Daredevil Knievel Jumps 30 Golf Carts to Celebrate Sobriety

robbieknievel-d98dbb72The son of late daredevil Evel Knievel, the younger Knievel was arrested in April for driving under the influence. He planned the stunt, which took place outside of the Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs, California, to cap off the resort’s Brews & BBQ: Food, Music, Craft Brews & Cool Cars event.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though — 53-year-old Knievel crashed his motorcycle into a hay bale wall after landing. He came out a little shaken but unscathed, and he was up and walking right after.

Maybe for his next trick Knievel will trick out one of those golf carts and go for a lofty joyride in one of them?

courtesy of Extra Spin Staff (golf.com)

David Feherty on Why He Left CBS, His New Gig and Why Tiger Woods Isn’t Ready for a Sit Down

David-FehertyDavid Feherty left his job as an on-course reporter and analyst at CBS Sports after nearly 20 years. He’ll start a new gig with NBC Sports and the Golf Channel in January. GOLF.com chatted with the television personality and host of his eponymous talk show about why he left CBS, what’s up with Tiger Woods and what he’s looking forward to most. 

This will be the start of a new journey in television for you. What are you looking to do with your career, and not just golf-wise?

You’re right, it is a bit of a new adventure for me. I think part of the excitement is I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it. I know that I’ve got the chance to annoy [Roger] Maltbie and to disagree with Johnny [Miller]. I’m really excited for the Olympics and the Ryder Cup – that’s something I’ve never had the chance to do. As you know, I was a former European team member, but this places me in a unique position because I’m an American now. I support the American team because that’s what you’re supposed to do. [Laughs] And then there’s the British Open, which I’ve also never done. And who knows, maybe the Winter Olympics. I have an interest in the winter sports too so maybe there’s an opportunity there.

I’m going to put you on the spot here. You have to pick just one – what are you more excited to cover, the Olympics or the Ryder Cup?

Wow. That’s difficult. I don’t know what to expect at the Olympics, so probably the Ryder Cup. I’m so familiar with it, having played it. I mean, it’s the competition. There are only three real sporting events left in the world where all that matters is the trophy – and one of them is the Ryder Cup.

Are you going to miss calling the Masters and PGA Championship?

Of course, I’ll miss the tournaments but I’ll miss the people more. That’s the toughest part about making the move. I made so many friends over 20 years, so saying goodbye to them was the most difficult part.

What was your ultimate reason for moving, if it was so difficult? There were rumors about CBS not paying enough, but also rumors that you weren’t going to be able to get into the booth more.

It was a combination of things. Money was always an issue, of course. I have been doing this for about 19 years, it was time to make that change. But the other aspect was that I’m going to be doing basically the same thing at NBC/Golf Channel. I’m going to be working more four-day events there than I was at CBS. Because I’m working all four days, whereas I was only working five four-day events at CBS, I’m going to work less events overall but more of the four day ones [by extension, more time in the booth]. The first few days, I’ll be in the tower like I was at CBS, but look, I’m an outside pet. Someone has got to be out there stirring things up on the course.

You’ve said previously that you dislike down time. Are you getting any more of that before you start at NBC in January?

I’m not sure I’ll get more down time but it’ll be more linear, with the schedule the way it is. I’ve said many times before, spare time is my worst enemy – I’m hopelessly ADD and I don’t sleep. I’ve never liked not being busy. Today, I was up at 2:30 a.m. because that’s when the music started up in my head, that’s when they started marching. So I’ll tinker in my shop for a while and hopefully nap a few times during the day.

Like you said, you’ve been doing this for almost 20 years. What’s something you’re proud to have accomplished in that 20, and something you haven’t yet that you’d like to in your next?

That’s a good question. I’ve done 19 Masters and haven’t gotten fired, so there’s that. I’m proud of my television show; that was a big step to branch into that kind of medium. I’m not sure I can call that my accomplishment because there were so many people involved in that. It wasn’t my idea and I didn’t see it going as long as it has. I’m dumbfounded. We thought it might last a season – I’m not sure I’d consider it an achievement. I’m completely floored by how popular it is.

Well, you’re beloved on and off the course! People like to see and hear you talk.

[Laughs] I guess that says that my audience has incredibly low standards!

courtesy of Marika Washchyshyn (golf.com)

Hank Haney on Spieth, Rory’s Drive and Rickie’s ‘Need to Improve’

hankPerhaps more than any golf instructor, Hank Haney knows exactly what is required to become the best, having coached Tiger Woods for six of his 14 major championships. And perhaps more than any golf instructor, Haney isn’t afraid to speak frankly about which players have it, and which don’t.

In an interview with John Huggan of the Scotsman, Haney is asked which member of golf’s big three will have the best career. Haney, who worked with Woods for six years, talked about what it takes to be the best through the prism of his experience with the 14-time major champion — and spoke most highly of Jordan Spieth.

“[Spieth] has that internal motivation that is second to none right now,” said Haney. “He has had no issues with his body. And he is best in putting, the part of the game that is hardest to improve. When you get to your 30s, you don’t normally become a great putter. So I have to go with him.

“His only downside is that he isn’t all of a sudden going to get long off the tee. He is running as fast as he can run in that department.”

We all know that Rory McIlroy has the kind of length that Spieth lacks, but what’s holding the 26-year-old Northern Irishman back?

“I do wonder about Rory’s motivation,” Haney said. “He’s made a lot of money. It’s human nature to ease off, but I don’t see the same dedication in him that I see in Jordan. There was the playing soccer thing. And the comments he made at the end of the season worried me. He said that the years Jordan and Jason just had motivated him, which is fine. But when did Tiger ever need that sort of motivation?”

Haney didn’t mince words when asked about Jason Day, either.

“With Jason you have to keep in mind that it has taken him a long time to figure out how to win at the highest level,” Haney said of the 27-year-old. “That time has been wasted. If he had figured it out quicker, I would have said he would turn out to be the best historically. If you look at his game compared to the other two, he should be the one.

“He is third in driving distance, sixth in greens in regulation, 14th in sand saves, fifth in strokes gained putting, fifth in three-putt avoidance and second in scrambling. He is by far the best player. Rory, in comparison, is 56th in scrambling. That’s a big difference.”

Haney would further point to putting as what sets Spieth apart from McIlroy and Day, saying that Woods and Jack Nicklaus were the “best pressure putters” in their primes.

But all this talk about the Big 3 comes at the expense of Rickie Fowler, who despite wins at the Players Championship, Scottish Open and Deutsche Bank Championship in 2015, is on the outside looking in.

“Rickie isn’t anywhere near the class of the other three,” Haney said. “He has to win a major to be up there with them. Actually, he just has to improve. Statistically, the top three are on a whole different level from anyone else.

“But Rickie is on a trajectory to get close to the top. He has shown that he can handle the moment. That’s a great trait. His problem is getting to the moment. If he gets there though, he can handle it. But so can the big three. So even that doesn’t give him an edge. It just puts him on their level.”

courtesy of Brendan Mohler (golf.com)



Pro Golfer’s Shot Ricochets Off Tree, Nails Him in Groin

The next time you shank a ball into the water or lip out for double bogey, just think back to this video and remember: It could be worse.

Meet Jacques Kruyswijk, who was playing in the Vodacom Origins of Golf on the Sunshine Tour this week.

His ball was up against a tree, and he took a big hack to get it out. However, the ball bounced off the trunk – hard – and came up to hit him in the … well, you know where. He immediately hits the ground, and you can’t help but feel for the poor guy. You can watch the video below, courtesy of the Sunshine Tour’s YouTube account.


The Scariest Golf Courses in the World

merapi_AFPGettyImagesMerapi Golf Course, Indonesia: That shaking in your hands could be first tee jitters. But it also might be brought on by Mt. Merapi, an active volcano that looms over this otherwise placid 18. Several eruptions have occurred in recent years, including a disaster in 2010 in which ash, smoke and lava flow caused more than 350 deaths.

prisonview_jpglargePrison View Golf Golf Course: Plenty of courses ask for proof of handicap. Prison View requires a background check. And no wonder. As its name suggests, this 9-holer lies within the walls of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a notorious lock-up known in the vernacular as Angola, the largest maximum-security prison in the land. You like local rules? Prison View’s got ‘em. Convicted felons are not welcome. No booze or cameras allowed on the grounds. Along with background checks, visitors must consent to a vehicle search, and play, according to the golf course website, “may be suspended at any time.”

dmz_alamyCamp Bonifas, South Korea: Play this game for long enough, and you’re going to have a blow-up. With any luck, it won’t happen here, on the grounds of a South Korean military base. You won’t find a full course here, just a single hole, a 192-yard par-three with an Astroturf green. But about that green. A sign beside it puts the matter clearly: “Danger. Do Not Retrieve Balls from the Rough Line Mine Fields.” According to the Washington Post, at least one tee shot has exploded a land mine. Talk about a lot of bang for your buck.

kabul3_gettyKabul Golf Club, Afghanistan: If golf seems trivial in a war-torn nation, don’t tell that to Mohammad Afzal Abdul, owner, operator and head pro at this bare-bones five-hole course outside the Afghan capital. Given the risks (Abdul’s brother, Khan, was murdered by the Taliban for his association with foreigners), not many people play it. But those who do are rewarded with much more than a been-there-done-that story. They get to see the sand-green course for what it really is: a hope-filled project in a ravaged land.

furnacecreek_alamyFurnace Creek Golf Course, California: Golfers like to go low. Really low. For the most extreme among them, there’s this Death Valley layout, which sits farther below sea-level (214 feet) than any course on earth. Open for play throughout the year, it’s never more daunting than in the summer, when Furnace Creek stages Heat Stroke Open. Bring a water bottle. The mercury peaks at 125 degrees.

read more at golf.com


Lydia Ko Takes 4-Shot Lead at LPGA Taiwan Championship

GettyImage1Lydia Ko took a four-stroke lead Saturday in the LPGA Taiwan Championship, putting the 18-year-old New Zealander in position to regain the top spot in the world ranking.

Ko had four birdies in a five-hole stretch and closed with another birdie for a 5-under 67 in windy conditions at rain-soaked Miramar.

She would jump from second to first in the world with a victory or second-place finish Sunday and also could take the top spot under other scenarios depending on where top-ranked Inbee Park finishes in the Korea LPGA’s KB Financial Star Championship. Park, the winner last year at Miramar, was tied for fourth Saturday in the South Korean event.

Ko had a 13-under 203 total. South Korea’s Eun-Hee Ji, a stroke ahead after each of the first two rounds, was second after a 72.

courtesy of AP News

Tiger Prepares for Long Recovery; Hasn’t Given Up Chasing Nicklaus

tiger4Tiger Woods has not started rehabilitation for a second back surgery he had a month ago, and he said Tuesday he would face another ”tedious and long” process that suggests it might be awhile before he competes again.

He also said he hasn’t given up on passing Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.

”Rehab will be soon, and it will be tedious and long,” Woods said at the Bridgestone America’s Golf Cup, an exhibition he was supposed to play with Matt Kuchar until the second surgery. ”The last one, it took me awhile to get back. Some players on tour have done the same procedure and to be back pain-free it took them over a year.”
Woods hasn’t won since the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational for his 79th career win on the PGA Tour, just three short of the record held by Sam Snead.

For most of his career, the record with which he was compared was Nicklaus and his 18 professional majors. Woods won his 14th major at the 2008 U.S. Open, and had reconstructive surgery on his left knee a week later.

Woods turn 40 in December. Nicklaus won only three of his 18 majors after he turned 40.  Woods, who dropped to No. 334 in the world ranking this week, has not given up on catching Nicklaus. He just figures he will have to play like Vijay Singh, who won 22 times (but only one major) in his 40s.

”It’s important for me to have more than 18 majors when all is said and done,” Woods said. ”It took Jack his whole career to achieve it and mine is not done yet. I believe that I have a very good record for 20 years on the tour. The main thing is to get fit and to reach my 40s with good health to be as successful as Vijay, who won most of his tournaments at that age.

”It’s something that I hope I will be able to do,” he said. ”I want to play at an elite level with the new kids for a long, long time.”

What might help this time around is that Woods said he won’t be changing his swing. After returning too early in 2014 from back surgery, he took off the final three months to get stronger and left his swing coach, hiring Chris Como as a consultant.

Woods last played at the Wyndham Champion on Aug. 23, where he tied for 10th for his best finish at a PGA Tour event in nearly two years. In a surprise announcement Sept. 18, he said he had a second back surgery after doctors during a routine check discovered a fragmented disc pinching a nerve. Woods had his first surgery just before the 2014 Masters and missed nearly three months. He said later he came back too early.

Woods doesn’t think he’s that far off from 2013, when he won five times and was PGA Tour player of the year.

”But to achieve it, I need to be healthy again,” he said. ”This year I tried to play after the back surgery and it wasn’t fun because all of the pain. Also after my last surgery, I was changing my swing and to be able to do that successfully you have to practice a lot, and I could not practice because I was doing the rehab.

”It was a very complicated situation because of that.”

There was no timetable on when he would start rehabilitation or when he would return. Woods typically doesn’t start a new year until the Farmers Insurance Open, which starts the last week of January. That appeared doubtful.

The Masters, which he missed in 2014 for the first time, is April 7-10.  ”I need to return with my explosiveness, and to do that, I need to practice for longer periods of time,” he said. ”It’s going to take several months of hard work”.

courtesy of AP News  (golf.com)


Ojai Valley Inn & Spa: Legends, tangerines and birdies come together in southern California

ojai valleyThe Ojai Valley Inn & Spa is about a 90-minute drive northwest of Los Angeles in the village of Ojai (pronounced O-high), but it’s a world away from Hollywood.

Perhaps that’s why generations of movie stars and moguls — including Clark Gable, Judy Garland and Walt Disney — have made the drive, as well as other SoCal residents and tourists seeking escapism in a real-life, back-to-nature experience.

The property itself was featured in the Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn film “Pat and Mike” as well as Jack Nicholson’s “Chinatown” sequel, “The Two Jakes.”

The Inn is just a 15-minute drive from the ocean, situated in a lush, green valley at the foot of the Los Padres National Forest. The naturally hilly terrain and surrounding mountains create impressive vistas, a resort laid out on top of and around the bulbous topography, and a challenging layout for golfers to play.

Ohio glass manufacturer Edward Drummond Libbey built the hacienda-style resort in 1923. He hired architect Wallace Neff to design the Spanish Colonial-style clubhouse and George C. Thomas, Jr. to create the golf course at Ojai Valley.

Golf at Ojai Valley: A course for all clubs

Thomas is quoted on a plaque near the first tee waxing about this layout: “I believe I am absolutely impartial as to the courses which I have helped to build, but I consider the Ojai course as far and away above the best of them … there is not a weak hole at Ojai.”

It’s hard to argue with the architect as you survey the course from the clubhouse, taking in the driving range on a plateau down below you and the adjacent first tee, which faces out into nature.

As you may expect from a AAA Five Diamond resort, the golf valet offers club rentals, shoe polishing, bag storage and on-demand club repair. Caddies are also available with advance notice. The carts are equipped with GPS and hole flyover features.

It is not the longest course, playing just 6,292 yards from the tips to a par of 70 (72 for women), but it is challenging with a slope of 132 and nothing if not picturesque.

Jeff Johnson, the Inn’s director of golf instruction, says the course plays long since almost all of the holes have an uphill approach. He recalled Arnold Palmer’s comments coming off the course after a senior’s event held on site: “That’s the longest short course I’ve ever played.”

The two nines have distinct personalities.

“The front nine is target golf with forced carries, doglegs; a fun nine holes that are easy for the better-than-average player,” Johnson says. “The slopes and carries are harder for average golfers.”

The backside is longer, more open and straight and offers up more birdie opportunities.

Many of the fairways, especially the opening holes, are slanted as they’re built into the side of the rolling hills and balls will run downhill toward the deep barrancas that wind throughout the course, so play your shots accordingly.

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa off course

The area’s fertile land is ripe for growing oranges and the sweet Pixie Tangerines for which the region is known. If you happen to be there in-season (March-May), be sure to ask the concierge for pixies.

For a closer look at the countryside, rent a bicycle from The MOB Shop’s kiosk beside the Inn’s pro shop. The MOB Shop can arrange everything from a trendy Linus Bike for cruising through town or along Pacific Coast Highway or serious cycles for a climb up the valley’s towering peaks. The company arranges tours for individuals as well as corporate outings.

After a hard day pedaling over the trails, swinging clubs out on the course, or just enjoying one of the resort’s pools, visitors can count on the Inn’s noted spa to tap into the valley’s good vibrations.

“Ojai is the unofficial ‘Zen Capital’ of southern California, so it is natural that guests and celebrities alike want to escape the hustle and bustle of city-life to a tranquil destination where you can be left undisturbed,” says Heather Dillon, PR director for the Inn.

The spa does not allow mobile devices, it’s a child-free area, and is the place to truly leave those cares, and sore muscles, behind.

Families flock to the Herb Garden pool. And Camp Oak organizes fun activities for children while parents tee it up or get a rub down.

As for dining options, the Oak Room offers upscale dinners inside or out with views overlooking the 11th tee box. Sunday brunch features bluegrass under its branches and kids of all ages are invited to clap, stomp and dance along in the grass.

Jimmy’s Pub — named for three-time Masters champion Jimmy Demaret — offers microbrews and lighter fare for the turn, family lunch or a group watching sports at the bar.

A new signature restaurant is expected to open by early summer. Dillon says it’s one of several ongoing enhancements that will include a new adults-only pool near the lobby.

Sunset at Ojai Valley: Not soon forgotten

One thing’s for sure, book tee times and spa appointments early (especially in summer) as you don’t want to miss sunset; always a special occasion in Ojai and at the Inn. Grab a drink and a spot outside, or stroll out onto the putting green, but give it some time because when the sun disappears for the day, the rosy tinge on the horizon grows slowly until the east-west mountain range bursts with a majestic glow. Take a photo because along with that impossible birdie putt or sweet approach over the barranca, this money-shot will make you want to come back.

For more information, see www.ojairesort.com.

Amy Yang Becomes 1st Player in Tour History to Close With 9 Straight Birdies

Amy Yang

Amy Yang

Lexi Thompson won the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship on Sunday, but Amy Yang was the one who made history.

Yang, who tied for fourth at 13-under, birdied the final nine holes for a 62. She became the first player in tour history to close with nine straight birdies, tied the record for consecutive birdies set by Beth Daniel in 1999, broke the nine-hole mark for relation to par at 9 under and matched the record for the lowest total at 27. Yang also tied the course record set by Sung Hyun Park on Thursday.

“I don’t know what just happened. Just can’t believe,” Yang said. “Shots were great. Early in the week I was shaky, but I don’t know, this back nine was crazy good.”

courtesy of AP NEWS

Disgraced Olympian Oscar Pistorius Dreams of a Career in Pro Golf


What’s a disgraced Olympic athlete to do? Dream of a “lucrative” golf career, obviously.

Oscar Pistorius, a gold medal-winning sprinter in the Paralympic Games, is making plans to reclaim athletic glory on the golf course, reports The Daily Star. “The Blade Runner,” as he’s known in his home country, was released from prison on Monday. Last October, a judge sentenced him to five years for culpable homicide in the killing of Reeva Steenkamp, his girlfriend. He will serve the remainder of his term under house arrest.

While he won’t be eligible to compete in professional sporting events until after his five-year sentence elapses, sources say Pistorius is already working on his game.

Now 28 years old, Pistorius fears that he’ll be too old to keep up in track by the time his punishment period is over, and golf seems like a solid alternative to running. Pistorius previously played in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2012.

However, with a handicap of 18, Pistorius’ fairway fantasies are likely to remain just that.

courtesy of Kiley Bense (golf.com)


Exclusive Club Booting Members For Tycoons Only?

wentworth clubWhile some golf clubs around the world open their doors to as many golfers as possible, one exclusive golf club is planning to make its barriers to entry even greater.

Wentworth Club, known as the unofficial birthplace of the Ryder Cup and an important locale in the history of golf, plans to slim down its membership via high increases in membership dues, according to a Daily Mail report Sunday.

New owner Dr. Chanchai Ruayrungruang reportedly has plans to up yearly membership dues from £8,000 to £80,000 to slim the crowd of 3,000 to just 250. (Ruayrungruang ‘s net worth is approximately $2 billion.) At that point, they will add “ultra high net worth” members, expecting as many as 600 new individuals to join the club.

The existing membership is expected to hear of Ruayrungruang’s plans Tuesday. As the Daily Mail reports, many of them will be displeased. Reknowned broadcaster Peter Alliss likely had the most telling quote:

“I don’t know if they’re bringing an Asian philosophy to Britain. I believe, rather old-fashionedly, if you have a wonderful restaurant with the best chef around, it’s no good if you’re only doing ten dinners a week.”

courtesy of Sean Zak (golf.com)


Drone Golf: Are You Ready For the New Game?

dronegolfFlying the green just became a lot easier. A new game gaining popularity near Las Vegas – dubbed Drone Golf –combines the burgeoning world of drones with the traditional old world of golf.

Created by John Mendonca, Drone Golf is exactly what it sounds like: using drones to play golf. There’s no swinging or club choice involved, though. Simply hover the drone to the distant hole and drop the ball, held up by a special arm, as close as possible.

According to Medonca, scoring is determined by distance in inches the ball eventually sits from the hole. That means a “hole in zero” is not only possible, but also the goal. It remains to be seen whether the game will show a significant spike in popularity, but Mendonca is certainly excited for one.

“I want to have a professional drone golf association,” he says. “People from all over the world would compete for prize money.”

courtesy of Sean Zak (golf.com)

Hank Haney Backs Tiger, Phil as Future Ryder Cup Captains

tiger_philBrandel Chamblee Says Tiger, Phil Are ‘Undeserving’ of Ryder Captain
Golf analyst Brandel Chamblee knocked the notion of granting Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson Ryder Cup captaincy, calling them ‘undeserving’ of the role.

Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee might think Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson don’t deserve to be Ryder Cup captains, but Woods’ former coach Hank Haney could not disagree more.

During his SiriusXM radio show on Friday, Haney joined 2016 Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III in support of Woods and Mickelson as future leaders in the event.

“Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are just such iconic figures in U.S. golf and golf, period,” Haney said. “If they wanted to be the captain of the Ryder Cup, at any time, I wouldn’t even hesitate for two seconds, and they would be the captain.”

Haney did say the two future Hall of Famers should take separate turns as assistant captains rather than serving together, but that, of course, depends on their success as players in the coming years. Both aging stars struggled in 2015, and Woods announced in September that he will not return to the PGA Tour until 2016 as he recovers from another surgery on his ailing back.

Haney, however, still has plenty of confidence in his former client.

“I think Tiger can still win a golf tournament for sure,” he said. “I don’t know how you don’t pick him [for a Ryder Cup team].”

courtesy of golf.com

Rookie Harold Varner Shows Glimpse of Bright Future at Frys.com Open

harold-varner-pga-fryscom-openHe is No. 437 in the world rankings, for those of you keeping score at home.

After Thursday morning’s first half of the Frys.com Open, Harold Varner III was No. 3 — his opening 65 left him in third place with half of the field finished behind Brendan Steele’s 63 and Jhonny Vegas’ 64.

There is a good chance that you’ve never heard of Varner. There’s a better chance that you’re going to hear a lot more about him.

“You obviously want to start well and I did,” Varner said. “It gives me a good chance to play well the next three days.”

Varner was born in Akron, Ohio, got a set of golf clubs at age 2 and got hooked on golf as he grew up in Gastonia, N.C., just outside Charlotte. It sounds a little like the Tiger Woods story, except Varner’s family was considerably more economically challenged, and Varner didn’t have the physical gifts to be the world-beater that Tiger evolved into.

He spent the last two seasons on the Web.com Tour and played his way to the big stage for the 2015-16 season. He has arrived and, even better, he has arrived with big game and big personality.

Varner, 26, is not big. He is 5 feet 8 inches, a solid 170 pounds and is a big hitter. He ranked eighth in driving distance on the Web.com Tour last season. He is a consummate golf junkie, a true range rat in the most complimentary sense of the word.

Varner in one sentence: He’d rather be golfing.

His father was a car salesman who would drop Harold off at the golf course every morning before 8, then pick him up at 7 o’clock at night. Sometimes, his dad practiced with him late in the day but mostly, Harold hung out at the course, shagging his own golf balls — it was that kind of a range, old school and low rent.

“I didn’t feel like walking really far,” Harold said, “so I got really good inside of 150 yards.”

He improved from necessity, the ultimate teacher. He’d chip and putt around the practice green. Or play golf with some other kids who were there. He was all golf all the time. He played college golf at East Carolina and he’s quick to admit that golf was his focus, not academics. “They gave me a diploma,” he said with a laugh, “so I’m all right.”

Varner had perfect attendance on the Web.com Tour last season, playing in all 25 tour events. He is here to play golf and he’s off to a good start. Asked what his schedule was for the rest of the fall, Varner said he thought he’d get into two of the five fall series tournaments, but a media official corrected him and said he’d get into all five. Then I’m playing all five, Varner said.

You aren’t going to take some time off during that stretch, a reporter asked. Who’s the rookie in this picture? “What am I going to take time off for?” Varner asked, slightly puzzled.

He’s spent the main part of his adult life trying to get here. Now he’s here and he’s going to play. He’s got an everyman’s view of golf, which is refreshing in the pro world where a lot of players have won millions and were country-club silver-spooners growing up. That’s not Varner.

He struggled to answer a question about the best course he’s ever played. There are so many famous tracks out there and Varner, now that he’s a PGA Tour rookie, is going to have a chance to play some of them.

“Pebble beach is right up there,” he said, thinking hard. “I’m looking forward to Torrey Pines. There are a lot of them. There’s a place called Diamond Creek in Boone, North Carolina, that’s just incredible. There are a lot of good ones.”

Reminded that he played the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, he nodded. “That was pretty good, too,” Varner said. “It was just so hard. I can’t really say that was like a cool experience — I shot a thousand!”

The writers laughed, Varner laughed. Every golfer can relate to that. You play a great course but shoot a bad score, it’s just hard to enjoy it.

His opening round at Silverado Resort was impressive. He birdied the last two holes on the front nine to turn at three under par. He finished strong on the back, too, eagling the par-5 16th and adding birdies at 17 and 18. He was at a loss to describe his style of play. “I don’t know,” he said. “I hit it really wild and sometimes I get it up and down and sometimes I don’t.”

Thursday, he said he just stayed patient, gave himself a lot of birdie opportunities and waited for the putts to fall, which they did at the end.

“The greens here are way firmer than they were on the Web.com,” Varner said, “but it’s still golf. That’s all I’m doing. I’ve got 54 holes to play. I’m having fun.”

Varner is just the kind of guy you can root for. He’s pleasant, smiles a lot and has that genuine self-deprecating style of talking. He became a golfer, he said, because “I never got tall enough and never got big enough. I couldn’t really play basketball or football.”

Golf, he learned, he could get better on his own. He could practice on his own. His success didn’t depend on teammates, it was up to him. He loves basketball, he loves LeBron James (if you like basketball, who doesn’t) and he admits that if he was at least 6 foot 3, he’d be playing pro basketball somewhere in the world.

Varner is coached by Bruce Suddath, the pro emeritus at Gaston Country Club, a man he looks up to for helping get to this level. Now that Varner lives in the greater Jacksonville, Fla., area, he frequently sees former PGA Tour winner Morris Hatalsky. Together, they won the First Tee Open at Pebble Beach in 2007, and they stay in contact.

Varner is an underdog story. His game and his personality ensure that he’ll get his share of publicity. He has earned it. He will also get attention because he is only the second African American player to be a PGA Tour member since Tiger Woods broke onto the scene at the end of 1996.

He’s been getting those questions ever since he stepped into pro golf. He will continue to get them. No, he hasn’t met Tiger yet but he hopes to do so in 2016. Like Tiger did, he downplays the race issue. He wants to be a great golfer, not a great black golfer.

Asked the inevitable question why more black players haven’t succeeded in Tiger’s wake—Joseph Bramlett of Stanford is the other African-American who made it to the tour, then had back issues—Varner said, “It does surprise me. I don’t think Tiger really motivated me. I didn’t see Tiger as a black or white thing. I just knew he was the best player and he happened to be black.”

The inevitable follow-up media question is whether his success might inspire other young black golfers. “I hope to, I want to inspire all races,” Varner said. “If me playing golf brings more African Americans to the game, then the more, the merrier. But I want to bring all types of players to the game. That’s my goal.

“Everything is possible. If I put my mind to it, I think I can do it.”

The rookie’s career is a work in progress. One round down, one good round, another round coming up Friday. “I just need to keep doing what I’m supposed to be doing and that’s playing golf, seeing my target and trying to hit it,” he said. “I’m excited to be here, but I’m just playing golf.”

It’s what Varner does best. Just play.

courtesy of Gary Van Sickle (golf.com)



President Obama Crashes Torrey Pines Wedding, Couple is Thrilled

obama wedding crasherOne couple is not complaining that President Barack Obama has played 256 rounds of golf during his presidency, especially since the most recent one took place at their wedding venue…on their wedding day.

Stephanie and Brian Tobe were about to say their vows on Sunday at the Lodge at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, Calif., when their schedule was interrupted by the secret service and POTUS’ golf game. The President, who was in California for the weekend on business, decided to wrap his visit with a round at the famed course. It just so happened that the Tobes were preparing to marry at an altar that overlooked the 18th green at the same time.

According to a blog post by the couple’s photographers, Erin and Jeff Youngren, the minor inconvenience of letting the president play through was nothing to the excitement they felt by being in his presence. And then, things got better.

From Erin’s blog:

“Jeff came over the radio in my earpiece and yelled, “We’re coming down with Brian and Stephanie!! Hold him if you can!!” (As if I have the power to hold a presidential party. What was happening??) Immediately, I switched lenses and starting asking secret service agents as they shoved down the line, “Can we please get a photo with the couple??? Can we please get a photo with the couple???” I yelled back into my earpiece, “You need to hurry or he’ll be gone!” Brian and Stephanie burst from the hotel, Stephanie sprinting in her navy blue Nina heels and Monique Lhullier gown, their friends and family bust into cheers at seeing them, and this is what happened.”

Obama shook hands with guests and posed for photos with the couple, apologizing for holding the ceremony up. And as per the photographer, POTUS gave the groom, who is also from Chicago, some marital advice.

“Nothing about this presidential drop-in negatively impacted the day,” Erin wrote. “In fact, the mood became so fun, laid back, and celebratory, that it was one of the most joyful weddings we’ve ever been at – ever. We easily made up the timeline with the cocktail hour, we were able to get better sunset photos, and in the end, things didn’t run late at all. It was a life moment that none of us will ever forget.”


Premier Resorts: Grand Del Mar is our top-ranked newcomer

delmar1Fifteen resorts join the ranks of Medal winners in 2014, but the only one to debut at the Gold level is The Grand Del Mar. Its splashy showing is attributable to Top 10 performances in both Service and Food & Drink, but it’s undeniable that its stellar location played a big role in the results. Situated an easy 20-minute drive north from the San Diego Airport, The Grand Del Mar is not on the ocean. Yet, that’s hardly a drawback, as it’s free from coastal fog, mist and wind, but not so far inland that it gets too hot.

The Villas at The Grand Del Mar are the highest of the high-end, enjoyed by the likes of Mr. and Mrs. Justin Timberlake, but the standard hotel rooms are among the best in the industry. Only 18 holes of golf are on-property, a Tom Fazio creation that was formerly known as Del Mar National and Meadows Del Mar. It’s a dandy, however, zigzagging among the ridges and canyons, with generous, saddle-shaped fairways and greens that are mostly open in front. Since the course doesn’t accept outside play, tee times are plentiful and play moves along briskly. Frequent visitor Phil Mickelson once tamed the 360-yard, par-4 14th by crushing driver to one foot, but there are plenty of holes that aren’t as easy for Lefty, such as the 480-yard, par-4 4th, a ridge-top stunner and the water-guarded 242-yard, par-3 17th.

With its classic Old Hollywood-style swimming pool, its Addison restaurant (a AAA 5-Diamond winner for six straight years), its golf instruction programs — spearheaded by Golf Director Shawn Cox and Lance Gill, co-director of the Titleist Performance Institute Fitness Advisory Board — and its popular equestrian center, it’s no surprise that The Grand Del Mar achieved Gold Medal status. Perhaps the better question, is, what took you so long?

The Grand Del Mar, San Diego, Calif.
855-314-2030, thegranddelmar.com

courtesy of Joe Passov (golf.com)

Phil Mickelson Uses Wrong Ball, U.S. Penalized 2 Holes

Phil2The International team won two holes in one at the Presidents Cup on Friday thanks to two mistakes involving Phil Mickelson.

The first mistake belonged to Mickelson, who used a different type of golf ball than he had been using in his fourballs match with Zach Johnson against Jason Day and Adam Scott. The second mistake belonged to the rules committee, who told Mickelson he was disqualified from the hole.

The result? The International team went from all square to 2 up in one hole.

“It’s a strange situation,” said Mark Russell, the vice president of rules and competition for the PGA Tour.

The one-ball condition means that players cannot switch golf ball models during the round. The penalty is known as a one-hole adjustment. So when Mickelson realized he was playing with a different ball, the International team was to be awarded one hole at the conclusion of the one they played.

Match referee Gary Young consulted with the rules committee, and Russell said he told him that Mickelson was disqualified from the hole. Russell said he checked with other officials on the committee and they concurred.

Only later did the committee realize it had given Young the wrong information. Because the penalty already had been assessed – the one-hole adjustment – Mickelson should have been allowed to finish the hole. He was in the fairway, 292 yards away on the par 5.

Day wound up making birdie to win the hole, and the match was all square after six.

Russell said once a shot had been played, the committee could not go back and have Mickelson finish the hole because “allowing a correction could potentially undermine the strategy” already in play by both teams.

“It’s just unfortunate that he was told he had to pick up the ball,” U.S. captain Jay Haas said. “Had he been able to play out and make a 4 and tie the hole, then it would only have been 1 down instead of 2 down. But that didn’t happen, so nothing you can do about it.”

What’s yet to be determined is why Mickelson had two different models of golf balls in his bag.

“He was not angry,” Haas said. “Just, ‘Hey, rookie mistake, my fault, captain.’”

Tiger Woods Still Cannot Swing Golf Club After Back Surgery

tiger-woods-british-open-espn_t780Tiger Woods still cannot swing a golf club after his second microdisectomy surgery last month, but he’s not fully backing out of his fall commitments.

In a post on TigerWoods.com, it was announced that Woods will travel to Mexico City for the America’s Golf Cup, an exhibition to promote golf in Latin America but will not compete in the 72-hole best ball tournament or the afternoon teaching clinic. Matt Kuchar, who was scheduled to team with Woods in the event, will “do the heavy lifting, as Tiger cannot swing a golf club yet.”

For all the sponsors, no fear! Woods will still host a breakfast before the tournament begins.

Woods had back surgery on Sept. 16 and is hopeful to return to competitive golf early in 2016.

Van Cynical Mailbag: Is There Anyone More Overrated Than Presidents Cup Captain?

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, here comes this week’s Van Cynical Mailbag:

Van Cynical, What’s going to be the final score of the President’s Cup. U.S. 77 ½, Jason Day 2 1/2 seems like a legit score, right? — Brian Bailey via Twitter

Wow, who’s the cynical one here? Yeow. Give the International team some credit. I’ve never bought the excuses that they’re outmanned and don’t have enough depth. You’re talking teams that have featured Greg Norman, Ernie Els, Nick Price, Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel, Stuart Appleby, Craig Parry, Retief Goosen, Mike Weir, Louis Oosthuizen, K.J. Choi and plenty of other top-notch sticks. I’ve been puzzled why they have repeatedly underperformed. This is the International team’s Ryder Cup, their chance on the big stage, and they haven’t risen to the occasion. The Americans probably have an edge because they play a team match-play event every year. Using that logic, of course, the Americans should do better in the Ryder Cup. But Europe has been fielding a better team for the last decade. I do not expect a blowout win: U.S. 16, Internationals 14.

Is the Presidents Cup just a scrimmage before the Ryder Cup next year for the American squad? It feels like Baylor-Rice… — Zach via Twitter

Zach Attack, it wasn’t that long ago that Baylor wasn’t much better than Rice and that game was a virtual Doormat Bowl. Same for Oregon and Oregon State. Change is good in college football. I get what you’re saying and I don’t disagree except for the word scrimmage. In soccer terms, maybe it’s a “friendly.” While the Prez Cup has lacked significance—my suggestion to make it a qualifier for the Ryder Cup continues to gain no traction–it has always been a good show. Team match-play is the most compelling form of televised golf. Let’s hope this one is close.

Hey Sick Man, How can the Tour allow for a system that leaves off a guy (Brooks Koepka) with a higher world golf ranking than seven members on the team? — Brian Rosenwald via Twitter

That problem is easily solved, BriRo, by the captain adding him to the team as a wild-card selection instead of, say, a lower-ranked Phil Mickelson. We’ve got two issues in play here, Rosey. One is the flaws in the world rankings. I have flogged them repeatedly. The second is the flaw in the points selection system. There is no perfect method or ranking to pick a team. That’s why the captain gets two extra choices. If Koepka hadn’t missed the cut in the first two FedEx Cup events right before the selection deadline, perhaps he would have made the team.

Hey, Sicktastic, who will be the man of the matches in the Presidents Cup? — Michael Cummings via Twitter

I’ll assume you mean other than the obvious choices, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day. I’ll just say this, MC Hammer: Beware India’s Anirban Lahiri. You haven’t heard of him but he can play.

Van Cynical, Is there a more overrated position in sports than Presidents/Ryder Cup captain? — Lionel Mandrake via Twitter

Yes. Major League Baseball Commissioner. Every time there’s been a big issue—strike, steroids, player’s rights—he’s always missing in action.

Hey Van Cynical, Is Pebble Beach pro-am now a boutique stop? It used to be the season opener in my eyes. — David Troyan via Twitter

You’ve gotta change with the times, Boy-Troy. The old Crosby used to feel like the start of the season because the frostbacks in the Midwest (like me) got the first taste of real golf and green grass and ocean spray. This wraparound season is a new animal. The new year may officially kick off with Monday qualifying next week for the Frys.com Open. I’m looking forward to asking players what they did during the offseason and getting answers like, “I barely had time to repack my luggage!” Also, the pros dislike the slow rounds with the am partners, often the course isn’t in prime condition yet and then there’s the weather.

Hey Vans, Are you vexed at the amount of publicity Jessica Marksbury is getting? You played in US Open qualifiers with pros. — BigMark via Twitter

I wished she’d gotten more. I could see a Golf Channel miniseries! I liked how Jessica, who failed to reach match play, wrote about her 12 in the second round and went through it shot by shot with all the thoughts in her head. Every golfer can relate to that nightmare moment. She makes a par on that par 5 instead of 12 and she shoots 79, a good score. I wrote about my U.S. Open qualifying adventures a few decades ago and my U.S. Senior Am rounds last year. Hey, it’s amateur golf, it’s fun and most people enjoy living vicariously if you bring them your story, like Jessica did. Like Tin Cup, she owned her 12 and gave us a peek inside the mind of a golf competitor. I enjoyed her heartfelt story.

Van Cynical, Rate the multiple-major seasons. — Floyd Harris via Twitter

Bobby Jones stands alone in a different class of four majors. Then you have Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods with three each. Hogan couldn’t make it back by ship after the British in time for the ’53 PGA and Tiger in 2000 went on to create the Tiger slam with a fourth in a row the following year. After that, four more stand out to me because they were legit almost-Grand Slams. Spieth this year, contending until the final hole, more or less, in all four majors; Jack Nicklaus in ’72 when he snagged the first two and then was stunned by Lee Trevino’s chip-in at Muirfield; Tiger in 2002 when he won the first two and, I believed, was going to win Muirfield, too, until that freak storm blew in just before he teed off in the third round; and Arnold Palmer in 1960 after he won the first two majors and was edge by Kel Nagle at The Old Course. The rest bunch up behind those.

Sicklemania, We’re living in sensitive times. Is trying to keep my left arm straight offensive to the LGBT community? — CapBozo via Twitter

No but my guess is that you might be.

courtesy of Gary Van Sickle (golf.com)

Rory McIlroy’s Season Chronicled By the Numbers in New Ad

Rory42015 was considered by many a “lost season” for world no. 3 Rory McIlroy. He even considered it “disappointing.” Even though an ankle injury kept him from completing a full season, McIlroy put his body through plenty this season, as summed up by a recent advertisement he appeared in.

McIlroy recently appeared in an ad for Santander Spendlytics, a person finance app, which totaled his movement and appearances in 2015. The numbers were pretty astounding.

He walked 1,500 km (~932 miles), hit 16,500 balls, did 6,320 pull ups, gave 6,350 autographs and 210 interviews. He visited 118 airports throughout his worldwide travel schedule, spending 350 hours in the air and 287 nights in various hotels. That’s roughly four of five nights, year-round.

There’s a bit of irony in McIlroy’s endorsement for a personal budgeting app. It comes at no surprise that McIlroy’s finances extend far beyond the typical consumer, but he might not be the type of person that needs to strictly budget his finances. Luckily for him, as he said recently, $10 million (which he could have won with the FedEx Cup) “doesn’t mean much” to him anymore.

courtesy of Sean Zak (golf.com)