MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A week ago, Luke Guthrie and Jonathan Fly were completing their college/amateur careers in the NCAA Championship at Riviera Country Club. Those careers ended after the 54-hole stroke-play portion of the event as their respective teams failed to advance to match play.
Guthrie, a senior at Illinois and No. 14 in the 2011-12 final Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, tied for 45th, while Fly, a senior at Memphis and No. 98, tied for 69th.
Neither is wasting any time kicking in his professional career. Sunday afternoon, they will be earning their first paychecks as professionals, from the PGA Tour’s FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind.
That’s because Guthrie and Fly, both playing on sponsor exemptions, made the cut in their pro debut against some of the best players in the world.
Guthrie, a two-time Big Ten champion and the 2012 Big Ten Player of the Year, finished 36 holes at even-par 140, coming on rounds of 69 (which included a double bogey on the final hole) and 71.
“So far, it’s really been an incredible experience,” Guthrie said after completing his third-round 3-under 67 Saturday. “It’s been a wild couple of weeks, but it sure has been awesome.”
Fly’s first two days proved quite an adventure, not to mention feeling the hometown pressure. Not only did he play college golf locally, but he grew up in the area and estimated he has played TPC Southwind “maybe 500 times.” His parents and grandparents live at Southwind, and his uncle owns a house right off No. 18.
Thus, Fly was devastated, disappointed and, as he put it, “pissed when I left the grounds here” following his opening-round 8-over 78. He knew he would really have to dig deep to get himself out of that hole if he hoped to make the cut, which was projected at 2 over par.
And it looked like the train wreck would continue for Fly on the opening hole Friday. His tee shot at No. 1 hit a tree but fortunately kicked back into the fairway.
Then, from 179 yards and with a 6-iron, Fly holed his second shot for an eagle. He was off and running and went on to match the best round of the day, a 6-under 64 that enabled him to make the cut right on the line at 2 over.
“I started high-fiving (after the eagle hole-out), and I was off to the races,” Fly said. “This can be a very crazy game. It’s golf. And you can never give up in this game.”
One thing is certain: No matter what the size of the paychecks Guthrie and Fly earn come Sunday, it will be a big boost in getting their pro careers kick started and an experience that they will long remember.
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Neither player involved in last year’s FedEx St. Jude Classic playoff made the 2-over 142 cut to play the weekend. Defending champ Harrison Fraser pretty much punched his early ticket out of Memphis with an opening 10-over 80, before following with a 71. Robert Karlsson was consistent by a pair of 72s sent him packing.
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With a 68-68 start and 4-under 136 total this week at TPC Southwind, Davis Love III matched his best opening two rounds of the season – a 64-72 at the Honda Classic.
Sometimes it helps to take a little advice from someone you know – even if it is your own teenage son.
Love, who last Monday qualified for next week’s U.S. Open at Olympic Club, credits his latest play to a top he received from Davis IV, who will be a freshman this fall at Alabama, which last week finished second at the NCAA Championship.
“He’s a good player, and we had fun hitting balls late in the evening the last two evenings,” said the proud father. “He watched me in the (Wednesday) pro-am up close. He said, The ones you hit bad, you’re getting long and quick on. He calmed me down a bit, and that always helps.”
Love, who will captain the next U.S. Ryder Cup team this fall at Medinah, has made just eight starts this season coming into Memphis and played the weekend only three times, with his best showing coming last week with a tie for 16th at the Memorial Tournament.
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There were 29 players in the starting field at TPC Southwind who will be competing next week in the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. Fifteen of those made the cut.
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If you are one of those 15 headed to San Francisco after this weekend whether you do, in fact, want to leave Memphis with the FedEx St. Jude trophy. Consider this: No player has ever won the week before the U.S. Open and then gone on to win the national championship. Or how about this: Since 1945, only eight players have won on the PGA Tour the week before a major championship and won the next week. The most recent was Tiger Woods, in 2007, when he captured the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship.
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No player in the starting field here went through the first round without at least one bogey as the scoring average on the par-70 TPC Southwind course was 72.155. Three players – Daniel Chopra (65), Dustin Morris (69) and Camilo Villegas (69) – went bogey-free in the second round, when the scoring average dropped to 70.862.
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The St. Jude Classic marked the seventh consecutive PGA Tour start for Jeff Overton, dating to the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, where he tied for 18th, his best showing among the first six.
“I just love every single one of these tournaments,” he said. “Besides, I’m not in the U.S. Open, so I’ll probably take a couple of weeks off after this week.”
Overton said he woke up with pain in his collarbone the final day (May 6) of the Wells Fargo Championship in North Carolina. He missed the cut in his next three starts.
“I had been playing pretty good, but then I could hardly swing a golf club,” he said. “I had an MRI, and I must have torn a little cartilage in there. But it’s felt pretty good these past few days.
“Now I’m dealing with a dumb, ingrown toenail. It’s like one thing after another. It must be a sign of turning old,” said Overton, who just turned 29.
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The PGA Tour’s most recent marathon men are Tommy Gainey and J.J. Killeen, each of whom made his ninth consecutive start at the St. Jude Classic, playing in every event after not having qualified for the Masters in April. Kris Blanks and Chris DiMarco played eight straight weeks after missing the Masters but were not in the field this week in Memphis.