By Kevin Prise
PITTSBURGH -- Wednesday evening, Joe Durant fell asleep during the final game of the College World Series. He woke up happy though, when he saw Vanderbilt -- his pre-tournament pick and his niece's alma mater -- was the champion.
Durant carried his good mood into the Senior Players Championship, where he opened with a six-under 64 at Fox Chapel GC to claim a share of the 18-hole lead. Having turned 50 in April to qualify for senior play but also carrying PGA Tour status via last year's Web.com Tour Finals, Durant is the latest player to simultaneously compete on both the PGA and Champions tours.
This is Durant's fifth senior event, and he has already noticed differing vibes between the two tours. "I'm just coming out [on the Champions Tour] and enjoying being out here, enjoying being with the guys," said Durant, a four-time PGA Tour winner, his last coming in 2006. "I'm just looking at this as a reward for having a good tour career, and I just want to have fun when I come out here and play."
Durant already has three top-10 finishes on the Champions Tour while his best PGA Tour showing in 11 starts this season is a T-31 at last week's Travelers Championship.
After his opening round at Fox Chapel, he reflected on how his desire to keep a PGA Tour card into the future might be having the reverse effect on his game.
"Out there, I'm still trying to keep my job," Durant said. "I think I'm putting way too much pressure on myself out there. It's getting to be overkill. I'm trying so hard to make magic happen in one week, and it's just not working out very well."
The pressure has manifested itself on the greens, where Durant ranks 188th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained/putting despite being 24th in greens in regulation. Jeff Brehaut, a friend of Durant from their Web.com Tour days in the mid-1990s, said Durant's ball-striking has always stacked up against the best on tour -- but the putter is a different story.
"He goes as his putter goes," Brehaut said. "He knows he can hit it with the best. When you give yourself so many birdie opportunities, if you don't make some, you get frustrated and it spills over to the rest of your game."
Durant needed only 28 putts in round one at the Senior Players (ranking T-4). If he can handle Fox Chapel's sloping, multi-tiered greens over the weekend, maybe he can channel the positive energy when he returns to the main tour.
A year removed from thoughts of suicide, Ken Green is in a better place emotionally -- and physically
By Bill Fields
BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- Ken Green is approaching two anniversaries. Five years ago next month, his recreational vehicle crashed, killing his brother, girlfriend and beloved dog and injuring his lower right leg so badly it had to be amputated. A year ago, Green was still plagued by such severe nerve pain in the limb that he contemplated suicide before another surgery last June - his 13th procedure -- finally lessened the discomfort.
"I can honestly tell you, I probably wouldn't have been here," Green, 55, said to a couple of reporters after the first round of the Senior PGA Championship. "I'm not going to say I had a plan and I was going to do x, y or z, but I was really losing. They say everyone comes to that wall. I was reaching that point of collapse."
The procedure, performed by Dr. Ivica Duci at Georgetown University Hospital, turned Green's life around. "I'm in half the pain I was in last year," Green said. "That last surgery has really made life livable. When I say I'm in half the amount of pain, if you guys [had] this, you'd probably be screaming, [but] you learn to live with what you have to. I'm psyched to be in half the amount of pain."
Disappointingly for Green, he hasn't had much success gaining sponsor's exemptions into Champions Tour events in an attempt to "tell his story" and inspire others with disabilities. He said he's 0-for-12 in his latest attempts, but got a spot at Harbor Shores as a former United States Ryder Cup team member. The undulating Jack Nicklaus design was a tough challenge for Green, who opened with a nine-over 80.
"I heard the greens were off the charts. I didn't know Jack also did the fairways a litle bumpy," Green said. "For your average two-legged person, maybe they're not [that difficult], but for the one-legged yo-yo that I am, these fairways are nasty. It's discouraging. The one thing I didn't want to do is embarrass me or golf. I know it's not, but in my brain I feel like it is."
While Green, a five-time PGA Tour winner, used to play wearing colorful shoes to match his name, his personality now comes through with green tape wrapped around his prosthetic. "When you see me wearing the all-green shoes, you'll know I consider myself good again," he said. "That's the motivation I'm throwing out for myself."
Green was going to meet Thursday night with a boy suffering from brain cancer, to give him a pep talk, to tell him to keep fighting as Green has tried to do. What happened on that Mississippi highway never leaves him though. "That expression that time heals all wounds, to this point, is a crock," he said. "I still think everyday about everybody I've lost."Follow @BillFields1
By Bill Fields
BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- In an event with a long history, there is a chance for a significant chapter to be written this week. There isn't anyone at the 75th Senior PGA Championship with more on the line than Kenny Perry, nor anyone with more motivation.
The 53-year-old Kentuckian has a trio of reasons to be the man holding the gigantic Alfred S. Bourne Trophy come Sunday evening.
Having won the last three senior major championships that he has played in -- the 2013 Constellation Senior Players and U.S. Senior Open and last week's Regions Tradition -- a victory at Harbor Shores would allow Perry to become the first golfer to win four straight senior-major starts, passing Gary Player, who won three majors in a row in 1987-88.
"Call it the 'K.P. Slam' or whatever you want to call it," said Perry, who did not play in the 2013 Senior British Open, "it would be something people would remember me for."
A victory would also be redemption for Perry having blown the Senior PGA at Bellerive CC a year ago, when he led by three strokes with six holes left but struggled to finish and lost by two to unsung Kohki Idoki.
Beyond the trophy and self-satisfaction, though, would be potentially Perry's most valuable potential payoff: an automatic exemption into the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla GC.
"I told everybody this is my 'one-spotter' this week because I've got a lot of history at Valhalla in my home state of Kentucky back in Louisville," Perry said. "To me, if I can get back there, it would be a great way to say bye to everybody. I've given 30 years of my life to the PGA Tour, and it would be a great way to kind of end my chapter on the PGA Tour there."
Perry lost a playoff to Mark Brooks in the 1996 PGA Championship at Valhalla and was a member of the winning United States team when the Ryder Cup was held there in 2008. Even without a victory this week, Perry would be a logical special exemption from the PGA of America given his strong ties to the state and the strong state of his game. He has lobbied for the opportunity.
"I politicked pretty hard for it," Perry said, "I really have. I talked to a lot of people. I had them send letters to Ted [Bishop, PGA president]. I really want to get back there pretty bad."
Given that Perry shot a championship-record 62 in the final round of the 2012 Senior PGA at Harbor Shores, the salesmanship might not be necessary. "I just feel confident, I feel it is my time," Perry said. "I feel like I'm ready to excel at this deal and take on the challenge."
A man who knows a few things about majors thinks history is possible.
"I would like to have a little bit of his length and his height is what I would like," said Tom Watson. "He rolls the egg beautifully. He gets that ball in play, [his approaches] can come in soft to these tight pin positions. So this course sets up very well for Kenny Perry."
Photo: Getty Images
By Bill Fields
By Jim Moriarty
After a good experience in the British Open at Muirfield in July, six-time major champion Nick Faldo decided to come out of the CBS television booth long enough to play a smattering of Champions Tour events. His best laid plans came undone at the SAS Championship when he had to withdraw after hitting his tee shot on the 13th hole at Prestonwood CC in Cary, NC, with an elbow injury.
Playing in last year's PNC Father/Son Challenge, Faldo got a pretty good idea of all the broken bits and pieces. "That's when I discovered all my injuries, tears in my shoulder and all sorts of things," said Faldo. "I had a really good rehab but I've got a tear in my capsule in my left elbow."
After making a simple forward gesture with his putter on the sixth green, Faldo felt the elbow flare up. He tried to play but couldn't continue after losing tee shots straight left on the 10th and 13th holes.
"I really wanted to play. I was really looking forward to it, gearing up to do this. But this is a bad one," said Faldo. "I can't hit the darn thing. You don't know whether you're going to flinch and hit it left or right. Tournament golf asks a little bit more, doesn't it?"
The only thing Faldo will be able to do is rest the injury and, "be sensible," he said. "So, we'll see how sensible I am."
From the September 30 edition of Golf World Monday:
Scott Langley returned to Pebble Beach last week to offer testimony on what The First Tee can do for a life -- and a career.
Langley was a 2012 PGA Tour rookie who won the pro-junior event at the Champions Tour's Nature Valley First Tee Open in 2006. He also tied for low amateur honors in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and to show how far he has come in the past seven years, Langley was invited to play with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and Jay Haas at Cypress Point last Thursday, the day he was also scheduled to address The First Tee and Champions Tour participants at a Legends and Leaders dinner.
Coming to the 18th hole, Langley was told by Sam Reeves, their host, that if he holed his second shot, it would mean tying the course record 63 held by, among others, Ben Hogan. From 125 yards out, Langley hit the flagstick with his shot and made a 2¿-footer for the 64.
That night Langley looked out over the audience at The Beach Club, and said to the young men and women sitting nervously in their chairs, "I know how you feel. Seven years ago, I was sitting where you are."
Langley made an impression on the audience not only for the way his career panned out, but also for the way he embodies The First Tee's core values. He grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, a blue-collar golfer who hit scarred range balls off mats until a First Tee chapter was established.
"I wouldn't say I came from a poor background," Langley said. "But I didn't have a silver spoon in my mouth. I didn't have a chip on my shoulder, but I knew I had to work hard at everything I was going to get."
Among the 81 First Tee participants listening intently to Langley was Brittany Ferrante, a 5-foot-2, 100-pound, 16-year-old high school senior who plays No. 1 on the Walt Whitman High boys' team in Huntington Station on New York's Long Island.
Brittany didn't have a stable life at home the way Langley did. Her parents had issues. As part of her essay, she wrote about her mother attempting suicide. Constantly in between jobs as a civil engineer, her father went on the Internet and found a First Tee chapter near their home at Eisenhower Park.
"I have no idea where we would be [without the First Tee], but we wouldn't be in a good spot," Ferrante said, acknowledging her brother, Dominick, who made the trip as her caddie.
She played alongside Rocco Mediate and although she did not make the cut, it was still the experience of a young lifetime. Golf Channel featured Brittany, even using her silhouette against the beach in the closing credits Friday. Billy Ray Brown made the comment on air, "Don't be fooled. She hits it miles."
Like Langley, Ferrante has aspirations of playing college golf, then pro golf. Plan B is to be an elementary school teacher or open a golf academy. She heads back to New York this morning with dreams of returning to Pebble Beach, maybe as head of a First Tee chapter.
"It wasn't what I expected," she said. "It was more."
By Derek Evers
Steve Elkington raised some eyebrows when he sent out a series of offensive tweets on Friday evening and again on Saturday morning.
"Things about Southport ... fat tattooed guy, fat tattooed girl, trash, Pakistani robber guy, s**t food," Elkington tweeted late Friday, before chiming back in on his own thread to poorly explain his frustration. "Couple caddies got rolled by some Pakkis, bad night for them."
After the controversial tweets, the winner of the 1995 PGA Championship actually began his third round with a police officer in his group for the first few holes. Elkington issued a statement to the media at 2:15 pm, or roughly 20 minutes after he teed off, sounding like a man who realizes he may face disciplinary action from both the Champions Tour and European Tour.
"I am prepared to adhere to any disciplinary action that the Championship sees fit," the statement read. "In my tweet I was referring to an unfortunate incident involving a caddie earlier in the week. Being Australian, I was unaware that my use of language in relation to the Pakistani people would cause offense, but having been made aware I now deeply regret the use of that terminology.
"Southport is a beautiful place and I have enjoyed playing at Royal Birkdale, as my positive content on Twitter has shown. My comments were born out of frustration over what had happened to a colleague."Elkington finished his round with one-over 71 and headed straight to his car after signing his scorecard. He is currently tied for 11th place heading into tomorrow's final round.
The European Tour issued a statement to say that it had spoken to Elkington about his "inappropriate and regrettable comments" and said the matter will be reviewed before the Championship considers disciplinary action. "Steve has expressed his regret at his comments and wishes to apologize to the Championship and the people of Southport for any offense caused."