Timeless Toms returns

By Rex HoggardAugust 7, 2011, 4:32 pm

It is a testament to the timelessness of the event, if not the total recall talents of the two men who lived through the episode, that David Toms and Scott Gneiser can so effortlessly race back a decade to a humid Sunday afternoon at Atlanta Athletic Club.

Revisionists will chronicle Toms’ 72nd-hole heroics at the 2001 PGA Championship with a fixation on his misplayed tee shot on the 490-yard closer. The truth, however, is that Toms’ drive wasn’t that bad.

“We hit a pretty decent drive,” recalls Gneiser, Toms’ longtime caddie. “It just kind of rolled through the fairway and I’m like, ‘Oh gosh.’”

From a hanging lie in the first cut of rough and with 209 yards standing between himself and his first major championship Toms and Gneiser talked for . . . well, that’s about the only thing the two have trouble remembering.

“You don’t know if it was five minutes or 10 minutes we were standing there,” Gneiser remembers. “A 3-iron ain’t getting there and our 5-wood would go too far.”

Finally, Gneiser addressed the elephant that had suddenly filled the 18th fairway, “You want to lay up?” he asks.

It was a moment that forced bomb-and-gouge types to look away. If you “didn’t come this far to lay up” stop reading now because Toms’ handling of the final 209 yards of the ’01 PGA was less machismo than it was mathematician.

“We’re like, what’s the best way to make 4, because that’s what I had to do,” Toms says.

These are the facts, Toms’ second shot was a wedge 120 yards down the fairway, leaving him 84 yards to a middle-left pin, a perfect 60-degree wedge shot, which, Toms now admits, was anything but perfect.

“It was a brand new (60 degree) wedge I had put in that week and I’d hit it on the range but not in competition,” he says. “That’s probably why I didn’t hit a great shot, because I had in the back of my mind, ‘I’m hoping this is going to be pin high.’”

In order, Phil Mickelson’s birdie attempt from 25 feet stopped two rolls short of the hole while Toms’ downhill par putt from 12 feet dropped into the cup for his first, and only, Grand Slam victory.

In the moments after his triumph Toms delivered one of the most honest lines in major championship history: “I might still be playing that hole if I would have gone for the green.”

It was the day brains beat brawn, if not bold. That Toms clipped Mickelson, the poster-child for a swashbuckling style of play that was quickly enveloping the game, only underscored how meaningful the victory was.

In retrospect the decision to lay up seems obvious, but consider that the 5-wood, the one the duo deemed “too much,” had delivered the week’s most dramatic moment on Saturday when Toms aced the par-3 15th hole with it, and the aforementioned 3-iron had set up a birdie at the last in Round 3 that staked Toms to a two-stroke overnight lead.

There was also the added pressure of a fairly new player/caddie dynamic. Although Toms and Gneiser have become a staple on Tour, at the ’01 PGA they had been working together for only two years.

“The wheels were turning the whole time,” Gneiser says. “I’m thinking, please be 85 yards (after Toms hit his now-historic lay-up shot), and it was a brand new wedge. We both had it in our minds, you might not win the tournament but you’re not going to lose it.”

But few if any could second-guess Toms’ decision, not even Mickelson, who has pieced together a Hall of Fame career seemingly playing against the percentages a large portion of the time.

“He made a great play. That was a very intelligent play,” Mickelson said in 2001. “(He) played right to his strength. He's a very good sand-wedge player. . . . That was really his best opportunity to make par. I felt like it was a very intelligent play on his part.”

For Gneiser it was a game-time decision that was made in the moment, not the fruits of some grand plan. As an example, he points to the final round at this year’s Players Championship. Leading with three holes to play from a similar lie in the right rough at the par-5 16th hole the duo decided to go for the green with their second shot. Toms pushed the shot into a water hazard right of the green, made bogey and lost a playoff to K.J. Choi.

“It was the exact same scenario,” Gneiser says. “We were playing so good and confident, if I talked him out of it I felt like it would break up the flow.”

For the unassuming tandem it’s the only way to explain a singularly unique major moment. A moment that, for better or worse, has defined a career that has eschewed the prototype of the modern professional.

The “throwback” will tell you he doesn’t have the game to compete many weeks on Tour, on courses like the redesigned Highlands layout at AAC which has been stretched to more than 7,500 yards. Yet he bounced back from his Players heartbreak with an emotional victory the next week at Colonial. Tour tilt No. 13 and counting for the father of two.

Toms understands better than most what his ’01 breakthrough meant, particularly in the Tiger Woods era, regardless of the means that led to the victorious ends.

“In the time of Tiger winning every third one (major), it’s been a tough thing to do,” Toms now says of his lone major.

The golf world will celebrate the return of an unassuming champion this week, the man who made magic with a wedge and a putter, not a driver, a decade ago. Yet for Toms, whose career has been as timeless as that moment adjacent the 18th fairway at AAC, it’s just another week in the heart of Dixie.

“I like going there (Atlanta) more for the Southeastern Conference championship game than the Tour Championship, that’s kind of crazy,” the LSU product proudly admits.

Crazy indeed. Kind of like laying up to win major.

Getty Images

Alabama faces 'buzzsaw' Arizona for NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 23, 2018, 2:00 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – There was no way Laura Ianello could sleep Monday night, not after that dramatic ending at the NCAA Women’s Championship. So at 12:15 a.m., the Arizona coach held court in the laundry room at the Holiday Inn, washing uniforms and munching on mozzarella sticks and fried chicken strips from Sonic, her heart still racing.

Ianello got only three hours of sleep, and who could blame her?

The Wildcats had plummeted down the team standings during the final round of stroke-play qualifying, and were 19 over par for the day, when junior transfer Bianca Pagdanganan arrived on the 17th hole.

“Play the best two holes of your life,” Ianello told her, and so Pagdanganan did, making a solid par on 17 and then ripping a 6-iron from 185 yards out of a divot to 30 feet. There was a massive leaderboard positioned to the right of the par-5 18th green, but Pagdanganan never peeked. The only way for Arizona to force a play-five, count-four playoff with Baylor and reach match play was to sink the putt, and when it dropped, the Wildcats lost their minds, shrieking and jumping over the ropes and hugging anyone in sight.

Watching the action atop the hill, Alabama coach Mic Potter shook his head.

“I was really glad we didn’t win the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed,” he said, “because they’re a buzzsaw with a lot of momentum.”

Given new life, Arizona dispatched Baylor by three strokes in the playoff, then turned its attention to top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals on Tuesday morning.


NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage


Facing two first-team All-Americans, the Wildcats beat them, too, continuing the curse of the medalist. In the afternoon, worried that the adrenaline would wear off, Ianello watched her squad make quick work of Stanford, 4-1.

“They’ve got a lot of great momentum, a lot of great team energy,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “They thought they were going home, and now they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing with an edge.”

After a marathon doubleheader Tuesday at Karsten Creek, Arizona now has a date with Alabama in the final match of this NCAA Championship.

And the Wildcats better rest up.

Alabama looks unstoppable.

“They’re rolling off a lot of momentum right now,” Ianello said. “We know Alabama is a good team. But they’re super excited and pumped. It’s not the high of making it [Monday]; now they’ve got a chance to win. They know they have to bring it.”

Even fully rested, Arizona will be a significant underdog against top-ranked Alabama.

After failing to reach match play each of the past two years, despite being the top overall seed, the Tide wouldn’t be stopped from steamrolling their competition this time.

They roughed up Kent State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals, then frontloaded their lineup with three first-team All-Americans – Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight – in their semifinal tilt against Southern Cal.

Potter said that he was just trying to play the matchups, but the move sent a clear signal.

“It gets pretty tedious when you never miss fairways and hole a lot of putts and your opponent knows that you’re not going to spray it,” Potter said. “That’s tough to match up against.”

They breezed to the first three points, draining any drama out of the semifinals. Of the 99 holes that Bama’s Big 3 played Tuesday, they trailed after only two.

“We’re always consistent,” Stephenson said, “and that’s exactly what you need in match play. Someone has to go really low to beat us.”

That Arizona even has that chance to dethrone the Tide seemed inconceivable a few months ago.

The Wildcats had a miserable fall and were ranked 39th at the halfway point of the season. On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, sent a text to Ianello that she was turning pro. Once she relayed the news, the team felt abandoned, but it also had a newfound motivation.

“They wanted to prove that they’re a great team, even without her,” Ianello said.

It also was a case of addition by subtraction: Out went the individual-minded Quihuis and in came Yu-Sang Ho, an incoming freshman whom Ianello described as a “bright, shining light.”

Because incorporating a top-tier junior at the midway point can be intimidating, Ianello organized a lively team retreat at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, where they made vision boards and played games blindfolded.

They laughed that weekend and all throughout the spring – or at least until Pagnanganan made that last-ditch eagle putt Monday. Then tears streamed down Ianello’s face.

Folding uniforms after midnight, she regaled Alabama assistant coach Susan Rosenstiel with stories from their emotional day on the cut line, not even considering that they might face each other two days later for a national title. She was too delirious to ponder that.

“I feel like a new mother with a newborn baby,” Ianello said. “But we’re going off of adrenaline. This team has all the momentum they need to get it done.”

Yes, somehow, the last team into the match-play field might soon be the last team standing.

Getty Images

Pairings, tee times set for championship match

By Jay CoffinMay 23, 2018, 1:02 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Alabama coach Mic Potter has three first-team All-Americans on this team. It’s little surprise that all three are going out first in the Crimson Tide’s championship match against Arizona Wednesday at Karsten Creek.

Potter tinkered with his lineup in both the quarterfinal victory over Kent State and the semifinal win over USC. But with the NCAA title on the line, this one was a no brainer.

“We don’t want to sacrifice anything,” Potter said. “We just want to give ourselves a chance to win every match.”

Arizona kept its lineup the same all day Tuesday in defeating Pac-12 foes UCLA and Stanford in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. That meant junior Bianca Pagdanganan, the Wildcats grittiest player this week, was in the last match of the day. She won twice.

Now, with all the marbles riding on the championship match, Arizona coach Laura Ianello moved Pagdanganan up to the third spot to assure that her match is key to the final outcome.

Junior Haley Moore, Arizona’s best player all year, is in the fifth spot and will face Alabama senior Lakareber Abe.

“Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a helluva ride,” Ianello said.


Alabama (2) vs. Arizona (8)

3:25PM ET: Lauren Stephenson (AL) vs. Yu-Sang Hou (AZ)

3:35PM ET: Kristen Gillman (AL) vs. Gigi Stoll (AZ)

3:45PM ET: Cheyenne Knight (AL) vs. Bianca Pagdanganan (AZ)

3:55PM ET: Angelica Moresco (AL) vs. Sandra Nordaas (AZ)

4:05PM ET: Lakareber Abe (AL) vs. Haley Moore (AZ)

Getty Images

Women's NCAA finals: Arizona vs. Alabama

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 11:49 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – It’s the SEC vs. the Pac 12 for the women’s NCAA Championship; Alabama vs. Arizona, to be more specific.

Both the Crimson Tide and Wildcats cruised in their respective semifinal matches Tuesday at Karsten Creek. Alabama easily beat USC, 3-1-1; Arizona defeated match-play juggernaut Stanford, 4-1.

Alabama’s top three players, Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight were unstoppable forces in both matches on the marathon day. Stacked in the top three positions in the semifinals all three won their matches on the 17th hole, making the last two matches inconsequential.


NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage


Arizona, the eighth seed, won as decisively as second-seeded Alabama, but needed a miracle to be in this position in the first place.

Junior Bianca Pagdanganan drained a 30-footer for eagle on the last hole of stroke play on Monday to get the Wildcats into a playoff against Baylor, which they won on the second hole. Then on Tuesday, presumably running on fumes, they downed top-seeded UCLA in the morning, then crushed Pac-12 foe Stanford in the afternoon.

Pagdanganan, Gigi Stoll and Hayley Moore each won both matches for Arizona on the hot, draining day.

“I don’t want to let them down so I do my best to rise to the occasion,” Pagdanganan said.

Said Arizona coach Laura Ianello: “How many players, when you tell them under pressure that you need them, can really handle it,” Ianello said about Pagdanganan. “This kid can.”

Getty Images

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

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 11:30 pm

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 advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals were contested 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 finals action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.

Scoring:

TV Times (all times ET):

Wednesday
4-8PM: Match-play finals (Click here to watch live)