Top 125 isn't the key number this week

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2011, 9:16 pm

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The dichotomy of the circuit’s Disney stop hits you the moment you come face to face with the world’s most iconic rodent and realize there’s a reason why Mickey Mouse is always smiling: He’s never had to play to keep his PGA Tour card.

To hear the hype, the Tour turns the happiest place on earth into the place where golf dreams go to die. The bubble, as the loosely defined area around No. 125 on the money list is known, will become an ever-present line of demarcation that no professional wants to cross.

On this, however, art doesn’t exactly imitate life. Media-driven hyperbole aside, the top 125 is more of a soft cap when it comes to Tour status.

“Everyone wants to make a bigger deal out of things than they are,” said Bobby Gates, No. 124 in earnings entering this week’s Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic.

Keep your happiness to yourself, OK?

Before you dismiss Gates’ take as sports psychology mumbo jumbo, know that his laissez faire attitude has more to do with Tour minutia than mind games. Finishing inside the top 125 is certainly a way to make the holidays more festive, but there are 33 different categories for access to Tour events, which makes the top 125 more of a guideline.

This isn’t exactly dogma busting, but considering the amount of top-125 PSAs we’ll hear this week, it’s worth pointing out that trying to finish inside the top 150 in earnings is much more pressure packed than the benchmark 125. Similarly, making it out of the second stage of Q-School, not the final frame, is also a much more harrowing experience.

“I seem pretty stressed out about the 125, don’t I?” said Steve Flesch, who is    130th in earnings.

It’s not that Flesch is indifferent to the realities of job security, it’s just the veteran understands the convoluted system that governs access to Tour events.

Consider Johnson Wagner, who double-bogeyed the 16th hole on Sunday at Disney last year to drop to 126th in earnings, played 24 events in 2011; while Will MacKenzie, who finished 152nd on last year’s money list, managed just 14 starts.

Players finishing between Nos. 126-150 can expect anywhere from 15 to 18 starts, not a windfall but to pinch a line from the cult classic “Dumb and Dumber,” “So you’re saying there’s a chance.”

In 2007 Steve Lowery suffered through the worst year of his career and finished 148th in earnings. The next spring he outdueled Vijay Singh in a playoff at Pebble Beach for his third Tour title.

“Both situations are high-pressure (No. 126 and 151),” Kevin Streelman said. “But 126 will get in 16 events. (No.) 151 gets in zero. You can make great things happen with 16 events.”

James Driscoll (pictured) is the “bubble” poster child this year at 125th in earnings, but his position last year was much more precarious (154th) entering the finale. Even after missing the Disney cut by one stroke he rebounded to earn his card at Q-School and played 24 events this season.

But that happy ending was contingent on Driscoll playing his way through the second stage of Q-School, a potential pink slip for the modern professional.

“The 151 spot is brutal because you go from something to nothing,” said Flesch, pointing out the automatic exemption to final stage that players receive if they finish inside the top 150. “Second stage is so tough. I got through second stage one time in seven tries.”

If Tour card minutia seems mind numbing it is because it is, and this goes far beyond the relative simplicity of finishing 126th vs. 151st.

In five starts this year Adam Hadwin has won $440,000, enough to rank him 145th in earnings. Exempt to final stage, right? Wrong. Hadwin began the year without any Tour status and needed to match what No. 150 made last year to become a temporary member. In 2010 that magic number was $563,000, compared to $401,000 this year, which means Hadwin is headed for second stage.

Confused? Most Tour players are, which is why the reaction on Wednesday as players readied for the cash dash was so subdued.

“Q-School isn’t that bad,” said Robert Garrigus, who began the week last year at Disney 122nd in earnings and won. “Everybody makes it out to be the worst thing in the world. I’ve been through 10 of them. I just figured it was an eight-day vacation wherever the hell it was.”

Which would make Disney a four-day vacation, as if it could be anything else, at least for those lucky few with options beyond the top 125. For the likes of Driscoll it’s the difference between playing for a really good job and a not-so-bad gig in 2012. But for those drifting around the 150-bubble, now that’s pressure not even Mickey would smile about.


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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”