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News & Tours

Jake Olson is blind, plays varsity golf, scores in the 80s and will attempt to play football at USC

Jake Olson was not unlike other kids of his generation whose interest in golf was stoked by Tiger Woods. He was an enthusiastic golfer, but not a serious one, until Woods won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008.

Six months later, Olson played the same South Course at Torrey Pines and the hook was set. “I fell in love with the game then and there,” he said. “It was really cool to play a course the caliber of Torrey Pines where Tiger had won. So I really wanted to start practicing hard and maybe make a professional career out of it one day.”

Then, suddenly, he was unlike other kids of his or any other generation. “I was playing decently for a 12-year old,” he said. “Then I learned I would have to go blind.”

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(Photo courtesy of TravisMathew)

When Olson was a toddler, he was diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer, retinoblastoma, that cost him his left eye. He battled the same cancer in his right eye for the next 12 years, then he lost that eye, too.

A tragedy? On the surface, maybe. But there is nothing superficial about Olson, who has proven to be unlike virtually anyone any of us likely has ever known. He is a senior at Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High and plays on its varsity golf team. He also played on the varsity football team as its long snapper, will enroll at USC in the fall and will walk-on as a long snapper for the Trojans.

“Someday, he’s going to snap in a game for us,” USC football coach Steve Sarkisian told the Los Angeles Times earlier this week. “When? I don't know. But it will happen. When that day comes, it will be awesome.”

As for golf, “going blind was a setback,” he said.

It would seem so. But it was more than that. A substantial growth spurt, six inches, was a major contributing factor to his inability to unite the center of the clubface with the golf ball. “Probably for a good six months to a year I was trying to make consistent solid contact on the ball,” he said. “There had been days that were total frustration, throwing clubs, not seeing results, just frustrating. But I wasn’t going to let it stop me.

“Now, five-and-a-half years later, it’s gotten to the point that the things I struggle with are things that any other golfer struggles with — fine tuning my swing and repeating the same swing.”

His father Brian flatly said, “he plays better golf now than before he lost his sight.”

Olson, a developmental team member for apparel company TravisMathew, requires a caddie, of course, either Brian or a teammate. “It’s a simple routine,” Brian said. “Get him lined up, get the club behind ball, and then I back away. My main role is to get his club squared up behind the ball.”

The most notable challenge for Olson, whose home course is Seacliff Country Club in Huntington Beach, is playing a course with which he is not familiar. “He’s dialed into a certain 10-foot putt and when thrown onto a strange course, he’s probably in the 90s,” Brian said. “If it’s a course he’s familiar with he’s in the 80s. His best round is a 78 at this point and he’s capable on any given day of shooting 39 [over nine holes].”

Hilly courses present issues, too, Olson said. “But if you get me on tight grass with a flat lie, I really play well.”

Olson, incidentally, already is an author and accomplished motivational speaker (website: openyoureyes.org).

“There are people out there with perfect sight who can’t hit a golf ball,” he said in one such speech. “For a blind person to even make solid contact, that’s absurd, right?”

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Celebrity

5 things to talk about on the course: Ariana Grande, Stephen Curry, and YouTube's big birthday

From sports to TV to politics (OK, so mostly the first two), we offer five hot topics that are sure to liven up your round of golf:

1. Ariana Grande: News of a breakup between the pop star and rapper "Big Sean" broke earlier in the week, giving hope to millions of men out there who are smitten by the 21-year-old songstress. But should they be? Apparently, Big Sean didn't think Grande was putting as much effort into the relationship as he was and he was upset about her bringing Justin Bieber up on stage during a recent concert. Ugh, anyone but the Biebs (sorry, we've been watching too much E! News). We feel you, Big Sean.

2. Stephen Curry's latest ridiculous shot: This guy makes a play or two every game that makes you shake your head in disbelief. On Thursday night, it was hitting a three-pointer from the corner in the closing seconds while being tackled by two players to tie Game 3 of Golden State's first round series with New Orleans. The crazy shot capped an even crazier fourth-quarter comeback by the Warriors, who trailed by 20 at one point before winning in OT to take a 3-0 series lead. As if we didn't already know it, Curry -- and this team -- are going to be tough to beat.

Related: Pictures of PGA Tour wives and girlfriends

3. Mets-Yankees: The latest version of the "Subway Series" will take place at Yankee Stadium this weekend between two baseball teams on surprisingly good runs. Of course, no one has been better than the Mets, who will enter Friday night's game in the Bronx with an 11-game winning streak and ace Matt Harvey on the mound. The Mets have an MLB-best record of 13-3. Imagine if their owner, Jeff Wilpon, wasn't so cheap?

4. Bernie Williams: My all-time favorite Yankee officially retired on Wednesday. You know, nine years after he played his last game in pinstripes. This prompted a slew of "how will the Yankees replace him in the lineup?" jokes, but it also caused people to remember how great of a player he was (but yeah, they could probably still use him against the Mets this weekend). And how many former MLB All-Stars are also classically trained guitar players and acclaimed recording artists? As Yankees radio announcer John Sterling used to say, "Bern baby, Bern!"

Related: MLB stars who love to play golf

5. YouTube Turns 10: Speaking of taking a trip down Memory Lane, can you believe this integral part of millennial living has been around for a decade? This is one of those simple, yet brilliant ideas that you wish you could turn back the clock and come up with. The three guys who did made a few bucks. Anyway, I don't think there's a way to see what video you've viewed the most, but I'm pretty sure it's this clip of grainy Baron Davis highlights from his brief days at UCLA:

That's the best highlight compilation (watch the last 30 seconds) in my opinion, but there's no debating what the funniest -- albeit unintentional -- highlight compilation is:

Poor guy. Thank you, YouTube.

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News & Tours

TPC Sawgrass' 17th hole: 'Congratulations. You're first ever to put it in the water in competition'

The 17th hole at the TPC Sawgrass revealed its diabolical intentions to the first group ever to play the hole in what now is known as the Players Championship.

David Thore, now 61, was in the group and calculated he had 140 yards to the back pin position, “a good 8-iron for me,” he said. His tee shot splashed down short of the front bunker, setting the tone for one of the most infamous holes in tournament golf.

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(Getty Images)

Garry Smits of the Florida Times-Union caught up with Thore and recounts the shot here.

“I don’t mind being known by that little bit of trivia,” Thore told Smits. “Every year when the Players comes on TV, I remind the guys at the club that I’ve got something from that tournament no one else will ever have.”‿

The club is Oreander Golf Center in in Wilmington, N.C., where he is a teaching pro.

Thore also told Smits that other a brief interview with a New York Times reporter immediately after his round, he’s not been asked about it since.

The New York Times reporter was Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Dave Anderson, a Golf Digest contributor. He was there that day and wrote a column on the 17th hole, with the headline, “Splash! Splash! Splash!” Anderson wrote:

Although only 132 yards, the 17th is suddenly golf's most notorious new hole. And yesterday it opened for business with a splash as the Tournament Players Championship began. One splash after another, in fact, in the lake where an alligator was floating in the sun…

“Congratulations,” somebody said to David Thore after he shot 77, you’re the first ever to put it in the water on 17 in competition.”

“Thank you,” David Thore said with a smile. “And after I put my next shot on, I was the first ever to three-putt it in competition, too.”

And so it began.

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Trending

Tiger Woods continues great day on Twitter by posting funny photo with Yao Ming

Tiger Woods is having his most productive day on Twitter. Ever.

On Friday morning, Woods broke news by announcing he would tee it up at the Players in two weeks. And two hours later, he posted this humorous photo with Yao Ming:

Woods is in China "to energize young athletes' love for golf," according to a Nike press release on Wednesday. And after watching this video of Yao Ming playing golf, we assume the former NBA star is hanging out with Woods to get some lessons:

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News & Tours

Tiger Woods lets us know his schedule in advance, announces he'll play at TPC Sawgrass

On Wednesday, Jack Nicklaus divulged Tiger Woods would play in the Memorial Tournament. And on Friday, Woods announced -- a full week before he had to! -- he'll compete at the Players.

Wow, "looking forward"! And all caps on THE PLAYERS! The PGA TOUR will appreciate that level of enthusiasm for its flagship event.

It was expected that the Players would be the next event on Tiger's schedule after his Masters appearance (he did not qualify for next week's WGC-Cadillac Match Play). Woods has a mixed history at TPC Sawgrass, but he won for a second time in 2013. He missed last year's event when he was recovering from back surgery.

Related: Our favorite Tigerisms

Woods returned from a two-month absence at the Masters earlier this month (he left everyone wondering if he'd play until the Friday before) and finished T-17. He hurt his wrist during the final round, but this announcement confirms his agent's claims that the injury wasn't serious. The tour will appreciate his presence in Ponte Vedra Beach, and the golf media will appreciate knowing his schedule in advance again.

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News & Tours

Was Nick Faldo really joking when he said he openly roots against Tiger Woods and anyone trying to break his records?

On Wednesday, Nick Faldo attended a fundraiser in Ohio with Jack Nicklaus. This shouldn't have been newsworthy, but comments the six-time major champ made in regard to rooting against a couple of today's stars drew plenty of attention.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, this is what happened when Nicklaus was asked about Tiger Woods chasing his record of 18 majors.

Nicklaus: "I've had Tiger chasing me for a long time. But, you know, I don't ever, I don't actually sit there and root for him. But I don't root against him, either."

Faldo: "Oh, I do."

Related: The most regrettable interviews in golf history

Ouch. Then Faldo talked about rooting against Spieth during the Masters when he had a chance to shoot the low round and low 36-hole score at a major championship:

"I was sitting up there dodging bullets from this young man," Faldo said. "Day one, he's in the middle of the 15th fairway at 8 under par, and my fellow announcers were all, 'Wouldn't it be nice if he shoots a 62?' And I'm thinking, Jack and I are both in the 63 club; that's the best round in any major.

"So I'm sitting in my (tower) at 18, saying, 'No, it wouldn't be nice.' He takes that 4-wood out, and I know it's the wrong club and I'm going, 'Hit it! Hit it! Hit it!' And he did, and he hits it over the green and three putts (for bogey), so that was that."

The next day, Faldo said he let out a "Yes!" when Spieth missed a 6-foot putt at No. 18 that would have broken the record for lowest 36-hole score (130) in major championship history; instead, he now shares the record with three other golfers, one of whom is Faldo.

Was Faldo being honest or was it all in jest? On Thursday, Jack Nicklaus took to Twitter to lobby for the latter.

"Nick Faldo was obviously making a joke with his comments about Jordan yesterday, and everyone at the function, including me, took it that way. We were entertaining an audience at a fundraiser, and Nick's comment was said purely in jest. Nick made it clear he has a tremendous amount of respect for Jordan as a person and a champion."

Faldo retweeted Nicklaus' comments and added, "Thanks, Jack. #PlentyofRespect

We're sure Faldo respects Spieth, how could anyone not? But that seems like a lot of effort to make a joke. And his relationship with Woods has always been a bit chilly. For instance, there's this tweet from Wednesday that clearly takes a jab, albeit small, at Tiger:

Players, like fans, should be allowed to root for and against whomever they choose -- just not from the booth. As the most-watched golf analyst on network TV, Faldo is expected to be unbiased in his coverage. Clearly, Faldo seemed to be joking in this case (at least, for the most part), but he'll probably be more careful the next time he addresses the topic.

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Business

You'll be amazed by how many people are paying to play FootGolf

You may be surprised to learn that FootGolf, a sport that combines soccer with golf (sort of), is thriving at certain golf courses in the U.S. This, according to a Reuters story detailing the growth of the game.

If you don't know what FootGolf is, check out our helpful explainer. Basically, you play a shortened golf course with enlarged holes by kicking a soccer ball and keeping score like you would in golf. And apparently, people are digging it, especially that "M-word" sect the golf industry is desperately trying to reach.

Related: 17 GIFs that explain how FootGolf works

"Then it dawned on me that we are struggling so much to bring the millennial generation into the game of golf," Mike Woods, PGA director at Haggin Oaks in Sacramento told Reuters. "Yet that's the absolute target market for soccer."

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After initially finding FootGolf silly, Woods had it added at Haggin Oaks in 2013 to become the fifth certified FootGolf course in the country. And the golf complex has been reaping the benefits since.

Woods said Haggin Oaks booked 9,120 rounds that first year. That number has stayed consistent despite eight other local courses joining the FootGolf fray. Woods said Haggin Oaks netted $186,000 in revenue from just FootGolf in 2014.

For course operators, the beauty of adding FootGolf is that it doesn't cost much. Reuters says the investment can be as low as $5,000 and that there are currently more than 400 certified FootGolf courses in the U.S. 

"FootGolf is to the golf industry what snowboarding was to the ski industry," said Laura Balestrini, president of the American FootGolf League.

If you've tried it, that's a pretty good comparison. FootGolf doesn't have much appeal for serious golfers, but it seems to be a popular activity for bachelor parties, and it can be a way for a parent to play golf while spending time with their kid (A FootGolf course is usually part of a regular golf course). And yes, it's also just an excuse to go crazy with your best goal-scoring celebration.

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News & Tours

Jack Nicklaus had his longest ever conversation with Tiger Woods at the Masters, says Woods will play in the Memorial

Jack Nicklaus said Tiger Woods will play in the Memorial Tournament in an interview on Wednesday. "See you in May," the 14-time major winner said, referring to the event hosted by the 18-time major winner at Muirfield Village.

Related: 15 revealing moments from the Masters

Technically, June 1, is the Monday of the event and it's hard to imagine Woods showing up earlier than that to a tournament he's won five times, but we'll forgive him the minor calendar mistake. Here's the clip of Jack talking about talking to Tiger at the Masters:

Of course, the Memorial has always been a staple of Woods' schedule, so this shouldn't come as much of a surprise. However, with Woods' recent history of injuries -- including one sustained to his wrist during the final round of the Masters -- his commitment to playing in any tournament these days serves as news. Woods is expected to play in the Players in two weeks, but hasn't officially committed to that. In the future, maybe we should just ask Jack to find out what's on Woods' playing schedule.

The Grind: A longer drought than Jim Furyk's ends and the best(?) abs in pro golf

Actually, the biggest surprise from Nicklaus' answer is that he and Woods had any substantial talk at all. Two years ago, Nicklaus surprised many by saying he'd "never really had a conversation with Tiger that lasted more than a minute or two -- ever."

But on Wednesday, Nicklaus said the Masters chat was "as much of a conversation as I've ever had with Tiger," and that it was "a long, long talk," and "it was good." Fans saw a different side of Woods in Augusta when he participated in the Par 3 contest with his children and girlfriend, Lindsey Vonn. Perhaps, this is another sign that Woods is changing -- or perhaps, it was just a conversation long overdue.

(h/t For The Win)

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News & Tours

Jordan Spieth's caddie visits Chambers Bay, may or may not be doing early reconnaissance work for the U.S. Open

Michael Greller, Jordan Spieth's caddie, was at Chambers Bay on Wednesday, less than two months before the U.S. Open comes to the links. Hmm.

Judging by that tweet, though, Greller's visit seemed to be more of a homecoming than a business trip. Besides, few people know Chambers Bay as well as he does. Greller moonlighted as a caddie at Chambers Bay for several years while working as a sixth-grade math teacher in Washington. And his connection to the course runs even deeper. Greller and his wife, Ellie, were married at the course.

That sort of local knowledge should come in handy in June, especially since Chambers Bay will be a mystery to most of the field. Spieth is one of the rare players who has competed at the links-style track. At 17, Spieth played in the 2010 U.S. Amateur, but shot 83 in his one competitive round on the Open course and didn't qualify for the match-play portion of the tournament.

Related: 19 things you need to know about Jordan Spieth

However, that was long before Spieth was a Masters champ and the No. 2-ranked player in the world. And that was before he had Greller on the bag. Showing up with a secret weapon like that in June certainly won't hurt his chances of winning a second major.

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Fantasy Golf

Fantasy Fix: Why we're banking on Billy Horschel in the Bayou

Thanks a lot, Jim Furyk. The week before the Masters, we went out on a limb and said your four-and-a-half year winless streak would end in San Antonio. But no, you had to wait until the week after the Masters to win. At least, we tabbed him as a starter at Hilton Head and there's always a next week to make a prophetic prediction on the PGA Tour. Here's a look at who is in our Yahoo! lineup for the Zurich Classic:

(Editor's note: Beginning at the Players, we will be partnering with the PGA Tour's Fantasy Golf League. For more information and to sign up, click here.)

The Grind: A longer drought than Jim Furyk's ends and the best(?) abs in pro golf

Starters -- (A-List): Harris English. English had two top-three finishes in his first four starts of 2015, but he's been relatively quiet since. Still, he's finished out of the top 30 just twice in nine events this year and he was T-6 in his last trip to New Orleans.

Related: The top 25 viral golf videos of 2014

(B-List): Justin Rose. One of three top-10 players in a relatively weak field, Rose is a logical choice, especially after his T-2 at the Masters. We're only staying away from the other two since we've already used them a bunch.

(B-List): Billy Horschel. In his four trips to New Orleans, Horschel has finished T-26, MC, WIN, MC. Obviously, we're focusing on that win and hoping this is the week the defending FedEx Cup champ gets things rolling again. And other than Furyk this past week, he's probably given us the best winning-putt reaction of the past five years.

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(C-List): Keegan Bradley. Similar to Horschel, Bradley has two decent finishes and two missed cuts in this event. We're banking on him playing more like his T-8 here last year based on him coming off solid performances in Houston (T-5) and Augusta (T-22). Wearing those Air Jordans, he's also probably got the best chance of anyone in the field of running (or jumping) away from one of TPC Louisiana's gators.

Bench/Backups: Seung-yul Noh, Jason Day, Nick Watney, Sean O'Hair.

Related: 15 signs you watch too much golf on TV

Knockout/One-and-done pick: Billy Horschel. Horschel hasn't looked like the guy who won the final two events of the 2013-14 season, but he showed glimpses of that last month with a solo third in San Antonio. Horschel's putting and greens in regulation stats have stayed about the same this year, but his strokes gained tee to green has dropped from 46th to 119th. He has showed substantial improvement in that category in his last two Shot Link-measured events, though, and again, is a former winner of this tournament. A Horschel victory wouldn't be quite as sweet as predicting a Furyk win, but we'd take it.

Previously used: Keegan Bradley (Bay Hill), Paul Casey (Honda), Jason Day (Famers -- WINNER!), Luke Donald (Valspar), Jamie Donaldson (Doral), Jim Furyk (Valero), Bill Haas (Riviera), Charles Howell III (Sony), Dustin Johnson (Pebble), Matt Kuchar (Heritage), Geoff Ogilvy (Hyundai), Louis Oosthuizen (Houston), Ryan Palmer (Humana), Brendan Steele (Phoenix).

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