BOB WEST ON GOLF — Even world’s best golfers can be overwhelmed

Published 12:06 am Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Those who follow the PGA Tour on more than a casual basis saw the world’s greatest players humbled at the Players Championship in a way they are unlikely to ever witness again. The carnage pretty much overshadowed Cam Smith’s strong winning performance.

Weather conditions in Jacksonville Friday through Sunday ranged from near-freezing temperatures, to heavy rains, to winds blowing steadily at 20 to 25 mph, and gusting from 35 to 40. It produced one horror story after another. Especially for those who were in what is known as the “late-early” wave of tee times.

By the time the cut was made Sunday afternoon, only 27 of the 71 who managed to stick around had been in the cursed pairings draw with a late tee time for round one and an early one for round two. Just one of the 71 late starters was in the top 15. Yes, luck can play a big part in winning.

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The Players finally concluded late Monday afternoon, but not before UT ex Scottie Scheffler tied Brooks Koepka for the most balls (3) in the water on the island green 17th hole. Despite all the other lowlights, as well as a fair share of highlights, it’s the horror at No. 17 that will long be remembered after Smith’s 10 Monday birdies have been forgotten.

No. 17, as most of you know, is a somewhat ominous looking par 3 of 136 yards surrounded by water. The green is an extremely large target but even in calm it conditions carries an inordinate intimidation factor. When the wind is blowing so hard there are whitecaps in the surrounding pond, it’s a non-stop nightmare.

That was the situation when first-round play resumed near noon on Saturday. Faced with re-starting their long-delayed opening round on the little monster’s tee box were Scheffler, Xander Schauffele and Kopeka.

Rising-star Scheffler, the winner in two of his last three starts, hit first and struck a solid shot that went long and into the water behind the green. Schauffele and Koepka both dunked their shots far short of the putting surface, as the wind gusted and ballooned their shots. The trio ultimately walked away with a bogey, double bogey and triple bogey.

So it went for the rest of the day. Rare was the group that made it through 17 without at least one splash. Colin Morikawa, hitting first in the group behind Scheffler, also drowned his tee shot to make it four in a row under water to start the day. Before the round was over, 29 balls had to be hit from the drop area.

Compounding the nightmare for the Scheffler trio was the fact they had to start their second round on the 10th hole less than an hour after completing round one. It was once again ugly at 17 as both Scheffler and Koepka found the water and made doubles.

Underscoring the strength of the wind, Koepka hit an 8-iron 205 yards to the green on the par 5, 16th. He hit 8-iron again on 17. That one traveled 105 yards. The former world No. 1 signed for an 81, missed the cut and has now played the 17th hole 20 over since 2015.

Koepka wasn’t alone in being brutalized on 17. Sepp Straka went to the tee Saturday afternoon tied for the lead at 5 under. Roughly 15 minutes later he staggered to 18 just 1 under.

Scott Piercy’s cover-your-eyes story was even more depressing. He came to 17th two under, seemingly a cinch to make the cut of plus two. But Pete Dye’s devilish little beast had other ideas. Piercy found the water twice, made 7, then took a bogey on 18 to finish plus 3 and miss the cut. It had to be utter devastation.

CHIP SHOTS: Austin Williams, the new director of the Southern Texas PGA Junior Tour in Southeast Texas, was pleased with a tournout of 52 players for the opening event of the 2022 season Monday at Beaumont Country Club. He was also pleased to note that eight different cities and town were represented among 9 flight winners.

Evan Klutts of Port Neches won Boys 15-18 with a 79, edging Jeremy Blackwell by a stroke. Logan Houl of Diboll took Boys 13-14 with an 83, which was two clear of Conner Williams. Nicole Mitchell of Missouri City won Girls 15-18 with a 90, besting Tatum Bean by six.

Cathy Miller of West Columbia, who was unopposed, claimed Girls 13-14 with a 104. In Girls 13-14, 9 hole, Anna Lee Mitchell of Missouri City placed first with a 50, Ben Wooley of Humble shot 50 to win in Boys 11-12, 9 hole.

Erin Eaves of Beaumont won Girls 11-12, 9 hole after a 41, Liam Kamas of League City took Boys 9-10, 9 hole at 40 and Axel Sandoval of Livingston walked of with the top prize in Coed 6-8, 9 hole with a 52.

In the Monday 50 Senior 50 Plus 2 ball at Babe Zaharias, the team of Kenny Robbins, Danny Robbins, Rick Pritchett and Jerry May won the front with minus 4. That was also the winning score on the back for the foursome of Brian Mirabella, Ron LaSalle, Larry Reece and Don MacNeil.

Closest to the pin winners were Ron Mistrot (No. 7, 5-4) and Danny Robbins (No. 12, 7-7.).

The Friday Senior 2 ball saw the team of Bob West, Rusty Hicks, MacNeil and a ghost player win the front with minus 2. Minus 2 also won the back for the Robbins brothers, Tony Trevino and Charles Perez.

Closest to the pin winners were Lee Bertrand (No. 2, No. 7), Joe Gongora (No. 12) and Ted Freeman (No. 15).

Best three ball was the format for the Thursday senior game. Taking the front with plus 4 was the team of Randy Monk, Cap Hollier, Butch Cross and MacNeil. The foursome of Doug LeBlanc, Jeremy Hemler, Pritchett and George Adams claimed the back with plus 3.

Golf news should be e-mailed to rdwest@usa.net.