Stress test

By Rex HoggardSeptember 22, 2011, 9:03 pm

ATLANTA – Keegan Bradley – you know the guy, the belly-putter-wielding assassin with ice pumping through his New England veins who won the season’s final major the old-fashioned way with moxie and machine precision – knows a thing or two about pressure.

Sure, that OT walk-off a few weeks back on another Atlanta-area golf course was worth the price of admission, but we’re talking about real, oxygen-sucking pressure. The kind of stuff you feel in the soles of your feet when you tee off and your eyelids when you’re trying to line up a 5-footer.

Those extra frames at Atlanta Athletic Club may have been touch and go, but when pressed to rank the psi at the PGA compared to, say, Q-School, this was a non-starter for Bradley.

“There’s nothing more pressure-packed than Q-School,” Bradley said Thursday after his round-of-the-day 64 at the Tour Championship. To everyone’s surprise, including his caddie’s, Bradley continued. “But making the Presidents Cup team . . . every third hole it pops into my mind.”

At East Lake everybody is playing for something, and demons come in all shapes and sizes. For Bradley, it’s the thought of marching onto the first tee at Royal Melbourne in November with a teammate by his side and an entire nation standing behind him.

“I say it every time, I really want to be on the team,” Bradley said of U.S. captain Fred Couples’ final pick, which will come on Tuesday.

Brendan Steele figured on the eve of the final round of this year’s PGA, “You can only want something so much.” Bradley & Co. are putting that axiom to the test.

At 20th on the points list when automatic qualifying closed last Sunday, Bradley is hardly a lock for this year’s team, although most armchair pundits consider him the leader in the clubhouse by way of his major high card.

But that speculation ignores Nos. 11 and 12, respectively, Brandt Snedeker (68) and Bill Haas, who also posted a decent round (68) Thursday at East Lake. Haas’ father, Jay, is one of Couples’ assistants and young Bill is a member of the Billy Harmon staple, which would also help him in Captain America’s eyes.

Although Tuesday’s pick is out of Haas’ control, nobody wants to back into a selection. “I want to get picked for this tournament here, not because I had a solid two years,” Haas said. “A week like this you can really earn your pick.”

Enter the pressure.

It’s an equal-opportunity affliction that has no interest in international boundaries. Aaron Baddeley can attest to that truth. On Monday the Australian received a call from International captain Greg Norman. The message was simply suffocating – I’m watching.

Adding to that headlock is Baddeley’s Presidents Cup history. He was 12 years old the last time the matches were played at Royal Melbourne and attended every day except one. “It was too hot,” he said with a smile. He remembers watching Phil Mickelson hit bunker shots, David Duval practice his putting and, most of all, the International side score its only victory in the matches.

“This is an important week,” Baddeley said simply. He didn’t have to add the particulars of Norman’s decision. No need.

The International captain must decide among Baddeley and Robert Allenby, both Australians with plenty of history at Royal Melbourne, resurgent veteran Vijay Singh and last year’s Open champion, Louis Oosthuizen.

Baddeley has probably shot better 68s than the one he did Thursday, but not many with as much on the line.

The assortment of Presidents Cup hopefuls don’t have the market cornered on pressure at the Tour Championship. When Webb Simpson missed a 5-footer for par at East Lake’s fourth hole many in the gallery did a double-take. It was the kind of putt he hasn’t missed since July, or so it seems.

Following Simpson’s first Tour victory at the Wyndham Championship he and his wife celebrated with dinner at a fast-food joint, and earlier this week he figured he would buy some extra diapers if he were lucky enough to cash the Tour’s $10 million FedEx Cup lottery ticket.

There is a limit to how far frugal can take you, however, and, to be fair, $10 million will make you do crazy things. Nor is there any boundary to pressure, be it for a once-in-a-lifetime payday or a deep patriotic pining.

In sports, scores can give closure, but not always context. Bradley’s 64, Haas’ 68, even Simpson’s 1-under-par 69 stop well short of telling the true story.

For Bradley, the Tour Championship is nothing short of a Presidents Cup qualifier. His resume to date, however impressive, will mean little when Couples starts making tough choices late Sunday. It’s a truth that makes Thursday’s 64 better than the sum of its parts.

“I know he deals with adversity very well,” said Bradley’s caddie, Steven Hale. “He has another notch he can go to when he has to.”

Tour tee sheets are filled with very good players, but events such as the Tour Championship are what thins the heard. At the vast majority of Tour events success is based on victory. But this week is different. For many at the Tour Championship it’s less about pass/fail than it is dealing with pressure in whatever form that may take.

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Chappell returns to Valero as defending champ

By Will GrayApril 18, 2018, 9:48 pm

It's impossible for any of the players at this week's Valero Texas Open to forget who captured the trophy last year.

That's because most players stay at the JW Marriott hotel that's a short walk from the first tee at TPC San Antonio, and the defending champion's face is emblazoned on the hotel's room keys. This week, that honor belongs to Kevin Chappell.

"You get some sly comments from players about their room key," Chappell told reporters Wednesday. "'Oh, I'm tired of looking at you.' And I'm saying, 'Believe me, I'm tired of being in everyone's room.'"

The position of defending champ is one Chappell relishes this week as he returns to the site of his maiden PGA Tour victory. A one-shot win over Brooks Koepka led to a euphoric celebration on the 72nd green, and it helped propel Chappell to his first career spot on the Presidents Cup team in October.

Chappell has missed the cut each of the last two weeks, including the Masters, but he also recorded top-10 finishes at the CareerBuilder Challenge, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Arnold Palmer Invitational. It's reason enough for Chappell to feel optimistic heading back to a course where he was a runner-up in 2011 and finished T-4 in 2016.

"This year's been a little bit of a strange year for me. I usually don't find form until about here, usually a slow starter," Chappell said. "But having three top-10s before this event, I've kind of found some form. I'm looking to turn those top-10s into top-5s, and the top-5s into wins. That's the challenge moving forward this year."

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Scott returns to Valero with major streak in jeopardy

By Will GrayApril 18, 2018, 8:34 pm

Adam Scott is back in the Lone Star State as he looks to keep alive a majors streak that has stretched across nearly two decades.

The Aussie tends to play a relatively light schedule during the spring, often times skipping every event between the Masters and The Players. But this time around he opted to return to the Valero Texas Open for the first time since 2011 in an effort to capitalize on the form he found two weeks ago at Augusta National, where he tied for 32nd.

"Hopefully kind of pick up where I left off on the weekend, which was really solid, and get a bit of momentum going because that's what I haven't had this year," Scott told reporters. "Trying to put four good rounds together and get the most out of my game for a change."

Scott has won each of the four stroke-play events held annually in Texas, completing the so-called "Texas Slam" before the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play relocated to Austin. That includes his win at TPC San Antonio back in 2010, when he closed with rounds of 66-67 for a one-shot victory.

After a seven-year hiatus, Scott is back San Antonio after a solid but underwhelming spring stretch. He cracked the top 20 at both the Honda Classic and Valspar Championship, but his worldwide top-10 drought stretches back nearly a year to the FedEx St. Jude Classic in June. As a result, the former world No. 1 has dropped to No. 59 in the latest rankings.


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"I'm trying to be really in tune with where my game's at and identify why I'm just not having better results," Scott said. "To kind of change that, I've got to change something, otherwise I'm just going to do the same thing."

That ranking will become even more important in the coming weeks as Scott looks to keep his streak of consecutive majors intact. He has played in 67 straight dating back to The Open in 2001, second only to Sergio Garcia's 75 among active players. But Scott's five-year exemption for winning the 2013 Masters has run its course, meaning he is not yet exempt for the upcoming U.S. Open.

Barring a win next month at TPC Sawgrass, Scott's only way to avoid a trip to sectional qualifying will be to maintain a position inside the top 60 in the world rankings on either May 21 or June 11.

The key for Scott remains easy to identify but hard to fix. While he ranks fifth on Tour this season in strokes gained: tee-to-green, he's 194th in strokes gained: putting. Scott won in consecutive weeks in 2016 with a short putter, but otherwise has largely struggled on the greens since the anchoring ban took effect more than two years ago.

"Hopefully a quick turnaround here and things start going in the right direction, because I think I can have a really great back end of the season," Scott said. "My ball-striking is where I want it; I like where my short game's at. I just need to get a bit of momentum going on the greens. It's easy to do that on the putting green at home, but that doesn't always translate out here. I think I've just got to make it happen out here."

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After personal struggles, Compton still standing

By Rex HoggardApril 18, 2018, 4:08 pm

The first line of Erik Compton’s PGA Tour biography provides all the context you need to understand the 38-year-old’s plight: “Because of viral cardiomyopathy, had first heart transplant on Feb. 26, 1992 and took up the game of golf as part of his rehabilitation.”

The second heart transplant came in 2008. Those brushes with mortality can produce some next-level introspection, but as Compton closed his eyes and contemplated his most recent situation, his mind drifted to places that most professional athletes spend a lifetime trying to avoid.

Following his opening round late last month at the Web.com Tour’s Savannah Golf Championship, Compton considered retirement. He openly unpacked the emotions of going through a divorce. He conceded that the trappings of life on the PGA Tour can be consuming and, at least for him, uncomfortable.

Throughout his eventful career Compton has donned many hats. He’s been a hero to many who see his perseverance through so many medical setbacks as an example of what can be accomplished when you stop listening to people who are quick to tell you something can’t be done.

He’s been a contender, finishing second at the 2014 U.S. Open and spending five full seasons competing against the game’s best at the highest level.

But on this spring day in Savannah, he embraces the role of sage.

“The competition,” Compton answers, when asked what he misses the most about the PGA Tour. “The lifestyle is grueling, but it was eating at me before. When I was married, there was a lot of pressure. It’s easy to get caught up and spend a lot of money. You live a different lifestyle when you have some success. I made a lot of money for a couple of years, and I didn’t really feel comfortable with it, to be honest. You know one day it’s not going to be here. Guys don’t understand how quickly it can be taken away.”

Compton understands, maybe better than anyone in the game.

He understands that one moment you’re standing on the 18th green at Pinehurst, being cheered by thousands of fans for what was by any measure a magical performance at the ’14 U.S. Open; and the next moment, you’re back in a hospital bed, attached to another IV contemplating an unknown future.

Compton lost his Tour card in 2016 and spent last season on the Web.com Tour trying to play his way back to the big leagues with even worse results.

His divorce, which was emotionally complicated by his daughter, Petra, made competing difficult.

“It’s a tough thing to go through, with kids there’s a lot emotions that go into that. It’s hard to play golf and make a living. You get off the golf course and you’re dealing with attorneys and trying to figure out how to do that while you’re playing golf. It’s not easy,” he said. “A lot of guys have had to go through that. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. It’s a tough thing to go through. We had some differences, and that’s what needed to happen.”



Beyond his divorce, there were more health issues. The two-time heart transplant recipient was sidelined last year by arthritis in his feet, the byproduct of gout. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple. It never is with Compton.

Compton’s foot issues were initially misdiagnosed, and he was advised to ice his right foot after every round, but that only crystalized the gout and forced him to undergo a procedure on his right toe to alleviate the pain.

His condition was further complicated when he contracted cellulitis, a bacterial infection of the skin that was caused by athlete’s foot. That led to two days in a South Florida hospital last month that forced him to miss the Mexico Open, which he won in 2011, helping him earn his Tour card.

Compton has spent more time in hospitals than some people spend commuting to work, which would prompt the inevitably question – why me?

“No,” he laughs. “I’m excited now. This is the best I’ve felt in a year and a half. I have a doctor who can look out for me when I have these issues. I thought with the arthritis I’d have to take a medical [exemption]. These are the things that go through my head at night.”

If Compton’s glass seems a bit half full considering his plight, both professionally and personally, he’s arrived at his optimistic crossroads honestly. Whereas most athletes depend on compartmentalization and a reluctance for linear thinking, Compton has chosen retrospection.

“We all have a tendency to live in our minds beyond where we are, and that’s Tour life,” he said. “You think you’re a better player than you might be. You think you have more money than you might have.”

But for Compton those memories that others work to bury deep have provided a focal point in his journey back to the Tour. Every day, for example, he revisits that final round at Pinehurst, when he proved to himself and the world that he had the game to compete in a major championship.

He remembers the thrill of competing at the highest level and how energizing golf can be when your mind and body cooperate.

“I’ve moved on, and I’m trying to get my life in order and simplify and rebuild the work that I put in for so many years. The players are so good, but I still think that if I can get off of the [Web.com Tour] and onto the PGA Tour, I still have the game to play,” he said. “You don’t realize how great you have it until it’s gone.”

There doesn’t seem to be much that Compton doesn’t perceive these days, and it appears that the last line of that biography hasn’t been written yet.

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Power Rankings: 2018 Valero Texas Open

By Will GrayApril 18, 2018, 2:43 pm

The PGA Tour heads back to Texas this week for the Valero Texas Open. A field of 156 players will tackle the AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio, where the winner receives a pair of cowboy boots in addition to the trophy.

Be sure to join the all-new Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge - including a new One & Done game offering - to compete for prizes and form your own leagues, and log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to submit your picks for this week's event.

Kevin Chappell won this event last year by one shot over Brooks Koepka. Here are 10 names to watch in San Antonio:

1. Charley Hoffman: This event may soon be christened the Hoffman Invitational given the veteran's dominance in hill country. Hoffman has finished T-13 or better 10 times since 2006, including a runner-up in 2011 and a victory two years ago. He has four top-25s in his last six starts entering the week, including a T-12 finish at the Masters.

2. Matt Kuchar: Kuchar remains his reliable self, with a T-23 finish at Harbour Town his fourth top-30 finish in as many weeks. In a field devoid of starpower and on a course where a controlled ball flight will be key, Kuchar's name rises to the top and that position is reinforced by his four straight top-25s here from 2012-15.

3. Luke List: List nearly broke through at the Honda Classic earlier this spring, but he hasn't let up since that playoff loss to Justin Thomas. List tied for third last week in South Carolina, and he has finished T-26 or better in each of his eight stroke-play starts dating back to the Farmers Insurance Open.

4. Sergio Garcia: Garcia had a hand in re-designing this week's venue along with Greg Norman, but he hasn't played here since 2010. Still, he's the only player ranked inside the top 20 and outside of a disaster on the 15th hole at Augusta National has been playing some solid golf this year, with three top-10s preceding his Masters missed cut.

5. Brendan Steele: Steele earned his first career victory at this event during his rookie season back in 2011, and he tends to play some of his best golf in San Antonio with three top-15 finishes since. Steele has played sparingly since a T-3 finish in Phoenix, but he notched a pair of top-20s in two WGC events before missing the cut in Augusta.

6. Billy Horschel: Horschel has been feast-or-famine in this event, with three top-4 finishes sandwiched around a pair of missed cuts over the last five years. The former FedExCup champ has been quiet this season, but he broke through last week with a T-5 finish at Harbour Town which showed that some more good play could be in store for a player known to ride a hot streak or two.

7. Ryan Moore: Moore has quietly bounced back from a disappointing 2017 season, with three straight top-30 finishes highlighted by a T-5 finish last month at Bay Hill. Moore has played sparingly in San Antonio, but over his last two trips (a T-8 finish in 2012 and a T-18 finish last year) he has only one round over par on a difficult track.

8. Adam Scott: Scott has won every stroke-play event contested in Texas, including a win at TPC San Antonio in 2010. While he has played only once since, he returns this week as he looks to get his game back to its former heights. The results haven't all been bad, though, as Scott notched a pair of top-20s in Florida and now heads to a course that should accentuate his tee-to-green advantages.

9. Kevin Chappell: The defending champ hasn't been heard from much in recent weeks, but he's still a name worth mentioning at this event. Chappell earned his maiden win in dramatic fashion last year, and he was also a runner-up in 2011 and finished T-4 in 2016. He has missed the cut each of the last two weeks but did crack the top 10 in Palm Springs, Pebble Beach and Orlando.

10. Jimmy Walker: A resident of nearby Boerne, Walker will have plenty of fan support this week at an event where he outlasted Jordan Spieth for the title back in 2015. That remains the highlight of a four-year run that included three top-20 finishes, as Walker tied for 13th last year and returns on the heels of a T-20 finish at the Masters.