'Dream come true' for Stroud at PGA Championship

By Will GrayAugust 13, 2017, 12:37 am

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Chris Stroud still remembers what it felt like to contemplate walking away from the game he loves.

It was less than a year ago when Stroud headed into the season-ending Wyndham Championship with his card on the line. A tie for 68th didn’t do the trick, relegating him to conditional status. After an unsuccessful run through Web.com Tour Finals he started asking himself some pointed questions.

“I was really let down. I was depressed, I was upset. I didn’t know what to do,” Stroud said. “Maybe I wasn’t good anymore. I really said that to myself.”

It’s a sobering tale with which many Tour pros can empathize. Guys can spend years seemingly on the verge of a breakthrough, only to suddenly tumble miles into the abyss.

Given where he stood last August, it’s all the more remarkable to see Stroud one shot off the lead and in the final pairing heading into the conclusion of the PGA Championship. It’s even surprising just to see him here at all.

After grinding through 289 career starts without a win, Stroud finally tasted victory last week in a playoff at the opposite-field Barracuda Championship. The 35-year-old had expected to spend this week at home in Texas with his wife and two daughters, but instead he snagged the final spot in the field by virtue of his breakthrough win and raced across the country.


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He hasn’t slowed down since, and now sits on the cusp of a career-defining achievement, tied for second with Hideki Matsuyama and one behind Kevin Kisner.

“I’ve dreamed about this for years, so it’s in there,” Stroud said. “I know all these guys are going to be super nervous. I’m sure I will be, too. But last week just gave me an unbelievable sense of calm. I’ve never felt so relaxed on the golf course, and I think it’s a lot of the reason why I’m playing so well.”

Stroud was a two-time All-American at Lamar University, and after turning pro in 2004 he harbored ambition of beating the best the game had to offer, even someday becoming world No. 1. What resulted was a solid but unspectacular career.

At his home gym in Texas, Stroud assembled a “vision board” that included pictures of players hoisting a variety of trophies, with their faces cut out and replaced by his own. That belief never wavered as he logged season after season, usually good enough to keep his card but never good enough to win – until Sunday.

“I’ve never appreciated things more than I do now,” Stroud said. “All I know is I’m very grateful for where I’m at.”

While the win in Reno was a monumental achievement, the opportunity that lies ahead of him dwarfs it completely. Stroud has never appeared out of his element at Quail Hollow despite making just his ninth major start and first in three years. He carded the only bogey-free round Thursday, and he grabbed a brief share of the lead Saturday before closing his even-par 71 with back-to-back bogeys.

“I didn’t do anything great today. I just hung in there,” Stroud said. “Made some great pars early. Wish I would have snuck away with a couple pars the last two holes, but I’ve got a chance tomorrow.”

At this time last week, Stroud was entering the final round at Montreux with the goal of simply staying inside the top 150 in the season-long points race to maintain his conditional status. The win granted him the first two-year exemption of his career, and now he sits 18 holes away from potentially adding his own picture to the vision board – no cutouts required.

“It’s a dream come true to be here, to be up here, talking to you guys at the PGA Championship, one of the greatest tournaments in the world,” Stroud said. “You know, I’ve been waiting on this a long time. I didn’t think it was going to take me this long, but I’m glad I’m here.”

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U.S. Amateur final comes down to Devon vs. Goliath

By Ryan LavnerAugust 18, 2018, 9:45 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – On his family’s happiest day in years, Nick Bling stood off to the side of the 18th green, trying to collect himself.

His oldest son, Devon, had just advanced to the U.S. Amateur final, and he surely knew that, at some point, the question was coming. Of the many members in the family’s boisterous cheering section that came here to Pebble Beach – a clan that includes Nick’s brothers and sisters, his in-laws and the teaching professionals of his hometown club – one person was conspicuously absent.

So for 22 seconds, Nick couldn’t utter a word.

“She’s watching,” he said, finally, wiping under his sunglasses.

His wife, Sara, died in February 2013 after suffering a sudden blood clot that went to her brain. She was only 45, the mother of two young boys.

The news took everyone by surprise – that day Nick and Devon were together at a junior tournament in southwest California, while Sara was at home with her youngest son, Dillon.

“That was bad. Unexpected,” said Dillon, now 16. “I don’t even want to think about that. That was a rough year.”

Sara was a fixture at all of the boys’ junior tournaments. She organized their schedules, packed their lunches and frequently shuttled them to and from China Lake, the only course in their small hometown of Ridgecrest, about two hours north of Los Angeles, where they’ve lived since 1990.

An engineer at the Naval Air Weapons Station, Nick picked up the game at age 27, and though he had no formal training (at his best he was a high-80s shooter), he was the boys’ primary swing coach until high school, when Devon was passed off to PGA instructor Chris Mason.

“Devon has world-class raw talent, and there’s a lot of things you can’t teach, and he’s got a lot of that,” said UCLA assistant coach Andrew Larkin. “But his dad looked at the game very analytically. He was able to break down the golf swing from a technical standpoint, and I think that has helped him. His dad is a brilliant man.”

Devon watched his dad hit balls in the garage and, at 18 months, began taking full swings with a plastic club, whacking shots against the back of the couch. Once his son was bigger, Nick put down a mat and built a hole in the dirt on the family’s property.


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Once it was time for the next step, there was only one option in town. China Lake is more than 300 miles from Pebble Beach, but in many ways they’re worlds apart. The course is dead in the winter, picked over by the birds in the spring and baked out in the summer, with 110-degree temperatures and winds that occasionally gust to 60 mph. Devon still blossomed into a well-known prospect.

“Growing up in Ridgecrest,” Devon said, “some could say that it’s a disadvantage. But I could use the course and take a shag bag and go out and practice. So I used it to my advantage, and if it weren’t for that golf course, I wouldn’t be here today.” 

Nor would he be here without the support of his family.

Asked how they survived the tragedy of losing Sara so suddenly, Nick Bling said: “Brothers. Kids. Friends. Half of Ridgecrest. The town. They all came together. What do they say, that it takes a village to raise a boy? It did. Two boys.”

Devon carried a 4.2 GPA in high school and played well enough to draw interest from UCLA. He played on the team last season as a freshman, winning a tournament and posting three other top-10s. The consistency in his game has been lacking, but the time spent around the Bruins’ coaches is starting to pay off, as he’s developed into more than just a swashbuckling power hitter. He has refined his aggression, though he’s offered more than a few reminders of his firepower. Last fall, the team held a Red Tee Challenge at TPC Valencia, where they all teed off from the red markers. Bling shot 28 on the back nine.

In addition to his awesome game, Larkin said that Bling was one of the team’s most mature players – even after arriving on campus as a 17-year-old freshman.

“I think his mannerisms and his charisma really come from his mom,” Larkin said. “It was a super hard time in his life, but I think it helped him grow and mature at an early age. He’s such a good big brother, and he took a lot of that responsibility.

“There’s a blessing in everything that happens, and I think it made him grow a little young. I think he’s the man he is today because of her.”

In his player profile, Bling wrote that his mom always wanted him to play in USGA championships, because of their prestige, and she would have loved to watch him maneuver his way through his first U.S. Amateur appearance.

After earning the No. 41 seed in stroke play, Bling knocked off two of the top amateurs in the country (Shintaro Ban and Noah Goodwin), edged one of the nation’s most sought-after prospects (Davis Riley) and on Saturday traded birdies with Pacific Coast Amateur champion Isaiah Salinda.

In one of the most well-played matches of the week, Bling made six birdies in a seven-hole span around the turn and shot the stroke-play equivalent of a 65 to Salinda’s 66.

The match came down to 18, where Bling bludgeoned a drive over the tree in the middle of the fairway, knocked it on the green in two shots and forced Salinda to make birdie from the greenside bunker, which he couldn’t.

Bling was a 1-up winner, clinching his spot in the finals (and the 2019 Masters and U.S. Open), and setting off a raucous celebration behind the rope line.

“He played as good as I’ve ever seen,” Larkin said. “The talent has always been there, and I’m glad it’s coming out this week.”

Another difficult opponent awaits in the championship match. It’s a mismatch on paper, a 36-hole final between Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, ranked fifth in the world, and the No. 302-ranked Bling. Hovland had won each of his previous two matches by a 7-and-6 margin – the first time that’s happened since 1978 – and then dropped eight birdies on Cole Hammer on Saturday afternoon.

But he’s likely never faced a player with Bling’s resolve – or a cheering section as supportive as his family’s.

“This means a lot to us,” Dillon said. “It was finally Devon’s time, and I knew one day it’d come down to the finals. He’s been playing awesome. Mom is probably really happy right now.”

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Report: Fan hit by broken club at Web.com event

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 18, 2018, 9:12 pm

A fan was hit by a broken club and required stiches Friday at the Web.com Tour's WinCo Foods Portland Open.

According to ESPN.com, Kevin Stadler slammed his club in frustration causing his clubhead to break and it struck a fan in the head.

The fan required six stiches and was released from the hospital.

Orlando Pope, a Web.com Tour rules official, spoke with ESPN.com:

"It was a very freakish accident. Kevin is devastated. He had trouble trying to finish the round. He was quite worried and felt so bad.''

Former PGA champion Shaun Micheel was in Stadler's group and posted this message on Facebook:

"One of my playing partners played a poor shot with a 7 iron on the par 3 fifteenth hole this morning. In a fit of anger he slammed his club against the ground and the side of his foot which caused the club to break about 6” from the bottom. I had my head down but the clubhead flew behind me and hit a spectator to my right. It’s been a while since I’ve seen so much blood. We stayed with him for about 15 minutes before the EMT’s arrived. The last I heard was that he had a possible skull fracture but that he was doing ok otherwise. [Stadler] was absolutely shattered and we did our best to keep his spirits up. This was not done on purpose and we were astounded at the way the club was directed but it shows you just how dangerous it is to throw or break clubs. Each of us in the group learned something today!"

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Furyk remains coy about Ryder Cup picks

By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 9:01 pm

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk sounds like a man champing at the bit to officially fill out his American team and accelerate final plans for the matches in Paris next month.

With eight automatic qualifiers secured last Sunday, all that’s left are his four captain’s picks.

“At times it felt like it was dragging on,” Furyk told Amanda Balionis during CBS TV’s rain delay Saturday at the Wyndham Championship. “I’m excited to get to this point.”

But still in no hurry to commit to naming Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as two of his captain’s picks.

“We have some great choices and certainly Tiger and Phil look like they are in great form,” Furyk said.

Furyk, when specifically asked about Tiger’s chances as a pick:

“He’s played great,” Furyk said. “I’m in such a great position right now with so many players playing well and so many great players to choose from. The difficult part is going to be, `How do we pluck four guys out of there?’ Certainly, Tiger is in great form and has put himself in a great position.”

And on Mickelson’s chances:

“Phil does provide a lot of veteran leadership,” Furyk said. “He hasn’t missed one of these in a long time. He’s had a good season, and he’s putting extremely well. I want to say he’s second in putting stats right now. All good stuff, and we’ll see how the next few weeks kind of play themselves out.”


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Furyk doesn’t have to make his first three picks official until Sept. 4, with the final pick to be named six days later. While Woods and Mickelson may be locks, Furyk won’t be rushed.

“There’s still time.” Furyk said. “We are in an exciting part. We have eight guys. I’m still talking to them, gathering some information. The vice captains have been talking a lot. It’s been fun seeing the banter and the texts going back and forth.

“We’ll see how the next few weeks play themselves out.”

Furyk, by the way, is in contention at the Wyndham Championship. He was tied for 11th, six shots off the lead when interviewed in the weather delay.

So, if he wins, would he resurrect talk of being a playing captain?

“The odds are about zero right now,” Furyk said. “Now that I’m kind of knee deep, and we’re getting that close to the Ryder Cup, I really don’t think it’s possible to do both, be a player and a captain. The duties would be too great. And my game, I haven’t played well the last couple years. I’ve been battling injuries and battling myself. I’m excited, I have been feeling a lot better here the last few months and I’ve started playing some good golf.”

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Aiken, Waring tied at Nordea; Olesen three back

By Associated PressAugust 18, 2018, 5:45 pm

MOLNDAL, Sweden – Paul Waring of England and Thomas Aiken of South Africa share the lead, three shots clear of their rivals, after the third round of the Nordea Masters on the European Tour on Saturday.

Waring was tied for first place with Scott Jamieson after the second round and shot a 1-under 69.

While Jamieson (75) slipped down the leaderboard, Aiken caught up Waring after shooting 67 - despite three straight bogeys from No. 15. He bounced back by making birdie at the last.

Thorbjorn Olesen (67) and Marc Warren (66) are tied for third.