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.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Sunshine, blue skies, and no wind – whatever happened to “Crosby weather”?

Sunshine, mild temps, and light breezes put the lie to the familiar “Crosby weather” trope for the second day in a row at the 2018 AT&T Pro-Am. The mild conditions paved the way for a flurry of low scores, with 83 players posting under-par rounds across the three courses in play, led by two-time AT&T Pro-Am winner (2009 & 2010) Dustin Johnson’s 7-under 64 at Monterey Peninsula Country Club (MPCC).

Four-time AT&T Pro-Am champion Phil Mickelson made a run today, chasing his first win on Tour since the 2013 Open Championship. Mickelson carded a 6-under 65 at MPCC to go to 9-under for the tournament and move to the top of the leaderboard – for a while. By the end of the day his 9-under standing was good for T-5.

Dustin Johnson’s 7-under put him atop the leaderboard at 12-under, where he was joined by Beau Hossler, who went 5-under at Spyglass Hill. Hossler opened with a 7-under 65 Thursday at Pebble Beach to share the first-round lead with Kevin Streelman.

Hossler is well known to Bay Area golf fans for briefly leading the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club as a 17-year-old, where he eventually missed low amateur honors by one stroke.

Hossler is the only player in the field with no bogeys on his card, and credits his good play to accuracy off the tee. “I was getting the ball in a good spot off the tee and was able to get some shorter clubs from the fairway. I can be relatively aggressive with those, but still be kind of cautiously aggressive, and give myself a lot of good birdie looks.”

Dustin Johnson’s 7-under round at MPCC was a milestone,“(My) lowest by about 7 shots at Monterey, ever. Probably the only time we’ve played over there with good weather.” A testament to the difference in the weather this year, compared to last, was Johnson’s play on the par-3 eleventh hole at MPCC. Commenting on today’s birdie on the 176-yard par-3, Johnson said, “Eleven was (a) 9-iron. Last year I think I hit a four.”

Jordan Spieth, winner of the 2017 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, posted a 5-under 66 at MPCC today, after opening with an even-par 72 Thursday at Spyglass Hill.

Pro-Am standings after two days

Though Kevin Streelman slipped out of share of the lead today, he and his amateur partner, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, lead the pro-amateur field by six strokes over England’s Paul Casey and amateur partner Donald Colleran, an executive with FedEx Corporation. Dustin Johnson and his father-in-law, hockey great Wayne Gretzky, are one of five pairs tied for fifth in the pro-am competition at 17-under. The 2011 pro/pro-am joint winners D. A. Points and actor Bill Murray are T-33 at 12-under.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

PuttOUT—the analog putting trainer that succeeds in a digital world

High-tech and digital technology have a firm grasp on the world of golf – advanced CAD (computer-aided design) and exotic materials are the order of the day in golf club design; GPS devices and laser rangefinders assist you on the course; and apps for your phone keep your score, track your stats, and even keep track of those Nassau’s and automatic presses that can make settling up at the 19th-hole feel like an AP Economics class.

In the midst of all this digital magic, however, a new training device has hit the market that uses good old-fashioned analog operation to help you home in on your best putting stroke – it’s called PuttOUT.
The PuttOUT putting trainer is precisely designed to operate as simply as possible.

The PuttOUT is a deceptively simple-looking device, consisting of a clear plastic ramp on a circular white plastic base, but it is as precisely designed as any computer chip. The base, which is the exact diameter of the cup – 4-1/4 inches – is your primary target. The clear plastic ramp swoops up behind the base, its shape and position with respect to the “cup” engineered to give you feedback on every putt – no batteries required.

The shape of the ramp allows the ball itself to provide feedback on the quality of the shot. Precisely designed based on the fixed diameter and mass of a golf ball, as defined by the USGA and the R&A, the shape of the ramp works with the ball’s momentum to tell you if your putt is a hit or a miss. It’s simple – if the ball stays on the ramp and rolls back toward you, that putt would have gone into the hole; if the ball drops off of the side of the ramp without rolling back, that putt would have missed. Not only that, but the distance the ball rolls coming back is the distance that the ball would have rolled past the hole had it been a miss.

But that’s not all – the PuttOUT has one more trick up its sleeve: the “microtarget”, a hole in the center of the ramp about halfway up which is the ultimate goal for your PuttOUT practice session. If the ball stays in the microtarget, you’ve hit a “perfect putt” – perfectly centered on the hole, with just the right amount of speed, which the PuttOUT folks define as the pace that would have carried the ball 18 inches past the hole, based on a Stimpmeter reading of 10.

Lots of putting training aids have hit the market over the years – guides to force your putting stroke into the “correct” line, clamp-on pointers to help you line up your shot, even lasers that project a beam of light on the green to help you start the ball on the right line. What the PuttOUT does, simply and elegantly, is give you feedback, based on the behavior of the ball on the ramp, that tells you if you are getting the ball to the hole with the right speed and line – feedback that reinforces a good stroke without directly telling you how to make that stroke.

Before I got my PuttOUT, I had been practicing in my office by rolling putts at a cup-sized paper cutout on the carpet. A ball that rolled right across the center of the “hole” was easy to score as a good putt, but the ones that skirted the edge were judgment calls. With the PuttOUT, that uncertainty goes out the window – if it rolls back, it was good; if not, it was a miss.

I have been using my PuttOUT now pretty much daily since Christmas, and I have rolled hundreds of putts on the tight-pile industrial carpeting in my office since then, with a variety of different brands and models of golf balls, and three or four different putters. Besides getting a really good handle on the quirky little break in my carpeting, the biggest benefit that I have realized from all this practice with the PuttOUT is learning what I need to do to put a consistent stroke on the ball every time.

I know that practicing with the PuttOUT has helped my putting, because after just a few days of use, one of my golf buddies – a guy whose last comment on my game was that I needed to throw away my irons and get a set that I could hit – actually complimented me on my putting.

Getting the ball to the hole with the right speed is key in putting, and helping you develop a feel for this is where the PuttOUT shines. Harvey Penick, the great teacher who is at least partially responsible for the putting genius of one of the best putters of all time, Ben Crenshaw, famously wrote in his Little Red Book: “I like to see a putt slip into the hole like a mouse.” I keep this quote in mind whenever I practice with the PuttOUT, and when my putts are rolling back off the ramp no more than a foot and a half to two feet, I know that I have achieved that goal.

The PuttOUT people also make a practice mat as a companion to the PuttOUT. The mat rolls at 10 on the Stimpmeter – a value based on their survey of average green speeds at a wide range of golf courses – and has alignment marks to aid you in your practice sessions.

The PuttOUT is not only easy to use, it’s convenient to take with you to the course, or to the office for a little lunchtime practice (or competition with coworkers…), thanks to its folding design. With or without the PuttOUT mat, the PuttOUT trainer is the best putting training device that I have seen come down the pike – ever. PuttOUT is available at major golf-equipment retailers, or online (in the USA) through Amazon. It might just be the best $29.99 you ever spend on improving your putting.