Getty Images

Won for the team: Caddie Tesori soaks in home victory

By Rex HoggardMay 14, 2018, 1:11 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – When Paul Tesori was 9 years old his grandfather had him tag along for a visit to TPC Sawgrass.

It was 1980 and the Stadium Course, which today gleams with acres of green, was still being converted from a swamp. But young Paul couldn’t resist taking a few cuts off the dirt into what would become the most iconic par 3 in the game.

“All I had was a 6-iron and a 7-iron,” Tesori recalled. “I couldn’t get it on that green to save my life.”

As he stood on that same patch of ground nearly four decades later, those memories came flooding back. All of those trips to the Stadium Course with his grandfather, who would spend his twilight years working as a starter across the street at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club.

His mind raced to all the times he’d stood outside the ropes during The Players trying to catch a glimpse of his heroes at the Tour’s flagship event. To the countless hours spent on the far side of the range when he worked for the game’s ultimate perfectionist, Vijay Singh. Even to the two times he made par on the island-green 17th hole after finding the lake with his tee shot.

“When we were on the run Friday [when his boss, Webb Simpson, shot 63], I was having the thoughts about my grandfather; about ’77 at Sawgrass [Country Club], watching Mark Hayes winning – that was the first time I stepped on a course; hitting the 5-iron and 7-iron [in 1980], it was still dirt,” remembered Tesori, who went to work for Simpson in 2011.

Full-field scores from the The Players Championship

The Players Championship: Articles, photos and videos

It’s the players who hit the shots and either endure the consequences or savor the success. Tesori would never allow himself to be lulled into thinking any differently, but for the 46-year-old who grew up in St. Augustine, Fla., and now lives 15 minutes from TPC Sawgrass, Simpson’s four-stroke victory on Sunday stirred emotions that stretched back decades.

“This means more to him, no offense, than the U.S. Open,” said Tesori’s wife, Michelle. “This is where golf became life for him with his grandfather, with his dad, this is home. Webb calls him the mayor – he can’t walk anywhere here without somebody calling to him from outside the ropes.”

It was no different on Sunday as Simpson set out with a seven-stroke lead. The crowds were comparatively thin, which was not so much an indictment against Simpson so much as it was a testament to Tiger Woods’ renewed draw, with the guy in red and black four groups ahead. But those who did spend the day with the front-runner were largely from Tesori’s world.

His sisters were there, along with an assortment of neighbors and a group of friends Tesori has known since elementary school. All total, Michelle Tesori figured she doled out at least 50 tickets.

“Let’s go, Paul,” a fan yelled as Simpson teed off.

It was a common theme throughout the day. Although Simpson has proven himself a world-class player, having won four times on the PGA Tour, including the 2012 U.S. Open, it was Ponte Vedra’s “mayor,” Tesori, who was cheered.

“I had more people yelling my name out there. I told Webb, ‘Man, this is embarrassing,’” Tesori said with a laugh, following Simpson’s final-round 73.

Tesori estimated he’s played the Stadium Course over 700 times, primarily during his 5 ½ years as Singh’s caddie. Those were hard years. He made a ton of money and worked even longer hours, explaining that one year while he was caddying for the Fijian he had a grand total of five days off the clock.

“We built a house down there [on the Sawgrass range],” Tesori joked.

It was hard to leave Singh, but Tesori knew it was best for his family, and when Simpson called it was an easy decision. The duo was drawn together by their deep faith and their dedication to family, but they stayed together because Simpson realized Tesori was exactly what he needed.

“To work with somebody every day for eight hours, nine hours a day, and you really like them, and you have a friendship outside of golf, I think it's pretty special,” Simpson said. “I get lonely because my family is at home, and there's ups and downs of the year for performance. As a friend, he knows me better than just a coworker, so he knows how to handle me if I'm in those bad places.”

There is no Hall of Fame for caddies, but if there were Tesori would be a first-ballot addition. Sunday’s victory at The Players was the 20th of his career as a caddie and it’s impossible not to notice how he makes an impact in the most subtle ways.

On Friday, Simpson was on a torrid run having birdied six consecutive holes, starting at No. 11, and looked as if he were going to shatter the course record. But he was unsure on the 17th tee. Tesori knew he was between clubs with an unpredictable wind swirling, so he stepped in with the bag, which is the unspoken sign that Simpson needed to rethink his choice.

Simpson bounced his tee shot off the bulkhead and into the same pond Tesori had deposited sleeves of golf balls into as a 9 year old. But the moment still stood as a testament to his ability as a caddie.

He made a similar move on Sunday as Simpson walked off the 12th green. “I asked him, ‘Hey, bud, you OK?” Tesori said. “He was missing his line by too much and just needed to settle down.”

 As Simpson made his way around the front nine with a host of would-be champions closing in from all sides, including Woods, who moved to within four strokes at one point, Michelle Tesori offered an easy smile to navigate the tension.

“His heart is just different now than it was in the Vijay years,” she said. “Webb is so incredible and they are so transparent about their faith and how much more important that is than golf.”

Tesori’s faith would have remained steadfast and his dedication to his family unchanged regardless of Sunday’s outcome, but after more than 700 trips around the Stadium Course he had no problem admitting that none were as sweet as Sunday’s stroll.

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.


TV Times (all times ET):

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