Young studs looking for time in the spotlight

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2013, 11:37 pm

LA QUINTA, Calif. – As Russell Henley was storming to victory Sunday in his PGA Tour debut, some 5,000 miles away his buddies were camped out at a Charleston, S.C., bar, partaking in a drinking game. The basic rules of the game: Every time Henley made a clutch putt, they took a shot.

As a reminder, Henley, a rookie, won the Sony Open at 24 under par.

He closed with a final-round 63.

He carded a back-nine 29.

In short: Many clutch putts were holed. And, we can assume, many shots were taken.

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In his hometown of Macon, Ga., the students and teachers at his former high school, Stratford Academy, participated in “Russell Henley Day” on Tuesday. Everyone – even the headmaster – wore Hawaiian shirts and draped leis around their necks.

“It’s been like a dream,” Henley said Wednesday at the Humana Challenge.

On Sunday night, he flew from Honolulu to L.A. and couldn’t sleep. The following night, he caught himself waking up in the middle of the night, smiling, knowing that his job was safe for a few years and, better yet, in a few months, the blonde-haired kid from Macon would tee it up at The Masters, his lifelong dream.

Since he won in Hawaii, the 23-year-old has received a congratulatory tweet from Gary Player – “Congratulations @RussHenleyGolf on your fantastic first victory on the @PGATOUR in the @SonyOpen in Hawaii. My best throughout the season.' – and been flooded with text messages from family and friends, former classmates and fellow players. When he arrived at PGA West and walked down the range, he laughed his way through the attendant back slaps and atta-boys from Robert Garrigus and Davis Love III and, well, he can’t even remember the rest.

Henley’s run last week was fueled by supreme ball-striking and sublime putting, but it’s not unreasonable to suggest that there are several other talented 20somethings who are capable of authoring similarly inspiring performances. And soon.

Henley pointed to former Georgia teammate Harris English when asked which young player – besides Rory McIlroy, of course – impressed him most. “I think you’re going to be seeing a lot of him for a long time,” Henley said.

John Peterson, the 2011 NCAA champion from LSU, is no less impressive. Neither are Luke Guthrie and Ben Kohles, both two-time winners on the Tour last year. And neither is Scott Langley . . . Morgan Hoffmann . . . Patrick Reed . . . Patrick Cantlay . . . Jordan Spieth. See where this is going?

“I don’t know if they come up thinking they’re ready and that they can beat these guys,” said two-time U.S. Open winner Lee Janzen, now 48. “But they know what they can do, and when they’re in the hunt, they have the belief that there’s no reason they can’t keep it going.”

For Henley, that aggressive mentality was honed on the Tour, where he apprenticed in 2011 and won twice in his last four starts. (He also won on that circuit in 2010, as a senior at Georgia).

In September, he was locked in a taut duel with Brad Fritsch at the Chiquita Classic. After Saturday they sat at 20 under (66-65-65), five clear of the field. But then Henley played a bit more conservatively during that final round, began trying to just get it in the house instead of making a score, and on a day when the weather was perfect and the greens were smooth, a Sunday 70 nearly wasn’t enough. Henley dropped into a playoff, but eventually prevailed in Charlotte.

“I definitely look back on that thinking and remembering that you have to attack all four days,” he said. “Just keep attacking.”

At the 2011 U.S. Open – better known, perhaps, as the dawning of the Rory Era – Henley advanced through qualifying and made the cut, finishing T-42. That week, though, he remembered McIlroy saying that on the final day, staked to a big lead, he simply wanted to pick good targets and make aggressive swings.

Simple, isn’t it? That little pre-shot reminder is comforting until you make a few bogeys, and your swing doesn’t feel quite right, and somebody in the penultimate group just caught fire, and you start considering different scenarios, and then, suddenly, it’s a little bit harder to pick good targets and make aggressive swings.

At the Sony, Henley’s lead was trimmed to two at the turn, but he powered toward the finish with a back-nine 29 that included birdies on the final five holes. He thought back to Tiger Woods at the ’97 Masters, and how Woods’ father would always say, You have to run through the finish line. Just because you get a little ahead doesn’t mean you start jogging in a race.

“You start to hear that mentality,” Henley said, “and I think you begin to feed off of it.”

Which was unfortunate for Tim Clark, of course. At Waialae, the diminutive South African birdied seven of his last 11 holes, shot 63, and still finished three shots behind Henley. Afterward, Clark marveled, “It just seems like there’s nothing he can do wrong.”

Henley and the rest of his pals will endure lean times, no doubt. But then there will also be weeks when their talent overwhelms the field, new stars thrust onto the biggest stage, and they leave in their wake nothing but faded Hawaiian shirts and empty shot glasses.

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Wise wins first Tour title at AT&T Byron Nelson

By Nick MentaMay 21, 2018, 1:22 am

On the strength of a final-round 65, 21-year-old Aaron Wise broke through for his first PGA Tour victory Sunday, taking the AT&T Byron Nelson at Trinity Forest. Here's how Wise beat the field and darkness following a lengthy rain delay:

Leaderboard: Wise (-23), Leishman (-20), Branden Grace (-19), J.J. Spaun (-19), Keith Mitchell (-19)

What it means: This is Wise’s first PGA Tour win in just his 18th start as a member. Tied with Leishman to start the final round, Wise raced ahead with six birdies in a seven-hole stretch from Nos. 4-10 and never looked back. He'd make eight straight pars on his way into the clubhouse and the winner's circle. The 2016 NCAA Division I individual champion just locked up Tour status through 2019-20 season and guaranteed himself a spot in the PGA Championship.

Best of the rest: Leishman reached 20 under par but just couldn’t keep pace with Wise. This is his second runner-up of the season, following a solo second in the CJ Cup in October.

Round of the day: Grace carded a 62 – where have I heard that before? – with eight birdies, an eagle and a bogey to end up tied for third, his best finish of the season on Tour.

Biggest disappointment: Adam Scott looked as though he had done enough to qualify for the U.S. Open via the Official World Golf Ranking when he walked off the golf course. Unfortunately, minutes later, he’d drop from a four-way tie for sixth into a three-way tie for ninth, narrowly missing out on this week's OWGR cutoff.

Break of the day: Wise could very well have found the hazard off the tee at No. 9 if not for a well-placed sprinkler head. Rather than drop a shot, he took advantage of his good fortune and poured in another birdie putt to extend his lead.

Quote of the day: "It's a dream come true to win this one." - Wise

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Otaegui wins Belgian Knockout by two

By Associated PressMay 21, 2018, 1:20 am

ANTWERP, Belgium – Adrian Otaegui beat Benjamin Hebert by two shots in the final of the Belgian Knockout to win his second European Tour title.

The hybrid format opened with two rounds of stroke play on Thursday and Friday, before the leading 64 players competed in nine-hole knockout stroke play matches.

Otaegui and Hebert both finished three shots off the lead at 5 under after the first two days and worked their way through five matches on the weekend to set up Sunday's final at the Rinkven International Golf Club.

Full-field scores from the Belgian Knockout

''I'm very happy, very relaxed now after the last nine holes against Ben that were very tight,'' Otaegui said. ''I'm just very proud about my week.

''I just tried to play against myself. Obviously your opponent is just next to you but I just tried to focus on my game.''

Scotland's David Drysdale beat James Heath of England by one shot in the playoff for third spot.

Herbet said he was ''just a little short this week.''

''Adrian is a very good player, especially in this kind of format,'' he said. ''He's already won one tournament in match play last year. This format is fun, it puts you under pressure almost every hole because everything can happen. I think it's a great idea.''

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Spieth looking forward to Colonial after T-21

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:10 am

DALLAS – Jordan Spieth finally got a few putts to drop at the AT&T Byron Nelson, but after a frustrating week he’s looking forward to heading across town.

Spieth shot a 4-under 67 amid soggy conditions at Trinity Forest Golf Club, his lowest score of the week but one that still left him in a tie for 21st at 11 under par. His frustrations had a common theme throughout the week, as he ranked seventh among the field in strokes gained: tee to green but 72nd in strokes gained: putting.

“Felt like I played better than I scored,” Spieth said. “Just burned the edges or barely missed, and I misread a lot of putts, too. Overall just struggled a little bit matching line and speed and kind of getting it all together out here.”

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

Spieth remains in search of his first win since The Open in July, but his results in the interim haven’t exactly been a struggle. This marks his seventh top-25 finish in his last nine starts as an individual.

Spieth is in the midst of a busy part of his schedule, and will play his third of four events in a row next week at the Fort Worth Invitational. With runner-up finishes in 2015 and 2017 sandwiched around a victory there two years ago, Spieth did little to contain his excitement for a return to venerable Colonial Country Club.

“It’s one of those courses where whether I have my A game or not, I seem to find my way into contention, which is really cool,” Spieth said. “It’s one of four or five places I go into, no matter where the game is at, I’m excited to get started and feel like I have a chance to win.”

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Razorbacks, Fassi scrambling to recover in NCAAs

By Ryan LavnerMay 21, 2018, 12:56 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – We’re not even halfway through this NCAA Championship, and the top women’s player in the country is already worn out.

Indeed, it’s been three rounds of hard work for Maria Fassi as she tries to claw herself and second-ranked Arkansas back into contention at Karsten Creek.

“I haven’t been able to create momentum of any kind,” she said after a third-round 73 left her at 16-over 232, 23 shots off the individual lead and outside the top 90. “I’ve been fighting every single hole. It’s just been exhausting.”

It’s been that way for her teammates, too.

Arkansas entered nationals as one of the pre-tournament favorites. The Razorbacks won the SEC Championship for the first time. They won seven events, including a regional title in which they shot 26 under par on the University of Texas’ home course. They were comfortable knowing that they not only had Fassi, the top-ranked player and a six-time winner this season, but also a strong supporting cast that includes Baylor transfer Dylan Kim and Alana Uriell.

And then the first two rounds happened. The Razorbacks had shot a team score in the 300s just once all season, but they posted two in a row here at Karsten Creek (308-300).

Fassi’s play has been even more of a mystery. In the opening round she shot 81 – with two birdies. She followed it up with a second-round 78, then birdied her last two holes just to shoot 73 on Sunday. She thought she had a smart game plan – taking fewer drivers, putting the ball in play on arguably the most difficult college course in the country – and it just hasn’t worked out.

“I just need to stay really patient, be true to myself and keep fighting,” she said. “I know what I’m capable of doing, and if I play my game it’s going to be plenty good.”

So what’s been the conversation among teammates the past two nights?

“It involved a lot of cuss words,” Fassi said. “We know this is not Arkansas golf. We know this is not the game that we play.”

The top-15 cut line should have been an afterthought for a team as talented as the Razorbacks, and yet they needed a 1-over 289 just to play Monday’s fourth round of stroke-play qualifying.

“Backs against the wall, they had to go get it done and they did an awesome job,” said Arkansas coach Shauna Taylor. “In our locker room we call it ‘Do the Possible.’ It’s doing what you’re capable of doing.”

And now the Razorbacks sit in 11th place, just six shots off the top-8 cut after their two worst rounds all season. They still have a chance to advance.

“You can’t panic,” Taylor said. “We’ve played great golf all year. We’ve put ourselves in a hole and it was time to go to work and dig yourselves out of it.”