A Travelin Fool

By Jon LevyApril 27, 2011, 3:33 pm

With his head half buried into an enormous Philly cheese steak, gingerly lounging in the back of a tiny, hole-in-the-wall restaurant 45 minutes outside of San Francisco, it hits Benoit Beisser like a two-ton truck.

It doesn’t get much better than traveling and playing golf.

Sure, the pragmatic Arizonan has seen the country from his time in the junior ranks – plenty away from the game to boot. And he’s said how much he loves his life at home in Scottsdale. But his professional life has centered around a non-traveling tour there since he’s turned pro, so he’s not yet fully tasted the travel-play-travel lifestyle common to the top levels of professional golf.

That finally changed a couple weeks ago at the Nationwide Tour’s Fresh Express qualifier, which, oddly, for a player of his experience, was his first attempt at a Nationwide ‘Monday.'

“I think it excited me more to go get it done and just see what it’s like to do the travel and play thing in the middle of my schedule, than anything else,” explains Beisser of removing the proverbial monkey off his back. “I just haven’t done that as a pro, so I wanted that experience and I also wanted to see where I’m at with what’s out there, and whether that’s something I may want to do a lot more in the future.”

Beisser had just arrived to town – 4 p.m. on the Saturday before his Monday start – when that internal light flickered inside the restaurant so aptly named, The Philadelphia Steak Shop.

Amid all the success Beisser’s seen on the Gateway Pro Tour, he realized his love for traveling had been shirked off to the side; saved away for another place, another time.

But, with mom/caddie, Deanna, by his side – as always – deep in the hills of the Golden State, it donned on Wah he has the ability to encompass the best of both worlds. Right here. Right now.

“I’ve always loved to travel. I just love exploring,” Beisser says. “That’s half the fun. I love exploring little towns; finding cool, little places to eat and playing new courses. Anytime you can play a new course, as a player, that’s something cool. It’s a new experience and you’re able to test yourself with something you've never done before.”

Beisser finishes his epiphany-laden sandwich – for such a lean, yoga-enhanced health nut, the guy can put food down with the best of ‘em – before he heads out to the site of the qualifier for a little chipping and putting, and to get an overall feel for the place.

Off to bed early that night, he hits it first thing Sunday morning – a 6:30 a.m. practice round – with a few fellow Gateway buddies also set to tee it in the qualifier.

Two of his three partners had played the course before, making for a great measuring stick of how it might play and what score could light up the magic number.

“I’ve said it before about a lot of the guys I play with (on the Gateway Pro Tour) . . . we’re all buddies and we all support each other with our careers,” says Beisser. “It was great to play the practice round with those guys because I was able to listen to what they had to say (about the course) and we were all able to bounce ideas off of each other about how to go about it.”

Most professional golfers approach practice rounds in a scientific way. They map out a strategy and plan based on possible pin placements, weather/course conditions and different scenarios they might face while in the tournament – always living with the philosophy that the more prepared, the better.

Beisser squeezes every last drop out of this one, priming himself for a perfect Monday run to the finish line.

“It was great. Those guys walked me through (the round) perfectly and we all decided that probably four or five under would be the number,” he surmises. “I knew I could get to three of the four par 5s in two, so my plan was to stay aggressive on those, do what I could on the par 4s and try to get by on the par 3s.

“Most of the time in tournament golf it’s the par 3s that can be killers, so you take your medicine on those and do what you can on the other holes.”

As with everything else in his life, Beisser’s philosophical about his go-time plan.

“I guess you could call it trying to be ‘smart aggressive,’” he says. “You don’t want to be overly aggressive because you can shoot yourself out of it pretty quickly, but you still have to look at almost every hole like a birdie hole, because there’s no second or third round to make up ground if you’re not taking advantage on every hole.”

At 29, Beisser's a seasoned tournament veteran who has played plenty of one-day qualifiers. PGA Tour; U.S. Open; state Opens; other, smaller mini-tour events – just never a Nationwide Tour Qualifer. So, his plan's filled with qualified knowledge.

It's also filled with a twist of his personality.

“You always know what you want to do,” Beisser states, “and when you get out there, if it goes your way, it goes. But sometimes you may need to adjust and be more aggressive if it's not, and at that point you push it as much as you can and just go for it.'

The bell rings Monday and Beisser posts 2 under on his first nine – carrying out the plan to a T. A lipped out birdie effort on the ninth hole would’ve even put him ahead of the game.

But, then playing Nos. 10-15 in even-par and – exactly to his point – Beisser sees he’s running out of holes.

“I just couldn't get anything to drop,” he explains. “I knew I needed to press it on the way in.'

A par at the 16th results in going for a tough pin on the par-3 17th, which results in a missed green and bogey. He pars the last, signs for a 1-under 71 and, just as he predicted, 4 under gets into the event.

Nevertheless, Beisser takes away what he needs and, as always, remains optimistic about his game.

'This just showed me that I'm super close to where I need to be and motivated me to come back and work harder,' he says. 'Guess you could say it kind of lit my fire to go do these on more of a regular basis.'

Beisser will finish out the Gateway Pro Tour Arizona Series in its entirety – six more events – before trying his hand at more Nationwide Tour qualifiers in July, preceding his summer trip back to the Golden State to play the tour's California Series.

He hopes to improve on his maiden effort, and also hopes to improve on the overall flow of traveling and being ready – and energized – to tee it in the middle of a hectic schedule.

Beisser missed his second cut of the year on the GPT after returning from his trip, starting the event just a day after he got back.

'I had played the course plenty of times, so I was prepared for it that way,' he explains, 'and I held my own that first day (with a 4-under 67), but I think (the travel) caught up with me that second day. I had a hard time staying focused.'

Beisser posted a 3-over 74 – his second highest round of the year – in Round 2 to miss the cut by four. 

He rebounded last week in his next event, however, finishing tied for fifth with a closing round of 5-under 67.

His game's been there all year.

'It's going alright, right now,' Beisser says. 'I really want to win one before the (GPT Arizona Series) is done and then go do some more of those qualifiers this summer and see how far I can get.'

There's an old Mongolian proverb that says, 'A traveling fool is better than a sitting wise person.'

Beisser understands this now. He understands he can get pretty far with those qualifiers, too.

And he's no fool to think it doesn't get much better than traveling and playing golf.

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After Further Review: Spieth needs a break

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 25, 2018, 1:11 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Jordan Spieth's much-needed break ...

Jordan Spieth is heading for a break, and that’s probably a good thing.

Spieth just wrapped a run of six events in seven weeks that featured largely underwhelming results. A third-place finish at the Masters that stemmed from a nearly-historic final round deflects attention away from the fact that Spieth has yet to enter a final round this year less than six shots off the lead.

A return to his home state didn’t work, nor did a fight against par at Shinnecock or a title defense outside Hartford where everything went so well a year ago. His putting woes appear to have bottomed out, as Spieth finished 21st in putting at Travelers, but now the alignment issue that plagued his putting appears to have bled into other parts of his game.

So heading into another title defense next month at Carnoustie, Spieth plans to take some time off and re-evaluate. Given how fast things turned around last summer, that might prove to be just what he needs. - Will Gray

On the difference between this week and last week ...

There wasn’t a single outraged tweet, not a lone voice of descent on social media following Bubba Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, a 17-under par masterpiece that included a closing loop of 30.

Nobody declared that golf was broken, no one proclaimed the royal and ancient game a victim of technology and the age of uber athletes. The only response was appreciation for what Watson, a bomber in the truest form, was able to accomplish.

At 6,840 yards, TPC River Highlands was built for fun, not speed. Without wild weather or ill-advised hole locations and greens baked to extinction, this is what the best players in the game do, and yet no one seemed outraged. Weird. - Rex Hoggard

On the emergence of another LPGA phenom ...

Add another young star to the favorites list heading to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes outside Chicago next week.

Nasa Hataoka, the 19-year-old Japanese standout who needed her rookie season last year to acclimate to the LPGA, broke through for her first LPGA title Sunday at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

This wasn’t a surprise to LPGA followers. Hataoka won the Japan Women’s Open when she was 17, the first amateur to win a major on the Japan LPGA Tour, and she has been trending up this year.

Her tie for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open three weeks ago was her fourth consecutive top-10 finish. She won going away in Arkansas, beating a deep field that included the top nine in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She outplayed world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn and No. 3 Lexi Thompson on Sunday. - Randall Mell

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Bubba waiting for Furyk's text about Ryder Cup

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:39 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – After winning his third PGA Tour title in the span of five months, Bubba Watson is now waiting by his phone.

Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, his third at TPC River Highlands since 2010, accompanies recent victories at both the Genesis Open and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play from earlier this year. It also moved the southpaw from No. 7 to No. 5 in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically.

After serving as an assistant captain at Hazeltine despite ranking No. 7 in the world at the time, Watson made it clear that he hopes to have removed any doubt about returning to the role of player when the biennial matches head to Paris this fall.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“It still says in my phone that (U.S. captain) Jim (Furyk) hasn’t texted me yet. So I’d really like for him to say I’m going to pick you no matter what,” Watson said. “The motivation is I’ve never won a Ryder Cup, so making the Ryder Cup team and trying to win a Ryder Cup as a player would be another tournament victory to me. It would be a major championship to me just because I’ve never done it, been a part of it.”

Watson turns 40 in November, and while he reiterated that his playing career might not extend too far into the future as he looks to spend more time at home with son Caleb and daughter Dakota, he’s also hoping to make an Olympic return in Tokyo in 2020 after representing the U.S. in Rio two years ago.

“Talking about the Olympics coming up, that’s motivating me,” he said. “It was the best experience of my life to watch all the other events, and then the golf tournament got in the way. I’d love to do it again. I’d love to watch all the events and then have to play golf as well.”

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Casey comes up short (again) to Bubba at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:07 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – Staked to a four-shot lead entering the final round of the Travelers Championship, Paul Casey watched his opening tee shot bounce off a wooden wall and back into the middle of the fairway, then rolled in a 21-foot birdie putt off the fringe.

At the time, it appeared to be a not-so-subtle indicator that Casey was finally going to get his hands on a trophy that has barely eluded him in the past. Instead it turned out to be the lone highlight of a miserable round that left the Englishman behind only Bubba Watson at TPC River Highlands for the second time in the last four years.

Casey shot the low round of the tournament with a third-round 62 that distanced him from the field, but that opening birdie turned out to be his only one of the day as he stalled out and ultimately finished three shots behind Watson, to whom he lost here in a playoff in 2015.

Casey’s score was 10 shots worse than Saturday, as a 2-over 72 beat only five people among the 73 others to play the final round.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I mean, I fought as hard as I could, which I’m proud of,” Casey said. “Not many times you put me on a golf course and I only make one birdie. I don’t know. I’d be frustrated with that in last week’s event, but it is what it is.”

Casey led by as many as five after his opening birdie, but he needed to make a 28-foot par save on No. 10 simply to maintain a one-shot edge over a hard-charging Watson. The two men were tied as Casey headed to the 16th tee, but his bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 combined with a closing birdie from Watson meant the tournament was out of reach before Casey even reached the final tee.

Casey explained that a “bad night of sleep” led to some neck pain that affected his warm-up session but didn’t impact the actual round.

“Just frustrating I didn’t have more,” he said. “Didn’t have a comfortable swing to go out there and do something with.”

Casey won earlier this year at the Valspar Championship to end a PGA Tour victory drought that dated back to 2009, but after being denied a second victory in short succession when he appeared to have one hand on the trophy, he hopes to turn frustration into further success before turning the page to 2019.

“I’m probably even more fired up than I was post-Tampa to get another victory. This is only going to be more fuel,” Casey said. “I’ve got 12 events or something the rest of the year. So ask me again in November, and if I don’t have another victory, then I will be disappointed. This is merely kind of posturing for what could be a very good climax.”

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Bubba thrives in his comfort zone

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:02 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – The 1:20 p.m. pairing Sunday at TPC River Highlands spanned the spectrum on the PGA Tour. In one corner stood science. Bryson DeChambeau, whose quantitative approach to golf seemingly knows no bounds, was looking to add another victory after winning a playoff earlier this month at Jack’s Place.

On the other side was art.

Bubba Watson doesn’t float golf balls in Epsom salt to identify minor imperfections. He doesn’t break out a compass to find the slightest errors in the Tour-supplied pin sheet. Even when he texts caddie Ted Scott, he prefers to use voice text rather than rely on his admittedly sub-optimal spelling.

But strolling along one of his favorite landscapes, Bubba the artist came out on top. Again.

Watson is in the midst of a resurgent season, one that already included a third victory at one of his favorite haunts in Riviera Country Club. It featured a decisive run through the bracket at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and a return to the leaderboards at Augusta National where he fell short of a third green jacket.

It only makes sense, then, that he’d build upon that burgeoning momentum at the Travelers Championship, where he earned his first PGA Tour victory in 2010 and Sunday joined Billy Casper as the tournament’s only three-time champ with a final-round 63 to catch and pass Paul Casey.

This is a place where Watson can bomb drives by feel and carve short irons at will, and one where he officially put his stamp on the best season to date on Tour.

“His hand-eye coordination is by far one of the best I’ve ever seen,” DeChambeau said. “You’ve got me who was just struggling off the tee, and he’s just swiping shots down there. It was cool to watch. I wish I could do that. I probably could do that, but I just don’t feel like I’d be as consistent as he is.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Consistency wasn’t an apt descriptor a year ago, as Watson went from two-time major champ to completely off the radar. His world ranking, which began last year at No. 10 and is now back up to No. 13 after he became the first three-time winner this season, fell as far as 117th before his win at Riviera in February.

Watson attributes much of the turnaround to a change in health. Never really one to tip the scales, he lost 25 pounds in a three-month span last year while battling an undisclosed health concern. After putting some of the weight back on, he’s now able to focus more of his time and energy on fine-tuning one of the Tour’s most distinctive approaches.

“Anytime any of these guys kind of get comfortable with just being them, and golf is secondary in a sense, it helps them reach their potential,” said Scott. “I think the hype and the pressure can sometimes put things out of sort. And right now he’s just very comfortable with who he is as a person, and I think in his life. It helps him relax on the golf course.”

What Watson doesn’t prefer to mention is the equipment change he made that serves as a not-so-subtle line of demarcation. The southpaw turned heads at the end of 2016 when he agreed to play a colored Volvik ball on Tour during the 2017 season, only to watch his results fall off a cliff. A return to the Titleist ball he previously used has coincided with some of the best results of his 12-year career.

“I don’t think it has had any (role) in my success,” Watson said. “My clubs weren’t going the distance that I used to. I couldn’t shape it the way I want to. Luckily for me, I know the problem, and the problem was with health and not all these other things.”

But regardless of the true source of his turnaround, Watson is back to doing what he does best. That includes carving up the handful of venues that most fit his unique eye, be they lined by thick kikuyu rough outside Los Angeles or dotted with menacing water hazards outside Hartford.

The artistic touch was on full display with his final swing of the day. Facing exactly 71 yards to a pin tucked barely over the edge of a yawning bunker on No. 18, Watson laid the face open on his 63-degree wedge and hit a cut shot that spun and checked to inside 3 feet.

“Teddy put his arm around me, like, ‘That was an amazing shot,’” Watson said. “He’s seen a lot of shots, he’s been out here for many years. So for him to realize it, and other players to text me and realize it, it was special.”

While it seemed at the time like a shot that gave Watson a glimmer of hope in his pursuit of Casey, it ultimately turned out to be the final highlight of a three-shot victory. It’s the type of shot that few, if any, of his peers can visualize, let alone execute with such exact precision with the tournament hanging in the balance.

It’s the type of shot that separates Watson – the quirky left-hander with the pink driver who openly talks about his struggles with on-course focus and abhors few things more than trying to hit a straight shot – from even the best in the game when things are firing on all cylinders.

“The skills have always been there, as you know. But he’s just more relaxed now,” Scott said. “And when these guys, obviously when they enjoy it, they can play at their best and not get too stressed.”