The Nationwide Tour Year in Review

By Sports NetworkDecember 28, 2007, 5:00 pm
Nationwide TourAs a golf writer, one thing I am hardly ever prepared for is an obscure question. You tell somebody you're a golf writer, and they respond with something like, 'Who was that amateur golfer back in the '60s who everyone thought was going to be great, the one who was arrested for killing his neighbor's cow?'
OK, so that never actually happened, but you get the idea. These obscure questions are often posed during a round of golf -- mostly they're about golfers, records, majors, etc.
It happened recently when a colleague and I were paired with another twosome in the middle of a round: one quiet and dutiful, the other as loud as his red shirt. Well, Loudy McTalksalot wanted to know if we'd ever heard of 'that golf writer who ...' Which ended up turning into a conversation about the great Grantland Rice, of whom this golf writer was apparently a contemporary. Sue me. I didn't know the golf writer from Adam.
But this type of thing has happened a lot since I began writing about golf 2 1/2 years ago. So I have prepared myself to answer certain questions that might arise randomly when I tell a stranger or a friend-of-a-friend that I am a golf writer. It doesn't hurt that I spend more than 40 hours a week writing, watching and talking about this stuff.
I thought of this potential question recently: 'Who is the best golfer I don't know?' Which led to this challenge: 'Name a golfer I don't know now, but who I will know soon.'
My answer to the second question is Nick Flanagan, the Nationwide Tour breakthrough star who won three times on the developmental circuit this past season to earn a promotion to the PGA Tour.
He's our pick for Nationwide Tour Player of the Year.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR - Nick Flanagan
The week Flanagan made his debut on the PGA Tour, all three Sports Network golf writers agreed that he would fare well. Which he did when he tied for 18th place at the Turning Stone Resort Championship to earn a $73,029 check -- more than the second-place finisher claimed that same week on the Nationwide Tour.
One of the biggest advantages of making the jump to the PGA Tour at the end of the season is that, like Flanagan, the golfer will inevitably crash the party with so much momentum and confidence that a good finish is very likely, if not almost guaranteed. Especially against lackluster fields in the mostly-middling tournaments that made up the Fall Series.
Remember when Jason Gore shot a 59 at the Cox Classic in 2005, won the tournament for his battlefield promotion, then walked away with victory at the PGA Tour's 84 Lumber Classic?
In golf, confidence mostly begets good play. And good play can get you a long way when Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson & Company are taking time off. So it wasn't surprising that Flanagan made a good debut, and it wasn't shocking that he followed it up with a T17 the next week at the Viking Classic for $49,000 more.
What was surprising was the way the young Australian stormed the Nationwide Tour for his three victories in a span of less than four months. From his playoff win at the Henrico County Open on April 29 (when he was just 22) to his one-shot victory at the Xerox Classic on August 19 (two months after his 23rd birthday), he was clearly the most exciting player on tour.
Flanagan finished third on the Nationwide Tour's 2007 money list with $369,952 even though he played in only 17 events. Money leader Richard Johnson played in 25 and Roland Thatcher, second on the list, made 28 starts. Both of them won twice -- but Flanagan gets our automatic nod for Player of the Year for his three wins.
There's no doubt he would have held the money title at the end of the year had he played a busier schedule and a full season. There's also a good chance he would have won again.
TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR - Eight was enough.
That Brad Adamonis escaped a four-way playoff to win the WNB Golf Classic in October was hardly the story. That he needed eight holes to do it was the big news.
Adamonis made a par at the eighth extra hole to knock off Tjaart van der Walt for his first Nationwide Tour win. Adamonis and Van der Walt played six playoff holes head-to-head after Ron Whittaker was eliminated on the first sudden-death hole and Vance Veazey was knocked out on the second.
It matched the second-longest playoff in Nationwide Tour history, and Adamonis made eight consecutive pars to come out on top as darkness fell in Midland, Texas.
'I don't care -- any way I can get a win is great,' Adamonis said. 'I just kept on grinding. That's kind of the way I've always played my game. I just hung in there and finally got a break in my career.'
SHOT OF THE YEAR - 'Things just went right for me.'
Flanagan needed an improbable finish at the Xerox Classic in August to become the first player in two years to earn a battlefield promotion to the PGA Tour. He began the final round seven shots off the lead, then made an eagle and five birdies to shoot a 63 on Sunday.
The shot that got him the win? A 30-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to move one shot ahead of third-round leader James Driscoll. Flanagan said all he wanted to do was fulfill his potential. Check.
'I can't believe I won today, that's for sure. I didn't think I could quite get there from seven back,' he said. 'Things just went right for me.'
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR - Tie goes to the professional.
Nineteen-year-old Jason Day -- like Flanagan, an up-and-coming Aussie -- won the Legend Financial Group Classic and finished fifth on the money list after making 14 cuts in 19 starts during his first full season on the Nationwide Tour.
In addition to his win, Day collected one runner-up finish, a third-place finish and seven top-10s in 2007. He gets the nod over surprising 23-year-old Daniel Summerhays.
Summerhays became the first amateur ever to win a Nationwide Tour event when he shot a final-round 69 on Sunday at the Children's Hospital Invitational. He was one of 10 All-Americans invited to play that week at Ohio State's Scarlet Course, one of the toughest on the 2007 schedule.
After turning professional a week later, Summerhays made 10 cuts in 12 more starts and earned $46,000 for the season. It would have been considerably more had he been able to collect his first-place check at the Children's Hospital Invitational.
'I'm still trying to get used to the feeling,' the first-time winner said.
Richard Johnson - He won the Nationwide Tour Championship to take over the money lead on the last day of the season, closing out a strong 2007 with a 20- under 264 over his last four rounds to win for the second time in his last four starts. In between those two victories, Johnson missed two cuts in a row. But it doesn't matter. He's off to the PGA Tour next year.
Roland Thatcher - Johnson's win at the Tour Championship knocked Thatcher out of the No. 1 position on the money list, where he'd been perched for more than three months. He had partly himself to blame. Thatcher managed scores of only 73-70 in the last two rounds of the Tour Championship and took home $5,425 for a tie for 29th place. The difference between Johnson's first-place windfall ($139,000) and Thatcher's 29th-place check was more than enough to give Johnson the money title.
Kyle Thompson - Behind Flanagan, Johnson and Thatcher, Thompson was the only other player to win at least twice this season. His victories helped him finish 14th on the money list. He missed 16 cuts in 28 starts and only had four top-10 finishes -- hardly a consistent presence near the top of the leaderboard -- but if you win twice on the Nationwide Tour in one season, you make this list.
Jon Mills - Nobody had more top-10s on the Nationwide Tour this season than Mills, who collected nine of them. He won once, finished runner-up once, and posted five top-fives. He finished fourth on the money list behind Johnson, Thatcher and Flanagan.
David Ogrin - Nobody made at least 20 starts on the Nationwide Tour this season and collected less money that Ogrin. In his 20 starts, he made just five cuts and $7,320 without posting a single top-10 finish. Ogrin won in 1996, but at almost 50 years old, his professional career has probably seen its last days.
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    Own history, grow the game with Open memorabilia auction

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 1:00 pm

    Get a piece of history and help grow the game, that's what The Open is offering with its memorabilia auction.

    The official Open Memorabilia site features unique Open assets from famous venues and Champion Golfers of the Year. All net proceeds received by The R&A from this project will be invested to support the game for future generations, including encouraging women’s, junior and family golf, on the promotion and progression of the sport in emerging golf nations and on coaching and development.

    Items for auction include limited edition prints of Champion Golfers of the Year, signed championship pin flags and limited edition historical program covers. Memorable scorecard reproductions and caddie bibs are also available to bid for on the website, with all items featuring branded, serialized holograms for authenticity.

    Click here to own your piece of history and to get more information on the auction.

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    No indication when Trump Turnberry will next host an Open

    By Jay CoffinJuly 18, 2018, 12:25 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Turnberry last hosted The Open in 2009, during that magical week where Tom Watson, at age 59, nearly won his sixth claret jug. Ultimately, Stewart Cink won in a playoff.

    While Turnberry remains on The Open rota, according to the R&A, there is no clear understanding of when the club, purchased by Donald Trump in 2014 before he became President of the United States, will next host the championship. The next open date is 2022.

    “With respect to 2022, I’ve already said, ’21 we’re going to be celebrating the 150th playing of The Open at St. Andrews,” R&A chief executive Marin Slumbers said Wednesday on the annual news conference on the eve of The Open. “And in ’22, we’ll be going south of the border.”

    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    South of the border means the 2022 Open will be at one of the three venues in England. Since the 2020 Open is at Royal St. George’s, that leaves Royal Lytham & St. Annes and Royal Liverpool as the two remaining options. Since Lytham (2012, Ernie Els) last hosted The Open before Liverpool (2014, Rory McIlroy), that’s the likely choice.

    Trump was at Turnberry for two days last weekend, 150 miles southwest of Carnoustie. The R&A said it did not receive any communication from the U.S. president while he was in the country.

    Turnberry hosted the Women’s British Open in 2015. Inbee Park beat Jin-young Park by three shots.

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    Slumbers explains driver test; Rory weighs in

    By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2018, 12:18 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Players and manufacturers were informed about three weeks ago that the R&A intended to test individual drivers at this week’s Open Championship, marking the first time the rule makers have taken the current standards to players.

    Although the R&A and USGA have been COR (coefficient of restitution) tests on drivers for some time, they have been pulling the tested clubs from manufacturers, not players.

    “We take our governance role very seriously, not just on the Rules of Golf and amateur status, but also equipment standards, and we felt it was an appropriate next step to more actively seek to test players' drivers straight out of the bag,” said Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive.

    Thirty players were notified their drivers would be tested this week - including Paul Casey, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day and Henrik Stenson - from a list that roughly mirrored the breakdown of various brands based on current equipment counts.

    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    The R&A test center was set up on the Carnoustie practice range, and according to Slumbers there were no violations of the testing limits, which essentially measure the spring-like effect of the driver clubface.

    Although none of the drivers failed the testing, Rory McIlroy did say that TaylorMade was “singled out a bit more than anyone else.”

    “A manufacturer is always going to try and find ways to get around what the regulations are. It's a bit of an arms race,” said McIlroy, who plays TaylorMade equipment but said his driver was not tested. “If there is some drivers out there that have went a little bit over the limit, then obviously guys shouldn't be playing them. I think the manufacturers are smart enough to know not to try to push it too much.”

    There was no individual driver testing at last month’s U.S. Open, and it’s not expected to become the norm on the PGA Tour, but Slumbers did say the R&A tested drivers at an event earlier this year on the Japan Golf Tour.

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    Carnoustie open to any number of scenarios

    By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2018, 12:07 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Carnoustie holds a distinct position within the Open Championship’s rotation of storied venues. It’s come by its nickname, Car-Nasty, honestly as the undisputed rough-and-tumble heavyweight of all the championship links.

    Historically, Carnoustie is a beast. A punch in the mouth compared to the other stops on The Open dance card. If the likes of the Old Course and Muirfield are the fair ladies of the rotation, the Angus Coast brute would be the unfriendly bouncer.

    As personas go, Carnoustie wears its reputation well, but the 147th edition of the game’s oldest championship has taken on a new look this week. It’s not so much the softer side of Carnoustie as it is a testament to the set up philosophy of the R&A.

    Unlike its sister association in the United States, the R&A allows Mother Nature to decide what kind of test a championship will present and this Open is shaping up to be something far different than what the golf world is accustomed.

    Instead of the thick, lush rough that ringed the fairways in 1999 and 2007, the last two stops at the par-71 layout, this year has a dust bowl feel to it. The stories have already become legend: Padraig Harrington hit a 457-yard drive on the 18th hole during a practice round that bounced and bounded into Barry Burn and on Monday Tiger Woods slashed a 333-yard 3-iron down the same power alley.

    “It’s so fast. It’s nothing like ’99 – that was like a jungle. It was wet, rough was up, there was wind. In 2007, it was cold and green,” said Ernie Els, who has played two championships at Carnoustie. “But this is very, very dry. Very different.”

    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    Anywhere else these divergent conditions would simply be the nature of the game’s most hands-off major, but at Carnoustie it’s created an information vacuum and wild uncertainty.

    Within a 48-hour window, two of the championship’s easy favorites offered diametrically contrasting philosophies on how they might play Carnoustie.

    “There's eight or nine drivers we hit. Depending on the wind direction, we could hit more,” said Brooks Koepka, who won his second consecutive U.S. Open last month. “It's so burnt out, where there's a lot of opportunity where the rough's not quite as thick as I expected it to be.”

    That was in contrast to how Jordan Spieth, this week’s defending champion, was thinking he would play the course.

    “I talked to [caddie Michael Greller] a little bit about what he thinks, and he said, ‘You might hit a lot of 5-irons off the tee, you might wear out 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you're used to,’” Spieth said.

    Unlike previous championships that were played at Carnoustie, which were won by the player best prepared to take a punch, this one might come down to which strategy, controlled and calculated or bold and brash, works best.

    In theory, the bombers seem to be on to something, primarily as a result of the dry conditions that have produced uncharacteristically thin and playable rough. The alternative is weaving irons in between the countless bunkers that pepper each fairway, which on links courses are widely considered true hazards compared to what players face at other major venues.

    “I would definitely say it is a bomber’s course,” said Gary Woodland, who counts himself among the long-hitting set. “A lot of the bunkers here are 285, 290 [yards] to cover, for us that’s nothing. You can take them out of play, which normally isn’t the case because it’s windy and rainy over here.”

    That line of thinking leads to a rather narrow list of potential contenders, from betting favorite Dustin Johnson to Rory McIlroy and Koepka. But that logic ignores the inherent unpredictability of The Open, where countless contenders have been undercut by the rub of a bad draw and the always-present danger of inclement weather.

    Although this week’s forecast calls for continued dry weather, winds are currently forecast to reach 25 mph on Sunday which could upend game plans, regardless of how aggressive or conservative one intended to play the course.

    Despite conventional thinking and the realities of a modern game that is being dominated more and more by long hitters, there are compelling arguments for the other side of the bash-or-bunt debate.

    One needs to look no further than Woods’ record on similarly dusty tracks as an example of how a conservative approach can produce championship results. In 2006 at Royal Liverpool, Woods, who is playing his first Open since 2015, famously hit just one driver all week on his way to victory, and he was just as effective in 2000 at St. Andrews when the Old Course also played to a bouncy brown.

    “It could be that way,” Woods said when asked to compare ’06 at Hoylake to this week. “Either case, I'm not going to hit that many long clubs off the tees.”

    Adding to that uncertainty is Carnoustie’s track record in producing late drama on Sunday. This is, after all, the same slice of coast where Jean Van de Velde stepped to the 18th tee box with a three-stroke lead in 1999 only to slash his way to a closing triple-bogey 7 and the game’s most memorable, or regrettable, runner-up showing.

    In ’07, the heartbreak went extra frames for Sergio Garcia, who appeared poised to win his first major championship before he bogeyed the last hole and lost a playoff to Harrington.

    Even this week’s baked-out conditions can’t mitigate the importance and challenge of what many consider the most difficult Grand Slam finish; but the yellow hue has certainly created an added degree of uncertainty to an already unpredictable championship.