My Top 10
1. The PGA Merchandise Show: The golf industry converges on the Orange County Convention Center in January each year for three days of golfing madness. The show is enormous. All the main manufactures, clothiers and accessorizers attend, but by far the most entertaining aspect are the small niche companies peddling products that you never knew existed. I did a story this year on the bizarre wares available, which included: a weed-whacker disguised as a driver, an umbrella you wear on your head, and fruit-flavoured golf tees. The show is for industry only, but if you are ever in Orlando and can sneak in, it's worth the blisters youll get for walking the miles of floor space.
2. The Isleworth Invitational: Played during the PGA Merchandise Show each January, Isleworth director of golf Marty DAngelo invites a two-man team (pro and amateur) from the leading clubs around the world for a three-day visit to one of the worlds most exclusive country clubs. This year I was lucky enough to represent my home track, Walton Heath Golf Club, alongside head professional Simon Peaford. We didnt embarrass the Walton Heath tradition, but hardly set the place alight either. Isleworths par-3 second, which could be the toughest short hole in the world, was our downfall. Former NHL stand-out and Isleworth member Dan Quinn deserved every penny of the $3,000 or so he collected there on Day 2 with a birdie, his two being the only skin.
3. Annikas stepping away party: I made my first visit to New Jersey in May for the Sybase Classic and Annika Sorenstams bombshell announcement. I felt a really sense of history as I stood crammed into the small media center at Upper Montclair Country Club on that Tuesday listening to one of the greatest to ever play the game tell the world it was all coming to an end. As always, Annika was composed and thoughtful in my interview with her, but made it clear she was stepping away and not retiring. I had the chance to play with Karrie Webb in the pro-am that week as well. Seeing a major winner up close plotting her way around the golf course was a real bonus.
4. Coupe de Presidente: A trip to the Terre Blanche Golf Club in Provence, France was one of the highlights of the year. I played in their Presidents Trophy on a golf course in immaculate shape ' the greens were near perfect and views of the provencial countryside were stunning. Terre Blanche Golf Club is one of Europes true hidden gems ' the on-site hotel and spa are tremendous. In fact, we couldnt find any faults during our visit. Despite some solid golf, a wayward driver got the better of me and my chances of bringing the Coupe de Presidente back to Golf Channel. Still it was all forgotten once the ros champagne started flowing during the five-course prize-giving dinner.
5. Larrazabal ignites the French Open: Staying on a French theme, there was no more electrifying play than that of Pablo Larrazabal at the Open de France this year. I was hosting coverage all four days and the young Spaniard was a joy to watch. If swashbuckling can be used in golf then thats how to describe his play. Larrazabal went on to be crowned Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year on the European Tour, thanks mainly to his win at Golf National. He could be a valuable character for the tour in years to come if he can keep up this standard of play and high entertainment factor.
6. TPC Snoqualmie Ridge: These were some of the most stunning views Ive ever experienced from a golf course. This summer I made my first trip to Seattle to host a Mutual of Omaha Big Break Challenge, which was held at the TPC Snoqualmie Ridge. The course is the host venue for the Boeing Classic on the Champions Tour and sits in the Cascade Foothills. No matter what I write here, I wont be able to describe the beauty of the back-drop to this Nicklaus design. Make a trip and see for yourself.
7. Buckingham Palace grounds: I toured Buckingham Palace this summer. It's a spectacular landmark ' the interior is just how you would imagine one of the worlds most luxurious and ordinate residences to be; however, what many people forget is just how much land the palace occupies in the center of one of the worlds busiest cities. Buckingham Palace has around 40 acres of grounds, out-of-site to the prying public gaze. As I stood on the back terrace looking at the huge lawn my only thought was just how perfect it would be for a mid-iron practice range. The grass was crisp, you could just imagine feathering 7-iron after 7-iron down the garden. Such a waste. I wonder if anyone has ever had the pleasure. Im going to guess no.
8. Trevino the showman: Before September of this year I had never had the pleasure of meeting Lee Trevino. I had always been told how much of a showman he was and how there is never a dull moment in his company. I was lucky enough to host the ING Shootmakers Shootout at the Boulders Resort in Carefree, Ariz., this year. In attendance was Paula Creamer, Suzann Pettersen, Bubba Watson and the Merry Mex himself. Despite the searing 100-degree heat, Trevino was on for four hours, telling jokes and stories, delighting the assembled ING clients, and entertaining myself and the players. He is a true legend of the game, old-school but still as fresh as when he burst onto the scene as Rookie of the Year in 1967.
9. Wie at Q-School: Like it or loathe it, the Michelle Wie story still turns heads and gets people talking. On Day 2 of the Q-School final stage in Daytona, Fla., you could put aside the circus and watch pure talent put together one of the easiest 65s I have ever seen. It was Wie at her best. I only hope she keeps her head and finds the guts to pull off a win on the LPGA in 2009.
10. Rhoden putting genius: Rich Lerner organizes a charity tournament each December in Orlando and Ive had the fortune to play the past three years. This time around I was paired with former MLB pitcher turned touring pro Rick Rhoden, whos putting stroke could be the smoothest Ive ever seen. He had the vacuum turned to high power on the Champions Gate greens, cleaning-up putts from all over the place. The ball seems to just float off the face. Now if only I could learn to do the same.
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Goat visor propels Na to Colonial lead
Jason Dufner officially has some company in the headwear free agency wing of the PGA Tour.
Like Dufner, Kevin Na is now open to wear whatever he wants on his head at tournaments, as his visor sponsorship with Titleist ended earlier this month. He finished T-6 at the AT&T Byron Nelson in his second tournament as a free agent, and this week at the Fort Worth Invitational he's once again wearing a simple white visor with a picture of a goat.
"I bought it at The Players Championship for $22 with the 30 percent discount that they give the Tour players," Na told reporters. "It's very nice."
Perhaps a change in headwear was just what Na needed to jumpstart his game. Last week's result in Dallas was his first top-35 finish in his last six events dating back to February, and he built upon that momentum with an 8-under 62 to take a one-shot lead over Charley Hoffman after the first round at Colonial Country Club.
While many sports fans know the "GOAT" acronym to stand for "Greatest Of All Time," it's a definition that the veteran Na only learned about earlier this year.
"I do social media, but they kept calling Tiger the GOAT. I go, 'Man, why do they keep calling Tiger the GOAT? That's just mean,'" Na said. "Then I realized it meant greatest of all time. Thinking of getting it signed by Jack (Nicklaus) next week (at the Memorial)."
Golden: Dull rude, caddie 'inebriated' at Florida Mid-Am
Jeff Golden has offered more detail on what transpired at the Florida Mid-Amateur Championship, writing in a long statement on Twitter that Marc Dull’s caddie was “inebriated” before he allegedly sucker-punched Golden in the face.
In a story first reported by GolfChannel.com, Charlotte County Police responded to a call May 13 after Golden claimed that he’d been assaulted by his opponent’s caddie in the parking lot of Coral Creek Club, where he was competing in the Mid-Am finals. Golden told police that the caddie, Brandon Hibbs, struck him because of a rules dispute earlier in the round. Hibbs denied any involvement, and police found no evidence of an attack.
Golden posted a 910-word statement on the alleged incident on his Twitter account on Thursday night. He said that he wanted to provide more detail because “others have posed some valid questions about the series of events that led to me withdrawing” from what was an all-square match with two holes to play.
Golden wrote that both Dull and Hibbs were rude and disruptive during the match, and that “alcohol appeared to be influencing [Hibbs’] behavior.”
Dull, who caddies at Streamsong Resort in Florida, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“I’ve never seen an opposing caddie engage in so much conversation with a competitor,” Golden wrote. “On the eighth hole I had become extremely frustrated when my opponent and caddie were talking and moving. I expressed my disappointment with their etiquette to the rules official in our group.”
On the ninth hole, Golden informed the official that he believed Hibbs had broken the rules by offering advice on his putt. Golden won the hole by concession to move 2 up at the turn, and Hibbs removed himself from the match and returned to the clubhouse.
Golden wrote that after the penalty, the match “turned even nastier, with more negative comments from my opponent on the 10th tee.” He added that he conceded Dull’s 15-foot birdie putt on No. 10 because he was “sick of the abuse from my opponent, and I wanted the match to resemble what you would expect of a FSGA final.”
Though there were no witnesses to the alleged attack and police found little evidence, save for “some redness on the inside of [Golden’s] lip,” Golden wrote that the inside of his mouth was bleeding, his face was “throbbing” and his hand was also injured from bracing his fall. X-rays and CT scans over the past week all came back negative, he said.
Golden reiterated that he was disappointed with the FSGA’s decision to accept his concession in the final match. He had recommended that they suspend the event and resume it “at a later time.”
“The FSGA has one job, and that’s to follow the Rules of Golf,” Golden wrote. “Unfortunately, there’s no rule for an inebriated ‘ex-caddie’ punching a player in a match-play rain delay with no witnesses.”
Asked last week about his organization’s alcohol policy during events, FSGA executive director Jim Demick said that excessive consumption is “highly discouraged, but it falls more broadly under the rules of etiquette and player behavior.”
Dull, 32, was back in the news Wednesday, after he and partner Chip Brooke reached the finals of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. They lost to high schoolers Cole Hammer and Garrett Barber, 4 and 3.
D. Kang, M. Jutanugarn in four-way tie at Volvik
ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Amy Olson crossed paths with her coach, Ron Stockton, on her walk to the 18th tee at the Volvik Championship.
''Make it another even $20,'' Stockton said.
The coach was already prepared to give his client $35 for making seven birdies - $5 each - and wanted to take her mind off the bogey she just had at 17.
Olson closed the first round with a 6-under 66, putting her into the lead she ended up sharing later Thursday with Moriya Jutanugarn , Caroline Masson and Danielle Kang.
Do small, cash incentives really help a professional golfer?
''Absolutely,'' said Olson, who graduated from North Dakota State with an accounting degree. ''He'll tell you I'm a little bit of a hustler there.''
Olson will have to keep making birdies - and petty cash - to hold her position at Travis Pointe Country Club.
Jessica Korda, Minjee Lee, Nasa Hataoka, Lindy Duncan, Morgan Pressel, Megan Khang and Jodi Ewart Shadoff were a stroke back at 67 and six others were to shots back.
Ariya Jutanugarn, the Kingsmill Championship winner last week in Virginia, opened with a 69.
The Jutanugarn sisters are Korda are among six players with a chance to become the LPGA Tour's first two-time winner this year.
Moriya Jutanugarn won for the first time in six years on the circuit last month in Los Angeles.
''What I feel is more relaxed now,'' she said. ''And, of course I like looking forward for my next one.''
Olson, meanwhile, is hoping to extend the LPGA Tour's streak of having a new winner in each of its 12 tournaments this year.
She knows how to win. It just has been a while since it has happened.
Olson set an NCAA record with 20 wins, breaking the mark set by LPGA Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, but has struggled to have much success since turning pro in 2013.
She has not finished best finish was a tie for seventh and that was four years ago. She was in contention to win the ANA Inspiration two months ago, but an even-par 72 dropped her into a tie for ninth place.
If the North Dakota player wins the Volvik Championship, she will earn a spot in the U.S. Open at Shoal Creek in Alabama. If Olson finishes second or lower in the 144-player field, she will enjoy an off week with her husband, Grant, who coaches linebackers at Indiana State.
''I'll make the best of it either way,'' she said.
Olson was at her best in the opening round on the front nine, closing it with four birdies in a six-hole stretch. Her ball rolled just enough to slowly drop in the cup for birdie on the par-3, 184-yard 13th. She had three birdies in five-hole stretch on the back, nearly making her second hole-in-one of the year at the par-3, 180-yard 16th. A short putt gave her a two-stroke lead, but it was cut to one after pulling and misreading a 6-foot putt to bogey the 17th.
Even if she doesn't hold on to win the tournament, Olson is on pace to have her best year on the LPGA Tour. She is No. 39 on the money list after finishing 97th, 119th, 81st and 80th in her first four years.
''Two years ago, I started working with Ron Stockton and whenever you make a change, it doesn't show up right away,'' Olson said. ''That first year was tough, but we've turned a corner and I've just found a lot of consistency in the last year. And, it's a lot of fun to go out there and play golf a little more stress free.''
Stockton helped her stay relaxed, walking along the ropes during her morning round.
''Maybe some people feel a little more pressure when their coach is there,'' she said. ''I'm like, 'Great. If he sees the mistake, he knows what can go wrong and we can go fix it.' So, I like having his eyes on me.''
Club pro part of 6-way tie atop Sr. PGA
BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Nevada club professional Stuart Smith shot a 5-under 66 on Thursday for a share of the first-round lead in the Senior PGA Championship.
Smith closed his morning round with a double bogey on the par-4 18th, and Scott McCarron, Tim Petrovic, Wes Short Jr., Barry Lane and Peter Lonard matched the 66 in the afternoon.
One of 41 club pros in the field at Harbor Shores for the senior major, Smith is the director of golf at Somersett Country Club in Reno.
McCarron won the Senior Players Championship last year for his first senior major.
Defending champion Bernhard Langer is skipping the event to attend son Jason's high school graduation, and Steve Stricker is playing the PGA Tour event in Texas.