

Getty Images

Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Web.com Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”