Wedel beats odds on and off the course to reach semis at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 15, 2014, 10:33 pm

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – By now Fred Wedel has probably called his dad, who is lying in a bed in his sister’s home in Sacramento, Calif., a laptop by his side.

Typically, the voice on the other end of the phone is enthusiastic:


Way to go!

Great playing!

This week, though, the elder Wedel has been calm and collected. Soothing. Patient. It was as if he sensed something bigger was brewing.

Well, it doesn’t get much bigger than what will unfold here Saturday at Atlanta Athletic Club, after Wedel defeated Nathan Smith, 4 and 3, to reach the semifinals of the 114th U.S. Amateur Championship.

The 619th-ranked player in the world, Wedel’s last tournament win was the district title his senior year of high school. Now, the Pepperdine junior is two matches away from a national championship, and just one from a berth in the Masters.

In a field littered with silver-spooners and prodigies, Wedel’s story resonates most.

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He was 10 when his dad (also named Fred) kept scratching what he thought was a mosquito bite on his neck. It turned out to be a staph infection in his spinal cord, and a few weeks later he was paralyzed from the neck down.

A normal childhood was no longer possible. For three years, Fred spent most of his days in a car, driving an hour to and from the hospital, where sometimes all his dad could do was listen.

“I really didn’t handle it well,” he said. “I just kept having hopes that maybe one day he’d walk again, that we’d figure it out. Eventually I realized he wasn’t going to walk again. It threw me into a dark place for a while.”

An eighth-grader without a father figure, Wedel rebelled. His family split apart. He got kicked out of private school. His golf game suffered without the man who taught him how to play with a cut-down 7-iron at age 3.

“I wasn’t playing good golf and my dad was in a hospital bed,” he said, “so I had bigger things to worry about.”

His fiercely competitive nature brought him back, but he was lightly recruited as a junior player. Texas wasn’t interested. Texas A&M didn’t want him. Hometown Houston had better options.

That was fine with Wedel, who wanted to get away, to start fresh. Pepperdine assistant coach Carl Smith needed to watch only one of Wedel’s tournaments before extending a scholarship. The private school offered both strong academics and a proven golf program – and, OK, the breathtaking views overlooking the Pacific Ocean weren’t bad either.

Wedel may have intrigued coaches with his edge, with his I’ll-show-you attitude, but it didn’t translate on the course. During his freshman year he was a non-factor, recording only a pair of top 10s.

With money tight, Wedel spent last summer mostly on the practice range, not the amateur circuit. This year he worked the member-guest at Bel-Air Country Club, which helped pay for a few flights to tournaments like the Southwestern (T-16) and Northern (T-10) amateurs.

“It’s tough for me at times,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of things to worry about. I wish I could go all over the country in the summer and play all these great events, but I’ve got to plan my way around it. I’ve got to make the best of what I have.”

Last October, at the start of Pepperdine’s season, the elder Wedel sent the coaching staff an email saying that he wanted to surprise his son at the upcoming Alister MacKenzie Invitational.

Golf at this level is oftentimes a family outing, with mom and dad waiting by the scoring tent for high-fives after a low round, or hugs after a 75. It’s something Wedel hasn’t experienced since he was 10 years old, so when he saw his father – wrapped in a blanket and propped up in a wheelchair – behind the ninth green at Sonoma GC, he put his hands on his head and cried.

“All of a sudden we saw life through Fred’s eyes,” Pepperdine coach Michael Beard said. “What he’s gone through is something that none of us can relate to.”

Wedel was so shook up that he bogeyed his next four holes. Not that it mattered.

“This is one of the last things on my bucket list, to see my son play golf again,” his 74-year-old father told Beard.

Wedel began to play better after that inspirational visit, finishing in the top 15 in four of his last five events to qualify for NCAA regionals as an individual.

With 10 days between the end of school and regional play, Wedel and Beard played matches all morning and afternoon, then had heart-to-hearts at night. They talked about his dad’s health. They talked about what it was like to grow up without a father figure, without guidance, without a steady support system.

“I see a kid that needs someone to kind of coach him not just in golf,” Beard said, “but also to coach him along in life.”

Even Wedel acknowledges that to take his game to the next level, he needs to develop a plan for success: What areas should he address? What schedule should he play? What should he improve physically, mentally, emotionally?

His remarkable run this week has opened his eyes to the possibilities, but every experience is a new one for Wedel, from setting a workout schedule to budgeting a $250 stipend to arranging a host family for this week’s Am.

“He’s kind of figured out life on his own,” Beard said. “He hasn’t had his mom or dad there to do it for him, to say this is how it works.”

On that front, though, Wedel is making a concerted effort. After drifting apart, he usually saw his father only a couple of times a year – Malibu and Sacramento are six hours apart – but in June he spent an entire week by his old man’s side.

“I don’t want to look back later in life and regret not having all those deep conversations and asking enough questions,” he said. “I want to have that close relationship with him. I want my father to actually be my father.”

Wedel turns 20 next week, and after his breakthrough performance here he will be the Waves’ No. 1 player, the guy with expectations to perform. After years of searching, it seems a role he’s finally ready to embrace.

Earlier this week, Wedel sent his coach a text about what lies ahead: “You know I look up to you in plenty of ways. I respect you. I’ll handle the team the way you want your captain to. The culture will be changed.”

Flipping through his iPhone, Beard paused and said, “Just seeing that makes you smile, you know? He’s figuring it out.”

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Woods, Leishman, Fleetwood grouped at Northern Trust

By Will GrayAugust 20, 2018, 10:55 pm

While 125 players qualified for The Northern Trust this week, only 120 have decided to tee it up at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey. Here's a look at a few of the marquee, early-round tee times where players are grouped via FedExCup standing and Tiger Woods makes his first start since a runner-up performance at the PGA Championship (all times ET):

7:54 a.m. Thursday, 12:55 p.m. Friday: Tiger Woods, Marc Leishman, Tommy Fleetwood

Woods starts the postseason at No. 20 in the points race, with a great chance to advance to the season-ending Tour Championship for the first time since 2013. He'll look to pad his point total this week in the Garden State, making his return to competition after a week off following a strong showing at Bellerive. He'll play the first two rounds with Leishman, who has two runner-up finishes this season, and Fleetwood, who nearly caught Brooks Koepka at the U.S. Open.

8:05 a.m. Thursday, 1:06 p.m. Friday: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka

There should be no shortage of eye-popping drives from this trio, who comprise the top three in the season-long points race heading into the playoffs. Johnson holds the No. 1 spot in both the world rankings and the FedExCup, having won three times since January, while Thomas will look to become the first player to go back-to-back in the playoffs and Koepka hopes to add to a career year that already includes two majors.

8:16 a.m. Thursday, 1:17 p.m. Friday: Webb Simpson, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau

Simpson got back into the winner's circle in impressive fashion at The Players Championship, and he heads into the playoffs off a T-2 finish last week at the Wyndham Championship. Molinari cruised to victory at the Quicken Loans National before his major triumph at Carnoustie, while DeChambeau's win at the Memorial highlighted his season that brought him to the cusp of a Ryder Cup berth.

12:44 p.m. Thursday, 7:43 a.m. Friday: Jordan Spieth, Beau Hossler, Byeong-Hun An

Normally featured among the points leaders at this point in the season, Spieth heads into the playoffs at No. 43 in the standings, sandwiched between a pair of players whose best results came in playoff losses. Hossler has had a quietly strong season that was highlighted by a runner-up to Ian Poulter in overtime at the Houston Open, while An lost a playoff to DeChambeau at the Memorial.

12:55 p.m. Thursday, 7:54 a.m. Friday: Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Tony Finau

There will be four green jackets among this group, as the reigning Masters champ is joined by a pair of Ryder Cup hopefuls in Mickelson and Finau. Lefty broke a lengthy victory drought with his WGC-Mexico win in March but has largely slowed this summer, while Finau notched top-10 finishes in each of the first three majors to enter the discussion for possible picks for Paris.

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Randall's Rant: Too much Tiger for his own good?

By Randall MellAugust 20, 2018, 10:00 pm

We could be getting a dose of way too much Tiger Woods.

Yeah, that’s difficult to fathom, given how good his return to the game has been on so many levels, but the man might be too close to winning for his own good right now.

I’m not a doctor, I don’t play one on TV, and I didn’t sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but a reasonable person has to wonder how playing the next three weeks in a row – five of the next six weeks – will affect Woods’ surgically fused spine.

That isn’t to say Woods is actually going to end up playing that much, but it looms as a real possibility.

In fact, dating back to the WGC Bridgestone, it’s possible he could be amid a run of playing seven times in the last nine weeks.

My sacroiliac joint is throbbing at the thought.

Beginning with The Northern Trust this week, Woods is committed to the first three legs of the FedExCup Playoffs, and it’s difficult to imagine he wouldn’t play the final leg at the Tour Championship if he qualifies.

It’s impossible to imagine he won’t be among Jim Furyk’s four captain’s picks to play the Ryder Cup.

So if Woods continues this streak of strong play, what’s going to give?

We hope it isn’t his back.

Or his neck.

Or his knees.

Only Woods and his doctors really know how much the 42-year-old can take physically, but there is more to lose than to gain by overdoing it now.

Yeah, the FedExCup Playoffs are great fun, more meaningful with each passing year, but it’s all about the major championships now for Woods.

Competitively, it’s all that matters.

Nobody but the most anal Tiger fans are going to remember how many FedExCups he won, but we’re all going to remember how many majors he won.

We’re all going to remember him resuming his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus, if that’s where his summer tease is taking us, with Woods’ T-6 at The Open last month and his second-place finish at the PGA Championship two weeks ago.

Whether you are a Woods fan or not, how can you not want to see a historic chase of Jack as Tiger’s last chapter?

The game soars to yet another level with that.

A legion of young, new fans come pouring into the game even if Tiger only gets to 17 major championship titles.

So while the FedExCup Playoffs give us a postseason in golf, make Player of the Year chases more interesting and Ryder Cup captain’s picks more intriguing, they are a mere prelude for Tiger.

The playoffs give him another chance to get ready for next year’s Masters.

They give him a chance to win something before heading to Augusta National.

They give him another chance to rebuild his closing skills.

Woods doesn’t have to win the overall FedExCup to do that.

And he doesn’t have to play every event he commits to playing. He’s 20th in FedExCup points right now. He can get to the Tour Championship without playing all three of the legs leading there.

The tough spot for Woods is withdrawing from a FedExCup event. It’s trickier for him. With all the extra tickets sold when he commits, with all the excitement his anticipated arrival creates, it feels like a broken promise when he backs out.

Yeah, other players WD before big events for reasons beyond injury, but they don’t create the massive disappointment Woods creates.

For somebody invested in wanting to see Tiger vs. Jack reprised, it’s a lot easier to live with seeing Woods pull out of a FedExCup Playoff event to rest than to see him WD from one with an injury.

There’s more excitement in the prospect of seeing a lot of Woods in the majors next year than seeing too much of him now.

Here’s hoping somebody helps Tiger gets his FedExCup Playoff dosage right. His pain could be golf’s pain.

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Watch: Marshawn Lynch's golf game could use some work

By Grill Room TeamAugust 20, 2018, 8:15 pm

NFL star running back Marshawn Lynch is pretty great at driving golf carts, but from the looks of a video that surfaced this weekend, his golf prowess starts and ends there.

"Beast Mode" was in attendance at Klay Thompson's charity event in San Francisco on Sunday, and luckily the Golden State Warriors shooting guard caught Lynch's swing on camera - because it is a sight to behold.

Dressed in a traditional golf hoodie, the former Super Bowl champion who has been thrilling fans with his raw athleticism and power on the gridiron for more than a decade showed off a swing that would make Charles Barkley blush.

Lynch was not questioned about the swing by members of media afterwards, although there's a pretty good chance you already know how he would've answered.

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Stenson (elbow) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 20, 2018, 5:41 pm

Former FedExCup champ Henrik Stenson will start his postseason on the sideline, as he withdrew on Monday from The Northern Trust because of an elbow injury.

Stenson captured the season-long title back in 2013, when he won two of the four playoff events. At 50th in the current points standings, he's assured of a spot next week at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship and likely to make the field at the 70-man BMW Championship the following week.

A PGA Tour official confirmed that Stenson cited the elbow injury as the reason for his withdrawal. He was bothered by an injured elbow last month that led him to withdraw from the Scottish Open and limited his prep for The Open, where he tied for 35th.

The 42-year-old defended his title last week at the Wyndham Championship, tying for 20th place after shooting a 6-under 64 in the final round.

"It's fine, I can practice and I can play without any problems as of now, but I can't really go after it in the gym fully," Stenson told reporters last week in Greensboro. "The main thing that we can play and practice without having any problems there, so it's getting better."

The intrigue around Stenson's decision grows when the context of the Ryder Cup is taken into consideration. The Swede has represented Europe in the biennial matches four times, but he's currently 16th in both the European Points and World Points lists with only two weeks remaining in the qualification window.

Even before skipping this week's event in New Jersey, Stenson appeared likely to need a pick from captain Thomas Bjorn, who will round out his 12-man roster with four selections on Sept. 5. Other notable players who are not currently in position to qualify include Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Russell Knox, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Thomas Pieters.

Stenson becomes the fifth player to withdraw from this week's field, which does not feature alternates and is now down to 120 players. Rory McIlroy opted to rest up this week, while Patrick Rodgers is skipping the tournament to attend a wedding. Both Rickie Fowler (oblique) and Bud Cauley (June car accident) withdrew because of injury.