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Harvey survivor van der Walt on PGA Tour comeback trail

By Will GrayMarch 30, 2018, 12:45 am

HUMBLE, Texas – Dawie van der Walt still has one of the final pictures saved from the calm before the very literal storm.

In the hours before Hurricane Harvey destroyed the greater Houston area last August and nearly took his home with it, van der Walt stood in his backyard with a collection of meat ready to go.

“I was grilling,” van der Walt recalled. “I was like, ‘If I’m going to go down, I’m going down grilling.’”

Van der Walt lives in Kingwood, Texas, about a 20-minute drive from the site of this week’s Houston Open. While many area pros felt the effects of the storm to varying degrees, the burly South African’s family took a direct hit that led to a harrowing escape.

As the rains came on the night of Aug. 26, van der Walt’s two-story house quickly began to take on water. Once they had a foot of flooding in their living room, he decided to call 911 only to be told that there were already too many houses with 5 feet or more of water. There was nothing emergency responders could do to help.

So van der Walt scrambled his wife and two young daughters, grabbed the few belongings they could and headed outside in search of rescue.

“We got in a kayak, but the current was too strong,” he said. “So finally we found a boat, and we put the girls on a boat and made it out.”

Van der Walt’s tale is one you could likely hear from thousands of Houstonians: no power for five days, with 3 feet of flooding in his house by the time the rains subsided. The months since have simply been an effort to get back to a sense of normalcy.

“It’s hard to keep your attitude up with what happened to him,” said Chris Stroud, who was van der Walt’s teammate and roommate at Lamar University. “It’s still not done, he’s trying to fix a lot of things. He’s had a really tough six months since Hurricane Harvey.”

Van der Walt won twice on the Tour in 2015, but his rookie year on the PGA Tour didn’t go as planned. He returned to the developmental circuit last year, and he counts among his blessings the fact that he failed to qualify for the Tour Finals last fall.

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Instead of heading to Columbus for the first postseason event, van der Walt headed home after a season-ending missed cut and made it back to Houston less than 12 hours before the water came pouring past his front door.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, he spent his hours moving as many possessions as he could to the upstairs (and unscathed) portion of his house, setting his alarm every three hours to change humidifiers and re-position fans in an effort to dry things out downstairs.

With a mounted microwave the only appliance that survived the storm, van der Walt’s family soon became reliant on a plug-in oven and some fish-cleaning equipment that they hooked up to the plumbing to turn into a makeshift sink.

“We were basically camping in our house for three or four months, eating with plastic knives and forks,” he explained.

Professional golf quickly got put on the back burner, as van der Walt turned his attention to salvaging the home he and his family had shared for two years. While many of his neighbors had to return to their day jobs after the storm, he was able to stay home with his father-in-law and find any way he could to help accelerate recovery.

“A lot of it was cleaning up after workers, so they could work until 4 and not 3:30,” van der Walt said. “But we did all the insulation, electrical. We built some stuff, I made some furniture. I helped the guys put in all the windows.”

Van der Walt didn’t have any previous construction experience, but he became a quick study out of necessity.

“I’ll tell you what, I feel like I’m an expert on a table saw now,” he said. “Basically we tried to do as much as we could. We would watch YouTube videos until it got to a point where you needed skilled people for certain stuff.”

Those efforts helped van der Walt’s home become one of the first on his street to return to functional. The construction crew is still there this week, finishing up a few odds and ends and completing a new paint job. But his neighbor’s house remains uninhabitable, and progress on other nearby homes is slow.

Recovery also isn’t cheap, as van der Walt estimates his out-of-pocket expenses have exceeded $250,000 – and that doesn’t count the car he lost that didn’t carry liability insurance, which he only replaced this week after purchasing a new ride from a friend at a buyer-friendly price.

“I thought it was going to be $200,000, but it’s been well over $250,000,” he said. “Every day, there’s just more stuff. I can’t tell you how much stuff I’ve had to buy twice. Like, I already bought this. Now I’ve got to go buy it again.”

Stroud and fellow Houston resident Bobby Gates organized the Hurricane Harvey Relief Pro-Am at Bluejack National in December, a one-day event that raised more than $1 million. He shared that the van der Walts are one of 40 affected families who will receive a five-figured portion of those proceeds.

“We’re really excited that we were able to get him a check,” Stroud said. “Hopefully that will relieve some pain.”

Van der Walt played a handful of events at the start of the year, first on the Tour and then in his native South Africa. But he didn’t break back onto the PGA Tour until this week, when after his application for a sponsor exemption was denied he went out and earned one of four spots available in Monday’s qualifier.

It’s somewhat fitting that his first PGA Tour start since the 2016 Wyndham Championship came Thursday in front of friends and family, as van der Walt opened with a 2-under 70 just a few miles from the house that Harvey tried to take away.

“He’s so talented. He just needs opportunities,” Stroud said. “He’s a PGA Tour player. He doesn’t need to be on the Web, he needs to be out here. He’s good enough to win.”

For a man who has been put through the wringer over the last six months, van der Walt has somehow managed to maintain an affable personality. He remains blown away by the amount of people, both friends and complete strangers, who have offered their services or found a way to chip in as he and his family attempted to rebuild.

It’s been a trying period that has taken time, effort and significant resources away from his pursuit of a professional golf career. But he’s hopeful that a good round at the right time on Monday might be the spark he needs to reclaim a regular spot against the game’s best.

“If I can shoot about 62-62-65, I can win this thing and maybe break even,” he said. “After all the taxes and all that stuff, I should be about back to even.”

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"The Men In Blazers" Hosting Nightly Show From The Open, July 18-22 on NBCSN

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJuly 17, 2018, 1:55 pm

Show to Include Off-beat Interviews, Unique Features and Men In Blazers Distinctive Takes on The Open

VIDEO: Men In Blazers: Carnoustie Through the Years Hosting The Open

Culminating in France’s thrilling win on Sunday, NBC Sports’ critically-acclaimed The Men In Blazers – Roger Bennett and Michael Davies – have spent the past month breaking down all of the action surrounding the FIFA World Cup. However, there will be no rest for the duo as they leave behind their Panic Room studio in the “crap part of SoHo” in Manhattan to host a nightly show in conjunction with The 147TH Open. The show will feature the pair’s signature, unconventional style in providing unique takes on golf’s original championship while “sporting an arsenal of the finest golf sweaters that could be found on eBay.” Originating from Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland, Men In Blazers will air nightly on NBCSN Wednesday, July 18 through Sunday, July 22.

In addition to delivering a series of features for NBC Sports’ coverage surrounding The Open, the nightly Men In Blazers show on NBCSN will offer expanded highlights following each round; off-beat interviews, special guests and cameos; along with non-traditional stories highlighting cultural elements relevant to Carnoustie and The Open.

“Both Davo and I grew up with The Open being the heartbeat of our sporting year,” said Bennett. “To cover it from that beautiful monster that is Carnoustie is the honor of a lifetime. We look forward to savoring every attempt to tame Hogan’s Alley, the futile battle between man and nature, and all those ‘subtle’ Ian Poulter wardrobe changes, in equal measure.”

Dedicated features being showcased over the duration of the week include: a retrospect on past Opens having been staged at Carnoustie; an in-depth recollection of the unforgettable 1999 Open; an introduction to the second-oldest golf shop in the world; a history lesson on Carnoustie and its influence on golf around the world; and an examination of Carnoustie’s local delicacy known as “bridies”.


Wednesday, July 18               11-11:30 p.m. (NBCSN)

Thursday, July 19                   11-11:30 p.m. (NBCSN)

Friday, July 20                        1-1:30 a.m. (NBCSN, Saturday overnight)

Saturday, July 21                    11:30 p.m.-Midnight (NBCSN)

Sunday, July 22                      10-10:30 p.m. (NBCSN)

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Woods delofts 2-iron to use off Carnoustie tees

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods has been effective this season hitting a 2-iron off many tees, reverting to a version of the stinger shot he made so popular.

This week at baked out and brown Carnoustie he went to the next level, adding a new 2-iron to his bag that he bent to 17 degrees, down from his normal 20-degree version.

“I took a few degrees off of it, just trying to be able to have the ability to chase one down there,” he explained on Tuesday.

Woods said he still carries the club about the same distance, from 245 to 250 yards, but “it gets to its final destination much differently [on the ground].”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“Obviously, it rolls out whereas mine back home, I've generally liked having it 20 degrees because I can hit the ball into the par 5s as an option,” he said. “This one's not really designed for hitting the ball in the air to par 5s as an option. It's more of a driving club.”

After playing two practice rounds, Woods said he wasn’t sure how much he would use the new 2-iron given the dry conditions which have led to ridiculously long tee shots, and he said he might adjust the club more if the course doesn’t slow down.

“If it softens up, it could be a good club,” he said. “If it doesn't soften up, then I might just add a degree to it and keep it a little softer and not have it so hot.”

The Open is the second consecutive event where Woods has added to his bag. At The National earlier this month, he went with a new mallet-headed putter that he plans to continue to use this week.

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Europeans out to end the recent American dominance

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 12:59 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In golf’s biggest events, the Americans have left the rest of the world feeling red, white and mostly blue.

If you’re wondering whether the U.S. currently holds a meaningful title, the answer is probably yes.

Golf’s four majors? Yep.

The Ryder Cup? Indeed.

The No. 1 player in the world? Absolutely.

The Presidents, Solheim, Walker, Palmer and Curtis Cups? Uh-huh.

It’s been a popular talking point at the men’s majors, as Europe’s finest players have been peppered about why they’ve all seemingly fallen under Uncle Sam’s spell.

After all, the Americans haven’t ripped off five major wins in a row like this since 1981-82 – when Justin Rose was still in diapers.

“I don’t know what I’d put it to down to,” the Englishman said Tuesday, “other than the American boys in the world rankings and on the golf course are performing really, really well. The top end of American golf right now is incredibly strong.”

Since 2000, the Americans have taken titles at eight of the nine courses on the modern Open rota. The only one they’ve yet to conquer is Carnoustie, and that’s probably because they’ve only had one crack at it, in 2007, when an Irishman, Padraig Harrington, prevailed in a playoff.

Not since Tom Watson in 1975 has a U.S. player survived Carnoustie, arguably the most difficult links on the planet. But Americans ranging from Dustin Johnson to Tiger Woods comprise six of the oddsmakers' top 10 favorites, all listed at 25/1 or better.

“America, there’s no doubt about it, and there’s no other way to put it, other than they have an exceptional bunch of players at the moment,” Tommy Fleetwood said. “It just so happens that it has been a run of American golfers that have won majors, but at the same time, they’ve generally been the best players in the world at the time that they’ve won them.

“You don’t really look at them as a nationality. You just look at them as players and people, and you can understand why they’re the ones winning the majors.”

Indeed, there’s not a fluke among them.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Since this American run began last summer at Erin Hills, Brooks Koepka (twice), Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed have hoisted trophies. All were inside the top 25 in the world when they won. All were multiple-time winners on the world stage before that major. And all, most ominously for Europe, were 29 or younger.

“There’s a bit of camaraderie amongst all of them,” Rose said. “I know Brooks and Dustin are incredibly close, and you’ve got Rickie (Fowler) and Justin Thomas and Jordan as a group are all really close. It’s working really well for them. They’re spurring each other on.”

That’s why there’s even more anticipation than usual for the Ryder Cup. The Americans haven’t won on foreign soil in a quarter century, but this band of brothers is better and closer than those who have tried and failed before them. Couple that with a few aging stars on the European side, and there’s a growing sense that the Americans could be on the verge of a dominant stretch.

That should sound familiar.

During an eight-major span in 2010-11, the most common refrain was: What’s Wrong with American Golf? International players captured seven consecutive majors, including six in a row at one point. They took over the top spot in the world rankings. They turned the Ryder Cup into a foregone conclusion. In the fall of 2010, Colin Montgomerie pounded his chest and declared that there’d been a “changing of the guard over to Europe,” and it was hard to find fault in his reasoning.

“European golf was very healthy a few years ago for a long time,” McIlroy said. “It seemed like every major someone from the island of Ireland turned up to, we were winning it. It doesn’t seem that long ago.”

Because it wasn’t.

So even though it’s been more than a year since an International player held any title of consequence, these types of runs are cyclical, and Europe in particular has no shortage of contenders.

Major drought or not, McIlroy is a threat every time he tees it up. Rose turns 38 in two weeks, but he’s playing arguably the best golf of his career, recording a top-10 finish in a ridiculous 17 of his past 21 starts. Fleetwood is fresh off a runner-up finish at the U.S. Open, where he closed with 63. Jon Rahm is a top-5 machine. Alex Noren just won on the Ryder Cup course in France.

“I think Tommy, clearly, showed how close the Europeans are to challenging that dominance as well,” Rose said. “So it’s not like we’re a mile behind. It’s just that they’re on a great run right now, and there’s no reason why a European player shouldn’t come through this week.”

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Links to the past: Tiger's return revives Open memories

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 12:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods rekindles his love affair with links golf this week at Carnoustie, which seems about right considering his introduction to the ancient ways of the game began here on the Angus coast.

It was here on the most brutal of the Open Championship rota courses that a 19-year-old Tiger first played links golf at the 1995 Scottish Open, an eye-opening and enlightening experience.

“I remember my dad on the range with me, saying, ‘Are you ever going to hit the ball past the 100 yard sign?’” Woods recalled on Tuesday at Carnoustie, his first start at The Open since 2015. “I said, ‘No, I'm just enjoying this. Are you kidding me? This is the best.’”

During this most recent comeback, Tiger has been all smiles. A new, relaxed version of his former self made calm and approachable by age and the somber influence of injury. But this week has been different.

During a practice round with Justin Thomas on Monday he laughed his way all the way around the brown and bouncy seaside layout. Much of that had to do with his return to the unique ways of links golf, the creative left side of his brain taking the wheel from the normally measured right side for one glorious week.

He talked of game plans and strategic advantages on a parched pitch that has seen drives rolling out over 400 yards. At his core, Tiger is a golf nerd for all the right reasons and this kind of cerebral test brings out the best of that off-the-charts golf IQ.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Although there are no shortages of defining moments in Tiger’s career and one can make all sorts of arguments for what would be his seminal moment – from the 1997 Masters to the 2008 U.S. Open –the 2006 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool stands out, based on near-perfect execution.

In ’06 at Liverpool, which played to a similar shade of dusty yellow as Carnoustie will this week, Tiger hit just a single driver, opting instead for a steady diet of long irons off tees. For the week he hit 48 of 56 fairways, 58 of 72 greens and rolled the field for a two-stroke victory and his third, and most recent, claret jug.

This Open has all the makings of a similar tactical tour de force. For this championship he’s put a new 2-iron into play that’s more like a strong 1-iron (17 degrees) and imagines, given the conditions, a similar low, running menu.

“It could be that way,” Woods said when asked the similarities between this week’s conditions and the ’06 championship. “I'm not going to hit that many long clubs off the tees, just because I hit a 3-iron on Monday, down 18, I went 333 [yards]. It can get quick out here.”

If Tiger ever needed a major championship confidence boost the Carnoustie Open would be it, an inspiring walk down memory lane to a time when he was the undisputed king of golf.

“[The ’06 Open] is the closest you can compare to this,” David Duval said. “But I struggle to remember that golf course being as fast as this one. It was close, but this one is something else.”

Ernie Els had a slightly different take, albeit one that was no less ominous to the rest of the field this week.

“Liverpool is on a sand hill, this has a bit more run to it,” Els said. “But it’s got the same feel. It’s almost like St. Andrews was in 2000. Very, very fast.”

It’s worth noting that Tiger also won that ’00 Open at the Home of Golf with an even more dominant performance. It is the unique challenges of the links test that make many, even Tiger, consider the Open Championship his best chance to continue his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.

More than any other Grand Slam gathering, The Open is blind to age and the notion of players competing past their prime. In 2008 at Royal Birkdale, then-53-year-old Greg Norman flirted with the lead until the very end, finishing tied for third; a year later at Turnberry, Tom Watson came within one hole of history at 59 years young.

“It certainly can be done,” Woods said. “You get to places like Augusta National, where it's just a big ballpark, and the golf course outgrows you, unfortunately. That's just the way it goes. But links-style golf courses, you can roll the ball. Even if I get a little bit older, I can still chase some wood or long club down there and hit the ball the same distance.”

Whether this is the week Tiger gets back into the Grand Slam game depends on his ability to replicate those performances from years past on a similarly springy course. As he exited the media center bound for the practice putting green on Tuesday he seemed renewed by the cool sea breeze and the unique challenges of playing the game’s oldest championship.

Coming back to Carnoustie is more than a reintroduction to links golf; for Tiger it’s starting to feel like a bona fide restart to his major career.