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News & Tours

He had Tiger Woods down, could have redirected course of history (some of it)

By John Strege

Tiger Woods, legend, the amateur years, might have been markedly different had his third-round match with Buddy Alexander in the 1994 U.S. Amateur at the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., not taken an unlikely turn.

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Alexander is the long-time University of Florida golf coach who on Tuesday announced he was retiring. A former U.S. Amateur champion and Walker Cup player, Alexander coached two national championship teams at Florida.

In his match with Woods, then 18 and not yet in college, Alexander was three-up and on the verge of going four-up with five holes to play. “He’s going to make one more run,” Tiger’s father Earl said presciently.

Alexander then lipped out a three-foot par putt to win the 13th hole, a miss that even Woods admitted gave him a reprieve. “If he had made the putt it was basically over,” he said.

Apparently unnerved, Alexander began to unravel, with bogeys at 14, 15, 16 and 17 that allowed Woods to go one-up with one to play. Each double-bogeyed the 18th, giving the match to Woods. He would go on to win the first of his three consecutive U.S. Amateur championships. Alexander had played the final six holes in seven-over par. Woods played them in three-over par.

Thus Alexander had contributed to Woods’ growing legend, but fortunately had done nothing to his own. He will retire as one of the great coaches in college history, a three-time national coach of the year and a member of the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame.

(Getty Images photo)

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News & Tours

Fantasy Fix: Will Rickie Fowler be a bright spot in New Orleans?

By Alex Myers

Breaking news: Matt Kuchar will NOT be in contention this Sunday. After a month of living on leader boards -- and finally closing out a tournament -- Kuchar is taking a week off and skipping the PGA Tour's annual stop in New Orleans. So is 2012 champ Bubba Watson and 2011 winner Jason Dufner. Yes, the post-Masters lull is upon us, but if you like birdie-fests, then the Zurich Classic is right up your alley. The past two winners were a combined 39 under par, with the two runner-ups combining to shoot 38 under. Who do we see emerging from this year's Bayou shootout? Here's our lineup:

The Grind: DJ & Paulina in Cabo, hornets attack and Kuchar thrills

Starters -- (A-List): Rickie Fowler. Rickie has been solid in his three starts at TPC Louisiana, highlighted by a T-10 in 2012. More importantly, he's finished sixth (Houston) and T-5 (Masters) his last two tournaments.

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(B-List): Justin Rose. This isn't a great field and Rose is a great player. Also, he's shot seven straight rounds under par at TPC Louisiana and has finished in the top 15 the past two years.

Related: 15 signs you watch too much golf on TV

(B-List): Billy Horschel. The defending champ seems ready for a breakthrough in what has been a sluggish start to 2014. As we pointed out following the Masters, the putter has been holding him back. Way back. That wasn't the case at this tournament last year. Remember this great reaction after his birdie on No. 18?

(C-List): John Senden. The recent winner in Tampa played well at Augusta National before taking last week off. He has four top-20 finishes in New Orleans since 2004.

Bench/Backups: Patrick Reed, Ernie Els, Jerry Kelly, and Ryan Palmer.

Related: 11 sleepers to watch in 2014

Knockout/One-and-done pick: Billy Horschel. We really like Fowler this week, but we used him at the Honda, so we'll take Horschel instead. We're hoping the good vibes from returning to the site of his first PGA Tour win translates into some good putting. Heck, even just a decent week on the greens for the man ranked No. 3 on the PGA Tour in ball-striking could result in a big payday for Horschel -- and another big celebration in New Orleans.

Previously used: Keegan Bradley (Doral), Tim Clark (Sony), Graham DeLaet (Phoenix), Luke Donald (Valspar), Rickie Fowler (Honda Classic), Jim Furyk (Heritage), Bill Haas (Farmers), Charles Howell III (Humana), Freddie Jacobson (Valero), Dustin Johnson (Northern Trust), Martin Laird (Kapalua), Graeme McDowell (Bay Hill), Adam Scott (Masters), Jordan Spieth (Houston), Jimmy Walker (Pebble -- winner!).

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News & Tours

Missing links: Charley Hull, a kindred spirit, and Miguel Angel Jimenez, bon vivant

By John Strege

Stories of interest you might have missed…

Future Hall of Famer Laura Davies sees some of herself in Charley Hull’s game: “She gets her driver out on pretty much every hole, goes for pins and isn't scared of messing things up, because she is trying to win,” Davies tells Ewan Murray of the Guardian.

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Charley Hull at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. (Getty Images photo)

“[Miguel Angel Jimenez is] a walking billboard for the priceless benefits of being comfortable in your own skin,” Derek Lawrenson of the Daily Mail writes, chronicling the popular and entertaining Spaniard and his bid to play on the European Ryder Cup team at 50.

Beverly Hanson, a pioneer in women’s golf, died in virtual obscurity a few weeks ago, a slight that the Associated Press’ Doug Ferguson attempts to correct here. Hanson won 15 tournaments on the LPGA, including three majors, and in 1950 won the U.S. Women’s Amateur at East Lake and was presented the trophy by none other than Bobby Jones.

Andrew Parr, a Canadian professional who estimates the annual cost of playing full-time tournament golf at $75,000, has taken a different approach than traditional sponsors to financing his dream: Crowdsourcing. So far, he’s raised $42,000, according to this story by Scott Stinson in the National Post.

Paula Creamer, a Northern California native, returns to the homeland this for the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic at Lake Merced Country Club in San Francisco. Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle has her homecoming story.


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Courses & Travel

How different is Augusta National from the members tees?

By Alex Myers

We know how Augusta National plays for the pros at the Masters, but how does it play for its members? A look at the scorecard reveals some interesting facts about one of the most famous courses in the world.

Related: Augusta National's unwritten rules

Golf.com's Eamon Lynch was one of the fortunate winners of this year's media lottery and had the opportunity to play the day after Bubba Watson slipped on a green jacket for the second time. He tweeted this photo of the current scorecard:

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First off, just look at the yardage. In an age where courses are being stretched out -- and certainly Augusta National has done the same for the pros -- it's neat that Augusta's members tees have remained a very playable 6,365 yards. Of course, the greens still provide just a bit of a challenge.

Related: Photos from one editor's round at Augusta National

But the handicap ratings are where we want to focus. For the members, the four par 5s play as the toughest four holes on the course. While it's not unusual for par 5s to be rated tough (there are more opportunities for an average golfer to hit a bad shot), this is certainly a huge difference than how these holes play for the pros. Even with Nos. 13 and 15 not yielding as many eagles as usual at this year's tournament, the four par 5s were easily the four easiest holes. No. 2 is the No. 1 handicap hole, but it played the second-easiest during the Masters.

Meanwhile, members rarely give strokes on Augusta National's four par 3s. This is also fairly standard, but those holes were no pushover during competition. No. 16 played as the easiest non-par 5, but No. 6 played as the 10th most difficult hole and Nos. 12 (4th toughest) and 4 (2nd toughest) gave the players fits. The 70-yard difference in the members tee to the Masters tee on No. 4 might have something to do with pros making almost 10 times as many over-par scores than birdies for the four days.

What about the par 4s? No. 11 was the hardest for the pros, which shouldn't be any surprise. The 505-hole averaged nearly a half stroke over par during the tournament, but for the members, it's just the No. 8 handicap hole. No. 1 (9 handicap) also plays considerably tougher in the tournament (3rd toughest), while No. 9 plays much easier (12th toughest during the Masters, but the No. 7 handicap hole).

Related: The defining shots of the 2014 Masters

So, what's the overall slope and rating of the course? Augusta National doesn't have official USGA ratings, but uses its own system established by co-founder Clifford Roberts instead (of course). However, that didn't stop Dean Knuth, the developer of the USGA's slope and rating system, from investigating. He determined before the 2010 Masters that from the tips, Augusta National had a course rating of 78.1 and a slope of 137.

That doesn't give us a rating or slope from the members tees, but does it really matter? We'll offer an unofficial rating of the greens: they're hard. You don't have to be a member to know that.

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Style

Impact: Billy the Kid claims his first PGA Tour title

By Alex Holmes

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"I'm never going to be a flat-line guy. My heart is going to be on my sleeve with every shot." -- Billy Horschel


Horschel secured his first PGA Tour win in all sorts of style a year ago at the Zurich Classic. It began by him making six straight birdies during the final round at TPC Louisiana to get into contention on a weather-plagued day. Then he holed a 27-foot birdie putt on the 18th (after waiting out a 50-minute delay to play the final hole) to secure a final-round 64, matching the course record and holding off D.A points by a one stroke. Finally, there was his exuberant celebration, the always emotive Horschel pumping his arms and letting out a triumphant yell.

The 27-year-old former Florida Gator All-American returns to the bayou this week to navigate his way around Pete Dye's TPC track and defend his 2013 title.

Getty Images (2013)
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Instruction

Swing emergency? Fix it with #HelpMeGolfDigest

By Matthew Rudy

General tips from the game's best instructors are great, but everybody needs a one-to-one swing intervention from time to time. It doesn't matter if you're topping tee shots, shanking wedges, leaving it in the bunker or yipping your short putts. Take a video of your problem and help could be just a hashtag away. 

Post your quick swing clip to Twitter or Instagram (like the one shown below) and add the hashtag #HelpMeGolfDigest. Every week, we'll show the most interesting clips to a select group of our best teachers for a personalized analysis and swing prescription.    


To have the best chance to get your video picked, follow a few basic guidelines to produce easy-to-analyze footage. Instagram limits videos to 15 seconds, and Vine videos are just six seconds, so use the time wisely. Pick the "best" example of the swing you don't want your playing partners to see, and shoot it from the appropriate angle. You can find a simple, thorough guide to shooting a swing with your smartphone here. Good lighting and interesting backgrounds always help, too. 

We'll be picking a handful of swings every week, so don't hesitate to submit more of your problem swings throughout the year if your first one doesn't make the cut.   

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News & Tours

Florida's Buddy Alexander to retire after more than 30 years in college coaching

By Ryan Herrington

loop-buddy-alexander-518.jpgFlorida's Buddy Alexander has always been a no-nonsense college golf coach, and he continued to display this dominating trait even in the wake of his decision to retire after 27 seasons in Gainesville.

Upon revealing the news Tuesday, the 61-year-old Alexander didn't gloss over the fact that the timing was far from ideal. The Gators have struggled in 2013-14, finishing in the top five in just two of 10 starts. The team must win the SEC Championship this weekend at Sea Island G.C. to earn an automatic qualifying spot into NCAA regionals, otherwise its string of 13 straight NCAA Championships appearances -- the longest active streak in the country -- will end as the Gators' sub-.500 head-to-head record this season makes them ineligible for an at-large bid to regionals.

"This has been a tough year, but in reality, the last three years have not been up to our/my expected standards,'' Alexander said in a letter he prepared for Gator golf boosters. "Coaching is a young man's game and it is simply time for me to turn the reins over to someone else and allow this great university, athletic department and golf program to be everything it should be. "Life and golf are so similar," continued Alexander, who is the second-longest tenured coach in any sport in school history. "There are many ups and downs and highs and lows. Today is one of those days that stir all kinds of emotion, it's sad that my time has come, but I'm happy everything worked out so well. I am in a good place, as will our golf program in the future."

Recent results notwithstanding, Alexander's record at Florida was the envy of most of his coaching brethren. In his more than two decades overseeing the Gators, his squads won two NCAA titles, had 11 top-10 finishes at nationals, captured eight SEC Championships and 79 tournaments overall. Thirty-one of his Florida players (include Camilo Villegas, above, from the 2001 NCAA title team) moved on to careers on the PGA Tour.

"He's one of the all-time greats,'' Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley said in a release. "He's had a heck of a run. There's no better Gator than Buddy Alexander."

Alexander first broke into coaching in 1977, taking over as head man at his alma mater, Georgia Southern, until 1980. He also held the top job at LSU from 1983 to 1987, where he won two SEC titles and distinguished himself as a player by winning the 1986 U.S. Amateur title. He left Baton Rouge to take a position with management firm IMG, but jumped back into coaching when the Florida job opened.

"I came to Florida because I thought it gave me a great chance to compete,'' Alexander said. "You get into coaching initially because you love golf, you love kids and you love to compete. What I was thinking when I came here was that it was an elite college golf program that has been down since [former coach] Buster [Bishop] was around, and I thought it was an opportunity to turn it back around in the other direction."

Alexander officially steps down at Florida June 30.

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Golf & Business

A golf company that qualifies as a 'great growth stock'?

By Peter Finch

Shares in ClubCorp have been popular among investors, and lately the company has been getting some love in the financial media, too. Barron’s offered a glowing appraisal of the golf course owner/operator over the weekend. The newspaper noted ClubCorp stock (MYCC) is up 30 percent since going public last September and declared that it “looks ready to bound higher.”

A few weeks earlier, Zacks Equity Research suggested ClubCorp qualifies as “a great growth stock.”

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One of the reasons people like ClubCorp so much is there’s a lot of potential for growth through acquisition. It is the country’s largest owner/operator of country clubs, with nearly 160 in its portfolio, but it still controls “only a tiny share of the highly fragmented country-club market,” Barron’s notes. Last year it bought 11 clubs and this year the CEO is hinting at 40 to 50 more.

I like the way the company is focused on producing more revenue, not simply squeezing every last dollar for greater profit. I talked about this with Cathy Harbin, ClubCorp’s vice president of golf revenue, for a column in the current issue of Golf Digest. (The column is about getting
a job in the golf business, and you can see it here.) One of the points she makes: Most golf businesses have cut so far back, there’s not much left to trim. “Growing the top line”—that is, increasing revenue—may be the only way to grow for a while.

It’s about time, in my opinion. For too long, golf course owners and operators assumed they’d always have a line of eager customers stretched around the block. Now that reality has sunk in, they’re working hard to bring golfers in the door with promotions and discounts and actual marketing campaigns.

Is ClubCorp any good at that stuff? A lot of investors are betting it is.

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Celebrity

Harry Styles gets lesson from Dave Stockton Jr., father of the year

By John Strege

The father of the year is the dad who introduces his 15-year-old daughter to Harry Styles, lead singer of the popular boy band, One Direction. Accordingly, Dave Stockton Jr. staked his claim to the award last week.

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Stockton gave Styles a lesson at Stone Eagle Golf Club in Palm Desert, Calif. “I didn’t know he was going to be there,” Stockton said. “I was giving a lesson to Irving Azoff and his two sons, Jeffrey and Cameron. And he said, ‘this is Harry.’”

Azoff, whom Stockton has known for several years, is a music industry icon who has a home in the desert and a membership at the Madison Club in La Quinta. Styles, 20, was in town to attend the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

When Azoff introduced him to Styles, Stockton recognized him immediately. “I knew who he was when I saw his face,” he said, noting that his daughter, Serena, has posters of him in her room. “It’s my daughter’s favorite band in the world.”

Stockton said he worked with the Azoffs and Styles on chipping and putting for about an hour, he said. “Nice guy. Shoots in the 80s.”

Stockton’s son Jake was there, too. Jake went home and told Serena that their father was giving Styles a lesson. Serena immediately called her father to scold him for not telling her.

“I didn’t know he was going to be here,” he told her. Then he handed the phone to Styles and said, “Harry, say hello to my daughter, Serena.”

Stockton’s wife eventually brought Serena to the club and she was able to have her photograph taken with Styles.

“Best day ever,” Serena posted on Twitter, while also posting the photo shown here.

“Now I’m the father of the year,” Stockton said.

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News & Tours

Report: Lindsey Vonn and Elin Nordegren are "close friends"

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

Who says burned bridges can't be mended?

Tiger Woods' ex-wife Elin Nordegren and current girlfriend Lindsey Vonn have become friends, according to a report in Us Weekly.

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When Nordegren discovered that Vonn would be spending time with her children, she apparently reached out to the Olympic skier so they could get to know each other. Elin reportedly liked that Vonn was a "strong woman," and that proved to be the start of a happy friendship between the two.

Related: PGA Tour Wives And Girlfriends

According to the report:

The source adds that the whole group recently went on vacation together, and that the fellow blondes occasionally took off on their own to grab drinks together, while Woods stayed with the kids. "Lindsey is really good for Tiger. She's strong, opinionated, and keeps him in line," the source explains. "Elin found that they are very similar and have a lot in common. They laugh and talk like they have been girlfriends forever."


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