No matter which way I turned, it seemed that there was a story just waiting to be told around the world of golf.
On the PGA Tour, three Playoff events make up the culmination of the year-long FedEx Cup and Justin Thomas just notched a victory in Playoff #2, the BMW Championship played at the highly acclaimed Medinah Country Club. Heading into the final round, Thomas had a six-shot lead after the stunning 61 he had in the third round, and he managed to win by three shots, but there’s always drama on the PGA Tour and it was fun to watch. Only the top 30 on the FedEx Cup points list could advance to this week’s finale, the Tour championship played at East Lake, just outside Atlanta.
At Medinah in the Chicago area, rain early in the week meant soft conditions coupled with no wind to speak of (until the final day). It made me think that Sag Harbor Golf Club would have served up a sterner test. Still, good golf was played and a 61 is a 61 no matter the conditions, and Thomas was a deserving winner.
A lot was at stake in the BMW Championship as 70 guys were playing for 30 spots to punch their ticket to the year-long FedEx Cup big money grab at the Tour Championship. New rules are in place this year. This year, the winner of the Tour Championship will also be the winner of the FedEx Cup Bonus Pool and will take home $15 million in addition to the $1.6 million-plus for winning the championship itself.
Meanwhile, on the Champions Tour, one of those feel-good stories unfolded. Former PGA Tour player Doug Barron, who several years ago was suspended for using a drug that had been prescribed by his doctor, came out on top for a most unexpected victory. Barron played in 377 PGA Tour events without ever tasting a win. But last month, as Barron turned 50, he went to Europe, qualified for the Senior British Open, played well, and finished fifth, which was a big boost to his confidence.
Being new to the Champions Tour with no “status,” last week Barron made the trip to Endicott, NY, to try to Monday qualify for a spot in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open, which he did. Then he took full advantage and came out on top and in the process, earned $307,000, and most important, a place to play. He is exempt for the rest of this year and all of next year, right up to the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open again. And, he has the distinction of being the only player on the Champions Tour to Monday qualify, then go wire to wire for the win.
At the top of the golf news, the U.S. Amateur Championship was played at Pinehurst, one of the true golf meccas in golf. In fact, there’s a book shop there called the Old Sport Gallery and lo and behold, they have my book, “The Ryder Cup: Golf’s Greatest Event,” cowritten with Tom Clavin, on the bookshelves next to many other great golf books.
Out of 7191 entries accepted into the U.S. Amateur, who all had to have a handicap index not to exceed 2.4, two young men advanced to the final match: John Augenstein, an All-American at Vanderbilt who was exempted into the Championship by virtue of being in the top 50 World Amateur Golf Ranking, and Andy Ogletree, a senior at Georgia Tech, from a little-known town of Little Rock, MS. In fact, Ogletree is the first golfer from Mississippi to play for Georgia Tech. Ogletree was tough and would just not go away, and he won this prestigious Championship two and one on the 35th hole.
Being the U.S. Amateur Champion is huge and, as long as he remains an amateur, it traditionally means an invitation to the Masters, where the U.S. Amateur Champ usually gets paired with the reigning Masters Champion — in this case, Tiger Woods. He also receives an automatic exemption into the 2020 U.S. Open Championship and the 2020 Open Championship, plus a spot on this year’s Walker Cup team.
In a week full of feel-good stories, I’m sorry to report the loss of legendary Hall of Fame sportscaster Jack Whitaker. Whitaker had strong ties to the East End and, for a time, he was a member at Shinnecock, also played some golf at Southampton with Bob Joyce, and was often seen at the Bridgehampton Candy Kitchen. He called the first Super Bowl plus many memorable broadcast moments from Augusta. He had such a great way with words that I swear that he could tell me to go to jump in a lake and I’d be looking forward to the trip. I consider myself a lucky guy to have known Jack Whitaker. He was a class act.