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Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: Sixty years on from the pro debuts of two World Golf Hall of Famers

There was a time when the end of the calendar year for the aspiring tour professional was Armageddon and the Promised Land all in one. Be one of the top finishers in an arduous qualifying school and you earned the right to play the following year on your respective tour. Be off your game, and you'd spend the entire next season in the wilderness . . . waiting for the next November to roll around. 

The first PGA Tour Qualifying School was held in the fall of 1965, with 49 players competing over eight rounds with 17 getting a chance to play on tour in 1966. John Schlee was the medalist. 

Now, of course, the PGA Tour has changed qualifying school so that it gives you status on the Web.com Tour. In turn, the school's impact on the heartbeats of male pros has been diminished, as has the November/December time period each year when hundreds of PGA Tour careers were launched via Q School and livelihoods were begun.

Reflecting on November as a time of hope for the tour player is a good time to celebrate a pair of World Golf Hall of Fame careers that launched 60 years ago. 

loop-palmer-canadian-open-throwback-thursday-350.jpgIn November 1954, both Arnold Palmer and Mickey Wright announced they were leaving the amateur ranks and turning professional to play tour golf. Both made the transition at logical points in their career. 

Palmer won the '54 U.S. Amateur in late August and, at 25, felt he was more than ready to play for pay. So did the PGA of America (the PGA Tour was still under the auspices of the association at the time), which had this in Palmer's bio: "The most coveted title in amateur golf, the National Amateur Championship, was won in 1954 by Arnold Palmer, and it presaged his eventual decision to turn PGA professional, for you might say the powerful Youngstown, Pennsylvania native was born to play golf alongside the top stars of the 'new look' era of youth." The "Man from Latrobe" label was still down the PR pipeline. 

Palmer had a pretty strong first year on tour, despite not being able to collect any prize money during his first six months. At that time, tour newcomers had to go through a "probation" period of not being allowed to take money; one can only imagine how much today's tour players would learn from such an experience. Palmer played the Masters in April 1955 and could collect the $696 10th-place money because the Masters was an invitational event and not an official tour event. In mid-August Palmer won the Canadian Open by four shots, along with $2,400 in first-place money. For the year he earned $7,958 for 32nd place on the money list. 

loop-mickey-wright-throwback-thursday-350.jpgWright didn't turn 20 until February 1955, but turning pro as a teenager -- something far more common on the LPGA Tour these days -- was rather shocking back in the '50s. Wright had attended Stanford for one year, but she had won the 1952 U.S. Girls' Junior and 1954 World Amateur. In 1954 she was also low amateur at the U.S. Women's Open in July and Women's Amateur runner-up in September, so she was ready to move from college to pro golf. (Despite the short college career, Stanford still inducted her into its hall of fame in 2000.)

At 5-feet-9, Wright's athletic, powerful swing was one of the all-time finest of any gender. In her first year in '55, she had a 77.22 stroke average and was 12th on the money list with $6,325. She didn't win her first tour event until 1956, in the Jacksonville Open. Golf Digest named her the Most Improved Women's Professional in 1957, she won 10 or more tour titles each year from 1961 to 1964, and by age 28, in 1963, she had won the four women's majors twice. In 1999, the Associated Press named her Female Golfer of the Century. 

The qualifying school may have lost its historical impact, but this time of year still has memories of when historical careers were launched. 

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Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: 40 years ago, Ali took his first swings -- at golf

The status of boxing legend Muhammad Ali's health has been in the news lately, but 40 years ago there were no such worries. The heavyweight champion was in prime fighting shape at age 32 when Golf Digest reported on his first hacks as a golfer.

For someone who could "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee" in the ring, on the course "The Greatest" stood like a sprawled giraffe and swung like a spinning top.

In Golf Digest's October 1974 issue we ran a story written by Brad Wilson, at the time an associate professional who related his encounter with Ali while he was giving golf lessons at Stardust Country Club in Mission Valley, Calif. Ali's training camp was set up at LeBaron Hotel, just a block from Stardust (it's now incorporated into Town & Country Resort). Ali was likely training for a March 1973 fight with Ken Norton in San Diego.

Within 10 days of the fight, Wilson arrived at the Stardust range on an early Saturday morning and saw that Los Angeles Rams defensive star Deacon Jones was warming up for a round. Wilson went over to watch, and shortly later, Jones was approached by Ali's trainer, Angelo Dundee, and assistant trainer, Drew Brown. Jones introduced Wilson to the two trainers, and within minutes, Ali, dressed in gray sweats and wearing heavy running boots, appeared on the range, threw some quick punches in the air and then ran toward the course.

"[The course] is a great place for him to run," Dundee said, in response to Wilson's question whether Ali was going to jog on the course. Seeing a unique opportunity in front of him, Wilson asked if Dundee thought Ali would swing at a golf ball for him. "Ali's his own man," Dundee said. "You can ask him when he gets back. It's entirely up to him."

When Ali returned to the group, his clothes soaked with perspiration, Dundee introduced Wilson. Dundee and Ali talked briefly before Wilson asked if Ali would take some golf swings while Wilson took pictures with his Polaroid sequence camera. Ali told Wilson he'd never swung before at a golf ball, but he agreed to do it. When Wilson handed Ali an 8-iron, the champ asked, "How ya hold this thing?" After putting Ali's hands on the club in a baseball grip, the next question was "What do I do now?" Brown jumped in with, "Just hit the ball, champ. Just hit the ball." Wilson added, while pointing the camera at Ali, "Just do whatever feels natural."

With that, Ali hit what Wilson said was a surprisingly straight, 140-yard shot. Ali crowed, "How 'bout that Angie! You didn't know I was a champion golfer, did you?" Wilson actually felt that despite the unorthodox look, Ali's swing had some desirable elements: good shoulder turn, flexed knees, led the downswing with hips and legs, right elbow close to the side, head down, right shoulder lower than the left, and eyes remain fixed on the ball.


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Photos by Brad Wilson, 1973

Ali hit a second ball solidly and continued his raving glee: "Look at that ball go! Nobody can knock the ball that far. Nobody but me, the great, the one and only Muhammad Ali!" A crowd of people started gathering to watch, and that just fueled Ali's stage presence. He suddenly jumped away from the ball at one point and raised both hands into the air and crowed, "Muhammad Ali is the world's greatest golfer! Nobody can beat Muhammad Ali! Not Arnold Palmer, not Jack Nicklaus, not nobody. I'm gonna make 'em look bad, predict the score, how bad I'm gonna beat 'em, everything -- just like I do in boxing!"

Looking at Dundee, the champ said, "Hey Angie, let's quit boxing and start playing golf. We'll get rich--and besides, that ball can't hit back!" ... Read
Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: The World Golf Hall of Fame's Grand Opening 40 years ago in Pinehurst

After a one-year hiatus to revamp its selection process -- creating a 16-member Selection Commission to determine inductees -- the World Golf Hall of Fame announced Oct. 15 the four new members who’ll make up the Class of 2015: Laura Davies, David Graham, Mark O’Meara and A.W. Tillinghast.

The news came a little more than a month after the World Golf Hall of Fame first opened its doors -- albeit in a different locale -- on Sept. 11, 1974. The original WGHOF was built in Pinehurst, N.C., adjacent to the resort’s famed No. 2 course. On opening day 40 years ago, President Gerald Ford was present to cut the ribbon and address the assembly who were there to see the inaugural 13 inductees be honored.

loop-throwback-wghof-player-518.jpgLike the initial class that entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939, which had the likes of Ruth, Cobb and Wagner, the WGHOF class recognized golf’s early legends Bobby Jones, Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet, Babe Zaharias and Walter Hagen. Enshrinees attending included Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Patty Berg, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Sam Snead.

loop-throwback-wghof-hogan-350.jpgThe creation of the WGHOF had been a long time coming, and officials had high hopes that it would become a mecca for golf visitors. Along with the presence of President Ford and a parachute exhibition by the Golden Knights, the assemblage of eight of the game’s royal legends gave the Hall of Fame an extra-special start. The ceremony was also notable for a rare dressing of Player—the Black Knight—wearing white, and the normally serious Hogan laughing broadly.

But the lure of Pinehurst wasn’t enough, and low attendance, among other issues, forced the hall to close in 1993, having witnessed 71 member inductions. In May 1998, the WGHOF opened in a new location, St. Augustine, Fla., just a high-handicapper’s wedge shot off I-95. It is the main attraction of the World Golf Village, but it’s also still working to find its niche in the golf world. Election of new Hall members had been a major concern in recent years, some feeling the threshold for entry was too easy, allowing popular players who might not have proven their worth for an entirety of their career to be inducted to make the ceremony a must-see event.

The WGHOF now has 146 members, and artifacts from those members alone are enough to provide a significant history of the game. So the WGHOF is putting out great effort to fulfill its mission to “preserve and honor the history of the game of golf and the legacies of those who have made it great.” And the fulfillment of that all started 40 years ago in Pinehurst.

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News & Tours

Throwback Thursday: Tom Watson wasn't the first captain to be thrown under the bus by his players

The history of players publicly trashing their own Ryder Cup captain -- which Phil Mickelson and "anonymous team sources" did with such aplomb last month in Scotland to U.S. captain Tom Watson -- is a relatively short one.

In the years when the Americans had their way in the competition, it was difficult for U.S. players to pick any nits. And as for their foes from across the Atlantic, well having become accustomed to losing, generally they gave their captains free passes.

Even as the Europeans gained the upper hand in the late 1980s, the public griping by players has been barely a whisper. Criticism of U.S. captains as too rough and old school (Raymond Floyd before Watson), unclear (Tom Kite), too nice (Tom Lehman), undecisive (Davis Love III), too bulldog (Corey Pavin), outwitted (Curtis Strange), a poor strategist (Hal Sutton) and just plain unfortunate (Lanny Wadkins) instead were largely leveled by the media. It was really only after this year's loss that American bitchiness was let loose in a furor.

To find the most treacherous example of insubordination toward a captain prior to Watson, you have to look not at any American squad and not even at a team that played in the Ryder Cup.

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The inaugural Presidents Cup was in 1994, with David Graham (shown, left) heading the International team in its 20-12 loss, which was a bit closer than the score suggests. The Australian helped get the event started, so after the loss he was asked to give it another go in 1996. But Graham -- a two-time major winner whose playing career was rewarded when he was elected this week into the World Golf Hall of Fame -- had a reputation for being tough, precise and hard-edged, and players started developing feelings against him based on slights they felt he committed against them. Some of the presumed injured parties were fellow Aussies Greg Norman and Steve Elkington, and Ernie Els.

The tension between captain and players became so great that, in what amounted to a mutiny, Graham was forced to resign -- against his desire -- just eight weeks before the 1996 event. The sordid business had many moving parts in the background, but a meeting that summer of potential International team members ended in a unanimous vote that Graham be replaced.

As was complained about Watson in 2014, players were said to want better communication and more input in the entire process. When Tim Finchem, commissioner of the PGA Tour and an organizer of the Cup, told Graham he was "over a barrel" about what was amounting to a potential boycott of the event by International players, Graham resigned, despite having done lots of work in preparation for the second event. Aussie legend Peter Thomson was asked to be captain, which he did for the next three matches, and Graham was on the sideline, disgraced and embarrassed, telling Golf Digest, "I treasured this from the moment I was appointed. There was an enormous amount of work involved. Now, I wish I'd never heard of the damn thing."

... Read
Throwback Thursday

Euros have been perfecting their party habits for 30 years

The champagne-spraying, back-slapping and ole-serenading Europeans who were doing their fun thing Sunday after another Ryder Cup victory over the United States only seem like they’ve been having fun like this for the entire çup history. That’s how comfortable they look in their glory while the Americans bumble in their post-match commentary. 

The party-hearty Euros actually got their celebration style started in 1985 when they won at The Belfry to break U.S. dominance and start their own overwhelming record. Back then, Europe won by the same score it did Sunday, 16 1/2—11 1/2, and they beat a U.S. captain, Lee Trevino, who like Tom Watson was a beloved Open champion. 

In the nearly 30 years and 10 cup wins from the 1985 triumph, the Europeans have perfected the celebration style that consists of assembling on rooftops or balconies, champagne bottles in hand, and whipping up plenty of fan involvement. These photos show it was a modest genesis to the 2014 celebration. 

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Ian Woosnam appears to be trying to poor some bubbly into the hands of fans celebrating the 1985 Euro victory in the Ryder Cup. 

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Ian Woosnam directs the crowd in its serenade of the Euro winners; Seve Ballesteros, Sam Torrance and Paul Way hoist captain Tony Jacklin.

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The drinking and spraying of champagne from lofty settings after European victories in the Ryder Cup was in its infancy in 1985. 

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Tony Jacklin raised the Ryder Cup in victory after the European victory in 1985. 
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Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: Cool retro images from the last time the Ryder Cup was in Scotland

Forty-one years ago, the United States Ryder Cup team met Great Britain & Ireland at Muirfield, in Scotland. Surprisingly, the matches haven't been back to the home of golf until this week ... way too long a gap.

We took a look at some images from that Ryder Cup, won by the U.S. over the then Great Britain & Ireland squad, 19-13. 

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This year's decidedly underdog American team could use imposing figures such as Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. In 1973, Arnie and Jack played two matches together, finishing with a 1-1 record. 

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There might not be a more dreadful example of a Ryder Cup clothing mistake than what the 1973 Great Britain & Ireland team wore. At least the players fit the times, looking a lot like most guys did in the 1970s, especially those going to a senior prom: white suits with wide lapels. And if you think the guy in the front row, fourth from the left, looks like Miguel Angel Jimenez (aka The Most Interesting Golfer in the World), you would be partially right. He does look like the Spaniard, but this was Bernard Hunt, an Englishman and a non-playing captain.
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Throwback Thursday

Throwback: When Tiger and Phil played in the Tour Championship -- and shared the stage

On Wednesday, Rory McIlroy's answer to a question about Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson not being at this week's Tour Championship was completely overblown. "They're just getting older," seemed to be his central point, something that literally can't be argued.

Related: Tiger's on-course 'bromances' through the years

But the absence of golf's two biggest stars -- McIlroy is No. 1 in the World Ranking, but at best, No. 3 for now in terms of being a draw -- from the festivities in Atlanta is odd. Especially since just last year Woods won the PGA Tour's Player of the Year, Mickelson won a fifth major, and the duo was ranked 1-2 for much of the season.

And of course, five years ago, they authored perhaps the most memorable FedEx Cup Playoff finale ever. Woods entered that week No. 1 in the standings and looked like he might end any drama when he played in the final group on Sunday, but his final-round 70 left the door open.

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Enter Lefty.

Phil fired a 65 to pass Tiger for the tournament, but with Woods holding on for a second-place finish, he held off Mickelson to win his second FedEx Cup and the $10 million bonus.

"I like the way today went," Mickelson said. "I was two back of him, I beat him by three. He gets the $10 million check, and I get $1 million. I've got no problem with that. I just love holding this finally."

Perhaps, Mickelson didn't fully understand how the FedEx Cup bonuses worked yet. He also took home a $3 million check for finishing second in points, although he remains the last player to win the Tour Championship and not claim the FedEx Cup also.

Woods, on the other hand, didn't seem totally comfortable celebrating a runner-up finish even though it came with a victory in sport's largest side pot.

Related: 7 things you need to know for the Tour Championship

"I'm sure I would probably be more happy tomorrow than I am right now, because you're in the moment trying to win this event," Woods said. "Winning takes care of everything. But when you're in the moment out there, I'm trying to win a golf tournament. I'm trying to beat Phil, he's trying to beat me . . . we're all there, and it was just a great leader board."

It certainly was. As McIlroy said, Tiger and Phil are getting older, but hopefully, we're still in for a few more finishes like that.

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Throwback Thursday

Recalling that time Gary McCord was banned from the Masters (Oh, and Tiger Woods won his first of three straight U.S. Amateurs)

Twenty years ago, two noteworthy golf-related events overlapped. CBS announcer Gary McCord was banned from covering the Masters and Tiger Woods won his first of three straight U.S. Amateurs. The two shared the spotlight (sort of) on the September 2, 1994 cover of Golf World:

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Both were important for different reasons. We'll start with Woods, who made a lot of history that week at TPC Sawgrass. The 18-year-old Californian became the youngest winner of the U.S. Amateur as well as the first golfer to win the tournament in addition to winning the U.S. Junior.

Related: Augusta National's unwritten rules

Woods also made the biggest comeback in the history of the event, rallying from six down in the final match to Trip Kuehne. In the cover photo, Woods reacts to making a 14-foot birdie putt on TPC Sawgrass' famed 17th hole -- the 35th hole of the match -- to take his first lead of the day. 

The thrilling victory gave Woods his first of three straight U.S. Amateurs (he won three straight U.S. Juniors from 1991-1993), an accomplishment that might trump anything he's done as a pro. But Woods nearly didn't have a chance to make that putt when his tee shot on the island green landed about a foot from the water, but spun back to stay dry. 

"That was divine intervention," said Ernie Kuene, Trip's dad and caddie, in Brett Avery's story for the magazine. "And (Tiger's) had it for three years."

Related: Tiger and Sean consciously uncouple and Win McMurry's ice bucket fail

Whatever you want to call it, it's fair to say Woods had a better week than McCord. In that same issue, Golf World reported CBS confirmed the broadcaster would not be allowed to participate in the following year's Masters telecast. No one at Augusta National commented in the story, but Susan Kerr, then CBS director of programming, said the network's decision was made because Masters officials "were not comfortable with his style." 

The reported quotes that got McCord in trouble? Saying "there are some body bags down there if that keeps going," when a ball was rolling toward a water hazard, and joking that "bikini wax" is used to make Augusta National's greens so slick. The incident seems minor, but it was another example of the immense power the club wields. Two decades later, CBS still televises the Masters, but McCord, still an otherwise vital part of the network's golf broadcasts, remains banned from being part of the coverage.

Related: 15 signs you watch too much golf on TV

"There's no going back in time. That's who I am. That's what I did," McCord said in an interview with USA Today last year.

There's no going back in time for Tiger, either -- but it's fun to look back. Draining a clutch putt to win a huge tournament? That's who he was. That's what he did. Twenty years later, it's just as impressive.

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News & Tours

Throwback Thursday: That time Ben Hogan helped start what is now the Web.com Tour

By Alex Myers

This week marks the 25th time the Web.com Tour has stopped in Wichita -- one of four sites that will celebrate its silver anniversary on the PGA Tour's developmental tour this season. Of course, it wasn't known as the Web.com Tour in 1990.

Before the website design company acquired naming rights in June 2012, there was the Nationwide Tour, which followed the Buy.com Tour, which came after the Nike Tour. But it all started with Ben Hogan.

Related: Ben Hogan's timeless tips

The golf legend and his equipment company partnered with the PGA Tour to create a satellite tour in 1990. Here's a photo of Hogan and then PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman at a Jan. 4, 1990, press conference in Fort Worth, Tex., announcing the new tour's creation and a 30-event schedule for that year.

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And here's a video put together by the Web.com Tour of early footage, including that press conference, wins in 1990 by Tom Lehman and Jeff Maggert, and Beman hitting the ceremonial tee shot at the tour's first event in Bakersfield, Calif.

"I want to play a big part in it. And I'll be going to some of these tournaments myself, not playing of course, but just to be there," a 77-year-old Hogan said.

In addition to being a business venture for Hogan, the new tour also meant a lot to a man who struggled for years as a professional golfer before making it big. The schedule was devised in a way that pros could drive from tournament to tournament, a throwback to the way Hogan and his contemporaries traveled.

This May 7, 1990 article in Sports Illustrated by Steve Rushin dives into the nomadic lifestyle of players on the Ben Hogan Tour during its first season. "The idea is to move up or move out," a 25-year-old John Kernohan told Rushin.

Related: The best Web.com Tour grads of all time

Nearly 25 years later, the goal of a Web.com Tour player is the same: Earn a PGA Tour card. And the tour's role in doing that has increased with the top 25 money earners getting full status on golf's biggest stage for the following season -- up from only five during the Ben Hogan Tour days.

Rewarding more people for toiling an entire year in relative obscurity? Something tells us the man who helped start it all and spent countless hours "digging his swing out of the dirt" would approve.

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News & Tours

That time I made a complete ass of myself to Loren Roberts at Colonial

By Sam Weinman

Do you remember that Kenny Perry won the 2003 Colonial? I didn't until I looked it up this morning. I was at that tournament, and in hindsight, I vaguely recall Perry winning in what was a resurgent season for the veteran. But 11 years later, I think we all more likely recall that year's Colonial for Annika Sorenstam's historic two rounds playing on the PGA Tour

The concept of a player other than the event winner hijacking a tournament storyline isn't uncommon in golf. We remember that tournament where Michelle Wie made her professional debut and got DQed because of a bad drop, but we don't remember that (fittingly) Sorenstam was the winner. We remember the time Jean Van de Velde coughed up the Open Championship, but you might need a moment to recall that Paul Lawrie was the benefactor.

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But back to that year's Colonial. There was no bigger story in golf in 2003 than Sorenstam, the unequivocal star of the LPGA, testing herself against the men. And as reporters on the scene, our job that week was to try to put it all in its proper perspective.

So there I was, and there was then 47-year-old Loren Roberts. Nice guy, thoughtful quote. Great putter. Roberts was one of more than a dozen players I interviewed that week about Sorenstam, how she might fare and the historical implications of her appearance.

We were standing by the practice green and at some point I introduced the premise (a prescient one, it turns out) that years from now, all we'd remember about this tournament is Sorenstam playing in it. Then to underscore my point, I continued.

"It's really like when Tiger made his pro debut at the Greater Milwaukee Open in '96," I said.

Roberts nodded.

"I mean, everyone remembers Tiger that week. But does anyone even remember who won?" I said. "Do YOU?"

"Yes," Roberts said. Then he smiled. "I did."

"Oh," I said, blood rushing to my face. "Right."

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