Alabama wins, bounces back from heartbreak

By Ryan LavnerJune 2, 2013, 7:58 pm

MILTON, Ga. – Nearly a year ago today, Cory Whitsett watched helplessly as a herd of Texas fans stormed the 18th green at Riviera. He remembered weaving his way to the side of the green and kneeling beside his crimson Alabama bag, his head buried in his hands.

“That was the lowest I’ve ever felt on the golf course,” Whitsett said Sunday. “No one really wanted to talk to me because they didn’t know whether they should say something or hug me, and so I was just left alone.”

It was quite a contrast to this year. Once more he was in the match that decided the NCAA Championship, but this time his conceded bogey on the 15th hole was enough to clinch the Crimson Tide’s first national championship, 4-1, over Illinois at Capital City Club.

When it was over, Whitsett once again found himself looking for someone to hug, and he found no shortage of open arms.

He hugged Bobby Wyatt, who began his finals match with seven consecutive wins on his way to a 6-and-5 rout.  

He hugged Scott Strohmeyer, the team’s lone senior, who won three holes in a row on the back nine to turn an all-square match into a 3-and-2 victory.

And he hugged Trey Mullinax, who despite being so nervous he could barely grip his putter, two-putted from 50 feet on the final green for a crucial 1-up victory.

“I couldn’t think of a better person to have that happen to,” Alabama coach Jay Seawell said of Whitsett. “You get both sides of the emotion. That probably made me the happiest.”

Fortunately, this will no longer be remembered as the NCAA Championship that Cal did not win.

Lost in the Golden Bears’ historic 11-win season, which ended with Saturday’s semifinal loss to Illinois, was this: Alabama had something special brewing, too.

Entering nationals, the No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide had won seven times, including six of their seven spring starts. They captured the SEC title. They captured their regional, too.

Last year, they won the stroke-play portion at NCAAs, but that has proven a bad omen for every team. Since 2009, no top seed has gone on to win the championship, this year included.

Tied 2-2 in the 2012 final, each team’s title hopes came down to Whitsett and Texas’ Dylan Frittelli. After sailing his approach over 18 green, Whitsett cut completely under his flop-shot attempt, moving the ball nary an inch, and made bogey. Very few remember that blunder – Frittelli holed a 25-foot birdie putt to win in dramatic fashion.

The scene afterward was a whirlwind.

The senior captain tearfully gathered the team on the first tee.

Whitsett and then-assistant coach Scott Limbaugh broke down in the locker room, unable to speak.

The two coaches sped off to catch a flight at the airport.

Four players boarded a charter plane, en route to their U.S. Open sectional.

“We all went our separate ways and couldn’t say goodbye,” sophomore Justin Thomas said. “It was weird. That was a spot where you needed each other to lift you up.”

The gut-wrenching loss lingered for months – OK, exactly 364 days – and was erased only after the Alabama players hoisted a title of their own Sunday.

“That’s what losing last year does to you,” Illinois coach Mike Small said. “They were reinvigorated. They proved to the world that they’re good. Really good. They were on a mission today.”

Alabama boasts arguably the strongest 1-2-3 combination in the country, with Thomas (the 2012 Player of the Year), Whitsett and Wyatt. All three players were ranked inside the top 10 and combined for five wins and 20 top 10s this season.

But a Big 3 can only take a team so far in this format. Unlike in stroke play, the Nos. 4 and 5 players can’t hide at NCAAs. Each player – regardless of rank, experience, past results – counts the same in single-elimination match play. That’s where this story truly begins.

Three years ago, Strohmeyer was constantly bickering with his coach. Back then “Strobe” was a know-it-all sophomore who was under the impression that his big, brawny game would translate to immediate success. When it didn’t, he resisted coaching.

The turning point – for Strohmeyer and, most importantly, for Alabama – came at the Schenkel Invitational in March 2012. (“That changed our program,” Seawell said.) Strohmeyer was inserted into the lineup, in the No. 5 spot, and thrived there. He started the final six events, won two matches at the 2012 NCAAs and helped lead the team to the finals.

This week, he posted a 2-0-1 record in match play and walked away with the trophy in his final college start.

“We’ve had a nice labor of love,” Seawell said. “And now, I’d run through a wall for him.”

Mullinax was a highly touted freshman when he cracked the lineup at the 2011 NCAA Championship. Overwhelmed by that moment, however, he shot 84-80-84 and was part of an epic collapse that saw the Tide shoot 28 over in the final round to plummet from safely inside the match-play cut to 14th.

Fast-forward to Saturday’s semifinal against Georgia Tech, and Mullinax was 2 down through seven holes before he posted five consecutive 3s on his card to roll to a 4-and-3 win.

In the final against Illinois’ Charlie Danielson, Mullinax two-putted from 50 feet on the final green to win, 1 up – a strong close for a player who had three-jacked three times on the final day, including on Nos. 14 and 16.

“I was really excited about coming back to this big stage and proving that I can play well here,” he said.

Said Seawell: “Today will do more for his career in golf than anything I could have ever said.”

Alabama’s golf team is beginning to resemble its football squad, only with slighter builds, of course. They restock and rebuild, each year seemingly better than the previous.

The Tide’s Big 3 of Thomas, Whitsett and Wyatt are all expected back next season. They’ll also welcome Robby Shelton, the No. 1-ranked junior in the country, and Gavin Moynihan, the 2012 Irish Amateur champion. In other words, Alabama will likely be top team in the 2013-14 preseason rankings, as well.

“That’s the goal. That’s the reason I decided to come here,” Thomas said, his NCAA champion’s hat turned backward. “I wanted to be a part of something that could become a legacy.”

Erasing a crushing disappointment with a commanding finals performance a year later? Yes, that’s some legacy to forge.

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Tiger Tracker: Tour Championship

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 20, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is looking to close his season with a win at the Tour Championship. We're tracking him this week at East Lake Golf Club.

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Watch: 100mph storm destroys tent at St. Andrews

By Grill Room TeamSeptember 20, 2018, 4:25 pm

The Old Course at St. Andrews has endured all sorts of wacky weather over the years, but things ratcheted up a notch this week with the arrival of Storm Ali.

The first named storm of the season struck Wednesday, bringing 100 mph gusts, killing two people and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power in parts of Ireland, Scotland and England.

According to the Courier no one was injured in the St. Andrews area, but a video posted from the home of golf shows just how powerful the storm was as wind absolutely destroyed one of the hospitality tents set up in advance of the Dunhill Links Championship:

While plenty of clean-up is sure to be needed, officials say the Dunhill Links, which also be conducted at Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, will go on as scheduled October 4-7.

Getty Images Tour releases 2019 schedule, trims Finals

By Will GraySeptember 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

The Tour has officially released its full schedule for the 2019 season, a slate that will feature a Labor Day finish and only three Finals events as opposed to four.

The developmental circuit will feature 27 tournaments, the same number as this season. Things will kick off in the Bahamas for the third straight year, as two events in the islands begin a stretch of five events in as many weeks across four different countries.

The Feb. 14-17 Suncoast Classic in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., will be the first domestic event of 2019, and one of three new events to the schedule. Also added are the Evans Scholars Invitational in suburban Chicago and the TPC Colorado Championship in Berthoud, Colo.

But with the PGA Tour overhauling its schedule and dropping a FedExCup playoff event to finish ahead of football season, the schedule also features changes next year. The Tour Finals, which are used to determine the 50 players who will be promoted to the PGA Tour for the following season, will now feature only three events and follow a similar timeline.

The first Finals event will be the Aug. 15-18 Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational in Columbus, Ohio, followed by the Albertsons Boise Open. The season will conclude Aug. 30-Sept. 2 with the Tour Championship in Atlantic Beach, Fla., one week after the PGA Tour season ends with the revamped Tour Championship in Atlanta.

The DAP Championship at Canterbury Golf Club in Beachwood, Ohio, a Finals event for each of the last three years, has been dropped from the 2019 schedule. Gone, too, are the North Mississippi Classic in Oxford and the Rust-Oleum Championship in Ivanhoe, Ill.

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Inside Attica: Interviewing Valentino Dixon

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 20, 2018, 2:00 am


Some stories stick with you longer than others. First time you get to do a feature. First time you meet a sports legend (it was Allen Iverson for me). Seeing a championship isn’t bad, either. Been there, done that. Lawnmower museum on the east coast of England, tsunami survivors in California, re-connecting Al Geiberger with his lost 59 tape, all good, but no story or environment has stuck with me like going to Attica Correctional Facility in 2013 to tell the story of Valentino Dixon.

For starters, I’d never been searched before setting up for an interview. Not just me, everyone - all three cameramen, Jimmy Roberts, the guy escorting us in who worked there. Everyone. Attica trusts no one. Can’t blame them after 1971, when inmates protesting living conditions took members of the prison staff hostage. The ensuing police response left 29 inmates and 10 hostages dead.

Attica has a "shank wall," a collection of homemade weapons seized from inmates and displayed like baseball cards in a plastic case on the wall outside the guards' lunchroom. Prison interior decorating at its finest. Nice touch.

We went to do a story on an inmate who was introduced to the world in a Golf Digest article by Max Adler in 2012. "The golf artist who had never stepped foot on a golf course - Valentino Dixon.: He was in for murder. Second degree. You know, your standard golf story.

Wrongfully imprisoned man freed after nearly three decades

Dixon, a former aspiring artist before getting caught up in the Buffalo drug-dealing scene, started sketching photos from Golf Digest for the warden. I’ve never been to prison, but from what I have gathered from watching The Shawshank Redemption some 8,000 times, getting in the warden’s good graces is a smart habit to pick up if you’re doing serious time.

Dixon's art was insanely good. Even more so because he did it all with colored pencils. No paintbrushes allowed (see shank wall above). Jimmy, the crew and I stopped for a good 10-15 minutes to marvel at his creations before continuing with the interview.

We spent a solid 40 minutes talking to the man who supposedly killed a man 20-something years prior. In that time, he pleaded his innocence to us over and over again. He spoke like a man who had rehearsed every angle of his story over and over and over again. I give him credit - there were no holes in his story. I consider myself a pretty good judge of character, and he didn’t look like a killer, didn’t sound like one. either. But what did I know? I’d never met one - that I know of. And if you were stuck in prison for 20-plus years and all of a sudden had a camera in front of you and a platform to plead your innocence, wouldn’t you do your best to try to get out of there?

Since the guards wouldn’t allow any food, the crew and I stopped at the first deli we saw on the ride back into Buffalo. After we were done eating, we all looked at each other, knowing what we all were thinking: "Do you think he did it?”

Didn’t matter what we thought, we were just there to tell the story. On Wednesday, however, people whose opinions mattered made a decision and allowed someone who loves the game of golf, but has never stepped foot on a golf course, to do just that if he so chooses. That's a story that will stick with him for the rest of his life.