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Simpson makes it a memorable Mother's Day

By Ryan LavnerMay 14, 2018, 1:48 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Nine days ago, at a French restaurant in Charlotte, Debbie and Webb Simpson sat down for a much-needed dinner date.

A mother of six, it’s rare for Debbie to get some quality 1-on-1 time with her children, but especially Webb. He’s always on the road, and he’s busy with his own family, with a wife and four kids all under the age of 7. But that night, they talked for hours, laughing and crying and grieving together.

It’d been nearly six months since Sam Simpson passed away after a long, cruel, heartbreaking battle with Lewy Body Dementia.

“It’s been absolutely, devastatingly sad,” Debbie said by phone Sunday night, her voice still hoarse from an afternoon spent screaming and cheering.

“We just miss him so much. No one ever prepared me to watch my children grieve, but particularly Webb. He has struggled more than I thought he would. Just sharing that night together last week was so cathartic. It was a night for me to remember.”

And perhaps it was a turning point for Webb.

He has been in touch even more than usual, wanting to make sure that she’s OK, that she’s taken care of. He called each morning this week, and she texted him a Bible verse after each of his low rounds. Simpson juggled so many thoughts Sunday at The Players – his revamped putting stroke, his winless drought, his massive lead, his challengers that included both Tiger Woods and Jason Day – and yet throughout he couldn’t stop thinking about Debbie.

“I wanted to do this for my mom,” he said after his four-shot victory. “This is for her.”

Watching the telecast, Debbie's jaw dropped.

“I’ll never stop replaying it in my head,” she said. “This is for my mom. That’s a mother’s dream to hear.”

Here at TPC Sawgrass, Simpson completed the rare parental double: He won his 2012 U.S. Open title on Father’s Day, before Sam’s health began to significantly deteriorate, and then he won this Players the last time it’ll be played on Mother’s Day.

“This one is extra emotional and special for the family,” said Simpson’s wife, Dowd.

The victory might be felt even more resoundingly seven hours away, in Raleigh.

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Ted Kiegiel has been a constant presence in Simpson’s life ever since he began working with him nearly 25 years ago. Webb was just 8 then, but after their first lesson Kiegiel wrote Debbie and Sam a handwritten letter: Your son is incredible. I’ve never seen another talent like him.

“I just wanted them to know that he’s an extremely special talent,” Kiegiel said. “I wanted them to know how gifted he was.”

For years, Sam tried to downplay Webb’s ability – not because he didn’t believe in him, but because he didn’t want to place unrealistic expectations on his son. Even as Webb won 20 to 30 tournaments a year, Sam always told Kiegiel that he just wanted him to be a solid amateur.

“That’s not happening,” Kiegiel would tell him. “He’s headed to the PGA Tour.”

Sam might not have understood the mechanics of the swing, but he tried to impart invaluable life lessons – how to lose graciously, how to dig deep. Simpson didn’t need to do much soul-searching during his near-flawless week here, but on Friday, after rinsing his tee shot on 17 to squander a course-record round, his father’s words still rang in his ear. Keep fighting. Do your best. So he scrambled for par on 18 and polished off a 63.

“He was still helping me through it and mentoring me,” Simpson said.

There was no easy way to say goodbye last fall. With Sam’s health declining in November, Webb withdrew after two rounds at Sea Island to be by his side in hospice care. For more than a week, 20 to 30 friends filled his room, sharing their favorite funny tales about Sam and how he enriched their lives.

Dowd might have the best story to tell.

She had met Sam as a freshman at Wake Forest. Sam spotted a beautiful blonde from across the room, and he said that if she took out his son, an incoming freshman, he’d give her $100.

“If he’s half as cute as you,” she said, “I’ll go for free.”

But Sam kept his word, forking over the $100, which they used to pay for dinner at Ryan’s Steakhouse. They’ve been together ever since.

“His dad was his best friend, so it was like losing your best friend and your father and your mentor,” Dowd said. “They had such a good relationship I feel like there weren’t any words left unspoken. There was just a longing for more time with him.”

But from his grief Simpson has found comfort. He tied for fourth in his first start of the year. Then he had other chances to win in Palm Beach and Tampa and Hilton Head, all top-10s. Recently, caddie Paul Tesori noticed a change in his boss’ demeanor.

“He was a great golfer at a young age. He got the pretty girl when he was 19. He got married at 23. He’d never really gone through any struggles in his life,” Tesori said. “The putting ban was the first one, and losing his dad was the next one. I see a different Webb walking around the golf course now. He’s walking taller. He’s wiser. I see a different man right now.”

Kiegiel pointed to the impact of losing Sam.

“If anything, it’s been a greater motivating factor for Webb,” he said. “He finds strength in it.”

They talk often about how Simpson is 32 years old, squarely in the prime of his career, and that it’s time to capitalize. That conversation would have seemed forced a year ago, with Simpson’s world ranking plummeting and his putting so shaky that Tesori thought Simpson would never putt well again.

But a year ago, Simpson found a spark here at TPC Sawgrass. On the eve of the tournament, he stumbled into Tim Clark, another anchorer forced to change his methods, and began messing around with the claw grip. He put it in play, without any practice, and tied for 16th. Over the rest of the season, he climbed more than 100 spots in the ranking.

“I’m very thankful that he gave me that lesson,” Simpson said.

Through countless hours on the practice putting green, he has honed his new method – the “Kuchar-claw,” with the putter shaft pinned against his left forearm and his right hand in a claw grip – and resurrected his career. He’s now a top-10 putter on Tour, and he figures to rise considerably after his sublime week on the greens here.

Over the first two rounds he had his 10th- and fifth-best putting rounds of his career. By Saturday night he had already holed 356 feet worth of putts, gaining more than nine shots on the field. He was far from perfect on Sunday, but he also didn’t need to be, never leading by fewer than four shots.

It was his fifth Tour victory, and first since 2013.

“Today is meant to be for him,” Kiegiel said. “Winning on Mother’s Day, with what a family man he is, the recent loss of Pop – so many things have come together today for it to be this day, this week, this year, at this place.”

Back in Raleigh, Debbie’s throat was raspy, and she was passing around Kleenex, and she was still chuckling that her 10-month-old grandson clapped after each of Webb’s good shots on TV. Her heart was as full as it’s been in months.

“It’s just incredible,” she said, readying to leave for a family celebration. “God’s timing has been so sweet.”

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Getting cheeky: 'Beef' drops trou, saves par

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 17, 2018, 3:23 pm

Andrew "Beef" Johnston provided the Nordea Masters crowd a little beefcake - that was just too easy - on Friday when he dropped trou during the second round.

He had pulled his drive on the short (253 yards) par-4 12th hole into a hazard, but the ball was playable. He played a mud-spattered explosion out of the muck, then opted to abandon his trousers for a pair of rain pants, much to the delight of the fans. The story has a happy ending, too. After hitting his second shot over the green, he chipped up and saved par.

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Cut Line: An appreciation of Woods, Lyle

By Rex HoggardAugust 17, 2018, 2:13 pm

In a regular-season finale edition, we celebrate how far Tiger Woods has come this season, mourn the loss of one of the game’s truly special people and crunch the numbers on Sergio Garcia’s 11th-hour sprint to the playoffs.

Made Cut

Perspective. Tiger Woods’ runner-up finish at the PGA Championship was another reason to appreciate the 14-time major winner’s comeback, and to marvel at how far he’s come in a relatively short period of time.

“I didn't know what my schedule would be. I didn't know how many tournaments I would play this year or if I would even play. So each tournament brought about its own challenges,” Woods reminded us following his closing 64 at Bellerive.

Although Woods has repeatedly talked about those dark and painful days before fusion surgery on his lower back, a recent interview with Nick Faldo on the Dan Patrick Show revealed just how bad things were.

 “I know [Woods] whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago [2017], 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,’” Faldo said. “He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the [2016] Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain.”

Woods’ improved play in recent months has slowly glossed over just how bad things were, not to mention how far he’s come.

RIP Jarrod Lyle. The PGA Tour community continues to mourn the loss of Lyle, who died last week at home in Australia following his third bout with acute myeloid leukemia.

A GoFundMe page created by Golf Channel’s Tripp Isenhour quickly met its goal of raising $200,000 for Lyle’s family, and tournament officials at this week’s Wyndham Championship placed Lyle’s staff bag, along with his signature bright-yellow bucket hat, on the first tee.

Officials at Sedgefield Country Club also created a sand castle memorial for Lyle, who played the Wyndham Championship four times in his career.

“It was hard not to think of Jarrod, certainly,” Adam Scott said on Sunday at the PGA. “The people who knew him quite well that were playing this week, golf was a little distraction, but probably now, as we get some time off and get to go home and be with our family, that we will be able to celebrate him a little bit more.”

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Bon voyage Bellerive. Major championship golf returned to St. Louis for the first time in two decades last week, and the Midwestern masses celebrated like it had been more than 20 years.

Record crowds swarmed the layout all week and Sunday’s final round was the most raucous day in golf (non-Ryder Cup division) since the 2008 U.S. Open.

Even the golf course, which featured slower-than-normal greens and wet conditions following storms on Tuesday and Friday, received high praise from the rank and file, all of which makes the course’s Grand Slam future so awkward.

The PGA Championship is booked up pretty much through 2029, with one open date, either 2025 or ’26, still available; while the Ryder Cup is scheduled through the 2024 matches at Bethpage, which means the earliest it could be played at Bellerive is 2028.

As much as players and fans celebrated golf’s return to St. Louis, Bellerive’s future place on the Grand Slam dance card has a distinct “don’t call us, we’ll call you” feel to it.

Tweet of the week: @JustinThomas34 (Justin Thomas) “Fans and people in St Louis . . . y’all were unbelievable! Never heard roars like that in my life. That is what I’ve thought and dreamt major championship Sundays were like since I was a kid.”

Bubble this and that. It’s a rite of fall in professional golf, players scrambling at the year’s final regular-season event to qualify for the playoffs or improve their postseason fortunes.

Sergio Garcia is the week’s most high-profile “bubble” player in the Wyndham Championship field, with the Spaniard mired at 131st on the point list. But this is likely less about the postseason – Garcia has skipped the first playoff start the last three years – than it is his need to secure his 15th start of the season, which is required to maintain membership.

A similar scenario occurred a few seasons ago with Henrik Stenson, and as the Tour transitions to a new, condensed schedule next year it’s probably going to happen more often.

With fewer playoff events and a condensed summer schedule, players, particularly those who also play the European Tour, will be faced with some tough choices starting in 2019.

Missed Cut

Captain obvious. We can appreciate Jim Furyk’s desire to cling to protocol. He has three weeks to decide who will be his first three captain’s picks for the Ryder Cup, but perhaps he should just come clean.

Following Woods’ runner-up finish at the PGA, which moved him from 20th to 11th on the U.S. point list, Furyk played a particularly aloof card when asked about Tiger’s chances of being a pick.

“He's playing very well. I think there's a lot of folks out there who probably think he can help us,” Furyk said. “I realize Tiger is a story. I realize he's playing very well, and I'm excited to see that.”

While Furyk’s reluctance is understandable, anyone with a pulse and an internet connection knows Woods will be a pick. If the captain wants to focus on other things, like the eight automatic qualifiers, simply stop the formalities and make Tiger an early selection.

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Even with broken driver, Salinda beats Hagestad at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 17, 2018, 2:52 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – With a trip to the U.S. Amateur quarterfinals on the line, and with the Pacific Ocean staring him in the face, Isaiah Salinda piped a 330-yard drive down Pebble Beach’s 18th hole.

Not a bad poke with a replacement driver.

Salinda’s Round of 16 match against Stewart Hagestad got off to a rocky start Thursday afternoon with an awkward tee shot on the second hole.

“The ball came out weird, with no spin,” said Salinda’s caddie and former Stanford teammate, Bradley Knox. “He said, ‘Yeah, that felt weird.’”

Salinda looked at the bottom of his Callaway Epic driver and noticed a crack.

Worried that they'd have to play the rest of the round with only a 3-wood, Knox called a Callaway equipment rep, told him the issue, and was relieved to hear he'd meet them at the back of the third tee. Salinda teed off the next hole with a 3-wood – he’d taken driver there all week – and wound up in a tricky spot, on the side of a mound, leading to a bogey.

“Then they came over and cranked the driver,” Knox said. “It was like a NASCAR pit crew.”

The replacement driver was nearly identical – same head, same loft, same weighting – except for the lie angle. The new one was a degree flatter than his gamer, which led to a few more pulled shots than usual.

“It took a little while to recover the mindset that we’d had the rest of the week,” Knox said.

Match scoring from U.S. Amateur

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Salinda downplayed the equipment malfunction – “I just had to adjust, and it wasn’t really a problem” – but he didn’t play well early. After trailing for just one hole during his first two matches, he was 4 over par and 2 down through 10 holes against Hagestad, the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion who’d finally made match play after eight previous failed attempts.

On 11, Salinda finally got going, stuffing a wedge shot to 10 feet and recording his first birdie. He followed with three clutch pars before another good approach on 15, leading to a conceded birdie to square the match.

On the home hole, Salinda bombed his drive about 30 yards past Hagestad and had 220 yards to the flag. It was a perfect 4-iron distance, and he sent a rocket into a blinding sunset.

“I never saw it,” Salinda said. “I told my caddie: ‘Where is that? I have no idea.’ But it felt good.”

A lone voice shrieked as the ball landed on the green. They knew the shot had to be tight. Years ago, Stanford senior Chris Meyers had made an albatross on 18 for a walkoff victory with Lee Janzen at the PGA Tour Champions’ First Tee Open. Knox thought they’d come close to duplicating the feat.

“Probably almost had a Chris Meyers,” Knox said, chuckling, as they walked up the fairway.

The shot never had a chance to drop – turns out the spectator was well-lubricated – but it still was only 35 feet away, for eagle. Salinda cozied his putt to a few feet and could only watch as Hagestad’s last-ditch 25-footer stopped a rotation short of the cup.

The Round of 16 victory continued a breakout summer for Salinda. His 15th-place showing at the NCAA Championship kick-started a three-month stretch in which he’s finally taken his game to the next level.

“He’s shown flashes of brilliance before,” Knox said, “and he’s had the game. But now he has the consistency and the confidence that it’ll come back time and time again.”

Salinda shot 62 in the third round and won the Pacific Coast Amateur, which boasts one of the strongest fields of the summer. Then he finished third in stroke play at the Western Amateur before a quarterfinal loss in match play.

Now he’s one step closer to his biggest victory yet – even with a backup driver.

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Salas (62) leads LPGA's Indy Women in Tech

By Associated PressAugust 17, 2018, 12:50 am

INDIANAPOLIS - Lizette Salas' waited 77 minutes to line up her 4-foot putt to take the lead Thursday at the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

She refused to let the weather delay get to her.

When the 29-year-old California player returned to the course, she quickly rolled in the birdie putt, finished her round with another birdie at No. 18 and took a two-shot lead over Angel Yin and Nasa Hataoka with a course record-tying 10-under 62.

''I didn't even think about it the entire time,'' Salas said. ''I was hanging out with Danielle (Kang) and she was giving me her silly dad jokes. So it definitely kept my mind off of it. I was really excited to be back and to finish off with a birdie, from off the green, was the icing on the cake.''

It's the lowest score by a female player at the Brickyard Crossing.

Defending champion Lexi Thompson opened last year's inaugural tournament with a 63, one shot off of Mike McCullough's 62 in the PGA Champions Tour's 1999 Comfort Classic.

But the way the saturated 6,456-yard course played Thursday, Salas needed virtually every putt of her career-best round to reach the top of the leaderboard.

The morning starters took advantage of overnight rain by shooting right at the pins.

And nobody made a bigger early splash than Yin, the 19-year-old Californian who finished second in last year's rookie of the year race.

She opened with five straight birdies and shot 8-under 28 on the front nine. Only a par on No. 6 prevented her from becoming the sixth LPGA player to shoot 27 on nine holes. South Korea's Mi Hyang Lee did it most recently at the 2016 JTBC Founders Cup.

Yin also tied the third-lowest nine-hole score in relation to par in tour history.

Her only bobble came with a bogey on No. 13 and she closed out her best career round with a birdie on No. 18.

Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship

''I have never done that before,'' she said. ''I had nine putts, I think, on the front nine, which is incredible. I've never had that many little putts. But it just felt good. Everything was working.''

Last year's runner-up for rookie of the year has never won an LPGA Tour title in her home country though she did win in a playoff at Dubai on the Ladies European Tour.

Everybody seemed to find their groove Thursday.

Eighty-eight of the 143 players shot under par and 54 were 3-under or better.

And with more rain in the forecast Thursday night and Friday, the scores could go even lower as a star-studded cast chases down Salas, Yin and Hataoka.

Four players, including Kang and Jane Park, are three shots behind.

Seven players, including last year's tournament runner-up Lydia Ko, are four shots back. Ko was tied with Yin for the lead - until she knocked her tee shot on the par-4, 16th into the water. She wound up with a double bogey and birdied the final hole to finish with 66.

After taking a monthlong break to recover from physical and mental exhaustion, Thompson looked relaxed and comfortable in her return to the course. She shot 68.

''It was hard for me to take the break because I didn't want to show weakness,'' she said. ''But at the same time, it takes a lot of strength to acknowledge that you need that kind of break and just take time for yourself, especially when you're in the spotlight like this.''

Salas, meanwhile, started fast with an eagle on the par-5 second and finished with a flurry.

She birdied three straight holes on the front side to get to 5-under, added birdies at Nos. 12 and 14 to get to 7-under and then birdied the final three holes - around the approaching storm - to put herself in contention for her first title since the 2014 Kingsmill Championship.

''I have been just striking the ball really well this entire year, and just glad some more putts dropped today,'' she said. ''I was really refreshed. I didn't practice at all last week, and I was just really eager and excited to be back.''