Global Golf Calendar

This year, at this time of year, the buzz on the PGA Tour is not about the majors (so yesterday) or the Presidents Cup (so not the Ryder Cup). It’s about the FedEx Cup playoffs and the $10 million prize and whether it’s possible to think of derailing Jason Day, the Best Player on the Planet today if it’s not Jordan Spieth or Rory McIlroy and whatever happened to Dustin Johnson anyway?

Nobody understands the FedEx scoring system, but there does seem to be a way that a player could win it by playing well at the right time.

I seem to remember a guy, not that long ago, Woods, I think. Tended to contend. Won a few. Not in the conversation this fall. They say he’s working on his game. Somewhere.

This week in golf

PGA Tour
Sept. 4-7: Deutsche Bank Championship, TPC Boston, Norton, Mass.

 Out there

Sept. 10-13: The Evian Championship, Evian-les-Bains, France Tour
Sept. 10-13: Hotel Fitness Championship, Sycamore Hills Golf Club, Fort Wayne, Ind.

National Amputee Golf Association
Sept. 14-18: 67th National Amputee and 26th National Senior Amputee Championships, Bent Brook Golf Course, Birmingham, Al.

Champions Tour
Sept. 25-27. Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, Pebble Beach Golf Links, Monterey, Calif.

Wounded Warrior Project
Oct. 7: Wounded Warrior Golf Classic, Firewheel Golf Park, Garland, Texas

Mathematically validated: Varner III is in The 25

PORTLAND, Ore. — Tim Herron’s chunked chip on 18 yesterday at Pumpkin Ridge had immediate consequences and others he couldn’t have known about.

Tim Herron’s chunked chip on 18 had immediate consequences for Harold Varner III, adopted son of Grey Goatee Nation, and he couldn’t have cared less about the rest.

Harold Varner III, shown in action at Pumpkin Ridge's Witch Hollow yesterday, will take his swings next year on the PGA Tour. Photo by Scott

Harold Varner III, shown in action at Pumpkin Ridge’s Witch Hollow yesterday, will take his swings next year on the PGA Tour.
Photo by Scott H. Bisch

When Herron plopped it into the tall grass short left of Witch Hollow’s 18th green, it meant he wouldn’t be making up a three-shot deficit on Dicky Pride with one dramatic chip-in.

For Varner, who was standing nearby, the miracle-that-wasn’t for Herron was the miracle-that-was — a mathematical miracle, because 25 stayed 25 and didn’t change no matter what was roiling up and down above and below. Note: do not expect an explanation of the math. No human being could explain it.

The 25-year-old Varner entered the WinCo Foods Portland Open at No. 25 on The 25 – the top 25 money-winners on the Tour — and needed to stay there to earn his PGA Tour Card. Varner shot one-under 70 Sunday, and then waited it out … until the final group of the day and Herron’s third shot.

The non-mathematical way of telling it: if it had gone in, AND Pride had taken bogey, it would have meant a playoff — and more waiting for Varner.

Dicky Pride (right) outlasted Tim Herron to win the WinCo. Photo by Scott H. Bisch

Dicky Pride (right) outlasted Tim Herron to win the WinCo.
Photo by Scott H. Bisch

Herron would have needed to win the playoff to bump Varner out of The 25 … but he chunked, Pride made a scrambling par, and … the math works.

Pride, 46, who hadn’t won a professional tournament since 1994, moved from 4oth all the way to No. 5 with the $144,000 winner’s check … and next year will get to chase purses on the PGA Tour — where the math is the same but the numbers are a lot bigger.

Bubble wrap, Day 2

PORTLAND, Ore. — Life is cruel out on the bubble … you stand on a thin membrane with nowhere to hide and a long way to fall … and then you have to try to play golf.

For two of Grey Goatee Nation’s adopted sons, the second day of the WinCo Foods Portland Open — cut day — was unkind. One, at least, is not mathematically eliminated from The 25, we think, but remember the math is twisty and not meant for human heads.

Kevin Tway

Kevin Tway

Rob Oppenheim, who began the tournament No. 24 on The 25, missed the cut, following an opening 71 with a 70 today, one stroke over the cut line on two-under 140. He’ll have no chance on the weekend to add to his $160,158.71 winnings this year — and plenty of guys behind him willing to step on his head and assume his place in The 25 and the PGA Tour card that accrues.

Jorge Fernandez-Valdes never got it going, shooting 76-75 in the two days, and he’s not in: he’s 27th on The 25. He’s out — I can do that math. Sometimes we like our adopted sons to play better.

Two other stepchildren of The Nation are alive, and ready to play through the rain in North Plains (address of Pumpkin Ridge’s Witch Hollow Course) on the weekend.

Harold Varner III — the bubble-est bubble guy in The 25 at Twenty-Five On the Number — made the cut with a Friday 69, which got him to 3-under par, one under the cut line. At least he can wear a glove on one of his sweaty palms and won’t have to worry about what to do with his hands while he frets over the guys stalking him from behind.

Kevin Tway, No. 26 on The List, followed a Thursday 66 with a Friday 71, three below the cut line. He’s playing the weekend, but he needs to make money — about $12,000 to supplant Oppenheim and $10,000 to take out Varner … and that doesn’t even figure in all the other guys below him who could make big jumps and blow into The 25 and bump other guys down.

I warn you, brothers and sisters of Grey Goatee Nation, do not do the math. Do not even try.

The 25 happiest golfers on the planet

PORTLAND, Ore. – The newest adopted sons of Grey Goatee Nation will be in Portland this weekend, four players on or around the bubble for The 25. If you’re in The 25 after the Tour’s WinCo Portland Open at Pumpkin Ridge, you earn PGA Tour privileges next year. So what’s the difference? Sort of like Timex and Rolex.

Don’t try to do the math — it will make your brains hurt. Who’s in, with no fear of being bumped? Maybe No. 16, or 17. Somewhere in there. Anybody, just about, who wins the $144,000 champion’s check here will get in.

Grey Goatee Nation is tracking four guys — Nos. 24, 25, 26 and 27. They’ve got something on the line in Portland — that’s a no-brainer.

No. 24 is Rob Oppenheim, of Salem, Mass., a relative old guy by standards, who’s won $160,158. He’s in, but he can’t feel comfortable. He shot even-par 71 yesterday, nine shots off the first-day pace set by Curtis Thompson’s course-record 62.

At 25 is Harold Varner III, a 25-year-0ld from Akron, Ohio ($158,762). He shot 70 Thursday.

Out, but knockin’, is the No. 26 guy, Kevin Tway, 27 years old from Edmond, Okla. ($149, 728). Win a chunk more this weekend, he could be in — he started with a solid 66.

No. 27, and on the hunt, is Jorge Fernandez-Valdes, 23, from Cordoba, Argentina. He’s won $148,581, but an opening 76 makes his score today critical. Miss the cut, he misses The 25.

Images: Women’s golf in Portland — The LPGA Portland Classic

PORTLAND, Ore. — She’s young, and she didn’t even have permanent status, but it didn’t matter to 17-year-old Canadian Brooke Henderson, who went from Monday qualifier to blowing away the field at the Cambia Portland Classic at Columbia Edgewater Country Club.

Grey Goatee Nation shooter Scott Bisch was there with camera in hand.

Sakura Yokomine, who finished T-9 at the Portland Classic, wore her philosophy on her back. Photo by Scott H. Bisch

Sakura Yokomine, who finished T-9 at the Portland Classic, wore her philosophy on her back.
Photo by Scott H. Bisch

Henderson went low — 21-under-par — to win by eight strokes, her second victory as a pro and her first in an LPGA event.

From the LPGA news release:

“ ’It’s amazing,” Henderson said with a smile. ‘It’s such an unbelievable thing; it’s not even real life yet, I don’t think.’

“Henderson (below), who entered the day with a five-shot lead, made three birdies on a bogey-free front nine to push her advantage to seven strokes.

“ ‘I tried to just keep making more birdies,” Henderson explained. ‘I had a number in mind, and I was trying to chase after it, and I was trying not to watch the girls I was playing with, Sandra and Morgan, or any other players.’

Brooke M. Henderson won the LPGA Portland Classic at 22-under. Photo by Scott H. Bisch

Brooke Henderson won the LPGA Portland Classic at 22-under, eight shots clear of the field.
Photo by Scott H. Bisch

“The 17-year-old, who finished the event in a tournament record 21-under par, becomes the first Canadian to win on the LPGA Tour since Lorie Kane at the LPGA Takefuji Classic in 2001 and was greeted with a champagne and water shower on the 18th hole following her win by countrywoman Alena Sharp as well as her family.”

You can see more of Scott Bisch’s work at Big Dude Photography.

Images: Women’s golf in Portland — The Amateur


Sierra Brooks in Aug. 14 play at the U.S. Women's Amateur.

Runner-up Sierra Brooks in Aug. 14  match play at the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Photo by Scott H. Bisch

PORTLAND, Ore. — The best women amateurs were  in Portland, Ore., this weekend, and Scott Bisch, Vancouver, Wash., photographer and friend of Grey Goatee Nation, was there to capture the tournament in photos.

Hannah O’Sullivan, 17,  of Chandler, Ariz., defeated Sierra Brooks (right), also 17, of Sorrento, Fla, 3-and-2, in Sunday’s 36-hole match play final at Portland Golf Club.

From the USGA news release:

“After trailing by three holes through 15, O’Sullivan steadily inched closer, cutting the deficit to 1 down at the 18-hole break, squaring the match through 23 holes, taking the lead on the 24th hole and making a 4-foot par putt on the 34th green to seal the victory.

“ ‘I can’t really describe how good it feels,’ said O’Sullivan, who also earned co-runner-up honors at the 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship. ‘It was just such a tough match today, and to be able to come out on top, it’s just incredible. I just feel so blessed.’

“O’Sullivan and Brooks both receive exemptions into the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open Championship, which will be contested July 7-10 at CordeValle, near San Jose, Calif., just 30 minutes from where O’Sullivan grew up in suburban San Francisco. O’Sullivan also receives a 10-year exemption into the U.S. Women’s Amateur and one-year exemptions into the Ricoh Women’s British Open Championship, ANA Inspiration and Evian Championship. Brooks receives a three-year Women’s Amateur exemption.”

You can see more of Scott Bisch’s work at Big Dude Photography.

World History Tour: Last notes

Herding the herd: The evidence is there, and we can hope you only saw it and didn’t step in it. The elk herd is large and healthy and, by the evidence, eating okay, not that we’re an expert in wildlife biosolids.

Gearhart Golf Links GM Jason Bangild says it was originally thought there were three herds of 30-something head each, but now it seems a single herd topping 100 ranges between Gearhart, the beach and close neighbor Highlands Golf Club, even as far north as Astoria. The herd periodically heads for the mountains and disappears for a few months before returning.

On the whole, awesome is what it is.

“It’s quite a sight,” Bangild says. “They’re beautiful.”

The herd has been the subject of town hall meetings and study by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.  Controlling the elk is pretty much limited, Bangild says, to Gearhart employees standing three abreast and gently ushering the huge animals off the course.

Bangild feels for his colleague Matt Brown at Highlands, where a herd taking over three greens – grazing and trampling and dropping what they drop – is fully one-third of his golf course.

An Irish twin: Gearhart has a new sister-course relationship with Carne Golf Links in Belmullet, County Mayo, on the northwest coast of Ireland.

“It’s a true twinning,” Bangild says. “If you’re a member here, you’re a member there.”

The similarities between the courses — and the towns — are striking. Carne is on the ocean — the Atlantic, of course — while Gearhart lies near the Pacific. The region around Carne is known for logging and fishing — like Gearhart. Carne is an hour and a half from Dublin; Gearhart is an hour from Portland. Like Gearhart, Carne is blue-collar during the week, more white-collar on weekends.

Bangild and a group from Gearhart visited Carne a couple months back. It is nothing short of spectacular, he says — built alongside and through sand dunes “as high as the flagpole.” A contingent of 25-30 members from Carne is scheduled to visit Gearhart in October.

While Gearhart is the oldest course in the northwestern U.S., Carne, opened in 1992 for its first nine of 27 holes and in 2013 for the last nine, is one of the newest courses in Ireland.

“Of course, it looks like it’s been there 400 years,” Bangild says.

A postscript
We eventually got ’round to the writings and readings of Astral Weeks, a live recording … oh man, a sweet thing. We decided that Van was, on the whole, unintelligible. We’d already burned through a 1495 and a Seijas and finished the last drabs of the ceremonial bottle of Oban to mark the end of the tour. We were thereupon forced to revert to a 14-year-old Balvenie and then a 12-year-old … the dropoff was slight and, by then, not noticeable. I will never grow so old again.

Teacher’s Corner: Zdravko Barbic

GEARHART, Ore. — His first name is Zdravko, which maybe you can pronounce, but he lets people off easy — he’s “Z” throughout coastal northern Oregon.

Zdravko Barbic, 54, was born in Croatia in central Europe, moved to Southern California when he was 12, and now lives around here, where he is the head PGA professional and lead teacher at Gearhart Golf Links.

Zdravko "Z" Barbic

Zdravko “Z” Barbic

His bio on the golf course Website says soccer was his first love, but his life has come around to golf. Barbic says his wife Debra recognized golf’s weight in his life before he did: If you like golf that much, she said, why don’t you make it your job?

“She always tells me, ‘You don’t work — you love it too much,’” Barbic says.

Barbic is a skilled player — he’s played in Senior PGA National Championships (for club pros) in Virginia and Florida, and is aiming to qualify for this year’s event at Bayonet and Black Horse in Monterey, Calif.

He’s coach of the girls’ golf team at nearby Seaside High School.

When he teaches at Gearhart, he’s forced to drill his students mainly in short-game techniques — which would be his preference anyway — because the course doesn’t have a real practice range.

“I want to start them off with short chipping — just a nice, easy, short motion,” he says.

If a student can’t get the little stuff first, Barbic says, they won’t get the big stuff: “I always work from the green out.”

He gives on-course lessons to help his students figure out course management. He asks questions: Did they play other sports? Are they in general good health? He wants to know if they’re athletic or not, and whether they can follow directions.

“Some people really struggle,” Barbic says. “You almost have to put them in position and get them to feel it, and see if they can repeat it.”

Five-Minute Lesson

If Z was seeing a student for the first time, and only had five minutes, he would use the time to teach proper grip and posture.

“I would let them know how important balance is when they make their swing.”

World History Tour, Day 3: Gearhart Golf Links

GEARHART, Ore. – It took 200 dump-truck loads to cart away the trees, uprooted so as not to leave stumps behind on the golf course.

It looked like a war zone, they say, but the course never closed for a minute, even during the thick of it, and this week, more than a year and a half after the project began, it’s seamless – you can’t tell where they were, those 400 shore pines, and you don’t miss what you can’t see.

GM Jason Bangild in his Gearhart domain

GM Jason Bangild in his Gearhart domain.

Gearhart Golf Links, by all accounts, is better for it.

“The golf course sort of revealed itself once we took out the trees,” says Jason Bangild, general manager and director of golf at Gearhart. “The ground became a whole lot more interesting – all these bumps and rolls and mounds that were hidden by trees before are very much in view. You can see Tillamook Head and the Coast Range a lot more than you could before.”

“I think it’s the best thing that ever happened to this course,” says Zdravko Barbic, the head PGA professional and an employee of the course, as assistant or head pro, since 1996.

The weather helped – a brilliant Sunday on the Oregon Coast, low 70s and, by local standards, damn near windless – as the Road Warriors tested the oldest course in the Pacific Northwest.

The new look is the old look – the look of a seaside links course through the dunesland. The already-existent fescue grasses were allowed to grow out into sticky roughs, one of many ways you can get in trouble playing Gearhart. But one Roadie played the same ball on all 18 holes of the compact (100 acres) layout, and you can recover – even when you’re approaching from a neighboring fairway.

From the ashes – The clubhouse at Gearhart — including the pro shop and the food, beverage and lodging operation run by McMenamins (the Pot Bunker Pub, the Sand Trap restaurant and lounge, and 18 hotel rooms on the third floor) — has the feel of permanence about it. But history suggests otherwise.

The original Gearhart Hotel, built in the late 1800s across the street from the current property, burned down. They built an even bigger hotel on the same site, and it burned down.  They built another monster hotel across the street, Bangild say, and it managed to last 50 years before it was torn down. Most recently, in 1997, the popular original Sand Trap bar and restaurant, with pro shop attached, burned to the ground.

“Lots of fires,” Bangild says, “for a place where it rains a lot.”

The Roadies on the Links.

The Roadies on the Links.

How did the tree removal change the playing experience? The long answer, Bangild says, is there wasn’t a whole lot of thinking before — down the middle, down the middle, driver on every driving hole.

“There are holes out there now, for example 17,” Bangild says, “where if you’re  downwind, the fescue to the right is definitely in play, the bunker to the left is definitely in play,  and if I was playing for a hundred bucks, I’d use hybrid to stay back of the hazard and give myself a full shot in.”

The short answer: “It’s a whole lot more fun, more interesting, and you get to use more clubs — instead of just driver, bomb and gouge.”

Bangild’s perspective of Gearhart is from a good player, a former college golfer and a PGA professional for 27 years. The Road Warriors don’t fit that description, but we got around, and even managed to cast our eyes to the horizon now and then and reap the rewards of a coastal golf panorama.

Like that one pure shot a round, Gearhart will bring us back.

Tomorrow: Zdravko “Z” Barbic in the Teacher’s Corner.

World History Tour, Day Two: Nines of our lives

In the morning: Highlands Golf Club, Gearhart, Ore.
Relentlessly well-groomed, and a tidy routing through nine holes of ups and downs, and nothing much easy. You’ll get all the golf you want at Highlands, the “other” course in Gearhart, in sniffing  distance of the Specific Ocean.

Play the blues here, because it’s just that much longer, and be straight, because its just that much harder if you’re not. You’ll get to swing your big clubs, but your short game will be your saving grace from off-green lies rarely flat. Don’t be left, at all, on the 91-yard 5th, where the green teases and tempts 100 feet below you and rewards a straight shot with the right club … choose well.

You won’t drop much cash for your round, but you might if you hang around the pro shop — Discount Dan’s — and browse very long among the unusually comprehensive inventory.

If you’re a coastal local, you know about Highlands. If you’re a road tripper, you won’t be sorry plugging this compact gem into your itinerary.

Of an afternoon: Manzanita Golf Course, Manzanita, Ore.

You might pack a few extra golf balls into your bag here, because even if it’s short and pretty, it’s ugly in the trees, and you’ll be there … yes, you will.

Manzanita has a fervent local player base, and it’s so close to downtown that a casual turista who says, gee whiz, maybe I’ll play a quick and easy niner will find that’s it’s something wholly other than casual, but rather a stiff walk and a serious golf challenge. The greens, and the general course upkeep, have gotten a recent boost from a new superintendent of solid regional reputation.

So get on, take it as seriously as you want to, and afterward you might remember you’re in Manzanita, where the food and drink options are plentiiful and the ocean — that one — is right there.