Getty Images

Finau overcomes injury to keep Masters dream alive

By Ryan LavnerApril 6, 2018, 12:30 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Crouching over the turf, his left shin pointed one way and his ankle the other, a single thought entered Tony Finau’s mind.

Don’t get carted off in an ambulance.

Because that’s what anyone who watched the graphic video would have expected. Celebrating a hole-in-one during Wednesday’s Masters Par 3 Contest, Finau raced off the tee box, wheeled around to see his family’s reaction, and then felt searing pain in his left foot.

From elation to horror, in a split second.

“Seeing it,” said Boyd Summerhays, Finau’s swing coach, “your heart just sinks.”   

It looked like a calamitous end to his feel-good Masters debut, but friends and family stopped doubting Tony Finau a long time ago.

An opening 68 while hobbling around Augusta National fit neatly into his improbable life story.

After all, this is a 28-year-old who learned the game from his father, Kelepi, whose only knowledge came from what he’d read in Jack Nicklaus’ book, “Golf My Way.” Money was tight, really tight, so Tony honed his swing as a youngster by smacking balls into a mattress in the garage of their cramped duplex. Though his family couldn’t afford a coach, range balls or membership dues, he blossomed into a prodigious winner at the junior level. He turned pro and was just starting to find his way when his mother, Ravena, died in a car crash. She was only 47.

“I had to dig down really deep inside,” he said in 2016, “not just for my personal life but also my faith: How does this happen? Where do I go from here? To lose somebody that close to you, and the manner that she did, that was really, really tough.”

Looking to jump-start his floundering career, he competed on Golf Channel’s “Big Break” reality show but reached another dead end. Needing a spark, he hooked up with Summerhays, who harnessed his awesome power, improved his control and strengthened his short game. A year later, Finau became a PGA Tour winner and, now, a top-35 talent playing his first Masters.

“I feel like my back’s been up against the wall my whole life,” Tony said. His father, even after all of these years, was reduced to tears on Thursday.

And yet Finau’s compelling backstory didn’t seem to matter at the Par 3 Contest. The golf gods tend to frown upon those who run at Augusta National, and so down went Finau, the irony impossible to ignore. Six-foot-four and built like an NFL wide receiver, he is considered one of the most athletic players in the game, capable of throwing down tomahawk and windmill dunks. But there he was, clutching his dislocated left ankle after a celebrating a hole-in-one, hoping he didn’t need to be stretchered off.

“I feel like I’m a good athlete,” he said, “and to see myself roll an ankle on an easy, little backpedal wasn’t really athletic.”


Masters Tournament: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage


Finau nonchalantly popped the joint back into place – “I saw where it was,” he said, “and I saw where it needed to be” – and then made a few wobbly steps before signaling for the rest of his family. He somehow finished the last two holes.

“I knew he hurt it real bad,” Summerhays said. “I could just tell from his body language. He was really nervous about the results.”

But those results were encouraging. His X-ray on Wednesday night came back negative, so he spent the night with his foot elevated and hooked up to a machine that reduced the inflammation. Early Thursday morning, he underwent an MRI, which revealed no ligament damage, just a high-ankle sprain. His ability to play was simply a matter of pain tolerance.

“I had looked forward to this week for a really long time,” he said, “and to see the possibility of that slipping away … I had the confidence that I would come back, but I wanted to play now, and I wanted to play this week. Waiting for another opportunity to play my first Masters, whenever that was, it was going to be hard for me to swallow.”

Finau showed up an hour and 20 minutes before his tee time, with a pronounced limp and a thick white wrap above his low-top Nike shoes. Instead of warming up on the flat range, he initially headed to a hilly spot in the short-game area. There, he tried a series of shots from every possible lie – uphill, downhill, sidehill, hanging – to test his stability. Still, Summerhays said, “His mind wouldn’t let him go into that left ankle.”  

So he made a few adjustments. Finau shifted his alignment to the left. Then he put the ball further back in his stance, so he could put more weight on his right side. Even as he worked his way through the bag, he never swung up fully onto his right toes, opting to remain almost flatfooted.

After receiving a few minutes of treatment, he headed back out onto the far-right side of the range, carrying two bags of balls, though just a handful would have sufficed. The entire range session lasted only 14 minutes, and he hit just four drivers.

“He was in pain, but nothing overwhelming,” said his caddie, Greg Bodine. “And even if it was, I think he still would have made it to the first tee. He’s worked his whole life to get to this spot.”

All of his family was on hand to celebrate what should have been a momentous achievement, the culmination of so many years of hard work and sacrifice. Near the practice putting green, he hugged Kelepi, decked out in a white cap and polo with Finau’s personal TF foundation logo stitched on the front. He bumped fists with his brother, Gipper, another former teen phenom. Before teeing off, he patted Stuart Love, his physiotherapist, on the shoulder. “Thanks, Doc,” he said. “I’ll see you after.”

And then something bizarre happened. The longer Finau played, the better his foot felt. He erased an opening bogey with a birdie on 2. Then he flagged a 225-yard 5-iron on 4. Relying on tips from Billy Casper and Johnny Miller, he added birdies on Nos. 8, 9, 13 and 15 to move into the solo lead at 4 under, proving, perhaps for the first time, that pro golfers really are tough guys.

“I told him: ‘You can’t say you’re an athlete and then you can’t celebrate. That’s gonna take that status away,’” Kelepi said, chuckling. “So he said, ‘I’m going go prove it tomorrow.’”

And that’s exactly what he did.

Finau holed his par putt for an opening 68, leaving him just two shots back of the lead. After a wild 24 hours, he had only one explanation. 

“It’s nothing short of a miracle.”

Getty Images

Spieth reflects on Masters run: 'I could have shot 59'

By Ryan LavnerApril 25, 2018, 4:21 pm

AVONDALE, La. – After he nearly staged a historic comeback at the Masters, Jordan Spieth rewatched the final-round coverage to see what he could learn.

His biggest takeaway?

“I look back on it and I actually thought that I truly could have shot 59 without doing much more other than making a few more putts,” he said Wednesday at the Zurich Classic, where he’ll team up with Ryan Palmer for the second consecutive year. “I put myself in opportunities on each hole to shoot 59 that day, which is really, really cool.”

Spieth roared from nine shots back Sunday to eventually tie Patrick Reed’s lead. He went out in 31 and added four more birdies, but his tee shot on 18 clipped a tree, leading to a long second shot and a bogey. He settled for a 64 and solo third.


Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos


“I felt like Houston, but really at Augusta was the best my swing has ever held up under the gun, especially my driving,” he said. “I wanted to see what that looked like compared to other times.”

Spieth said he developed a good feeling with the last six or seven balls he hit on the range before the final round, and that he noticed on the coverage that he was more stable and patience during his swing.

“In all honestly, I made a couple putts, but it wasn’t really a hot day with the putter,” he said. “I just put myself in position to birdie just about every hole.”

Big picture, Spieth said that after his Masters week he “got on the right path.”

“I was working on things throughout the year, thinking I was doing the right things, and I feel like I got the short game back on track in Houston and Augusta," he said. 

“And to hit some of those putts under pressure and see some go in, I think that will be very beneficial going forward this year. It very well could be a spark for a really solid year.”

Tiger Woods and Kelli Kuehne at the 1996 JCPenney Classic. Getty Images

Another team event? Sure, and do it with the LPGA

By Ryan LavnerApril 25, 2018, 4:07 pm

AVONDALE, La. – The revamped Zurich Classic is already such a smashing success that it naturally leads to another question: Is there room for one more team event on the PGA Tour schedule?

“It’d have to be something unique and not really out there already,” Billy Horschel said.

Agreed, so it’s time for the PGA and LPGA tours to bring back a mixed-team event.

The two tours previously sponsored a team event for nearly 30 years, the JCPenney Classic, but it hasn’t been played since 1999. When the PGA Tour announced a “strategic alliance” with the LPGA two years ago, one of its core missions was to showcase the deep talent pool and lift both tours to new heights. There’s no better way to do that than to combine forces for an event – especially with the PGA Tour about to unveil a major schedule shakeup and reduce a portion of the fall season.

The field here at the Zurich is proof that there’s a willingness among the players to try something new.

The New Orleans-area stop has never been a must-play for Tour types; the tournament is hosted on a nondescript TPC course and sandwiched between the Masters and The Players during a slow part of the schedule. And yet this is the first time in seven months that all four reigning major champions are in the same event. It’s the strongest field the Zurich has ever had, and if the tournament offered world-ranking points – more on that later – the strength of field would be identical to the Genesis Open, which anchors the West Coast swing.

There’d be a few issues to iron out, of course, including the timing and how the field is assembled.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said last year that there’s a “realistic” chance that the men and women could compete at the same time at Kapalua, for the Sentry Tournament of Champions, but that option won’t be quite as appealing when the season is condensed. Players who tee it up in paradise are not only looking forward to a working vacation but also trying to get a head start in the FedExCup race.


Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos


If the Tour targets Kapalua for its mixed event, the idea of a “tournament of champions” might also need adjusting. The LPGA (34) has 10 fewer events than the PGA Tour (44), which means fewer opportunities for the players to earn their way into a winners-only event. The simplest solution is to create more of an all-star showcase, filling out the rest of the women’s field with the leading LPGA money earners who didn’t win.

The format is another question. Fourballs and foursomes are familiar to most players, but at the Zurich there’s a growing interest in a third format.

“I’m waiting on a scramble,” said William McGirt, echoing the sentiments of a few other players interviewed. “I don’t care who I’m playing with – I want to play a scramble, just one time.”

And the final piece is the stakes. The Zurich offers Ryder Cup points, (reduced) FedExCup points and a two-year exemption to the winners, but there are no world-ranking points available. For some, that’s a lost week, especially with the top-60 cutoff for the U.S. Open looming. But for others, like Jordan Spieth, who likely won’t have to worry about his world ranking for the next two decades, it’s a chance to “be in a different space than you usually are,” with more emphasis on fun than the result.

Men and women already compete together at the Oates Vic Open in Australia. Co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour of Australasia, the Australian Ladies Professional Golf and Ladies European Tour, the two events are held concurrently, on the same course, with the men’s and women’s tee times staggered throughout the day. The prize money is split evenly.

More impactful, however, would be mixed teams, competing for a title together.

Steve Stricker still has fond memories of playing in old JCPenny Classic, alongside Vicki Goetze. Last week, at the PGA Tour Champions event, he talked to Davis Love III about how today’s players would gravitate toward another tournament like that.

“We’re in the position to do it again for sure,” he said. “I know I personally respect and look up to those female golfers, and to interact with them would be a lot of fun.”

Horschel, who has played alongside big-hitting Lexi Thompson during the CVS Charity Classic, said he would sign up for a mixed team event on Tour “in a heartbeat.”

“I’d take Lexi or Brooke Henderson or another top girl right now,” he said. “I’ll make a call right now. I don’t care if it’s two years in advance. I’ll reserve them, put down a down payment for their partnership. It’d be really cool. It’s time for someone else to step up and do it.”

Getty Images

Cancer patient who fulfilled dream of meeting Woods dies

By Will GrayApril 25, 2018, 2:55 pm

Shane Caldwell, who fulfilled a dream of meeting Tiger Woods earlier this month at the Masters, died Monday after multiple bouts with cancer. He was 52.

Caldwell's stepdaughter, Jordan Miller, gained national attention with her social media campaign to get Caldwell to Augusta National to meet Woods. That dream became a reality Thursday of tournament week, when Caldwell was greeted by Woods behind the practice area and offered a signed glove. Caldwell, from Columbia, S.C., also attended the tournament during the final round.

Caldwell had twice beaten colon cancer and was battling Stage 4 lung cancer. According to a report from The State (S.C.), Caldwell's family was told two weeks ago that the cancer had become "too aggressive to fight," and Caldwell opted to stop treatment rather than face further radiation. His oncologist reportedly told his wife he had two or three months to live, but Caldwell died just 13 days later.

According to the report, Caldwell was still showcasing the glove bearing Woods' autograph up until the day he died.

"It gave him hope to see the love that was shown to him," Miller said.

Getty Images

Golf Channel Ramps Up Six Weeks of Comprehensive College Golf Coverage Culminating With The NCAA Women's and Men's Golf Championships, May 18-30

By Golf Channel Public RelationsApril 24, 2018, 9:00 pm

Golf Channel to Announce NCAA Division I Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships Regional Selections on Wednesday, April 25 and Wednesday, May 2

 Golf Channel to Expand Coverage of NCAA Women’s and Men’s Regional Championships  

Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys, a Four-Part Docu-Series Executive Produced by Rickie Fowler, Premieres on Golf Channel Monday, May 7

 More than 100 News and Tournament Hours Planned for Women’s and Men’s Championships, Back-to-Back Weeks at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

 

ORLANDO, Fla., April 24, 2018 – With conference championships underway, golf fans will be able to follow their favorite college golf programs and alma maters as they attempt to qualify and compete in the 2018 NCAA Division I Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships in May at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., as Golf Channel expands its comprehensive on-air and digital collegiate golf coverage the next six weeks.

“Through our new long-term partnership, the NCAA and Golf Channel are successfully raising the profile of college golf by shining a spotlight on the game’s future stars and the passion these programs have in competing for national championships,” said Molly Solomon, Golf Channel executive vice president of content and executive producer. “With our expanded coverage of the regional championships and partnering with OSU alum Rickie Fowler for Driven, our viewers will be treated to the most college golf coverage in network history leading into the NCAA Golf National Championships.”

REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS SELECTION ANNOUNCEMENTS: On Wednesday, April 25 at 5:30 p.m. ET (women) and continuing Wednesday, May 2 at 5:30 p.m. ET (men), Golf Channel will announce the teams and individuals selected by the NCAA to participate in the women’s and men’s regional championships, the first step on the road to the NCAA Golf Championships. Live streaming coverage of selection shows will be available through the Golf Channel Mobile App or GolfChannel.com, and Golf Channel will aggregate social content for the shows using the hashtag #NCAAGolf. 

  • Women’s Golf Championships Regional Selections, Wednesday, April 25, 5:30 p.m. ET: Golf Central will announce (live) the 72 teams and24 individuals selected to compete in the four NCAA Women’s Regional Championships, May 7-9 (18 teams and six individuals per regional). 24 teams and 12 individuals will advance from regional sites to the national championships.
  • Men’s Golf Championships Regional Selections, Wednesday, May 2, 5:30 p.m. ET: Golf Central will announce the 81 teams and 45 individuals selected to compete in the six NCAA Men’s Regional Championships, May 14-16 (13 teams and 10 individuals at three regionals and 14 teams and five individuals at three regionals). 30 teams and six individuals will advance from regional sites to the national championships.

GOLF CHANNEL TO EXPAND REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS COVERAGE: New for 2018, Golf Channel will feature expanded coverage of the final day of the NCAA women’s and men’s regional championships, Wednesday May 9 and Wednesday, May 16, respectively. Beginning within Morning Drive, Golf Channel’s daily lifestyle news show, and continuing hourly throughout the day via live Golf Central news updates from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. ET that will be published to Golf Channel Digital and Golf Channel’s social media handles. Coverage will conclude with live news segments, featuring highlights and interviews, announcing the teams and individuals who qualified for the women’s and men’s national championships.

RICKIE FOWLER AND NBC SPORTS COLLABORATE ON FOUR-PART DOCU-SERIES DRIVEN: OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS: NBC Sports Group is teaming up with PGA TOUR superstar Rickie Fowler to give viewers a dramatic behind-the-scenes look into Fowler’s alma mater in a four-part documentary series – Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys. Driven, executive produced by Fowler, will premiere Monday, May 7 at 10 p.m. ET and continue Monday, May 14 (10 p.m. ET) and Monday, May 21 (8 p.m. ET). The finale will air on NBC on Saturday, June 16, recapping their season that culminates with a run at a potential 11th national championship, taking place on their home turf.

NCAA GOLF NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS COVERAGE: Contested in back-to-back weeks, May 18-30 at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., Golf Channel will dedicate its full suite of production resources to the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships, featuring nearly 30 combined hours of live tournament coverage. In addition, Golf Central will feature nearly 30 hours of combined pre-and post-event live news coverage produced on location, as well as daily news updates on Morning Drive and Golf Channel Digital.                                             

Golf Channel NCAA Women’s Golf Championships Coverage

Monday, May   21       

Individual National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Tuesday, May   22          

Quarterfinals, Team   Match Play  

11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. ET   (Live)

Tuesday, May   22                 

Semifinals, Team Match   Play 

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Wednesday, May   23            

Team National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

 

Golf Channel NCAA Men’s Golf Championships Coverage

Monday, May   28      

Individual National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Tuesday, May   29          

Quarterfinals, Team   Match Play  

11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. ET   (Live)

Tuesday, May   29                 

Semifinals, Team Match   Play 

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Wednesday, May   30            

Team National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

 

COLLEGE CENTRAL – GOLF CHANNEL DIGITAL COVERAGE: Golf Channel is providing comprehensive coverage leading up to and during the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships as part of College Central,Golf Channel Digital’s home for college golf. Led by Jay Coffin, Ryan Lavner and Steve Burkowski, College Central will be the source for all things college golf, including tournament results and scores, features and columns, video highlights and breaking news.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS NEWS COVERAGE: Golf Channel will cover the conference championships with scores and analysis across its on-air news platforms - Morning Drive and Golf Central – and online within College Central.