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The struggle is real for Kaufman

By Ryan LavnerMarch 16, 2018, 8:04 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – By the time Smylie Kaufman approached the 12th green Friday at Bay Hill, the few fans following him were already snickering.  

Six bros in tropical polos looked at the black 14 next to Kaufman’s name on the standard and scoffed at how bad he was playing, joked that even they could do that. Then Kaufman made a mess of the 12th, leaving his third shot in the bunker, barely blasting out onto the green with his fourth and flipping his wedge into the air en route to another bogey. Only then did the group finally decide it had seen enough, falling back to watch another three-ball.

It’s become an all-too-familiar scene lately for Kaufman, who is mired in one of the worst slumps on the PGA Tour.

After rounds of 77-81 here at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he finished last for the third consecutive week. He has missed 10 of his last 11 cuts overall – the lone exception a tie for 69th at the CareerBuilder – and is a whopping 86 over par this season.

Perhaps not surprisingly, he is ranked outside the top 150 in every major statistical category. The torrent of bad play has threatened his job security – and the social-media heroes won’t let him forget it, not after he became a pseudo-celebrity following those well-chronicled spring break trips in the Bahamas.

“It’s been frustrating these last three or four weeks with fans – they haven’t been too kind to me,” Kaufman said Friday.

“But I know how talented I am. I’ve got gears that other guys don’t have; I’ve got shots that other guys don’t have. It’s just a matter of getting over it and getting through it.”

Kaufman explained that he’s gone through a “lot of changes” over the past few weeks, but he only wanted to discuss his swing. He’s in the midst of a major overhaul, changing coaches two weeks ago, to Mark Blackburn, and trying to create more depth in his backswing instead of just lifting the club.

The range sessions, of course, are great. That’s the most frustrating part. He can shape shots both ways. Hit them high and low. 

Even this week started encouragingly – he was 3 under through four holes. “Then it was like I got hit by a bus,” he said.


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He fell into bad habits. Got needlessly aggressive. Made 10 bogeys, four doubles and a triple the rest of the way. It added up to another DFL, to another lost week.

“I’ve tried not to focus on it,” he said, “but it sucks. I’m such a tough competitor that it’s hard to see my score. It’s one of those things that I’m not letting it define me. I know good golf is in front of me.”

For inspiration, he needed only to look at one of his fellow playing partners this week.

Before the 2016 Wells Fargo Championship, James Hahn had missed his previous eight cuts, failing to shoot in the 60s in each of those 16 rounds. After another trunk slam in New Orleans, he sat down at an Outback Steakhouse with his caddie, Mark Urbanek, about talked about “tearing down the fort,” perhaps even walking away from the game.

“Maybe I’m just not that good,” Hahn told him. “Maybe my good is missing cuts.”

At dinner, they decided to analyze each of his rounds and find the defining moment, when his score turned for the worst. Seventy-five percent of the time it was a bad break – a mudball, a plugged lie, a spike mark – but all of those bogeys altered the momentum of the round.

“That night my caddie said, ‘Your season starts next week – it’s your first tournament of the year,’” Hahn recalled. “Let’s go have a great year.”

The following week, at Quail Hollow, Hahn was five shots inside the cut line as he played his final hole in the second round. He found the green with his approach, then turned to Urbanek and hugged him.

“We’re gonna do this!” Hahn said excitedly.

He was guaranteed his first paycheck in three months.

“Chill, chill,” Urbanek said. “We’re in the top 10. Let’s go win the golf tournament.”

And two days later, they did, in a playoff over Roberto Castro, one of the most unlikely victories in recent memory.

Watching Kaufman struggle over the past two days, Hahn couldn’t help but relate.

“You almost feel like the world is against you,” he said. “It feels very lonely. No one in the world can relate to how you’re feeling in that particular situation when you’re missing that many cuts in a row and you feel down on yourself.

“Everyone is quick to say, ‘Oh, you’re gonna win next week,’ but golf is a tough game, so when s--- hits the fan, when things go very wrong on the course, especially early on, it’s very easy to get ahead of yourself and say, ‘Well, here goes another missed cut.’ It’s very difficult.”

What helped pull Hahn through was a supportive caddie. He hopes Kaufman finds that same positive influence in his new looper, Will Davidson.

“The person who needs to step up in his life right now is his caddie,” Hahn said. “The caddie is the one who you pay to put you in a good attitude. The caddie is with a player six hours a day, and he has the opportunity, every minute, to tell him how good he is and how quickly things can jump back.

“It’s not a weekly thing. It’s not a daily thing. It’s an every hour thing: ‘Tell me how good I am, please, just tell me, because right now I feel like I’m the worst golfer on Tour.’”

If Kaufman has sunk that low, well, he’s not letting on. He says next week’s course in the Dominican Republic suits his game. He’s getting married next month. He has a supportive family and a great group of friends.

And despite his newfound social-media fame, Kaufman is the first to point out that he’s not like Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. They’ve always been winners, at every level.

Kaufman was an afterthought in college, in and out of the lineup for his first three years at LSU. His career just so happened to take off, first handling a tough track to win on the Web.com Tour and then, a few months later, torching TPC Summerlin with a closing 61 to steal the Vegas event and earn a two-year exemption.

“I’m pretty tough,” he said, “and I’ve been through the cycles of golf. Once it comes around, I’m not scared to go get it. It’s just a matter of time.”

And maybe, like Hahn, just a week away.

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Lauren Thompson and a giant 'gator eating a turtle

By Grill Room TeamApril 19, 2018, 4:53 pm

Really, the headline says it all.

"Morning Drive" co-host Lauren Thompson was playing the Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes on Thursday in Orlando, Fla., when her threesome turned into a foursome, with the appearance of a giant alligator. Techincally, it was a fivesome, as the 'gator had a turtle in its mouth.



Hey, it's a slow news week for Grill Room.

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Sources confirm Charles Schwab to sponsor Colonial event

By Rex HoggardApril 19, 2018, 2:42 pm

Multiple sources have confirmed to GolfChannel.com that officials at Colonial are poised to announce a new sponsorship agreement with Charles Schwab Corporation.

Tournament officials scrambled this year after Dean & DeLuca ended its sponsorship of the event just two years into a six-year agreement, pulling together an assortment of local sponsors and renaming the event the Fort Worth Invitational.

Colonial’s status on the PGA Tour schedule became even more uncertain when the PGA Championship announced it would move from August to May, beginning in 2019 as part of a major overhaul of the circuit’s schedule.

According to the Dallas News, and confirmed by multiple sources at the club, officials plan to announce the new long-term agreement with Charles Schwab on Monday that will begin in 2019.

News of a long-term sponsorship deal would also suggest the event will remain in May in 2019 and beyond. The Tour has indicated it plans to announce the ’19 schedule at next month’s Players Championship.

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PNC Extends Title Sponsorship of PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Golf Channel Public RelationsApril 19, 2018, 1:00 pm

ORLANDO, Fla., April 19, 2018 – IMG and NBC Sports today announced that The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. has extended its contract as title sponsor of the PNC Father/Son Challenge, the tournament that pairs the games’ legends alongside their sons, daughters and grandchildren.

PNC’s multi-year extension as title sponsor keeps the PGA Tour Challenge Event in Orlando reflecting the bank’s commitment to Central Florida. PNC has served as title sponsor of the tournament since 2012. The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes will continue to play host to the PNC Father/Son Challenge. The 2018 PNC Father/Son Challenge will take place Friday-Sunday, Dec. 14-16, with television coverage on Golf Channel and NBC.

“The PNC Father/Son Challenge long ago became one of my family’s favorite golf tournaments,” said 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus. “I have had the pleasure of playing with my sons, and last year, partnering with my 15-year-old grandson GT was a thrill. I am delighted the event—a uniquely special one to us fathers and grandfathers, and perhaps to the many fans out there watching from home or outside the ropes—will continue for many years to come.”

“After our victory in 2016, I said that this win was as good as anything I have done in my career,” said former World No. 1 and major champion David Duval, who alongside his stepson Nick Karavites captured the 2016 title. “I felt blessed to have Nick inside the ropes with me and to have our family surrounding us all week. That’s what makes the PNC Father/Son Challenge so special, and I’m pleased to hear that PNC has extended its support of the event. This golf tournament means so much to all of us who are lucky enough to have the opportunity to play in this event.”

The tournament also holds three events in qualifier markets per year. This year they will be in Dallas, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

“The PNC Father/Son Challenge allows fans to see golf’s legends playing the game they love alongside those they love most,” said Alastair Johnston, vice chairman, IMG. “We are grateful for PNC’s ongoing support of this unique tournament and we look forward to returning to Orlando to celebrate golf and family for many years to come.”

Community support is a key aspect of the tournament and PNC’s sponsorship. PNC is committed to donating $150,000 annually to local non-profits over the life of its sponsorship. Across six previous years of title sponsorship, PNC has already donated $900,000 to Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation and the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children to support the “Healthy Families Orange” program. Over the years, PNC has also had the opportunity through this tournament to co-host events for local women in business, to put on clinics and provide free access to the tournament for active military, and even provide a service dog for a local veteran.

"PNC's long-standing sponsorship of the Father/Son Challenge reflects the philanthropic values we share with the PGA Tour and the golf community, as well as our focus on strong relationships,” said Bill Demchak, chairman, president and chief executive officer of The PNC Financial Services Group. “As PNC Bank continues to expand its footprint, the PNC Father/Son tournament helps us gain visibility with new audiences and to strengthen the relationships we enjoy today with more than 8 million retail, wealth, and corporate and institutional banking customers across the country.”

“NBC Sports is extremely proud of our heritage as co-founder for the Father/Son Challenge, one of golf’s most special events that closes out the calendar year on the golf schedule,” said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC Sports. “Our relationship with PNC Bank elevates this event each year as a must-attend and must-see event for players and fans alike, and we look forward to our continued relationship with PNC Bank for years to come.”

Past winners of the PNC Father/Son Challenge include some of the biggest names in golf including Raymond Floyd (1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001), Jack Nicklaus (1999), Bernhard Langer (2005-06, 2014), Davis Love III (2012) and David Duval (2016).  Masters champion Angel Cabrera and his son, Angel Cabrera Jr. captured the 2017 title.

To qualify for the PNC Father/Son Challenge, participants must have won either a major championship or THE PLAYERS Championship in their career. The professional’s partner must not currently hold a Tour card, and while the majority of partners in the history of the event have been the sons of the golf legends, the family-themed tournament has seen daughters, grandsons and one father – Justin Leonard’s dad, Larry – participate over the years.

The PNC Father/Son Challenge is operated in partnership by IMG and NBC Sports.

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Fire damages National Golf Links of America clubhouse

By Will GrayApril 19, 2018, 12:55 pm

A fire broke out Wednesday at National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y., causing "extensive damage" to a portion of the historic course's clubhouse.

According to a 27East.com report, an initial call was made to the Southampton police department about a fire on the roof of the clubhouse at 11:34 a.m. With the club's gates too narrow to fit a fire truck through, more than 100 firefighters from various departments helped douse the flames by transporting water up a hill to the east side of the clubhouse.

The fire was reportedly extinguished by 2:30 p.m., with no injuries requiring medical attention. According to a Golf Digest report, the club was undergoing construction on its outdoor eating area known as "the Birdcage" and that most of the club's historical documents reside on the opposite end of the clubhouse from where the fire broke out and was contained.

Opened in 1911, National Golf Links of America was designed by C.B. MacDonald and hosted the inaugural Walker Cup in 1922. The biennial matches returned in 2013 to NGLA, which is often rated among the top courses in the U.S. and sits adjacent to Shinnecock Hills, site of this summer's U.S. Open.