Gainey, Ernst struggling to follow up breakthrough wins

By Will GrayFebruary 27, 2014, 8:54 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Congratulations. You’ve made it.

Fans have applauded your final putt. Fellow pros have offered congratulations. Trophy engravers have confirmed the spelling of your name, and your playing schedule just got an immediate makeover.

You’ve won a tournament on the PGA Tour. Take a minute to soak it all in.

Once the dust settles, though, a thought may creep into your mind.

Now what?

For Tommy Gainey and Derek Ernst, who both carded rounds of 4-under 66 Thursday at the Honda Classic, following up a breakthrough victory has proven difficult.

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At the conclusion of the 2012 season, Gainey elevated his status beyond that of a “Big Break” alumnus, or a player known for wearing two gloves. He captured the McGladrey Classic that November, and did so in impressive fashion – firing a final-round 60 to erase a seven-shot deficit.

The victory earned him a trip to Kapalua two months later for the 2013 Hyundai Tournament of Champions, where he promptly tied for sixth. That result, though, still serves as the only top-10 finish for Gainey in 39 starts since his triumph at Sea Island.

The 38-year-old journeyman is the first to admit that much of his struggles emanated from within.

“I put more pressure on myself after McGladrey,” Gainey said. “That final round, when I shot what I shot ... you feel like you can win any tournament.”

Imbued with confidence, Gainey believed that his maiden title would serve as a stepping stone toward the next stage in his career.

“I felt like getting the first one would be tough, because it took me 105 tournaments to get the first one. I felt like it shouldn’t take me that long to get the second one.”

Instead, Gainey has spent much of the past 15 months simply trying to make the weekend. He missed the cut in half of his 28 starts last season, and his slump continues. Gainey has made the cut only twice in 10 starts during the 2013-14 season, including early exits at five straight events during the West Coast swing.

“When you put too much pressure on yourself, things like that can happen.”

A return to the Sunshine State couldn’t have come sooner. A native of South Carolina, Gainey grew up playing on Bermuda grass, which could be a reason why he struggled with poa annua greens in California. This week, he says, the pressure is off as he looks to return to the form that earned him his breakthrough win.

“I learned a lesson,” he said. “Now I’m just trying to have more fun, because it could be worse. I’ve got the best job in the world, so I’m just trying to enjoy it.”

Ernst was only months removed from earning his PGA Tour card at Q-School when he burst onto the scene last May, capturing the Wells Fargo Championship in a rainy playoff over David Lynn at Quail Hollow.

The win netted the 23-year-old a spot in The Players Championship the following week, where Ernst admits his perception among his peers received a quick overhaul.

“That’s where it was like, ‘Bam.’ People actually know who I am,” said Ernst, who made four birdies and an eagle Thursday at PGA National.

Ernst struggled in the wake of his triumph, though. In 23 subsequent starts, he has missed the cut 15 times, and his lone top-40 finish comes with an asterisk – Ernst finished 30th among a 30-man field last month during the winners-only event at Kapalua.

Like Gainey, he expected things to be easier following his victory.

“I felt like, hey, I won, so I should be able to do it every time now. Or at least every once in a while,” he said.

Ernst began to practice even harder last summer, regularly logging sessions that lasted 10 hours, sometimes longer. Those efforts failed to end his slump, though, and he made sweeping changes this past offseason.

“I changed agent, changed caddie, changed swing coach and I got a trainer,” he said. “Other than that, it’s pretty much the same.”

Unable to translate his efforts into better finishes, Ernst has worked in recent weeks to focus less on the leaderboard.

“I have a goal every week of what I want to do, and it’s not a results goal, it’s just a process goal. If I do that, then I’m fine. I don’t care about what the result is. If I did what I can do, then that’s all that I can control.”

Winning remains the goal for every player in the field this week, and Ernst and Gainey can take heart in knowing they have already reached a pinnacle to which many can only aspire.

As each can attest, though, the second chapter in a career is sometimes the most difficult to write.

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Weather extends Barbasol to Monday finish

By Associated PressJuly 23, 2018, 12:25 am

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - A thunderstorm has suspended the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship until Monday morning.

Sunday's third stoppage of play at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came with the four leaders - Hunter Mahan, Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt at 18 under par - and four other contenders waiting to begin the round.

The tournament will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Lightning caused one delay, and play was stopped earlier in the afternoon to clear water that accumulated on the course following a morning of steady and sometimes-heavy rain.

Inclement weather has plagued the tournament throughout the weekend. The second round was completed Saturday morning after being suspended by thunderstorms late Friday afternoon.

The resumption will mark the PGA Tour's second Monday finish this season. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole, and he needed just 13 minutes to claim the victory.

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Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:07 am

It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.

Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.

The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:

The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.

For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.

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Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.

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In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.