Shelton's shocking miss sends Crocker to quarters

By Ryan LavnerAugust 21, 2015, 1:47 am

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – After sinking the biggest putt of his life, Sean Crocker was so certain that his match would head to a third extra hole that he darted under the rope line and made a beeline for the next tee, a clever bit of gamesmanship.

All he heard was silence.

A few moments earlier, Crocker had raced his uphill birdie putt about 12 feet past. He let out a little groan, then ripped off his hat and covered his face.

“I don’t even know what the hell I did after that first putt,” he said.

His opponent, Alabama star Robby Shelton, missed his 20-footer to win. He had only a little work left, maybe 2 feet, so Crocker faced a do-or-die putt for par. When it dropped, he screamed and punched the air, and then kept on moving – under the ropes, across the cart path and down the hill, leaving Shelton to clean up his par and move on.

Except that he shoved it.

Match over.

“I never, ever would have expected him to miss that,” Crocker said later. “I couldn’t even believe it.”

It was a shocking end to the best match of the first two days here at the U.S. Amateur. Crocker’s win in 20 holes at Olympia Fields punched his ticket to the quarterfinals, where he will face Austin James of Canada.

Crocker, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year out of Southern Cal, is quickly becoming a player to know in the amateur ranks. Out on the course, he is hard to miss – he’s the kid with plenty of swagger, with struts and club twirls and fist pumps.


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What made his Round of 16 match against Shelton so interesting was that their styles couldn’t be any more dissimilar: Crocker is aggressive, confident, expressive; Shelton, meanwhile, is steady, stoic, quiet.

About the only thing they have in common? They’re both really, really good.

The pyrotechnics began on the par-3 15th, where they both executed sick flop shots from right of the green to save par.

Clinging to a 1-up lead, Crocker airmailed his approach on the into-the-wind 16th. Sensing an opportunity, Shelton then stuffed a 7-iron from 180 yards to 6 feet. His birdie squared the match.

“Just stupid good,” said Alabama coach Jay Seawell, who was on Shelton’s bag this week.

There was a long wait on the par-3 17th. Shelton stood alone in the shade, hands on his hips, head down, expressionless. Crocker passed the time by bouncing and balancing a ball on the face of his wedge, tongue out, bopping his head as if listening to hip-hop music.

When the green finally cleared, Shelton hit his tee shot safely on the right side, but Crocker stepped up and drilled a 6-iron under the breeze. His tee ball hadn’t even finished its ascent when he stomped off the tee, staring it down, loving it. When his ball landed a foot next to the cup – prompting a gasp from the hundred spectators gathered around the green – and settled about 6 feet away, he spun his club and roared, “Come on!”

“The more amped up he gets,” said Crocker’s caddie/USC assistant coach Tyler Goulding, “the more he wants to lean on it and hit less club and hit it harder. I think his divots got deeper and deeper and deeper as the day went on.”

The birdie putt dropped to go 1 up with one to play. Crocker, naturally, unleashed a huge fist pump.

The home hole belonged to Shelton. After a perfect drive split the center, his approach shot found the right side of the green, about 20 feet away. Crocker’s third shot from the bunker was almost close enough for a conceded par, so Shelton knew he had to make it to force extras. Dead center.

“How about that?” Seawell said, spinning around to the crowd. Crocker was so shocked that he flipped his coin into the air and held it aloft as he walked off the green.

After halving the first extra hole with par, both faced birdie putts of about 25 feet on the par-4 second. Then came the bad lag, the bold comebacker, the shocking miss.

Shelton, ranked eighth in the world, said the exact scenario played out in his morning match against Will Grimmer – a 20-foot birdie try, a 2-footer down the hill and no concession – but he sank the return putt. This time, he shoved it.

Seawell blinked away tears in the parking lot afterward.

“I haven’t really had a chance to get to walk alongside him that much, and to do this for the past seven days, I really got a great look at him and his character,” he said. “I knew his game is good. But I learned how he thinks, and it sure was a beautiful thing.”

Said Shelton: “I’m really not too upset. It definitely hurts, but I played hard. He just played harder.”

That’s usually not an issue with Crocker, the son of a professional Zimbabwean cricket player who didn’t begin playing golf until age 13, which is ancient by today’s standards.

Back then, his father, Gary, entered him in junior tournaments just so he could learn how to win. He did so, prolifically.

“We’re talking dozens of titles,” Gary Crocker said.

With all of those wins came a certain level of confidence – maybe even arrogance – and it showed in the way he approached the game. Crocker will let his opponent know when he hits a good shot. Maybe it’ll get in his head. Maybe it won’t.

“My dad always taught me to keep quiet and everything, but I see people like Tiger [Woods] and Rory [McIlroy] and the way they walk and you say, ‘Wow, that guy looks like he’s pretty good.’” Crocker told me earlier this year. “I’ve always tried to base myself off them – not necessarily cocky, but to act like I want to be here and win.”

A natural athlete, a fiery competitor, he needed only six years to rise from a novice to a U.S. Amateur quarterfinalist.

“That’s why we recruited him,” Goulding said, “for the attitude and belief in himself and the ability to do it when it matters. Now I think his physical tools are catching up with the attitude that he’s had forever.”

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Weather extends Barbasol to Monday finish

By Associated PressJuly 23, 2018, 12:25 am

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - A thunderstorm has suspended the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship until Monday morning.

Sunday's third stoppage of play at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came with the four leaders - Hunter Mahan, Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt at 18 under par - and four other contenders waiting to begin the round.

The tournament will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Lightning caused one delay, and play was stopped earlier in the afternoon to clear water that accumulated on the course following a morning of steady and sometimes-heavy rain.

Inclement weather has plagued the tournament throughout the weekend. The second round was completed Saturday morning after being suspended by thunderstorms late Friday afternoon.

The resumption will mark the PGA Tour's second Monday finish this season. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole, and he needed just 13 minutes to claim the victory.

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Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:07 am

It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.

Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.

The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:

The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.

For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.

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Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.

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In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.