Joy of Golf: Bill Hurley III provides golf with feel-good story

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Bill Hurley receives his trophy from Tiger Woods.

As far as the feel-good story of the year in golf is concerned, it will be extremely hard to beat Bill Hurley III winning the Quicken Loans National.

In a tournament that aims to honour and raise funds for soldiers, Hurley’s win at the fabled Congressional Country Club in Washington was the best possible script.

The 34-year-old American, as we all know by now, is a US Naval Academy graduate and served the country for several years before achieving his dream of becoming a professional golfer.

The Quicken Loans National, hosted by Tiger Woods, an unabashed fan of the military having grown up with his soldier dad, has played a major role in Hurley’s life. It was in this tournament last year that he experienced some of the darkest days of his life.

On July 30, 2015, Hurley made an impassioned plea for the safe return of his father, who had gone missing. He was found a day later, but two weeks after the incident, Willard Hurley shot himself dead.

A former Walker Cup player and one-time world No. 6 amateur, Hurley’s game suffered and he lost his card. Then came some incredible bad luck when he played well in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals, only to miss a full membership for 2016 by a mere $394.

Playing on sponsors’ invitations and events his low category could give him a start in, Hurley continued to struggle this season, missing eight cuts in 13 starts with his best finish being tied 41st at AT&T Byron Nelson Classic. There were time he thought of quitting the sport, but for someone who had the famous dying command of James Lawrence ‘Don’t give up the ship’ drilled in him, that wasn’t an option.

It all changed last week on a golf course that is just a short drive from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he graduated from. Hurley shot 17-under par and played like a champion.

One of the best stats of his win was that he became the lowest ranked player in the world to win on the PGA Tour this season. He had started the week as world No. 607, the previous lowest was No. 513 Brian Stuard at Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

But even after the tournament, the legend of Hurley continues to grow. The win had earned him a place in the Open Championship at Royal Troon in two week’s time. Giving up on an Open spot is not the easiest thing for a professional golfer, but Hurley did just that on Wednesday, preferring to be present for his sister’s wedding which is scheduled the same week as The Open.

Bill Hurley III…truly, an Officer and a Gentleman.

RAHM’S SENSATIONAL DEBUT

Hurley hogged the entire spotlight at Congressional, but spare a though for Jon Rahm.

Enjoying pro life: Jon Rahm.

Enjoying pro life: Jon Rahm.

The Spaniard, who was the low amateur the week before at the US Open, turned pro at Quicken Loans National and showed his enormous potential once again by finishing tied third in the tournament.

Rahm, a former amateur world No. 1, had earlier played in the Waste Management Phoenix Open last year and finished tied fifth. The 21-year-old is already up to No. 285 in the world and while a dream Ryder Cup spot at Hazeltine in two month’s time would be asking for too much, he could be Europe’s star in 2018.

THE DREADED WEEK IS HERE

We are in the midst of what has been the most contentious week in the recent history of professional golf.

At one stage, June 27-July 3, 2016, was threatening to tear through the fabric of world golf. The 100th Open de France was always scheduled for this week by the European Tour, and when forced to change their calendar to accommodate Olympics, the PGA Tour pushed up the dates of WGCBridgestone Invitational to this week.

Given the importance of the French Open – France is hosting the 2018 Ryder Cup and the French Open is the biggest and oldest tournament in continental Europe – the European Tour threw a hissy fit and when all failed, they withdrew their sanctioning of the WGC event.

A lot of additional perks were given to the European Tour members who are playing in Paris, including double Ryder Cup points.

Shane Lowry, the defending WGC champion, decided to go to Akron and defend his title, but a majority of other stars have shown their support for European Tour by either playing the French Open, or missing both the tournaments.

STAT OF THE WEEK

1 – Maverick McNealy, son of Sun Microsystem founder Scott McNealy, is now the best-ranked amateur golfer in the world.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“I promise you, I would have thrown a fit. I wouldn’t have hit another shot. I would have sat there.”

– Jordan Spieth when asked what he would have done if he were in Dustin Johnson’s position during the US Open rules fiasco.

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#360view: Golfers dropping out of Rio 2016 does not mean all is lost

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Missing out: Rory McIlroy.

As painful as it has been to witness the exodus of golf stars from the Rio Olympics, there really are two ways of looking at the whole thing.

Obviously, as a competition, the absence of players like Jason Day and Rory McIlroy will devalue it. The lustre of the gold medal will appear that much dimmer even if someone like Jordan Spieth wins it, and even he is having second thoughts.

So, reintroduced in the quadrennial games after 112 years, is golf already a flop? That’s one way of looking at it, but only from the perspective of the International Olympic Committee and telecast partners NBC.

There are detractors who will say that golfers are not trying their best to be there. Unlike track and field stars and swimmers, the Olympics is not the pinnacle for a golfer. It could become as important as a major in the future, but that will definitely take some time. But things are not that bad from golf’s own point of view.

The main reason the International Golf Federation (IGF) wanted to become a part of the five-ringed extravaganza was to have an opportunity to develop the sport in parts of the world where it is not popular. Let’s face it, countries like the USA, Australia, South Africa and Ireland do not matter in the larger scheme of golf in the Olympics.

What would make a difference, is if guys like Anirban Lahiri of India, Wu Ashun of China and Miguel Tabuena of Philippines refuse to play. These are the countries that are going to benefit the most from the Olympic connection.

Back home in India, golf used to receive absolutely zero support from the government. However, now that it is part of the Olympics, there will be financial support for the Indian Golf Union, foreign coaching programmes for youngsters and funds to upgrade facilities and buy equipment.

This kind of largesse is not extended to non-Olympic sports. It’s almost a similar scenario in China and several other Asian and African nations.

And historically, the absence of a few stars hasn’t hampered other sports in the past.

When tennis returned to Olympics in 1988, three of the top male stars at the time – Mats Wilander, Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl – as well as the top-ranked doubles pairing of American Robert Leach and Jim Pugh, did not show up at Seoul, even though there was no fear of epidemic then.

This year, two of the greatest basketball players of modern times – LeBron James and Steph Curry – are not going as well. But basketball won’t suffer. And in football, we have seen various limitations put on the teams eventually selected, apparently because FIFA does not want Olympic football to rival its own World Cup.

Despite the withdrawals, the field for men’s golf remains strong. Spieth is still undecided about his participation, but reigning US Open champion Dustin Johnson and twice Masters champion Bubba Watson are looking forward to the new challenge.

World No. 5 Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, reigning Masters champion Danny Willett and former US Open champion Justin Rose are also planning to make the trip.

On the women’s side, the only player to drop out is South African Lee-Anne Pace. I am sure it will be a case of Citius, Altius, Fortius for golf in the Olympics eventually with, or without, the world’s top players.

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Joy of Golf: Oakmont doesn’t pay the penalty for error

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Winner: Dustin Johnson.

There was a lot of anticipation regarding the second major of the season, mostly because of the quality of host venue Oakmont Country Club, and the US Open this year lived up to the expectations.

Yet, it could easily have become the most ridiculed tournament in the history of the sport.

Had Dustin Johnson finished either one shot ahead of the group in tied second place, or tied for the lead, the contentious one-shot penalty he was handed at the end of his round would have haunted the USGA forever so they were fortunate.

As is the case after every major championship, we hand out our report card this week on the performance of those associated with the tournament…

Dustin Johnson (10/10):

You can’t fault Johnson’s performance at Oakmont. Given his track record of collapsing in the majors, everyone was expecting him to blow up once again on Sunday.

On top of that, there was the unwanted pressure of the USGA officials approaching him on the 12th hole – just when he had taken the lead – to tell him that the incident of the moving ball on the fifth hole was under review.

For Johnson to play as well as he did despite all the distraction, showed he is not as mentally frail as people think him to be. I would have thought this would have been a good time to clear the one blot on his career – the leave of absence he took for almost six months just before the 2014 Ryder Cup, which led to all kinds of speculations. But he did not address that.

However, there is no denying that golf is blessed to have someone so supremely athletic. The way he handled the demanding Oakmont proves Johnson has the game to become one of the greats.

USGA (1/10):

I thought last year’s Chambers Bay horror show was their all time low until the final round issues with Johnson and the ruling fiasco.

This is what happened: Johnson had not addressed the ball on the fifth green, and as he finished his practice putt, he saw the ball move slightly backwards. The new rules say if the ball moves before a player addresses his putter, there will be no penalty.

Johnson checked with his playing partner, Lee Westwood, who was standing right there and saw the entire thing, and clarified with the rule official assigned to the group. Both said he was fine and could go ahead.

I have two issues with the USGA because of what happened. One, they should not have confronted Johnson mid-way through the round. Back nines of a major are tough as it is. More importantly, in a sport that takes so much pride in the fact that it is mostly self-governed, USGA made Johnson, Westwood and the rules official look like cheats.

Jim Furyk (9/10):

What a golfer! Out for more than six months with a wrist injury, Furyk was struggling after making a comeback, missing two of his first four starts. But back at the US Open, he was a different man.

It was the solid Furyk we are used to as he fought his way to tied second place at one-under par.

Shane Lowry (8.5/10):

For 63 holes, he was the best player in the field, but the Irishman will rue the missed opportunity. It is not easy to blow up a four-shot lead in the final round of a major. But let’s give him the benefit of doubt – it was the first time he was in contention in a major and it is not easy to handle that sort of pressure.

Sergio Garcia (8/10):

The Spaniard has never won a major in his career, and he came close once again. He was in contention before reeling three bogeys in three holes late in the final round to finish tied fifth. I would have given him seven, but one extra point for being humane and saving the baby bird after making his birdie on the eighth hole.

Andrew Landry (8/10):

The young journeyman did not have the best of final rounds and finished with a round of 78 to tie for the 15th place. But the world No. 624 was impressive as he mixed with the big boys and went out in the leadergroup on the final day. This should boost his coincidence on the Tour.

Jason Day (7/10):

The world No. 1 made a horrific start to his campaign at Oakmont, slumping to a six-over par 76 in the opening round. But he played like a champion thereafter, and if not for a late double bogey-bogey finish, he would have finished tied second.

Bryson DeChambeau (7/10):

The only false move he made during the whole week was burning a hole through his T-shirt while ironing it on Sunday. Make no mistake, this is one shining star we need to keep an eye on. He got into the Open through the qualifiers, and then finished tied 15th and five-over despite a terrible final round.

Jordan Spieth (5/10):

It really wasn’t the Jordan Spieth we are used to. By his standard, it was a terrible title defence as he finished tied 37th. Except for the third round, when he managed to get his putter hot, the world No2 was very average in all aspects of the game.

Rory McIlroy (3/10):

A last-hole double bogey in the second round meant he missed the cut by two shots – his first missed cut in a major in three years. McIlroy came into the tournament in decent form, and his high iron shots would have suited Oakmont, but except for a superb front nine in the second round – where he was four-under par – it was a disappointing outing for the world No. 4.

Phil Mickelson (3/10):

He missed the cut for the second straight time in Oakmont, and the chances of a career grand slam has receded some more. He will be 47 next year at Erin Hills, and the oldest US Open champion, Hale Irwin in 1990, was 45 years and 15 days. He will now have to beat the field, as well as history.

Rickie Fowler (2/10):

Easily going through the worst form of his career. The world No6 has now missed three cuts in a row since finishing fourth at Wells Fargo.

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