Clarke, Love relationship rooted in sportsmanship
The McGladrey Classic still isn’t sure what kind of field to expect as a regular PGA Tour event in November, about a month later than usual, and one week after most of the top players are in Shanghai for the HSBC Champions. For crowd appeal, the tournament received a boost from the commitment of Darren Clarke.
Considering the host at Sea Island — Davis Love III — that should not be all that surprising.
Clarke, a most popular British Open champion two years ago at Royal St. George’s and for years the lovable, cigar-chomping, Ryder Cup regular, decided this year to take up PGA Tour membership and play a full schedule. His first stop in America is Sea Island.
The long friendship between Clarke and Love is best illustrated in match play on two occasions in 2004.
During the semifinals of the Accenture Match Play Championship, Love rallied to force extra holes. The greens were so bumpy at La Costa that Love, not wanting to see the match end with a missed putt, conceded par putts from 4- to 5-foot range on consecutive holes. Love won in 21 holes.
Later that year, in the Ryder Cup, Love put his tee shot on 18 in the rough. He could have widened his stance for a high cut shot and taken relief because his foot would have been on a sprinkler. He chose to play the ball where it was because such a shot would have been impractical. They halved the match.
“He said I was honest with my drop in the rough,” Love recalled last month at Sea Island. “Darren is just one of those guys like Freddie (Couples). Everywhere he plays, people like watching him.”
Love still isn’t sure how Clarke decided on Sea Island. He said Scott Reid, the McGladrey Classic tournament director, heard a rumor Clarke might be playing and asked Love to try to close the deal. Too late. Turns out Clarke already had committed as Love was sending him a text.
THE PRO & THE AM: Rock singer Huey Lewis had to pull out of the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland, which might have been the best thing to ever happen to Bradley Neill in more ways than he can count.
The 17-year-old Scottish Boys champion was asked to fill in for the rock singer, meaning four days with former U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein. Neill watched Uihlein narrowly miss a shot at 59 at Kingsbarns, holed out for eagle at St. Andrews to take the lead and lose in a playoff.
And then it got even better.
Uihlein donated his prize from the pro-am — 10,000 pounds (about $16,000) — to the Scottish Golf Union to help pay for Neill’s golfing expenses.
“Bradley was a pleasure to partner and I was very impressed with his performance,” Uihlein said. “He has a great chance of achieving success in the game if he continues to work hard. I will be following his career and hope the donation can play some small part in helping him progress in the right direction.”
Neill said he was nervous to being playing a European Tour event — Ernie Els was in his group — but that Uihlein made it comfortable and enjoyable.
“The experience will stay with me for a long time, and I hope it’s not the last time we play together,” Neill said.
AMBASSADOR WIE: Michelle Wie is getting her second taste of the Olympics — first as a spectator, next as an ambassador.
Wie has been chosen to be an ambassador for the Youth Olympic Games when golf makes its debut next summer. Wie was 10 when she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, and she became the youngest USGA winner of an adult championship when she captures the WAPL three years later in Florida at 13.
She turned professional at 16 and has two LPGA Tour wins.
“I’m hoping to teach young people to have fun with their game, to be competitive, to really want something and to realize the importance of having a dream,” Wie said. “I think it’s really important to inspire young people to take up sports. It’s important to be active and be outdoors.”
Wie said she was inspired to make the Olympic team in 2016 after attending the London Games last year.
“It’s one of my biggest focuses, making the American team for Rio,” she said.
SHOOTOUT: Lee Westwood is making the most of his new home in Florida by playing in Greg Norman’s Franklin Templeton Shootout at the end of the year.
Westwood, Billy Horschel and Retief Goosen will be the newcomers to one of the oldest silly-season events — and about the only one left. It will be played Dec. 13-15 at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples. Sean O’Hair and Kenny Perry will return to defend their title. The field has four players from the top 10 in the world ranking — PGA champion Jason Dufner, Brandt Snedeker, Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker.
Still to be determined are two more players and the 12 two-man pairings.
DIVOTS: Bernhard Langer, Fred Funk and Kenny Perry will be the Champions Tour team in the Wendy’s 3-Tour Challenge to be played Nov. 12 at Rio Secco outside Las Vegas. ... The Volvo Champions on the European Tour will return to Durban Country Club in South Africa on Jan. 9-12. The field is limited to winners from 2013, along with current tour members with at least 10 career wins. ... Don Padgett II is retiring next year as president and chief operating officer of Pinehurst. Padgett worked at Firestone before coming to Pinehurst in 2004. He will be general chairman of the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open, to be held next year in successive weeks at Pinehurst No. 2.
STAT OF THE WEEK: The winner of the opening two PGA Tour events of the 2013-14 season led the tournament in the key putting statistic.
FINAL WORD: “I’m happy to be in the top 50, but I’ve only been there the last six months or so. The real test from now on is whether I can stay in the top 50. It’s a lot easier to get there and a lot harder to stay there.” — Hideki Matsuyama.