Friday, June 22, 2018

70th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship coming to Poppy Hills GC

The golf courses in the Del Monte Forest are no strangers to championship events. Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill, and the private courses, Cypress Point and Monterey Peninsula Country Club, have hosted PGA Tour and Champions Tour events, and Pebble Beach Golf Links has hosted several national championships – five U.S. Opens, and four U.S. Amateur Championships.
Poppy Hills, the home of the Northern California Golf Association – the largest regional golf association in the United States, and the only one to have its own home course – has been in the mix, too. In addition to the NCGA’s own state and local championship events, Poppy Hills was for many years one of the host courses for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and currently co-hosts the Champions Tour’s First Tee Open (presented by PURE Insurance.) In a few weeks from now, July 16 – 21, the NCGA’s flagship course will host a USGA championship of its own – the 70th U.S. Junior Girls’ Championship.
The Northern California Golf Association (NCGA) will host its first national championship when the 70th U.S. Girls’ Junior Chanpiosnhip comes to Poppy Hills GC July 16–21, 2018.

The Girls’ Junior, which is a showcase for the Curtis Cup, Solheim Cup, and LPGA stars of the future, last visited Central California in 2012. That year’s event saw current LPGA stars such as Ariya Jutanagarn, Lydia Ko, and Minjee Lee playing for the Glenna Collett-Vare trophy at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City. The tournament has been played on the Monterey Peninsula before, in 1952 at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, when future World Golf Hall of Fame member Mickey Wright, then 17 years old, was the champion. Next month at Poppy Hills some of women’s golf’s stars of years to come will certainly be in the field.

Renovated Poppy Hills course is ready for a championship

When qualifying concludes on June 28th, a field of 156 girls up to the age of 18 will be headed for the Monterey Peninsula to contest their national championship on the beautifully renovated Poppy Hills course.
The course closed in March 2013 for a complete makeover, reopening in April 2014 after a 13-month-long renovation. Completely sand-capped to improve drainage, the course also received a state-of-the-art irrigation control system for more efficient water use. Native areas were restored, eliminating 25 acres that were previously irrigated turf to reduce water requirements. Water hazards were reduced or eliminated, some holes were realigned, and many of the greens significantly revamped.
Later that year, once the renovation was firmly in place, the NCGA approached the USGA about the possibility of hosting a national championship on the now “firm, fast, and fun” course, and in 2015 were selected to host this event. Planning for the tournament began in 2016.

Expect a different look than the Poppy Hills you play

The course will play a bit differently for the tournament than day-to-day players are used to. The nines were flipped after a couple of years’ experience with the new layout, improving pace of play by eliminating the backups that occurred on the then-front nine, which has an early run of difficult holes.
Tracy Parsons, the USGA’s tournament director for the event, first walked the course with the original order in place.
“The very first time that I came on this golf course, the First Tee was here, and that’s the way that I walked the course, that’s the way that I began preparing, and that’s the way that I envisioned the championship being played. When the NCGA flipped the nines I started walking the golf course the opposite way…and it didn’t make much sense to me for our championship.”
“When we go to match play we go to a single-tee start, and I’d like to have the crowd around the first tee for all the players. It obviously makes more sense for us to have it (the first tee) right here (near the clubhouse), and to have both the finishing holes right there as well. In match play, obviously some of our matches won’t make it to the 18th hole, and some of those holes on the front nine are so key to the round that I don’t want to skip them. The way that the routing was originally works in our best interests for the championship. I understand why they (the NCGA) flipped it for regular play, but for our purposes I think it makes the most sense to stick with the original routing.”
A record 1,609 entries were received for this year’s event, 103 more than in 2017. Forty sites around the country are hosting qualifying tournaments, where 140 girls (156-player field minus 16 exempt players) will advance to the championship event at Poppy Hills. They will play the course to a par of 71, at a length of 6,182 yards.

These Girls Are Good

Entry into the championship requires that the player carry a handicap of -9.4 or better.
“People who have never come to the Girls’ Junior think, ‘Oh that’s so cute, with their little pigtails and their bows,’ tournament director Tracy Parsons told the media during the recent preview day, “but I think that if they were actually to come and watch these players compete – because that’s what they are, they’re competitors – they would be surprised, and in awe of what these girls can do. I think the testament to that is the fact that the USGA has recognized the level of play, and last year awarded this champion an exemption into the U.S. Women’s Open.”
A USGA review of the level of play in both the Girls’ Junior and the Junior Amateur Championship two years ago led them to raise the maximum age from 17 to 18, and also to raise the bar for the required handicap. Prior to 2017 the requirement for the Girls’ Junior was -18.4; it was slashed nearly in half to the current -9.4. In 2017 no player that advanced to the championship was above a 6.0.
For a taste of the level of competitor who will be playing in this tournament, Concord’s Yealimi Noh, 16, a member of the Junior Tour of Northern California who qualified for the championship with a 5-under 67 on the par-72 course at The Reserve at Spanos Park, in Stockton, carries a +4 handicap.
Play begins July 16, with rounds of stroke play on the 16th and 17th to trim the field down to 64 players. Single-elimination match play at 18 holes will cut the field down to an eventual two finalists squaring off for the championship, which will be decided by a 36-hole match on 21 July.
Admission to the tournament is free for spectators.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

San Jose’s Shintaro Ban clinches U.S. Open berth

June 4 is not yet the longest day of 2018 in astronomical terms, but in the world of golf it is. “Golf’s Longest Day” – the day when 36-hole sectional qualifying tournaments for the USGA’s premier golf championship event, the United States Open, are held in ten U.S. locations and two more overseas.
Shintaro Ban, of San Jose, steps in to retrieve his ball after making an eagle on the par-five 18th hole at Lake Merced Golf Club in the June 4, 2018 U.S. Open sectional qualifying tournament. The two-foot putt clinched his spot in the field for the 118th United States Open, next week at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, on Long Island. (photo by author)

It falls on the same day every year – the Monday two weeks before Fathers Day – because the week of Fathers Day is traditionally the week of the U.S. Open. These sectional qualifiers are, with few exceptions, the final chance for golfers across the country and the world to earn a berth in the toughest, and arguably the most important, tournament in the game of golf.
The California venue for this final hurdle before the main event alternates between Northern California and Southern California venues, and in 2018, as in other even-numbered years, the event was held in the Bay Area, at the conveniently adjacent courses at Lake Merced Golf Club and across the lake, at the Olympic Club, on their Ocean Course.
Eighty-six players vied for six spots in the field in the 2018 U.S. Open, which is returning to the storied Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, on New York’s Long Island, for the first time since 2004. The field was split between Lake Merced’s par-72 layout, recently the venue for a new LPGA event, the LPGA Mediheal Championship, and the Olympic Club’s par-71 Ocean Course, sister course to the renowned Lake Course, itself a five-time U.S. Open venue. Going off in the morning starting at 7:00 a.m., the players completed 18-hole rounds on one course before taking a lunch break and moving to the other venue to compete another 18-hole round of golf – it’s easy to see why it’s called “The Longest Day in Golf”, right?
At the end of the day, an Arizona State college golfer, rising junior Chun An Yu, of Chinese Taipei, took medalist honors. Yu laid a crisp 6-under 65 on the Olympic Club’s Ocean Course, carding seven birdies and a lone bogey in the morning round. Taking on the Lake Merced course in breezy conditions in the afternoon round, Yu again had a lone bogey against three birdies for a two-under 70, for a total of eight-under 135.
A South Bay golfer makes the grade
San Jose’s Shintaro Ban, a well-known name to South Bay golfers, came in one stroke behind Chun An Yu, posting a seven-under 136.
Ban, a 2014 graduate of Archbishop Mitty High School in San José, also played Olympic in the morning and Lake Merced in the afternoon, knocking down four birdies and an eagle, on the par-4 sixth hole, against two bogeys for a four-under 67 in the morning round.
The eagle came as a surprise to Ban, “(I) had a hundred yards in. There were a couple of people up there, but they didn’t react and I’m like, ‘Aw, it must be close’, and  I walk up and they’re like, ‘Oh, it went in.’ ”
Ban carded another eagle in the afternoon round at Lake Merced, but it didn’t come without some troubles beforehand. “I struggled to make birdies on the front (nine) par-fives, and I really needed to take advantage of the back nine.” The 2018 UNLV grad put himself in a hole briefly in his afternoon round when a pushed drive on the 5th hole, a downhill, left-bending 399-yard par-four, landed him in a gully between the fourth and fifth fairways. His second shot, out of the gully, hit a tree, resulting in a total of four shots to reach the green, and a two-putt double-bogey. A birdie on the par-3 eighth brought him back to even par for the front nine.
Three birdies and two bogeys through seven holes on the back nine had Ban back under par for the afternoon and within range of advancement to the big show – the United States Open – next week on Long Island, but it was his performance on the final hole of the tournament that closed the deal.
The 18th hole at Lake Merced is a scenic, but problematic, par-five. It’s not the hardest hole on the course, but it is the longest, and it is distinguished by a generous helping of elevation change, dropping over 25 feet down to the lowest point in the fairway from the elevated tee box, and climbing more than double that back up to the putting green. With more than 200 yards to the flag after his drive, Ban had to take into account a climb of about 42 feet from his position in the fairway to the the left-front hole position.
“I didn’t expect to hit it to two feet.”
Lake Merced’s number 18 is a tough reach in two, so it was quite an accomplishment for Ban to place his second shot, a 5-iron from 215 yards, to within two feet of the hole. Ban’s approach shot went inside the excellent approach of playing partner Tim Widing, a USF Don who is originally from Sweden, who laid his second shot to about four feet.
Widing missed his eagle putt, a crucial error which led to him missing out on an opportunity to go to Shinnecock – at least directly. His five-under finish tied him with Edward Olson, of Aptos, California, and the two became the 1st and 2nd alternates from this event.
Ban took due care with the short but crucial putt, dropping it into the heart of the hole to close out his day at 7-under and ensure himself of a place  in the field for the 118th U. S Open.
There was a lot riding on those two eagle putts on #18. If Widing’s had dropped and Ban’s hadn’t, there would have been a five-for-four playoff, with Ban, Widing, and eventual T-3 finishers Rhett Rasmussen, of Draper, Utah; Franklin Huang, of Poway, California; and Sung Joon Park, of Irvine, California, returning to the 10th hole to battle it out for the four qualifying spots behind Chun An Yu.
Next year the U.S. Open will return to Pebble Beach Golf Links for the sixth time, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the opening of the world-famous seaside course.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Another book about Arnold Palmer? (Yes, and it’s worth a look.) ★★★★☆

Books by and about Arnold Palmer are something of a mini-industry within the world of golf publishing. Even a quick search for “Arnold Palmer” on the Amazon website yields a couple dozen titles within the first few pages of search results—the man who was golf’s greatest ambassador was easily the most written-about figure in the game. In the great library of the game of golf, only Ben Hogan comes close to this level of attention, and most of those books are volumes purporting to reveal the “secret” of his phenomenal golf game.
Chris Rodell, a golf writer who was Arnold Palmer’s neighbor for 24 years, has compiled an entertaining collection of reminiscences about golf’s greatest ambassador.
The latest volume about Arnold Palmer, entitled Arnold Palmer: Homespun Stories of The King, by Chris Rodell, is a delightful read that is sure to be appreciated by fans of the man who will always be remembered as one of America’s greatest sports figures.
Arnold and golf on television came into the American consciousness at about the same time, and the American viewing audience fell in love with the ruggedly handsome young man who played golf with a swashbuckling, go-for-broke style that endeared him to viewers all over the country, and eventually the world. It was Palmer who almost singlehandedly transformed the game of golf—in the eyes of Americans, at least—from the pastime of the white-collar denizens of stuffy, exclusive country clubs to the status of the everyman (and -woman’s) game that it has always enjoyed in its birthplace—Scotland.
Palmer’s love for the game, and for the fans who adored him, translated into commercial success that kept him among the top earners in the game years after his playing days were over, and a large part of that mutual love stemmed from the hometown appeal that he exuded.
A man like Arnold Palmer could have lived virtually anywhere he wanted, and though he had homes in Orlando, Florida and La Quinta, California, in the Palm Springs area, his birthplace of Latrobe, Pennsylvania was his true home until the end of his life. As hinted at by the title, the anecdotes that make up this book are largely hometown stories told to the author by the townsfolk who knew Palmer as Deacon’s boy, the guy who stopped in at the Youngstown Grille for breakfast or the Tin Lizzy tavern for a drink, and who played much of his golf at Latrobe Country Club.
From the way he treated people, and the way that people responded to him, you might never know that Arnold Palmer was a man who had literally dined with presidents, kings, and queens; who could, and had, played golf at the most renowned and exclusive golf courses in the world (and was a part-owner of one of the best, Pebble Beach Golf Links), or that a street, the local airport, and a few other things around town in Latrobe were named after him.
Author Chris Rodell brings considerable hometown cred to the table in writing this book of reminiscences. Rodell has himself lived in Latrobe since 1992, within walking distance of Palmer’s own home. He came to know golf’s greatest legend after first meeting him in 2001, and in 2005 was hired to go through more than a dozen legal-sized boxes of magazine and newspaper clippings detailing Mr Palmer’s life as told in publications the world over, for the purpose of compiling a timeline of the great man’s career. Throughout the process, if he had a question, all he had to do was go ask Mr Palmer—not bad, huh?
It was a level of access that is unique among the dozens, if not hundreds, of journalist and writers who have interviewed Arnold Palmer over the years, and gives this book a level of authenticity that is virtually unmatched in the canon of Palmer bio’s. If you are a golfer (or even if you are not), and a fan of Arnold Palmer, you will enjoy this book. Arnold Palmer: Homespun Stories of The King is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and if they know what’s good for them, at your local golf shop.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Book That’s Not Really A Golf Book, About Everyone’s Favorite Golf Movie ★★★★☆

The 1980 movie Caddyshack regularly appears at or near the top of lists of the best—or at least best-loved—golf movies. From the goofy and often downright crude humor, to the “snobs vs slobs” subtext, and even the language-and-nudity-inspired “R” rating, Caddyshack has something to appeal to just about every golfer.
The film has inspired a variety of Caddyshack products over the years—hats, t-shirts, gopher puppets, even a Florida restaurant located near the World Golf Hall of Fame which is owned by the Murray brothers (including Bill, of course, and older brother Brian Doyle-Murray, who co-wrote the movie), and regularly-updated video releases on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray. Until recently however, if you wanted to read about the movie, there were only a few random magazine articles over the years, and 2007’s The Book of Caddyshack, by Scott Martin. Now, however, there is Scott Nashawaty’s Caddyshack – The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story.

While the 2007 book is something of a novelty item, breaking down scenes in detail and noting cameos, goofs, and trivia, the new book by Nashawaty, the film critic for Entertainment Weekly, is a more mainstream effort that delves into the back story of the making of the movie before getting into the movie itself.
Nashawaty opens by recounting the July 12, 1980 press conference with the film’s writers and stars at Rodney Dangerfield’s comedy club in Manhattan, less than 24 hours after the press preview of the movie. Neither event went well, and no one would, at the time, have predicted the late-blooming but monstrous success story that Caddyshack would become. To investigate the roots of the story of the movie, Nashawaty turns the calendar back even further, to 1966 and the blossoming of a few twisted, but talented, young men at The Harvard Lampoon.
The notorious college comedy/social commentary magazine begat a new publication, The National Lampoon, with Henry Beard and Doug Kenney (later one of the writers of Caddyshack) at its beating heart. The story develops from there with the introduction of a cast of characters who defined ’70s comedy, both written and in live performance—Michael O’Donoghue, Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Bill Murray, and Harold Ramis, among others. The cross-pollenization that resulted in the Lampoon’s first film, the 1978 mega-hit Animal House, and later in Caddyshack, was an admixture of talent from the magazine; Chicago’s famed Second City improv comedy troupe; the Toronto, Canada, comedy club scene; and New York’s Saturday Night Live television show.
Nashawaty’s Caddyshack is a social history, a “Sherman-set-the-Wayback-Machine-for-1978” look at the roots of a larger comedy phenomenon that just happens to have spawned an improbable, crazy, disjointed, somewhat dysfunctional, and really, really funny movie that occupies a unique position with respect to the game with which it is associated. Golfers the world over quote lines from the movie in appropriate circumstances on the course and in the clubhouse, and I would venture to guess that everyone who plays the game—with the possible exception of some of the stuffier R and A group captains and squadron leaders—has seen the movie at least once.
In the book, anecdotes from the sets and locations of the film are intertwined with behind-the-scenes details of the movie business politics and pressure that seethed under the surface. Well-known stories of rampant and blatant drug use among cast and crew during filming alternate with Hollywood-tell-all-like revelations about the movie’s untested first-time writer-director, Harold Ramis; the nearly unknown Borscht Belt comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who found the transition from standup to film comedy an uneasy fit; less-than-congenial co-stars Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Ted Knight; and the Hollywood executives, casting directors, and technical professionals who played their respective parts in the film’s making. It’s something of a roller-coaster ride, and it holds surprises for even the movie’s most dedicated fans.
There’s surprisingly little about golf in this book about one of the golf world’s most beloved movies, but there is a lot to learn about how the movie came to be. It may seem to be a lot of attention to pay to the story of the making of one 98-minute movie that is replete with sophomoric humor, drug jokes, nudity, and bad behavior from the bottom of the social spectrum at an upper-crust country club to the top—but the movie’s long-lived success, despite its slow start, justifies the attention.
Nashawaty’s Caddyshack will be enjoyed by golfers and non-golfers alike, whether they lived through the years in which the story takes place or not. It’s a fascinating history of movie-making in that era, a microcosm of bad behaviors with good outcomes, with a cast of stars and unknowns—both then and now. It distills the essence of a time when comedy in America was undergoing profound changes from a film that has ridden cult status to mainstream notoriety in the almost 40 years since its inauspicious debut.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Lydia Ko seals the deal as LPGA returns to the Bay Area

Bay Area golf fans have always enjoyed an abundance of opportunities to see high-level competitive golf. The PGA Tour visits twice a year, for the season-opening Safeway Open in October, and the venerable AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. The Champions Tour comes to Pebble Beach in September for the First Tee Open (now sponsored by PURE Insurance), the USGA visits fairly regularly for various championship events, and the Northern California Golf Association (NCGA) holds their championship events around the area every year.
Lydia Ko, winner of the inaugural LPGA Mediheal Championship, accepts the trophy from Mediheal Chairman, Oh-sub Kwon. This was Ko’s third win in four LPGA tournaments at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City. (photo by author)

What has been missing too often in recent years has been the consistent presence of professional women’s golf. From 1996 to 2010 a tournament known as the Twelve Bridges LPGA Classic, and later as the Longs Drugs Challenge and the CVS Pharmacy/LPGA Challenge was held on Sacramento–area courses before moving to Blackhawk Country Club in the East Bay for its last five years. After CVS dropped its sponsorship in 2010, Northern California entered a drought period—until 2014, when the Taiwanese golf association known as “Swinging Skirts” brought an LPGA tournament to Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City.
The new event was well received by players and fans alike during its three-year run, but the Taiwanese group pulled their support after the 2016 event, leaving Bay Area LPGA fans in the lurch again.
Fast-forward to late 2017, and the announcement of a new LPGA tournament, again at Lake Merced Golf Club—sponsor unknown—then, in March 2018, the official LPGA press release gave the name of the sponsor for the event, Mediheal, a South Korean maker of cosmetic facial mask products.
The players love coming back to the San Francisco Bay Area, and the fans love to see them. Often touted as a U.S. Open-quality course, Lake Merced Golf Club (which was considered for an Open in the past, but rejected for lack of room for infrastructure support) is a favorite among LPGA players, though acknowledged to be a tough layout. Hilly, with mostly small, diabolically contoured greens, LMGC also challenges with the changeable Peninsula weather.

Same course, new order

One change from the LPGA’s previous visits to Lake Merced is in the course’s order of play. I was told that the new sponsor wanted a new look to help differentiate the event from the Swinging Skirts event which was held here 2014-2016, also that television coverage was a factor. While the normal order of play yields a visually dramatic finish—the course’s 532-yard par-five 18th hole plays down to a valley from an elevated tee, then up to a two-tiered green overlooked by the clubhouse, but is a no-kidding three-shotter even for elite-level men—the new routing provides more potential for a dramatic finish.
The final trio of holes are, in order: a dramatic downhill 417-yard par-4, followed by a challenging par-3 that can play as long as 184 yards, and closing with a 518-yard par-5 that has the potential to be a two-shotter even for the mid–range drivers in the LPGA’s ranks. The 15th hole is a par–5 that is reachable for most of this field, adding another potential shot of drama to the closing holes.
The new event saw a pair of players separate themselves from the pack on Saturday, when Lydia Ko and Jessica Korda came in at –11 and –10, respectively, with Minjee Lee at –8, and a smattering of players at –6 coming up behind. Ko made an impressive move in the third round, posting a 5-under 67 to pass Korda for the 54-hole lead.

Players battle bright but breezy weather

Chilly, breezy conditions for the morning wave prevented any strong moves by the back-markers on Sunday—though it would have taken quite a jump to spring into contention from the even-par-or-worse territory inhabited by first 19 groups.
The second half of the field teed off under a blue sky scoured free of clouds by a brisk onshore breeze, and the final pairing of Ko and Korda immediately came back to the field by one, each dropping a shot on the par-4 first hole.
The final round turned into a horse race on the back nine as Minjee Lee, the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion on this course, was in red numbers for the round while Ko and Korda dropped shots and opened the door for their pursuers. Angel Yin posted a 5-under 67 to move to 8-under, moving up 11 spots to T-3, but ran out of holes before she could truly threaten for the lead.
Jessica Korda faded in the middle of the back nine, a cold putter resulting in bogeys at 10 and 12 and a drop to –8. A birdie at 15 moved her to –9, and put her in solo 3rd with three to play, behind Ko at –11 and Lee at –10. She failed to capitalize on a read from Ko’s putt at 16, missing high, and also missing chance to pull up into a tie for 2nd with Minjee Lee.
Lee, in the meantime, hit her second poor iron shot in two holes when her 8-iron off the tee at the par-three 17th strayed right and and found the bunker, but she was redeemed by a chip-in for birdie – and was now tied for 1st with her antipodean rival, Ko.

New Routing Pays Off

The closing holes of the tournament highlighted the wisdom of the decision to swap the nines. Though less visually arresting than the usual 18th hole, with no clubhouse backdrop, and noise from the nearby freeway and BART intruding, the new closing hole left the door open for a dramatic finish that would not have been possible with the original routing.
Lee birdied the final hole to take the lead at -12, throwing down a gauntlet for Ko. Not to be outdone, the two-time champion at Lake Merced answered with a birdie of her own, setting up a playoff between two former winners on this challenging, windswept course.
Ko’s tee shot on the playoff hole showed her savvy and course knowledge. Laying her tee shot near the right side of the fairway, short of Lee’s drive but better placed, Ko laced a 234-yard 3-wood to within three feet of the front-right flag, throwing down a gauntlet of her own. Lee’s second shot finished in the rough short and right of the green—in almost identical position to her second shot on 18 in regulation—leaving her facing a chip-in from 20 yards to prolong the contest, but it wasn’t to be.
Lee’s penultimate shot rolled past, leaving an easy comebacker for birdie—but her opponent had a near kick-in for eagle, and the win.
It was almost anticlimactic. The newly minted 21-year-old took her time, stroked the putt – and sealed the deal for her third win in four LPGA tournaments at Lake Merced Golf Club.
“It’s a huge relief (to win after 43 winless starts), because people are saying ‘You’re not winning because of this, you’re not winning because of that,’ ” Ko said, “It was nice to be in the final group again, to be in the position to win again.”

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Journeyman Ted Potter, Jr. stares down past champions to take AT&T Pro-Am title

At the close of play Saturday at the 2018 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am the scene was set for a Jack-the-Giant-Killer scenario – World #1 Dustin Johnson, a two-time winner in this event, in 2009 and 2010, surged to the top of the leaderboard with a 64 at Pebble Beach, but a few miles away, past the Lone Cypress, around the curve of Cypress Point along 17-Mile Drive, Ted Potter, Jr. was making some magic happen at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, carding a 9-under 62 to jump up onto the top step with DJ for Sunday’s final round.

2018 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am winner Ted Potter Jr. speaks to the media after holding off a pack of higher-ranked pursuers to collect his second PGA Tour win.  (photo by author)

Opening with a 6-under 30 on MPCC’s back nine, Potter bid fair to do the same on the front side, but after a bogey-bogey stumble at the last two holes he had to settle for 9-under 62 and a share of the tournament lead going into Sunday’s final round.

Ted who?
They say that even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while. Sunday at Pebble Beach Potter, a one-time “Central Florida mini-tour legend”, did just that. He has five Top 10 finishes in 84 PGA Tour starts, including a win at the 2012 Greenbrier Classic. Take out that 2012 win and his average PGA Tour paycheck is $22,000. For this win his paycheck is $1,332,000.

After a near record-breaking performance Saturday at MPCC, the 34-year-old from Ocala, Florida, who last played in a final group on Sunday in 2011, in the Tour’s Soboba Classic, came out swinging on Sunday morning with four birdies and a bogey in the first seven holes, while co-leader Johnson stuttered his way through the same stretch at 1-under.

DJ made another bogey at the wicked-hard par-4 eighth hole after his second shot found the bunker behind the green, dropping him to T-3 alongside Troy Merritt, as Chez Reavie moved past him into solo second with birdies at 8 and 9.

Meanwhile, Ted Potter Jr. was waltzing through the latter stages of the biggest finish of his pro-golf career like it was one of the Central Florida mini-tour events he used to dominate. A nerveless par from a scary spot above the hole on #11, the worst position on the slipperiest green on the course, was typical of his play to that point.

With a pack that included Phil Mickelson, Chez Reavie, Kevin Streelman, Dustin Johnson, Troy Merritt, and Jason Day in pursuit, Potter – the “Ocala mini-tour legend” – coasted in while the #1 player in the world, a former #1, and a host of much higher-ranked players tripped over themselves in a vain attempt to chase down the 246th-ranked player in the world.

All efforts came to naught, however, as the field trailed the mini-tour legend from Central Florida to the finish. Phil Mickelson’s 67 fell three shots short, as did Chez Reavie’s 68.

Jason Day made a dramatic effort with driver off the deck for his second shot at #18, only see the ball ricochet off the seawall left of the fairway, leaving him a third shot from the eponymous pebble beach behind the scoreboard. He knocked that one over the green into the front bunker, chipped out and made a 17-foot putt for what was probably the least likely par in the history of the 18th hole at Pebble Beach. Day closed with 70 to join Mickelson, Reavie, and Johnson in a tie for second place.

Potter played the final hole with two fairway woods, and a 9-iron to 14 feet, lagging to two inches from there and tapping in for a 69 on the day, 17-under for the tournament, and a three-stroke win.

The win jumps Potter from 117th to 15th in the FedEx Cup rankings, and earns him a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour and an invitation to the Masters.

“(My goals for the year) will definitely have to change now,” Potter said in a post-round interview. “I’m just happy to be where I am right now.”

NorCal player results
Among players with a Northern California association, Fresno’s Kevin Chappell and former Stanford Men’s Golf star Patrick Rodgers brought home the best result, T-8. Chappell posted a 5-under 67, with three birdies in his first nine, and two bogeys bookending four birdies in his final nine, for his best finish in this event since 2009, when he was T-6; Rodgers closed with a 1-over 73.

Walnut Creek’s Brandon Haskins made the biggest move of the day, closing with a 6-under 66 that rocketed him 45 spots up the leaderboard to finish T-15.

James Hahn of Alameda fired a 4-under 68 to close out the tournament at 7-under, T-26 – a 33-spot move up the leaderboard. Sacramento’s Nick Watney carded an even-par 72 to close at 4-under for a T-47 finish.

Bryson DeChambeau struggled to a 3-over 75 for a final score of 3-under and a T-55 finish. Stockton’s Ricky Barnes finished -62, at 2-under.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

2018 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am: Big charge in final holes pays off for Fresno’s Kevin Chappell

It’s an acknowledged fact that things start getting serious at Pebble Beach Golf Links when you are on the ocean holes – four through ten, seventeen and eighteen. Kevin Chappell, a 10-year pro from Fresno, California, felt the bite of those seaside holes in Saturday’s third round, when a double-bogey on #4, the scenic par-4 fronting Stillwater Cove, put his chances of making the cut in jeopardy.
Kevin Chappell sinks a birdie putt on the 6th hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links in the third round of the 2018 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the first in a string of four birdies that cemented his advancement to the final round.

Chappell came into the third round 2-under, and after starting on #10, improved to 3-under with a birdie at #14, the long par-5 with a dining-room-table sized green, in the midst of a string of pars. A tough three-putt bogey at the first hole dropped him back to 2-under before getting the stroke back with a birdie at #2, another par-5.

After a par at #3, Chappell found a left-side fairway bunker off the tee at #4, then overshot the green with his second, leading to a penalty and a drop in the native area behind a bunker. A chip from the long grass and two putts added up to six, and all of a sudden he was in the hole with a lot of territory to make up as the cut hovered around at 3- or 4-under.

After parring the picturesque par-3 fifth hole, Chappell faced a tough closing stretch, six through nine. His second shot ran through the green, but a delicate chip to 18 inches and a birdie putt started him off right. A tight approach at #7, the iconic short par-3 on the very tip of Arrowhead Point, led to another birdie – back to red numbers for the round and 3-under for the tournament.

Number eight, the dramatic cliffside par-4 which Jack Nicklaus calls “the greatest second shot in golf”, saw Chappell above the hole with a short, but testy, downhill putt – never a comfortable proposition at Pebble Beach. The ball slid in for another birdie, getting him over the line to play on Sunday – tough work over three unforgiving golf holes.

With Sunday play fairly well in hand, Chappell took on the toughest par-4 on the course, the most difficult hole in the stretch that golf scribe Dan Jenkins calls “Abalone Corner” – 7 through 10. Smoking a 345-yard drive to great position right of center in the fairway, he stiffed his 141-yard second shot to a yard above the hole, sinking the birdie putt with (apparent) casual aplomb to add a bit of cushion to his bid for Sunday play.

By the time the final scores were in the cut stood at 3-under, and Chappell was in for Sunday with a two-stroke cushion.

Chappell has made the cut six times now in nine appearances at Pebble Beach. The UCLA graduate’s best finish in the event is a T-6 in 2009, his first appearance in the tournament. That finish was a big boost, he says, due in large part to the financial freedom it gave him. “It allowed me to go chasing Monday qualifiers out here; I ended up getting status on the (Tour) through those Monday qualifiers, and the next year I parlayed that into a Tour card.”

Chappell will tee off Sunday morning at 7:45, again from #10 tee, in a group with Sam Saunders (Arnold Palmer’s grandson) and his amateur partner Brian Ferris, and 2015 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am champion Brandt Snedeker.