'Bubble boys' take different approaches to pressure

By Will GrayOctober 3, 2015, 11:14 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – There remains one last trophy to hand out this season.

Someone is leaving TPC Sawgrass with the hardware after winning the Web.com Tour Championship, that much we know. There will be a ceremony with plenty of pictures and smiles, not to mention the six-figure check.

But the true tournament, the battle that will decide career paths for the next 12 months, will be fought below the surface.

The infamous bubble, the slippery surface where cards are clinched and dreams are dashed, will be where the real tension is Sunday on Dye’s Valley Course. A select few will catapault onto the PGA Tour in two weeks’ time. A vast majority, however, will be relegated to another season on the developmental circuit, left only with a winter to rue what might have been.

A year ago, the bubble was the furthest thing from Derek Fathauer’s mind. He was cruising to victory at the season finale, a win that clinched the top spot on the Web.com Tour Finals money list and brought with it fully exempt status.

After an unsuccessful PGA Tour campaign, Fathauer is back at TPC Sawgrass and in a far different position. The defending champion entered this week at No. 33 in earnings, with cards going only to the top 25, but after a third-round 67 he is projected up to No. 22.

Fathauer knew that nerves would be in play this week with his card at stake, so he brought in his twin brother, Daryl, to caddie and add a bit of levity. The last-minute switch has paid dividends thus far.

Web.com Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I needed to lighten it up, kind of free it up a little bit,” said Fathauer, who is tied for 17th at 5 under. “It was getting too intense for me.”

The 29-year-old knows that the pressure he felt entering the week will only be ratcheted up during the final round, especially in his precarious position. His Saturday dinner plans will include some tacos and a little tequila to “kind of kill my brain a little bit.”

“I would like to say I handle the pressure pretty well,” Fathauer said. “If I keep it simple, I should be fine. If I start kind of thinking ahead of myself is when I get into trouble.”

Unlike Fathauer, Kevin Tway has plenty of bubble experience. After a strong start to his Web.com season, Tway stalled out this summer and entered the final regular-season event at No. 26 on the season-long money list. He finished T-45, but failed to land a PGA Tour card.

Tway earned less than $7,000 during the first three Finals events, but now has vaulted from No. 62 to provisionally No. 23 on the Finals money list after a third-round 67, earning himself another chance at redemption.

“[The pressure] is probably worse off the course than on the course,” Tway said. “You play a lot of what-if games and sit in your hotel room coming up with scenarios, which doesn’t help anything.”

Tway’s final-round game plan? Keep the ball in the fairway, and keep his mouth full.

“Tomorrow just the same as usual, maybe try to eat a little bit more,” he said. “I tend to get sassy if I don’t eat a lot.”

Billy Hurley III started this week at No. 26 in earnings, right on the edge of a return to the PGA Tour. After rounds of 71-69-69, Hurley is tied for 49th and has fallen back a spot to No. 27 in the projections.

After an emotional summer that included the suicide of his father, Hurley has one last chance to turn things around and earn a trip back to the big leagues.

“I’m sure I’ll feel pressure tomorrow. I’d be lying if I said I was going to be completely loose,” Hurley said. “But at the end of the day, I do feel pretty peaceful about whatever happens, and I do feel good about my game.”

Luke Guthrie entered the last event of Finals without a postseason cent to his name, and after an opening 71 he appeared in danger of missing the cut. But he battled back to advance to the weekend, then added an old ally for the third round.

Guthrie swapped putters, opting for the one he used in 2012 when he won twice on the Web.com Tour. The change paid off immediately, as he carded a 5-under 65, the day’s low round. At 7 under, he is tied for seventh and has moved up to No. 32 in the latest projections.

Guthrie birdied his final hole at the Wyndham Championship to crack the top 150 of the FedEx Cup standings, securing conditional status in the process, and he plans to take an aggressive approach in the final round.

“For way too long, I’ve been playing golf not to make a mistake, and almost waiting for it,” Guthrie said. “I just need to go play great, go try to make birdies and don’t protect anything. Attack the course, don’t let the course attack you.”

Even PGA Tour winners aren’t immune to the pressures of Finals. Robert Garrigus appeared ready to clinch his card last week in Columbus, building a three-shot lead with eight holes to go. But the veteran imploded from there, shooting a back-nine 41 and entered this week at No. 33 in earnings.

Garrigus said the marathon effect of the four-week series is different than the sprint of Q-School, but he remains confident that his experience will pay off in the season’s final round.

“I know I can play golf with the best players in the world. I’ve done it before, I’ve been top 30 in the world before,” Garrigus said. “So I know it’s there. You just have to focus and keep everything on the down-low pretty much until you’re done.”

The mantra out here is that “every shot matters,” and nowhere is that more true than at the season finale. Status will be earned, lives will change and roads will diverge – sometimes based on the outcome of a single shot.

This is as nerve-wracking as it gets, and it will have nothing to do with who walks off with the trophy.

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Goat visor propels Na to Colonial lead

By Will GrayMay 25, 2018, 1:29 am

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."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

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)."

Marc Dull (Florida State Golf Association)

Golden: Dull rude, caddie 'inebriated' at Florida Mid-Am

By Ryan LavnerMay 25, 2018, 1:03 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.

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D. Kang, M. Jutanugarn in four-way tie at Volvik

By Associated PressMay 25, 2018, 12:50 am

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.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

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.''

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Club pro part of 6-way tie atop Sr. PGA

By Associated PressMay 25, 2018, 12:04 am

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Nevada club professional Stuart Smith admitted sleeping on the lead of the biggest tournament available to him might be a problem.

''I can't say, 'Oh, it won't bother me.' But to me, it's fun,'' Smith said after shooting 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.

''To see my name on the board out there, it's not like I'm blind to the leaderboard, that was cool,'' said Smith, who is playing in his fourth Senior PGA and third at Harbor Shores - where he has made the 36-hole cut the previous two times.

''All my members are taking pictures and I know at home my members are pulling up that screen and like I tell them, going to the middle and looking down. So it probably took them a while to find my name today."

Petrovic, who was among the leaders in the Regions Tradition last week before a poor final round, said it was a little bit of a surprise when he heard Smith was at 7 under through 17 holes.

''There was a little bit of buzz, we were talking about it,'' he said. ''I heard somebody say 7 under and I said 'who is it? And we looked up, but we didn't know who the player was. In a tournament like this, you know how it is, there's always one guy, one smart-alec that shoots 7, 8 under in the first round.''

Smith, who birdied five consecutive holes starting at the seventh, played college golf at UCLA and knocked around the mini tours and South Africa for several years without ever gaining his tour card. He was college teammates with some of the players in the field, including Corey Pavin, Duffy Waldorf and Steve Pate, but said he no longer seeks the tour life.

Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

''It's just not me anymore,'' he said. ''So that's why maybe I do have an advantage this week because it's just fun to me. It's like my wife said - just enjoy the ride.''

Petrovic had seven birdies in his round while McCarron and Lonard played bogey-free rounds. Short holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par 4 12th and made eagle on the par 5 ninth hole, his last hole of the day.

McCarron is the only one of the six leaders with a major on his resume. He won the Senior Players Championship last year, and played The Players Championship recently.

''It was a lot of fun being on that stage, of course being at The Players with the best players in the world playing one of the best golf courses in the world,'' he said. ''I think the preparation there and just being on that stage helped me going into last week in Alabama, and certainly this week.''

The top two money winners on the PGA Tour Champions are not in Benton Harbor. 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.

Paul Goydos, a five-time senior winner including the 2016 Charles Schwab Cup Championship, and Chris Williams of South Africa shot 67. Joe Durant, David Toms, Kenny Perry, Jerry Pate and Fred Funk were among 15 players at 68.

Colin Montgomerie, who won the first of consecutive Senior PGA titles here in 2014, shot 69, and Miguel Angel Jimenez, coming off a win last week in the first major of the year at the Regions Tradition, opened with a 70.