Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ricky Barnes (almost) Late to the Tee

This was a truly exciting U.S. Open! What a diverse group of guys in the thick of things right at the end. The triumphant and much-deserving Glover (solid person, too), the usual suspects Tiger and Phil, the resurgent Duval (who probably played the best all week, in my opinion), the steady Fisher, and the complete surprise Barnes.

Ricky Barnes finally earned his 2009 PGA TOUR card after paying his dues on the Nationwide Tour. But years ago, the Scottsdale, Arizona resident played in the 2004 FBR Open on a sponsor exemption from the Thunderbirds. Ricky was playing great that week, and only three shots off the lead heading into the final round.

One of my many jobs on TOUR is to monitor the first tee as players are starting their round. If someone is late for their starting time, I'm the guy who calls them on it. There are several "Official Time" clocks positioned at each tournament, on the range and practice green and obviously the first tee. While it is not my responsibility to help players arrive on time, if I see a guy taking a leisurely stroll to the tee with thirty seconds to spare, I might yell at them to kick it into high gear. This is exactly what I told Ricky that year in Phoenix.

Ricky's final round starting time was less than two minutes away, his caddie was on the tee, yet he was nowhere to be found. I started scanning the landscape, and finally saw him casually walking with some fans, signing autographs, 100 yards from the tee box. I screamed out, "Ricky, you've got 60 seconds to be on the tee, ready to play!", and with that, he took off in a full sprint, popped under the ropes onto the tee, flashed a big smile, grabbed his driver, and ripped his opening shot, all without breathing heavy. I was impressed...he had just run a 12-second 100-yard dash, for crying out loud!

After the round in the scoring area, I reminded him the consequences of being late to the tee (two-stroke penalty if within five minutes late, disqualification if over five minutes). Ricky finished t-14 that week and took home over $78,000...two shots worse would have cost him more than $32,000. He thanked me profusely for giving him the pre-round warning. "You saved me a ton of money!" he said. Now that you've just made half a million dollars, Ricky...remember the little people!

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tiger's short game at Quail Hollow

My handicap fluctuates each year between 4 and 6, and even though I am a decent ball-striker, my short game continually holds me back. I like to blame this glaring weak spot on my absolute lack of practice. The only way to improve your chipping and putting is to work at it, and my "improvement" routine is non-existant...so I guess I can't really expect too much. After any round of golf I play with my dad, we like to speculate about what Tiger would have shot if he stepped in for me after my approach to each hole. Usually it's around ten strokes better than my final score. My 79's and 81's (after hitting 11 GIR's) would be 69's and 71's if only Mr. Woods were driving my short game bus.

But what happened to Tiger at last weekend's Quail Hollow Championship? His usually razor-sharp short game was duller than a butter knife! Three-putting at critical moments and lackluster scrambling was very un-Tiger-like, and reminded me of my own struggles. It just goes to show you that even the best in the world is prone to flailing with the finesse shots every now and then. What's amazing to me is that even when Tiger is wasting strokes, he's still right in the thick of things. You can't say that about too many other Tour pros.

Congratulations to Bubba Watson for his runner-up finish. As I've mentioned before in this blog, I get the opportunity to hang out on the road with him and his caddie, Ted Scott. They are hilarious, a couple of really good guys. Here's a little known trivia fact: Ted Scott is a former World Champion foosball player. He used to caddie for Paul Azinger, and taught Zinger all of the finer nuances of kickin' butt in foosball. During the week of the Ryder Cup, Captain Azinger played in a random underground foosball tournament in some basement in Louisville (and nobody recognized him). Zinger is a foosball fanatic now, thanks to Bubba's caddie.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Quigley is Riding the Roller Coaster

It's amazing to me how quickly these TOUR pros can go from ice cold to red hot, not only with their play, but with their confidence.  Brett Quigley, who has just come off of consecutive runner-up finishes, is a prime example.  Brett had a bumpy start this year, missing three of his first four cuts, and his attitude was in the toilet.

At the end of February, I was working the scoring tent at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico.  Brett had finished round two in the morning, and after scores of 70-72, he was straddling the cut line.  "Casey, please tell me I can go home!  My golf game is so depressing right now."

He didn't like my answer.  "I'm sorry, Quigs, but I think 142 is going to hang in there.  You're going to have to play this weekend."

Brett actually packed his bags and checked out of his room on Friday, hopeful that I would be wrong with my cut prediction.  Unfortunately for him, my educated guess was correct, and Quigley reluctantly returned to the course on Saturday morning for round three.  After a frustrating 73 in the third round, Quigs rebounded with an easy 67 on Sunday.  In the scoring area after his final round, he said with a big grin, "You know what?  Something clicked today..."

And just like that, the switch was flipped.  The next week Brett tied for 13th at the Honda Classic.  The following week he birdied the final hole at the Puerto Rico Open to finish in a tie for second, and then last week in Tampa he posted three straight 68's to place second again.  Quigs is flying high right now, having made almost $875,000 and averaging 69.17 per round in his last three tournaments.  All this from a guy who was so sick of his game a month ago he didn't even want to make the cut.  You gotta love this crazy game.

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Mayakoba To-Do List: Wear a Visor

I was on the road for two more TOUR events in February.  People often ask me what is my favorite tournament of the year.  The Heritage on Hilton Head Island is always my #1, but I admit that when the weather's nice, the AT&T at Pebble Beach is hard to beat.  With clear skies and a sparkling sun, the golf-lover's vibe on 17-Mile Drive is intoxicating.  Unfortunately, this year one of the best tournaments turned into one of the ugliest.  Sustained 30-40 mph winds with buckets of rain on Sunday and Monday cancelled the final round, and Dustin (Hoffman, see my "Now on the Tee" blog post) Johnson won the gold without hitting a shot for two days.

Did anyone notice this about the CBS telecast on Sunday?  During the delay, Gary McCord and Ian Baker-Finch went out to the par three seventh for a televised three-hole mini-match.  They were battling the gale-force winds with a small crowd of spectators cheering them on.  There was only one problem...the reason none of the pros were playing at that time was because of high winds AND dangerous conditions!  Trash cans were blowing across fairways, tee signs were ripping loose from wooden posts, tents and bleachers were rocking back and forth, even a huge pine tree was uprooted on the third hole!  When TOUR officials saw what was going on, they terminated the match immediately.  That's why you viewers at home were abruptly switched (without explanation) from McCord and Finch hitting tee shots on #8 to a replay of Phil's 2007 AT&T victory.  For the record, IBF won the match 1-up after one hole.

While Geoff Ogilvy was steam-rolling his competition at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, I was working the opposite event, the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico.  This tournament has become another favorite of mine since its inception three years ago.  The Mayakoba Resort and El Camaleon Golf Course are spectacular, and the nearby beach town of Playa del Carmen provides a quaint, tourist-friendly atmosphere to enjoy dinner and drinks every night.  Mark Wilson, this year's champion, and his caddie Chris P. "Crispy" Jones did a generous thing Sunday evening after their victory...they stopped by the popular watering hole and bought everyone in the place a round of celebratory cervezas.  I was glad to see these two well-deserving guys follow up their first win at the 2007 Honda Classic.

I had actually predicted that Mark Wilson would win the tournament on Thursday afternoon, after his opening 66 put him in a tie for fourth.  My reasoning was simple...the inaugural Mayakoba champion was Fred Funk, who wore a visor that week.  Last year's winner was Brian Gay, who also wore a visor.  The only guy playing well after this year's first round one who was wearing a visor?  Mark Wilson, of course.  Once the word gets out about this obvious necessity for victory, expect half of the 2010 field to be sporting visors in Mexico.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

My first two weeks out on TOUR

In the last couple of months, I've worked as a Scoring Official at a few of the West Coast Swing events.  At the Bob Hope Classic in Palm Springs, Pat Perez was able to finally rise above the TOUR's rank and file by capturing his first title (he needs to send Steve Stricker a "Thank You" card immediately). Golf legend Arnold Palmer was hosting this year's 50th Anniversary event, and as always, I was impressed with The King's charisma and politeness.  Even at 79 years old, Palmer exudes an engaging charm that shines even brighter in person.

I was exhibiting at the PGA SHOW the week of the FBR Open in Phoenix. Kenny Perry continues to amaze me...he's getting better as he approaches the Champions Tour! 

At the Buick Invitational, Nick Watney backed up his first TOUR victory in 2007 by closing with birdies on #16 and #18 to edge John Rollins by a shot.  Nick is a calm, soft-spoken guy who seemed very composed coming down the stretch. He held the lead for only one hole all week, but it was the one that mattered most...the last!  I think we'll be seeing more of Watney in the winner's circle.

I witnessed an interesting exchange at the Buick's Wednesday Pro-Am.  Phil Mickelson had just finished his round on Torrey Pines' North Course, and he was greeted by Bam Bam Bamiro, a member of the Harlem Globetrotters (who were in San Diego for the standard lop-sided game against their hapless arch-rivals, the Washington Generals).  Bam Bam presented a special Globetrotter jersey to Phil, complete with "Mickelson" and the number 1 stitched on the back. After some p.r. photos were taken, Phil asked Bam Bam to show him how to spin a basketball on his finger.  Bam Bam tried to teach him, but after a few embarrassing attempts in public, Phil said he would just practice at home.  It amused me that a skill so instinctively simple for Bam Bam proved awkward and complicated for Mickelson.  But then I wondered how long it would take Bam Bam (a non-golfer) to execute a perfect flop shot off a tight lie to a short-sided pin. Now that would be embarrassing.    

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Casey Jones Golf at the 2009 PGA Merchandise Show

Casey Jones Golf exhibited at the PGA Merchandise Show last month in Orlando. We really gained some traction in the “golf gifts” sector, as dozens of club professionals and golf directors showed genuine interest in our unique product line. We even sold some display samples right off the wall, including a special “Ms. 59” scoresheet I did for Annika’s historic accomplishment in 2001.

Our “booth neighbor" at the show was Seaforth Golf, a company out of Canada that manufactures rain hoods for golf bags and other foul weather accessories. Founder Carolanne Doig is a real sweetheart, and I was pleased to find out that this small-town operation is the number one choice of rain hoods on all major professional tours (over 90% of PGA Tour pros use Seaforth products)!

I saw Tour pros Boo Weekley and Will MacKenzie at the show making sponsor appearances, and many of the LPGA's top players were also on the scene. I had the privilege of meeting some famous golf bloggers, Tony Korologos from Hooked on Golf Blog (check out this entry), and Neil Sagebiel from the Armchair Golf Blog (check out this entry). Thanks, guys, for your continued support and positive p.r. work for Casey Jones Golf.

All in all, the PGA Show was a great experience and has definitely started a wave of momentum for my business. Stay tuned for some inside-the-ropes stories from my last three weeks out on Tour.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Here We Go Again!

I'm sorry for the extended absence. I've been thoroughly enjoying the holidays, and I hope all of my readers had a nice break and are excited for the new year.

The PGA TOUR season is just one day away, and I'm expecting some fireworks. Tiger's long-awaited return will keep everyone on the edge of their seats, and I'm predicting the guy comes back stronger than ever in 2009. I leave in a couple of weeks for the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in Palm Springs, and I'm anxious to get back out into the TOUR mix.

Adding closure to my Webb Simpson "Watch"...the first-year pro from Wake Forest played six straight rounds under par at Q-School Finals, easily finished in the top 25, and captured a coveted TOUR card for this year. I knew that kid could do it! The medalist at Q-School was my friend Harrison Frazar, who was so down on his game a couple of years ago that he considered a new line of work. Hopefully this small victory will catapault him to great things in 2009 (Comeback Player of the Year?). If you love the game golf, you never throw in the towel...way to hang in there, Harrison.

Everyone should keep an eye on two other long shots who made it through Q-School, solely because these guys are living proof of "never in my wildest dreams"! Brian Vranesh, a 31-year old from Arizona who was waiting tables just a year ago, shot a final round 65 to make it right on the number. Matthew Borchert, also 31, was washing golf carts at a club in Orlando in early 2008 just to make ends meet. He also shot 65 on the last day. I'm going to be rooting hard for these "underdogs" this year, in hopes that they can improve their TOUR status and enjoy their new tax bracket.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Q-School second stage is no picnic

I spent last week on the scoreboard at Callaway Gardens, one of the second stage locations for the PGA TOUR's Q-School. Seventy-eight players were vying for the top twenty spots (plus ties) to advance to next month's grueling six-day final stage at PGA West in California. It's surprising how many well-known pros have to endure the second stage after they have fallen on hard times. At Callaway Gardens alone, the group included past TOUR winners Chris Riley (on the U.S. Ryder Cup team just four years ago), Olin Browne, Billy Andrade, Chris Smith, Tom Scherrer, Carlos Franco, Robert Damron, Jim Gallagher Jr., Mike Heinen, Ian Leggatt, Jim McGovern, Michael Clark II and Len Mattiace...and there were three other second stage sites around the country with similar fields!

A local official was taken aback by the surly mood of one of these pros before the first round. I reminded him that Q-School is much different than any other tournament these guys play in. Some participants, the youthful TOUR wannabes who have graduated here through first stage, are all excited and hopeful of realizing their dream. This week is full of nothing but promise for them.

But for the seasoned veterans who have spent years (some decades) out on TOUR, this week symbolizes something of a failure. Their V.I.P. Pass to the Big Show has been revoked, and now they finally face the daunting task of clawing their way back into the party. Surviving the final stage of Q-School is strenuous enough, but having to also grind your way through second stage, for these guys, is downright annoying. It's enough to make anyone surly.

You needed to play inspired golf to advance (9-under for four rounds was the number at Callaway Gardens), and only five of the thirteen pros above will be teeing it up at final stage. I wish them the best, and for the eight who didn't make it, I hope they can rebound quickly from the disappointment.

Concerning young Webb Simpson, who I mentioned in my last post...he did not earn enough money at the end of the Nationwide Tour's season to secure his 2009 TOUR card. Webb also played at Callaway Gardens, however, and made it through at 10-under par. So now he's off to California to try and lock up his card the hard way: posting six solid rounds to finish in the top 25 out of 150+ scrappy pros. Webb, you should heed the advice of Q-School survivor Ron Whittaker...stock up on Pepto-Bismol and Ambien!

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Monday qualifiers...Keep hope alive!

Last week I was handling the calligraphy scoreboard at the Nationwide Tour's Chattanooga Classic presented by Black Creek. Arjun Atwal from India took home the winner's check after he birdied the first playoff hole (setting the new course record with a 60 on Friday also helped). The runner-up was Webb Simpson, an All-American from Wake Forest who turned pro back in June. Keep an eye on this kid.

Simpson had a stellar collegiate career, earning All-ACC honors for four consecutive years. This summer he Monday-qualified for the Nationwide Tour event in Missouri, and finished second. Last week in Chattanooga, he Monday-qualified again, and captured another second place. Webb went from having zero status on any professional tour just a few months ago...to having his PGA TOUR card within reach.

He is currently 45th on the Nationwide Tour money list (the top 25 at the end of the season get their cards). If he can finish strong with two good tournaments, in Miami this week and at the Tour Championship finale in Texas, Webb can accomplish every aspiring pro golfer's dream: Making the giant leap from no-man's land to the bright lights and huge purses of the Big Show...without having to deal with the dreaded Q-School. Good luck to Webb in the next few weeks. I hope he gets it done!

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Now on the Tee...

While out on the PGA TOUR, I've heard many a player's name pronounced incorrectly on the first tee. These innocent blunders by the volunteer announcers actually provide some of the more comical moments from my life on the road.

Watching 2008 rookie Dustin Johnson win his first TOUR event last week at the Turning Stone Resort Championship reminded me of a harmless goof from earlier this year. Right before Dustin started his final round at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in Palm Springs, the first tee announcer bellowed out, "Now on the tee, from South Carolina, Dustin HOFFMAN!"

The gallery began to laugh loudly, and as I stood beside him (snickering) on the tee, Dustin asked me,"Why is that so funny? So he mixed up my name with Charley Hoffman's...no big deal."

"Haven't you heard of Dustin Hoffman?" I asked.

"Oh yeah, I think so. Sure." He didn't seem too confident. I guess I need to cut Dustin some slack...he wasn't even born when Kramer vs. Kramer and Tootsie were hits, and he was only four years old when Rain Man was released. But he has to know about the Fokkers, right?

Stay tuned for more interesting "first tee fumbles"!

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