The road to The 25

NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — A round at Ghost Creek at Pumpkin Ridge earlier this week is cause to look back at The 25 and ahead to the tournament that makes their names or breaks their hearts. The WinCo Foods Portland Open won’t come to the Portland suburbs until late August at Pumpkin Ridge’s Witch Hollow course, but even this early in the Web.com Tour’s season, there are some things shaping up.

For instance, Wesley Bryan, a 26-year-old South Carolinian, has virtually clinched his spot in The 25 — the top regular-season money-winners on the Web tour — with victories in two of the first six events, including last week at the El Bosque Mexico Championship in Guanajato, Mexico.

The 25, you know by now, is the list of players who earn PGA Tour cards by being in the magic number. Smylie Kaufman is a name you know — first for playing with Jordan Spieth in the final group on Sunday at The Masters, then for the 81 that blew him out of contention.

The 24-year-old Kaufman likely wouldn’t be playing with the big boys at all if he hadn’t gotten a leg up on The 25 last season by winning the Web.com’s United Leasing & Finance Championship, which returns this week to Victoria National GC in Indiana.

It all comes down to the WinCo, the last regular-season event (Aug. 25-28) on the Web.com schedule. There are other ways to get on the PGA Tour, but The 25 don’t have to worry about them — they’re in.

Augusta West

Augusta-esque: The pond by Eugene's No. 12 tee

Augusta-esque: The pond by Eugene’s No. 12 tee

EUGENE, Ore. – It’s overshadowed in its own state by the courses at Bandon Dunes, in the greater Northwest by Chambers Bay and Sahalee. But Eugene Country Club will take its Top 100 national rankings, make its members happy, and gladly host top-tier championships on the regal but rugged layout.

Slick greens (soon to get faster) and sticky rough (soon to get taller) exert their influence, so bring your A game with wedge and putter and be straight off the tee — or perish. Eugene won’t kill the kids coming in next month with its length, but it will bite if you drift near its jaws.

The NCAA Div. I Championships, first the women May 20-25 followed by the men May 27-June 1, will bring youth and mad skills to Eugene. The nasty rough edging the tight fairways, which was an inch and a half long for press hacks who tested the course on NCAA Media Day Monday, will grow out to 2 1/2 inches for the college women and 3 1/2 inches for the men.

The nines will be flipped for the championships, which will put the most dramatic holes, particularly the (now) front-nine par-3s, directly into the fray toward the end of close matches.

The water features and manicured flowering plants put a guy in mind of — dare I say it? — Augusta National. It’s not entirely accidental — hence the dogwoods, some native and more imported — and, though I’ve never seen Augusta in person, Eugene Country Club doesn’t suffer all that much by comparison.

 

The Masters: Unscripted edition

 Sports is the only reality TV left on your television set.

I don’t know how to break it to you: “Real Housewives of New Jersey” is a scripted drama. So is “Survivor” … and it’s a relief, really — dialogue that bad has to come from some writer somewhere.

The only reality show I ever liked was “The Osbournes,” because Ozzy wasn’t faking — he really is that guy.

The Masters 2016, had it been a drama in three acts, would have soared on birdies’ wings through the first act and into the second. There, just for a moment in the middle of the second act, the music would have darkened briefly. In the final act, we know, Young Jordan the Brave would have beaten back his own demons, slayed the Evil Dragon Danny against all odds, and saved Golf As We Know It for another week.

As we watched, the Masters played out a lot like that. Except Our Hero gasped for breath in his Under Armour, and Danny the Dogged emerged from Butler Cabin garbed in green. That’s reality, right there. Nobody could make that stuff up.

 

For crying out loud

 So easy for a guy of a certain age to get all snot-nosed and blubbery and he doesn’t know why and he doesn’t even have a cold or any known allergies, that he knows of.

If there’s any way to let me know if I’m about to run across a kid playing catch with his dad in the long shadows of late afternoon, please do. Take me over to the next block if there’s any chance I could hear ”Angel” droning from a neighborhood window.

Goddamn it, don’t let me anywhere near a Hallmark movie, even a Hallmark card. This is a tall order, I know, but friends don’t let a friend write drunk.

But sometimes, crying out loud, suddenly and publicly, is legit. Close friends die, sometimes twice in three weeks. Vinnie took the bus March 8; on March 30, Bob Clingman hopped on, too.

Bob played in the first-ever 3GA tournament in March 2006 at Lake Spanaway, and he played in a sprinkling of events through the early years of the Association. He is best known to the greater world as patriarch of a large blended family that includes his daughters Cheryl Mallory, spouse of our own Chris Mallory, and Susan Jeffries, wife of Kevin Jeffries, the first of our charter members to book passage.

Chris and Kevin mostly called him RG; his wife, Georgianna, called him Mike, for no known reason I know of. The Commissar called him a friend – road trip partner for Husky games in Berkeley and Tucson, Giants’ games in Candlestick and whatever they call the ballpark now on McCovey Cove; seatmate in Section 319 for who knows how many years of Seahawks’ games. Bob would have known.

Alzheimer’s is a shitty disease. Peace, Robert.

 ***

The Masters starts tomorrow, which is just a reminder in case you live in Baghdad or Damascus and might think you have more important things to think about.

Jason Day will win, and when he does, please remember that you read it here nowhere near first.

Further, while you watch, remember this: it’s not real.

Talking with Vinnie

I’ll need to use past tense some to tell this story, like when you get with a guy and say, “Remember that tournament game over at Stevens Field? Like 30 years ago? It was 21-to-20 or something we beat you guys? Uh, yeah, Vincent, we won that game … ”

And then you go on and talk about the wingnut twins – yeah, they were on your team, Vin – and their habit in the batter’s box of banging the barrel of the bat against their foreheads, every time, both of ‘em.

Vince Caronna 1951-2016

Vince Caronna

Then you talk about the poker games at Pat’s and John’s, and how it was a tough crowd there, and maybe not coming right out and saying Vince wasn’t equipped for the trash talk, but he wasn’t. He took his lumps and laughed and watched the Huskies win a national title – at the Lemon Road house, right, Vin?

You talk about watching the Saints win a Super Bowl, and the Seahawks lose one, and how he was watching the big games at Doug’s when the Hawks finally won one and then lost another.

And then you talk about how, even in a fantasy universe, he didn’t want to root against his guys … how he always picked Brees, if he could, for Danny’s fantasy league in PeEll USA, and how he always ended up with Colston or Graham and it‘s like, Vinnie, why do you always take whatever sorry-ass running back the Saints throw out there?

You talk about music, the Allmans and Buffett, and how I had to remind him he gave up his own tickets to see Bonnie Raitt at the Gorge as a wedding present for Greta and me. He said, “I did that? What was I thinking?”

You go on to talk about the dozen years or so in a row he went home for the Jazz Festival in New Orleans, which also meant golf with Wild Bill on nice courses in Mississippi and Louisiana. Yes, Vinnie, you did tell me all the acts you saw.

Yeah, golf, countless rounds, most of them at Tumwater Valley, but also at the venues of the Grey Goatee Golf Association. Nobody loves the Howl at the Canal better than you, Vincent.

You talk about all those times with that jerk on the golf course … Vin, you could just tell me to shut up and grow up, but all you ever say is, Take it easy, Bartski.

Then you talk about how he did get mad at me when I brought him home from a birthday round at Vicwood that night in July – like, 14 years ago? – and he saw the cars lining Lemon Road by his house. Yeah, I was in on the surprise, Vin, and we got you good. You’re still mad at me?

Eventually, you come around to talking about the cancer and how the doctors said it was one of the rarest kinds the world has ever seen. Like that was going to make you feel better, Vin. Well, it didn’t kill you. You’re still right here, still in present tense.

Finally, you talk about the big stuff. Hey, Vinnie, the 3GA opener is April 3. I’m putting you in The Commissar’s foursome, if that’s okay.

Vince Caronna died Tuesday, March 8, at home with his family. He was 64. Here are some related Vinnie links:

Vinnie Strong: The better story to tell

Golf into the gloaming

 

Tumwater partners up with craft booze makers

TUMWATER, Wash. – The Golf Course in the Valley of the Shadow of the Brewery is really the course in the valley of the shadow of the empty, decaying, long-defunct former brewery where once they made Oly. That crime against the drinking public notwithstanding, it’s sad and a little creepy to see the huge buildings and vast acreage sitting neglected, unused and apparently unusable.

Since the last big corporate owners of the brewery shut it in 2003, it’s been wannabe “owners” and temporary “holding companies” and visionary “public-private developers” who can’t quite get enough actual cash onto the barrelhead.

Now comes the next guy up, and skepticism still rules the discourse. But maybe, just maybe, this time … well, we do hear things.

The city of Tumwater, which owns the golf course and retains a keen interest in the future of the brewery, is making its Olympic Flight Museum out on Old 99 available for the South Sound Spirits Gathering, a trade fair and tasting Saturday for close to 20 craft distillers from Seattle and points south and west.

The city, according to the local rag, is hosting the event to get the eyes of the drinking public on the new Thurston Craft Brewing and Distilling “partnership zone” – i.e., a brewing and distilling center to be established by the city at the old brewery facility.

It’s a start, maybe, toward a beginning. The city, it seems like, wouldn’t get this far down the road if the man with the plan wasn’t packing the moneybags along with bringing the noise.

In the meantime, while we wait and see, we can get our drink on from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Olympic Flight Museum, 7637-A Old Highway 99 S.E., Tumwater. Sip, eat snacks, 40 bucks.

 

Donald Drumpf edition

Donald Trump doesn’t have good ideas, but he tells us about them in CAPITAL LETTERS, so he’s louder than anybody else.

He isn’t dumb, but he says stupid things. He’s mean, to people that it doesn’t make sense to be mean to, and that IS dumb.

He isn’t funny, but he’s a joke. He’s rich, but he isn’t generous. He might not be handsome, but at least he has bad hair.

He’s louder than any other candidate, so LET’S ELECT HIM PRESIDENT.

He was in the golf news this week because his company sued some people by one of the courses with his name on it. I don’t remember the details … but I like it as foreign policy. Let’s sue North Korea. That’ll show em. Let’s get all litigious on ISIS’s ass. Imagine the jury awards for all those beheadings of journalists.

No, Trump wouldn’t do that. He hates journalists, too.

The PGA Tour is playing at a Trump course this weekend. I wish it wasn’t. Trump plays golf, but I wish he didn’t.

It makes us all guilty by association.

 

Who is Charles Bartlett and why should we care?

Cristie Kerr

Cristie Kerr

The Golf Writers Association of America looks inward for most of the awards it gives out every year – mostly writing awards, befitting its nationwide membership, which is writers writing mostly about golf.

But the GWAA looks farther afield when it presents the Charles Bartlett Award, out there in the world of players good enough at golf to do it for money. It’s not, however, a most-cash-wins award. Other organizations keep track of that.

To be considered for the Bartlett Award, named for the former Chicago Tribune writer who served as the first secretary of the GWAA, there needs to be something else going on. Cristie Kerr, ladies and gentlemen, has got it going on.

I might even think the GWAA, because it’s golf writers, probably appreciated most that Kerr is a winemaker. Her label, Curvature Wines, gets reviewed, glowingly, in the highbrow wine press … that most golf writers never read.

It could be the GWAA was swayed in awarding Kerr the 2016 Charles Bartlett Award by the fact that 100 percent of her winery’s profits go to the fight against breast cancer. Or that she’s made a concurrent career directly devoted to the medical and social causes around breast cancer research, prevention and treatment.

I think that must be it. Works for me.

For the record, Kerr, 38, is a surefire Hall of Famer, with 18 LPGA victories, including two majors, and more than $17 million in earnings. She’s won at least one tournament every year but three since 2005, including last year when she won twice. She’s 5-foot-3, hits the ball a ton, and stands tall enough among her peers that even a bunch of golf writers could hardly help but take notice.

Previous winners of the Bartlett Award include Arnie, Jack, Tiger, Ernie, Tom and Greg … and the women, who unfortunately don’t have the one-name-only recognizability: Val Skinner, Betsy King, Lorena Ochoa and the 2015 recipient, Morgan Pressel. Add Cristie, no last name needed, and that’s a pretty good list.

The Nicklaus Nine

LAKEWOOD, Wash. — One is a Northwest icon, universally respected by his fellow pros but not a household name in the greater world of golf.

The other is Jack.

When Ken Still called his friend Jack Nicklaus, a few years back, he had a simple message: Buddy, you gotta design a back nine for the guys out here at American Lake Veterans Golf Course. As the story goes, that was all Nicklaus needed to hear. He agreed to donate his design services to the project.

With Nicklaus on board, the golf course (and its one-of-a-kind golf rehab and learning center for disabled American vets) had its designer for the long-needed second nine holes. But the all-volunteer Friends of American Lake that run the course had more than that – they had the one-name golf personage so critical to the fund-raising to follow.

They had Jack.

The new nine is done now, according to Bruce McKenty, manager of the golf course. A water issue on 11 and sluggish grow-in on a couple following fairways keep the golf course from being too firm on the April 17 grand opening date.

But by all accounts, the new nine is a beautiful piece of work. It seems they got the right guy to create it.

They got Jack.

 

This year’s June major

The golf course with the richest major-championship pedigree in the Pacific Northwest will host another major this spring when the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship comes to the region.

It’s not Chambers Bay.

Sahalee Country Club, host of the KPMG June 9-12, is in many ways the anti-Chambers Bay. For example, Sahalee has trees — in profusion.

When the world’s best women pros come to Sahalee in suburban Seattle, it will be the third major hosted by the golf course many people thought should have been the first Northwest course to host a U.S. Open. Not Chambers Bay.

Sahalee hosted the PGA Championship in 1998 and the U.S. Senior Open in 2010. When you see Sahalee on your television set, it looks like a Northwest golf course. Not Chambers Bay.

Chambers Bay is a crazy-cool golf course, worthy of another major some day. It’s not Sahalee.

***

The KPMG Championship is a major sponsor of the Seattle Golf and Travel Show, which returns March 4-6 to the CenturyLink Field Event Center.Seattle golf show logo

The “KPMG Lounge” at the show will include a lineup of top speakers and authors, including Kathy Gildersleeve-Jensen, PGA, the PGA of America’s 2014 national Teacher of the Year; Tony Dear, author of the newly published History of Golf in 50 Holes; and other speakers.

Among the more than 200 exhibitors at the golf show will be all the top equipment manufacturers, and some of the little guys, too, ready and willing to take your money for the latest and greatest, so much better, of course, than the pathetic clubs you bought just last year. The good news is most of them will give you a discount if you try ‘em and buy ‘em, right then, right there.