Cal looks to finish record-setting season in style

By Ryan LavnerMay 27, 2013, 5:37 pm

After his team’s record-setting victory May 18, Cal coach Steve Desimone received a mind-blowing text message.

A few hours earlier, at NCAA regionals in Pullman, Wash., Cal had won for the 11th time in 13 starts, a new modern-day NCAA record for most victories in a season. Now came a text from one of Desimone’s former players, a proud supporter who had never enjoyed such fruitful times during his stint with the Golden Bears:

Coach, you’re 173-3-1 and up over 6,000 shots against the fields this year.

Desimone read the powerful message over and over again, stunned, as his team headed toward the airport.

“I can’t imagine anyone is ever going to compete with that again,” he said last week. “All we can do is shake our heads.”

And, potentially, finish off the best college season ever.

There is an unprecedented level of buildup for this week’s NCAA Championship, which begins Tuesday at Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course outside Atlanta.

Cal is the prohibitive favorite, the No. 1 team in the country, an 11-win juggernaut that, as Jim Skinner’s text read, has lost to another team head to head only three times in the past nine months.

Yet, here’s the most unsettling aspect of the Golden Bears’ run to greatness: In the single-elimination match-play format used at NCAAs, the distinct possibility exists that the nation’s best team could return to Berkeley without the hardware.

Since 2009, when match play was instituted, only once has the No. 1-ranked team hoisted the trophy at the end of the season.

“Is there a risk that all of this could come crashing down after one day of match play? Of course,” Desimone said. “Does it linger? I’m not going to kid you, it does have a little seed in the back of my mind.

“But it’s the format and rules that we’re playing under. If we want to stake our claim as being one of the best teams of all time, this is what’s in front of us. Anything short of that would be a tremendous disappointment.”

Already Cal is the winningest team ever, and the squad’s 2012-13 stats jump off the page.

The Golden Bears have the nation’s top player in sophomore Michael Kim, a medium-length hitter who can putt lights out. He has the team’s best scoring average, at 70.1, but No. 5 man Brandon Hagy checks in at 71.0. In other words, all five starters were within 0.9 strokes of each other during the season. That’s unheard of in team golf.

What’s more, Cal’s average first-round low counting score was 67.5, meaning it raced out to big leads this season and didn’t relent.

At regionals, the Golden Bears won the team title by 20 shots. That week, though, they also became the first team ever to have all five starters record an individual win during the season. That the last man to break through was Michael Weaver – the 2012 U.S. Amateur runner-up and 2013 Masters participant – spoke to the team’s incredible depth.

“The most impressive thing to me is that every single guy on that team has an opportunity to win,” said Derek Freeman, head coach of third-ranked UCLA. “Not just guys, who if they play absolutely perfect, can win. I’m talking they legitimately have five guys who can go out and win the golf tournament.”

Stroke-play prowess can only carry Cal so far, though. Eight teams qualify for match play after the three-round stroke-play qualifier. The Golden Bears could win by a dozen shots and only have the No. 1 seed to show for it.

In fact, so dominant has Cal been during the season that anything less than a victory this week could prompt a change to how the year-end champion is determined.

“If ever there was a time where we should look at whether match play is the right thing to do for our championship, this would be it,” Freeman said. “It’s clear that Cal has played better than anyone and has done it on a longer scale. Someone is going to have to play really well to beat them. But match play gives you that chance.”

Desimone has never been a fan of match play determining the NCAA winner. Sure, last year at Riviera, there was a No. 1 vs. No. 2 final, the matchup everyone wanted to see, and Texas prevailed on the final hole in an epic match. But two years ago, Oklahoma State was the No. 1 team in the country, a winner eight times during the regular season, and the Cowboys didn’t even make the final.

“No team has had the success we’ve had this year,” Desimone said. “But we know what’s in front of us now.”

It guarantees little in this unpredictable format, of course, but Cal has also enjoyed success at this year’s NCAA venue, a big, brawny course that isn’t ideal for match play. One coach said that unless the tees are moved around to create some excitement, this year’s championship could be a “grind of monumental proportions.”

That style of play would seem to suit Cal, which has arguably the longest hitter in college golf in Hagy, as well as two other boppers, Max Homa and Weaver. Their length puts pressure on their opponents, especially if the rough is long and gnarly, as it was during the NCAA Preview last September. Cal and UCLA shared team honors during that event, and the low individual score after 54 holes was 2 under.

“You have to bring your A game across the board or it’s over,” Desimone said.

OK, so if not Cal, then whom?

New Mexico is one of the few teams that has beaten Cal, head to head, and has the power to contend at Capital City Club. North Florida resembles the Augusta State teams that went back to back in 2010 and ’11. Washington has Ben Hogan Award winner Chris Williams at the top of the lineup.

But the best bet is the Alabama Crimson Tide, whose triumvirate of 2012 Player of the Year Justin Thomas, Cory Whitsett and Bobby Wyatt is arguably the strongest 1-2-3 in the country. That trio combined for five wins and 20 top 10s this season.

All three players were part of last year’s NCAA finals team, the one that pushed Texas to the 18th hole at Riviera before finally succumbing.

The core is intact, yes, but the team is missing 2012 graduate Hunter Hamrick, whose bulldog personality helped shape the Tide. Much like last year, however, this team is the undisputed No. 2 in the country, steamrolling into NCAAs having won six of its seven spring starts. They’re a “quietly confident bunch,” said head coach Jay Seawell. And more importantly, they are driven by last year’s near miss.

“Everyone has something that makes them want to climb a mountain,” Seawell said. “I do believe somewhere inside all of our guys that’s in there. I’d be lying if I said it’s not inside of me also.”

Which team did Alabama defeat in last year’s semifinals? Ironically, it was Cal, which came within two lip-outs of advancing. The Golden Bears returned four starters from a year ago and added Weaver, who was coming off a redshirt season.

With strong play from those two teams – and, it seems, a bit of good luck – we’ll see another No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown come Sunday.

“That’s been our motivation from the moment we lost,” Desimone said. “Everything we did pointed toward winning a championship this year. Is it possible that we’ll get it? Yes. But it’s possible that we’ll fall short, too. And it’ll be as bitter as it can get.”

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Snedeker still in front on Day 3 of suspended Wyndham

By Associated PressAugust 18, 2018, 11:21 pm

GREENSBORO, N.C. - Brandt Snedeker held a three-stroke lead Saturday in the Wyndham Championship when the third round was suspended because of severe weather.

Snedeker was 16 under for the tournament with 11 holes left in the round at the final event of the PGA Tour's regular season.

Brian Gay was 13 under through 12 holes, and Trey Mullinax, Keith Mitchell, C.T. Pan and D.A. Points were another stroke back at varying stages of their rounds.

Thirty players were still on the course when play was halted during the mid-afternoon with thunder booming and a threat of lightning. After a 3-hour, 23-minute delay, organizers chose to hold things up overnight and resume the round at 8 a.m. Sunday.

When things resume, Snedeker - who opened with a 59 to become the first Tour player this year and just the 10th ever to break 60 - will look to keep himself in position to contend for his ninth victory on Tour and his first since the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open.


Wyndham Championship: Full-field scores | Full coverage

Current FedExCup points list


The 2012 FedEx Cup champion won the tournament in 2007, the year before it moved across town to par-70 Sedgefield Country Club.

Snedeker's final 11 holes of the round could wind up being telling: In seven of the 10 previous years since the tournament's move to this course, the third-round leader or co-leader has gone on to win.

And every leader who finished the third round here at 16 under or better has wound up winning, including Henrik Stenson (16 under) last year and Si Woo Kim (18 under) in 2016.

Snedeker started the day off strong, rolling in a 60-foot chip for birdie on the par-4 second hole, then pushed his lead to three strokes with a birdie on No. 5 that moved him to 16 under. But after he sank a short par putt on the seventh, thunder boomed and the horn sounded to stop play.

Gay was 12 holes into a second consecutive strong round when the delay struck. After shooting a 63 in the second round, he had four birdies and an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole. He placed his 200-yard second shot 10 feet from the flagstick and sank the putt.

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Lexi charges with 64 despite another penalty

By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Lexi Thompson ran into another awkward rules issue while making a bold charge at the leaders Saturday at the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

She hit a speed bump at Brickyard Crossing Golf Course when she was assessed a penalty for violating a preferred-lies local rule.

Five shots off the lead at day’s start, Thompson birdied six of the first nine holes, making the turn in 30 to move two off the lead, but that’s where she got her second education this season on the implementation of local rules.

At the 10th tee, Thompson blew her tee shot right, into the sixth fairway. With preferred lies in effect, Thompson picked up her ball, cleaned it and replaced it within a club length before preparing to hit her second shot at the par 5.

According to Kay Cockerill, reporting for Golf Channel’s early live streaming coverage, LPGA rules official Marty Robinson saw Thompson pick up her ball and intervened. He informed her she was in violation of the preferred lies rule, that she was allowed to lift, clean and place only when in the fairway of the hole she was currently playing. She was assessed a one-shot penalty and returned her ball to its original spot, with Robinson’s help. The local rule was distributed to players earlier in the week.

Cockerill said Thompson handled the penalty well, shaking her head when realizing her mistake, and chuckling at her gaffe. She then crushed a fairway wood, from 215 yards, up onto the green. She two-putted from 50 feet and walked away with a par.


Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship


“Thankfully, Marty intervened before she hit her next shot,” Cockerill reported. “Otherwise, she would have been hitting from the wrong spot, and it would have been a two-shot penalty. So, in a sense, it saved her a shot.”

Thompson is making a return to golf this week after taking a month-long “mental break.” A year ago, she endured heartache on and off the golf course, with her competitive frustration having much to do with being hit with a controversial four-shot penalty in the final round of the ANA Inspiration. She appeared to be running away with a victory there but ended up losing in a playoff.

Earlier this year, Thompson got another education in local rules. She was penalized in the second round at the Honda Thailand after hitting her ball next to an advertising sign. She moved the sign, believing it was a moveable object, but the local rules sheet that week identified signs on the course as temporary immovable obstructions. She was penalized two shots.

In her pretournament news conference this week, Thompson shared how difficult the ANA controversy, her mother’s fight with cancer and the death of a grandmother was on her emotionally. She also was candid about the challenge of growing up as a prodigy and feeling the need to build a life about more than golf.

Saturday’s penalty didn’t slow Thompson for long.

She made back-to-back birdies at the 13th and 14th holes to post a 64, giving her a Sunday chance to win in her return.

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U.S. Amateur final comes down to Devon vs. Goliath

By Ryan LavnerAugust 18, 2018, 9:45 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – On his family’s happiest day in years, Nick Bling stood off to the side of the 18th green, trying to collect himself.

His oldest son, Devon, had just advanced to the U.S. Amateur final, and he surely knew that, at some point, the question was coming. Of the many members in the family’s boisterous cheering section that came here to Pebble Beach – a clan that includes Nick’s brothers and sisters, his in-laws and the teaching professionals of his hometown club – one person was conspicuously absent.

So for 22 seconds, Nick couldn’t utter a word.

“She’s watching,” he said, finally, wiping under his sunglasses.

His wife, Sara, died in February 2013 after suffering a sudden blood clot that went to her brain. She was only 45, the mother of two young boys.

The news took everyone by surprise – that day Nick and Devon were together at a junior tournament in southwest California, while Sara was at home with her youngest son, Dillon.

“That was bad. Unexpected,” said Dillon, now 16. “I don’t even want to think about that. That was a rough year.”

Sara was a fixture at all of the boys’ junior tournaments. She organized their schedules, packed their lunches and frequently shuttled them to and from China Lake, the only course in their small hometown of Ridgecrest, about two hours north of Los Angeles, where they’ve lived since 1990.

An engineer at the Naval Air Weapons Station, Nick picked up the game at age 27, and though he had no formal training (at his best he was a high-80s shooter), he was the boys’ primary swing coach until high school, when Devon was passed off to PGA instructor Chris Mason.

“Devon has world-class raw talent, and there’s a lot of things you can’t teach, and he’s got a lot of that,” said UCLA assistant coach Andrew Larkin. “But his dad looked at the game very analytically. He was able to break down the golf swing from a technical standpoint, and I think that has helped him. His dad is a brilliant man.”

Devon watched his dad hit balls in the garage and, at 18 months, began taking full swings with a plastic club, whacking shots against the back of the couch. Once his son was bigger, Nick put down a mat and built a hole in the dirt on the family’s property.


U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos


Once it was time for the next step, there was only one option in town. China Lake is more than 300 miles from Pebble Beach, but in many ways they’re worlds apart. The course is dead in the winter, picked over by the birds in the spring and baked out in the summer, with 110-degree temperatures and winds that occasionally gust to 60 mph. Devon still blossomed into a well-known prospect.

“Growing up in Ridgecrest,” Devon said, “some could say that it’s a disadvantage. But I could use the course and take a shag bag and go out and practice. So I used it to my advantage, and if it weren’t for that golf course, I wouldn’t be here today.” 

Nor would he be here without the support of his family.

Asked how they survived the tragedy of losing Sara so suddenly, Nick Bling said: “Brothers. Kids. Friends. Half of Ridgecrest. The town. They all came together. What do they say, that it takes a village to raise a boy? It did. Two boys.”

Devon carried a 4.2 GPA in high school and played well enough to draw interest from UCLA. He played on the team last season as a freshman, winning a tournament and posting three other top-10s. The consistency in his game has been lacking, but the time spent around the Bruins’ coaches is starting to pay off, as he’s developed into more than just a swashbuckling power hitter. He has refined his aggression, though he’s offered more than a few reminders of his firepower. Last fall, the team held a Red Tee Challenge at TPC Valencia, where they all teed off from the red markers. Bling shot 28 on the back nine.

In addition to his awesome game, Larkin said that Bling was one of the team’s most mature players – even after arriving on campus as a 17-year-old freshman.

“I think his mannerisms and his charisma really come from his mom,” Larkin said. “It was a super hard time in his life, but I think it helped him grow and mature at an early age. He’s such a good big brother, and he took a lot of that responsibility.

“There’s a blessing in everything that happens, and I think it made him grow a little young. I think he’s the man he is today because of her.”

In his player profile, Bling wrote that his mom always wanted him to play in USGA championships, because of their prestige, and she would have loved to watch him maneuver his way through his first U.S. Amateur appearance.

After earning the No. 41 seed in stroke play, Bling knocked off two of the top amateurs in the country (Shintaro Ban and Noah Goodwin), edged one of the nation’s most sought-after prospects (Davis Riley) and on Saturday traded birdies with Pacific Coast Amateur champion Isaiah Salinda.

In one of the most well-played matches of the week, Bling made six birdies in a seven-hole span around the turn and shot the stroke-play equivalent of a 65 to Salinda’s 66.

The match came down to 18, where Bling bludgeoned a drive over the tree in the middle of the fairway, knocked it on the green in two shots and forced Salinda to make birdie from the greenside bunker, which he couldn’t.

Bling was a 1-up winner, clinching his spot in the finals (and the 2019 Masters and U.S. Open), and setting off a raucous celebration behind the rope line.

“He played as good as I’ve ever seen,” Larkin said. “The talent has always been there, and I’m glad it’s coming out this week.”

Another difficult opponent awaits in the championship match. It’s a mismatch on paper, a 36-hole final between Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, ranked fifth in the world, and the No. 302-ranked Bling. Hovland had won each of his previous two matches by a 7-and-6 margin – the first time that’s happened since 1978 – and then dropped eight birdies on Cole Hammer on Saturday afternoon.

But he’s likely never faced a player with Bling’s resolve – or a cheering section as supportive as his family’s.

“This means a lot to us,” Dillon said. “It was finally Devon’s time, and I knew one day it’d come down to the finals. He’s been playing awesome. Mom is probably really happy right now.”

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Report: Fan hit by broken club at Web.com event

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 18, 2018, 9:12 pm

A fan was hit by a broken club and required stiches Friday at the Web.com Tour's WinCo Foods Portland Open.

According to ESPN.com, Kevin Stadler slammed his club in frustration causing his clubhead to break and it struck a fan in the head.

The fan required six stiches and was released from the hospital.

Orlando Pope, a Web.com Tour rules official, spoke with ESPN.com:

"It was a very freakish accident. Kevin is devastated. He had trouble trying to finish the round. He was quite worried and felt so bad.''

Former PGA champion Shaun Micheel was in Stadler's group and posted this message on Facebook:

"One of my playing partners played a poor shot with a 7 iron on the par 3 fifteenth hole this morning. In a fit of anger he slammed his club against the ground and the side of his foot which caused the club to break about 6” from the bottom. I had my head down but the clubhead flew behind me and hit a spectator to my right. It’s been a while since I’ve seen so much blood. We stayed with him for about 15 minutes before the EMT’s arrived. The last I heard was that he had a possible skull fracture but that he was doing ok otherwise. [Stadler] was absolutely shattered and we did our best to keep his spirits up. This was not done on purpose and we were astounded at the way the club was directed but it shows you just how dangerous it is to throw or break clubs. Each of us in the group learned something today!"