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New to the game, Patterson crashing Volvik WLD party

By Will GraySeptember 5, 2017, 8:25 pm

THACKERVILLE, Okla. – When asked to assess the length of his burgeoning long drive career, Wes Patterson started counting and paused.

“Today’s the fifth, right?” he asked.

His is not a typical path to the Volvik World Long Drive Championship, instead a circuitous route that started with professional baseball and more recently detoured into professional golf. Patterson, 28, considers himself a “nomad” who apparently packs enough athletic ability to succeed at nearly any sport he touches.

That now includes long drive, as his improbable run that started in a satellite qualifier last week has now netted an unheralded player a spot in Tuesday’s Round of 16 at the Winstar World Casino and Resort.

The group of contenders still standing includes several household names: defending champ Joe Miller is still alive, as is two-time winner Tim Burke. But Patterson is holding his own against a stacked field of top-ranked participants despite the fact that he hasn’t played in enough events to even garner a ranking.

A month ago, he didn’t expect to be here. A week ago he considered withdrawing. But after toppling the world No. 1 – twice – he suddenly has a shot at the $125,000 top prize.

“It’s gone really fast. I kind of showed up on Friday and didn’t know what to expect,” Patterson said. “Didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I was just trying to hit the ball hard and straight.”

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Patterson doesn’t sport a bodybuilder’s frame, and his soft-spoken Southern drawl is a stark contrast to many of the outspoken personalities of the sport. But like many others, Patterson has a background in another discipline that he has parlayed into success on the grid.

A standout pitcher at the University of Tennessee-Martin, Patterson signed with the Atlanta Braves in 2011 as a free agent pending a physical. But he blew out his elbow in the last week of his senior season, tearing his UCL and effectively ending his MLB career before it started.

After Tommy John surgery, he bounced around independent leagues, tried coaching and ultimately spent a year pitching in Australia. But he went through unexpected visa issues and got deported – meaning he couldn’t return to Australia for three years even though his team had offered him a contract renewal.

“I basically had to retire right there,” he said.

Patterson quickly turned his attention to golf. While he played competitively growing up, he didn’t turn pro until March 2016 – and even that planned path was temporarily derailed by an ill-timed car accident. Earlier this summer, Patterson had expected to spend this week at Tour Pre-Qualifying with hopes of jump-starting a pro career in his backup sport.

But the 54-hole qualifier brought with it a $2,700 entry fee, a price tag that would only climb if he advanced. Patterson made an earnest assessment of both his game and bank account and decided to change course.

“I had enough money if I made it through the first couple stages, but I was just being honest with myself,” he said. “I haven’t been playing too well to be able to make that big of an investment.”

Patterson found himself back at the drawing board, but his instructor Brian Delaney saw potential off the tee. Just three weeks ago, Delaney shipped out a trio of extra-long drivers and told Patterson to check the mail.

“I’m not taking no for an answer,” Delaney told Patterson.

Patterson started pounding the ball, and he saw some favorable numbers. He decided to take a shot at the world championship, but even this week’s entry fee was partially funded by his mom (“Don’t tell my brothers,” he joked) and almost led to another 11th-hour exit.

“The last day of sign-up, I was thinking about withdrawing,” he said. “Because it was going to be $1,400 on my credit card bill, and that’s a lot of money.”

In another turn of events, Patterson had some late equipment issues. While he’s based in St. Louis he also trains part of the year in Houston, and his equipment became inaccessible after the flooding caused last week by Hurricane Harvey.

But thanks in part to encouragement from Delaney and his family – and some equipment assistance from long-drive peers like Ryan Riesbeck – Patterson stayed in the 61-man qualifier where 26 spots in the final, 96-man field were available.

He made it through that gauntlet and continued to advance, but as the lowest-ranked player remaining in the field he drew world No. 1 Maurice Allen in the double-elimination Round of 32. In the first match of the day Monday, he pulled off an improbable upset with a pair of 350-yard bombs.

In a win-or-go-home rematch later in the day, Patterson beat Allen again, knocking out one of the sport’s most recognizable faces with a 373-yard strike into the breeze.

“Wes is an awesome hitter. When you look at his numbers, the Trackman when it comes up (Tuesday) night, you’ll see that he’s hitting the ball and smoking it,” Allen said. “The balls he hit against me were just perfect balls. Perfect flight, perfect speed into the wind. Can’t argue with that at all.”

So now, the pitcher turned golfer turned long drive specialist has a spot in the Round of 16, where he’ll face off with Riesbeck, the man who spotted him a new driver head at the start of the event. At the very least, Patterson has turned a profit on his investment – a loss tonight will still earn him $3,500.

But a win under the lights means a spot in Wednesday’s finale, where he could potentially turn a sport that is largely identified by the success of a handful of top-tier players firmly on its head.

“You don’t know what to expect until you get here,” Patterson said. “I don’t really get too nervous, especially when I see the first one get in the grid. That kind of settles me down. But it’s been pretty much a whirlwind.”

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PNC Extends Title Sponsorship of PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Golf Channel Public RelationsApril 19, 2018, 1:00 pm

ORLANDO, Fla., April 19, 2018 – IMG and NBC Sports today announced that The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. has extended its contract as title sponsor of the PNC Father/Son Challenge, the tournament that pairs the games’ legends alongside their sons, daughters and grandchildren.

PNC’s multi-year extension as title sponsor keeps the PGA Tour Challenge Event in Orlando reflecting the bank’s commitment to Central Florida. PNC has served as title sponsor of the tournament since 2012. The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes will continue to play host to the PNC Father/Son Challenge. The 2018 PNC Father/Son Challenge will take place Friday-Sunday, Dec. 14-16, with television coverage on Golf Channel and NBC.

“The PNC Father/Son Challenge long ago became one of my family’s favorite golf tournaments,” said 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus. “I have had the pleasure of playing with my sons, and last year, partnering with my 15-year-old grandson GT was a thrill. I am delighted the event—a uniquely special one to us fathers and grandfathers, and perhaps to the many fans out there watching from home or outside the ropes—will continue for many years to come.”

“After our victory in 2016, I said that this win was as good as anything I have done in my career,” said former World No. 1 and major champion David Duval, who alongside his stepson Nick Karavites captured the 2016 title. “I felt blessed to have Nick inside the ropes with me and to have our family surrounding us all week. That’s what makes the PNC Father/Son Challenge so special, and I’m pleased to hear that PNC has extended its support of the event. This golf tournament means so much to all of us who are lucky enough to have the opportunity to play in this event.”

The tournament also holds three events in qualifier markets per year. This year they will be in Dallas, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

“The PNC Father/Son Challenge allows fans to see golf’s legends playing the game they love alongside those they love most,” said Alastair Johnston, vice chairman, IMG. “We are grateful for PNC’s ongoing support of this unique tournament and we look forward to returning to Orlando to celebrate golf and family for many years to come.”

Community support is a key aspect of the tournament and PNC’s sponsorship. PNC is committed to donating $150,000 annually to local non-profits over the life of its sponsorship. Across six previous years of title sponsorship, PNC has already donated $900,000 to Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation and the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children to support the “Healthy Families Orange” program. Over the years, PNC has also had the opportunity through this tournament to co-host events for local women in business, to put on clinics and provide free access to the tournament for active military, and even provide a service dog for a local veteran.

"PNC's long-standing sponsorship of the Father/Son Challenge reflects the philanthropic values we share with the PGA Tour and the golf community, as well as our focus on strong relationships,” said Bill Demchak, chairman, president and chief executive officer of The PNC Financial Services Group. “As PNC Bank continues to expand its footprint, the PNC Father/Son tournament helps us gain visibility with new audiences and to strengthen the relationships we enjoy today with more than 8 million retail, wealth, and corporate and institutional banking customers across the country.”

“NBC Sports is extremely proud of our heritage as co-founder for the Father/Son Challenge, one of golf’s most special events that closes out the calendar year on the golf schedule,” said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC Sports. “Our relationship with PNC Bank elevates this event each year as a must-attend and must-see event for players and fans alike, and we look forward to our continued relationship with PNC Bank for years to come.”

Past winners of the PNC Father/Son Challenge include some of the biggest names in golf including Raymond Floyd (1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001), Jack Nicklaus (1999), Bernhard Langer (2005-06, 2014), Davis Love III (2012) and David Duval (2016).  Masters champion Angel Cabrera and his son, Angel Cabrera Jr. captured the 2017 title.

To qualify for the PNC Father/Son Challenge, participants must have won either a major championship or THE PLAYERS Championship in their career. The professional’s partner must not currently hold a Tour card, and while the majority of partners in the history of the event have been the sons of the golf legends, the family-themed tournament has seen daughters, grandsons and one father – Justin Leonard’s dad, Larry – participate over the years.

The PNC Father/Son Challenge is operated in partnership by IMG and NBC Sports.

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Fire damages National Golf Links of America clubhouse

By Will GrayApril 19, 2018, 12:55 pm

A fire broke out Wednesday at National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y., causing "extensive damage" to a portion of the historic course's clubhouse.

According to a report, an initial call was made to the Southampton police department about a fire on the roof of the clubhouse at 11:34 a.m. With the club's gates too narrow to fit a fire truck through, more than 100 firefighters from various departments helped douse the flames by transporting water up a hill to the east side of the clubhouse.

The fire was reportedly extinguished by 2:30 p.m., with no injuries requiring medical attention. According to a Golf Digest report, the club was undergoing construction on its outdoor eating area known as "the Birdcage" and that most of the club's historical documents reside on the opposite end of the clubhouse from where the fire broke out and was contained.

Opened in 1911, National Golf Links of America was designed by C.B. MacDonald and hosted the inaugural Walker Cup in 1922. The biennial matches returned in 2013 to NGLA, which is often rated among the top courses in the U.S. and sits adjacent to Shinnecock Hills, site of this summer's U.S. Open.

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Chappell returns to Valero as defending champ

By Will GrayApril 18, 2018, 9:48 pm

It's impossible for any of the players at this week's Valero Texas Open to forget who captured the trophy last year.

That's because most players stay at the JW Marriott hotel that's a short walk from the first tee at TPC San Antonio, and the defending champion's face is emblazoned on the hotel's room keys. This week, that honor belongs to Kevin Chappell.

"You get some sly comments from players about their room key," Chappell told reporters Wednesday. "'Oh, I'm tired of looking at you.' And I'm saying, 'Believe me, I'm tired of being in everyone's room.'"

The position of defending champ is one Chappell relishes this week as he returns to the site of his maiden PGA Tour victory. A one-shot win over Brooks Koepka led to a euphoric celebration on the 72nd green, and it helped propel Chappell to his first career spot on the Presidents Cup team in October.

Chappell has missed the cut each of the last two weeks, including the Masters, but he also recorded top-10 finishes at the CareerBuilder Challenge, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Arnold Palmer Invitational. It's reason enough for Chappell to feel optimistic heading back to a course where he was a runner-up in 2011 and finished T-4 in 2016.

"This year's been a little bit of a strange year for me. I usually don't find form until about here, usually a slow starter," Chappell said. "But having three top-10s before this event, I've kind of found some form. I'm looking to turn those top-10s into top-5s, and the top-5s into wins. That's the challenge moving forward this year."

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Scott returns to Valero with major streak in jeopardy

By Will GrayApril 18, 2018, 8:34 pm

Adam Scott is back in the Lone Star State as he looks to keep alive a majors streak that has stretched across nearly two decades.

The Aussie tends to play a relatively light schedule during the spring, often times skipping every event between the Masters and The Players. But this time around he opted to return to the Valero Texas Open for the first time since 2011 in an effort to capitalize on the form he found two weeks ago at Augusta National, where he tied for 32nd.

"Hopefully kind of pick up where I left off on the weekend, which was really solid, and get a bit of momentum going because that's what I haven't had this year," Scott told reporters. "Trying to put four good rounds together and get the most out of my game for a change."

Scott has won each of the four stroke-play events held annually in Texas, completing the so-called "Texas Slam" before the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play relocated to Austin. That includes his win at TPC San Antonio back in 2010, when he closed with rounds of 66-67 for a one-shot victory.

After a seven-year hiatus, Scott is back San Antonio after a solid but underwhelming spring stretch. He cracked the top 20 at both the Honda Classic and Valspar Championship, but his worldwide top-10 drought stretches back nearly a year to the FedEx St. Jude Classic in June. As a result, the former world No. 1 has dropped to No. 59 in the latest rankings.

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"I'm trying to be really in tune with where my game's at and identify why I'm just not having better results," Scott said. "To kind of change that, I've got to change something, otherwise I'm just going to do the same thing."

That ranking will become even more important in the coming weeks as Scott looks to keep his streak of consecutive majors intact. He has played in 67 straight dating back to The Open in 2001, second only to Sergio Garcia's 75 among active players. But Scott's five-year exemption for winning the 2013 Masters has run its course, meaning he is not yet exempt for the upcoming U.S. Open.

Barring a win next month at TPC Sawgrass, Scott's only way to avoid a trip to sectional qualifying will be to maintain a position inside the top 60 in the world rankings on either May 21 or June 11.

The key for Scott remains easy to identify but hard to fix. While he ranks fifth on Tour this season in strokes gained: tee-to-green, he's 194th in strokes gained: putting. Scott won in consecutive weeks in 2016 with a short putter, but otherwise has largely struggled on the greens since the anchoring ban took effect more than two years ago.

"Hopefully a quick turnaround here and things start going in the right direction, because I think I can have a really great back end of the season," Scott said. "My ball-striking is where I want it; I like where my short game's at. I just need to get a bit of momentum going on the greens. It's easy to do that on the putting green at home, but that doesn't always translate out here. I think I've just got to make it happen out here."