Worthington second black club pro to qualify for PGA

By Ryan LavnerJuly 27, 2016, 6:53 pm

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – When Tom Woodard heard the news, he knew it was an opportunity he couldn’t afford to miss. So on Tuesday, he flew from his home in Littleton, Colo., and arrived in time to meet Wyatt Worthington II on the range here at Baltusrol.  

Woodard (above, left) posed for pictures. He shared his own experiences. And he offered a few words of advice.

After all, they are the only black club professionals who have qualified for the PGA Championship.

“To be able to come out here and reminisce and meet him,” Woodard, 60, said Wednesday morning, “it just was a perfect opportunity.”

Last month, Worthington finished sixth (6-under 282) at the PGA Professional Championship at Turning Stone to punch his ticket to the year’s final major, becoming the first black man since Woodard to accomplish the feat.

Woodard’s breakthrough came 25 years ago, at a complicated time in the sport’s history. In 1991, golf was a year removed from the controversy at Shoal Creek, which forced leaders of the major tours to examine racial diversity and accessibility for the first time.

Tiger Woods became a household name a few years later, but the introduction of an immensely popular, multiracial athlete didn’t dramatically reshape what is still seen as a predominantly white sport played by the wealthy. Harold Varner III is the only other PGA Tour member of color.

But on a micro level, at least, Woods helped solidify Worthington’s career plans, after a life-changing encounter at a clinic 15 years ago.

A promising soccer player, Worthington picked up the game after watching his father, also named Wyatt, smack balls on the range after school.

“The second ball he hit, I swear, it was just, Pewwwwwww,” the elder Wyatt said, moving his hand through the air like a missile. “He looked back at me, and I said, ‘Uh-oh.’ He hit the sweet spot. He was hooked.”

The Worthingtons had two courses within a few miles of their home in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, about 10 miles east of Columbus. Blacklick Woods was an executive course they could play for $10, but Worthington always had his eyes set on Turnberry, the big-boy venue down the road.

As a kid, Worthington practically opened and closed the range, stopping only for lunch. The story goes that the worse score he ever shot – ever – was an 86. “Talent,” his father said.  

PGA Championship: Full-field tee times | Photo gallery

Full coverage from the PGA Championship

Desire, too, because the head pro at Turnberry let Worthington play the course for free, so long as he replaced his divots in the fairway and repaired his ball marks on the green.

“But I needed to see how badly he really wanted this,” his father said, “so I’d tell him that we’re going to walk to Turnberry” – about two or three miles away – and “play golf. And he didn’t say no. He threw his bag over his shoulder and we went. I’d created a monster.”

When he was 13, Worthington was introduced to Gerry Hammond, the head pro at Bridgewater Golf Course, who began working with him pro bono. What started out as drills every other week soon became a daily lesson. Since then, Hammond has become a best friend, a mentor and a confidante.

“When you get a kid like that,” Hammond said, “money is not a factor. He was the kind of kid that he set the bar, and then he was going to get to that bar and go past it.”

Then he met Tiger.

In 2001, Woods was at the height of his powers, but he often hosted junior clinics through his foundation. The community rallied together and secured the bid. That’s how Worthington first met Woods, 15 years ago Friday, in Columbus.

“My palms were sweaty, just anticipating what was going to happen,” Wyatt said. “But he was just a normal guy, like everybody else.”

Said Hammond: “When you’re in that type of environment like that, and you’re a young kid and a golfer and you want to be great, the impact of that, I can’t even imagine. To share that time and those insights with you, it just gives you confidence.”

And so when he returned home from the clinic that night, Worthington told his parents that he’d made up his mind: “I’d like for that to be my lifestyle.”

Sure enough, Worthington graduated in 2010 from Methodist University in Fayetteville, N.C., with a degree in PGA Golf Management.

Almost every PGA professional aspired to play on the big tour at some point, but for a variety of reasons (time, access, money) they take a detour. After college, and following a stint at Jefferson Country Club, Worthington returned home and began working alongside Hammond at The Golf Depot in Gahanna. He has come full circle: Much of his time is spent teaching and mentoring promising junior golfers, just as he was 15 years ago.

In the past three years, Worthington’s scores have dropped, his focus has sharpened, and he’s dedicated himself to working out, eating right and preparing for the next level. He came up one shot shy of qualifying for the PGA at last year’s Professional National Championship, after missing a 12-footer on the last hole. But this time, after a third-round 69, Hammond felt more confident in his pupil’s chances – so much so that he flew to Verona, N.Y., to watch the final round in person.

“I knew,” he said. “I knew.”

Worthington shot 69 on the final day and made the cut by four shots.

The past few days have been a whirlwind. He has received so many interview requests, from so many outlets, that Worthington went into a media shutdown as of Wednesday morning. At some point he had to begin, you know, preparing for the tournament. He figures to have plenty of interested observers this week.

“It’s huge,” Hammond said, “and it’s bigger than him, bigger than all of us. We know what the game looks like, and it shouldn’t look like this. The world doesn’t look like this. But it takes time, and him pioneering is just the start.”

Why it took a quarter century for another black club professional to qualify for the PGA is a difficult question to answer.

“It’s an expensive game,” Hammond said, “and resources are only available to so many. Our world is like this, the haves and the have-nots, and some slip through the cracks.”

Woodard, the qualifier in 1991, said that it’s simply a numbers game – there are roughly 28,000 PGA club pros and about 15,000 courses in the U.S. “Supply and demand,” he shrugged. “The industry is tough.”

But Woodard is hopeful that young black professionals, and PGA members, will be encouraged by Worthington’s appearance here, that they’ll see that they, too, can become a club pro and still enjoy a fulfilling, competitive playing career.

“What I love about this game,” he said, “is that nobody gave him a spot or chose him to play here. There were no shortcuts. He had to earn it.”

Getty Images

Storms halt Barbasol before Lincicome tees off

By Associated PressJuly 20, 2018, 11:29 pm

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - Brittany Lincicome will have to wait until the weekend to resume her bid to make the cut in a PGA Tour event.

Overnight storms delayed the start of the second round Friday in the Barbasol Championship, and an afternoon thunderstorm suspended competition for good. The round will resume Saturday morning with much of the field still to play.

The second stoppage at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came 20 minutes before Lincicome's scheduled tee time.

Lincicome was near the bottom of the field after opening with a 6-over 78 on Thursday. The first LPGA player since Michelle Wie in 2008 to start a PGA Tour event, she needs a huge rebound to join Babe Zaharias (1945) as the only female players to make the cut.

Troy Merritt had the clubhouse lead at 15 under, following an opening 62 with a 67.

Getty Images

Third-round tee times for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 9:05 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eighteen major champions made the cut at The Open and will be playing the weekend at Carnoustie, including 60-year-old ageless wonder Bernhard Langer, and both major champs so far this year, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.

Twenty-four-year-old Gavin Green will be first off solo Saturday at 4:15 a.m. ET. Reed and Rhys Enoch will follow along 10 minutes later.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, both at even par for the tournament, six shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, are in consecutive groups. Mickelson is playing with Austin Cook at 8:05 a.m. and Woods is with South Africa’s Shaun Norris at 8:15 a.m.

Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, both three shots off the lead, are also in consecutive groups. Fowler is at 10 a.m. with Thorbjorn Olesen and Spieth is 10 minutes later with Kevin Chappell. Rory McIlroy, looking to win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship, is at 10:40 a.m. with Xander Schauffele. McIlroy is two shots behind.

Johnson and Kisner are last off at 11 a.m.

4:15AM ET: Gavin Green

4:25AM ET: Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed

4:35AM ET: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Justin Rose

4:45AM ET: Yusaku Miyazato, Tyrrell Hatton

4:55AM ET: Ross Fisher, Keegan Bradley

5:05AM ET: Ryan Fox, Jason Dufner

5:15AM ET: Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson

5:25AM ET: Tom Lewis, Sam Locke (a)

5:35AM ET: Paul Casey, Chris Wood

5:45AM ET: Bernhard Langer, Rafa Cabrera Bello

6:00AM ET: Paul Dunne, Brett Rumford

6:10AM ET: Masahiro Kawamura, Shubhankar Sharma

6:20AM ET: Cameron Smith, Brendan Steele

6:30AM ET: Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood

6:40AM ET: Byeong Hun An, Kevin Na

6:50AM ET: Julian Suri, Adam Hadwin

7:00AM ET: Gary Woodland, Si-Woo Kim

7:10AM ET: Yuta Ikeda, Satoshi Kodaira

7:20AM ET: Marcus Kinhult, Thomas Pieters

7:30AM ET: Beau Hossler, Haotong Li

7:45AM ET: Cameron Davis, Sean Crocker

7:55AM ET: Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink

8:05AM ET: Phil Mickeslon, Austin Cook

8:15AM ET: Tiger Woods, Shaun Norris

8:25AM ET: Lucas Herbert, Michael Kim

8:35AM ET: Jason Day, Francesco Molinari

8:45AM ET: Sung Kang, Webb Simpson

8:55AM ET: Patrick Cantlay, Eddie Pepperell

9:05AM ET: Matthew Southgate, Brooks Koepka

9:15AM ET: Kyle Stanley, Adam Scott

9:30AM ET: Charley Hoffman, Alex Noren

9:40AM ET: Ryan Moore, Brandon Stone

9:50AM ET: Luke List, Danny Willett

10:00AM ET: Thorbjorn Olesen, Rickie Fowler

10:10AM ET: Jordan Spieth, Kevin Chappell

10:20AM ET: Zander Lombard, Tony Finau

10:30AM ET: Matt Kuchar, Erik Van Rooyen

10:40AM ET: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele

10:50AM ET: Pat Perez, Tommy Fleetwood

11:00AM ET: Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson

Getty Images

Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

Getty Images

Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”