HONOLULU – Nothing any of them did was going to secure a bit of attention, not with the dazzling show put on by one of their peers, Russell Henley.
Making birdie on each of the last five holes and blitzing Waialae Country Club to the tune of 24 under to win the Sony Open? It was stunning stuff by Henley, whose first tournament as a PGA Tour member was an unforgettable performance.
But somewhere in the list of accolades, it should be duly noted that a good number of Henley’s fellow PGA Tour rookies enjoyed their trips to Honolulu, too. Sure, their weeks couldn’t compare with Henley’s, for he took just four days into his PGA Tour career to become a millionaire.
Yet it’s hard to think that rookie Scott Langley, who opened with a 62 and eventually finished T-3 didn’t cross back to the mainland with a smile. Same for Scott Gardiner, who was even greener than the majority of his fellow PGA Tour rookies because he had never before teed it up in the big leagues. Yet Gardiner handled the assignment beautifully, finishing T-15.
All in all, a rather robust start for the rookie class. Of the 30 PGA Tour rookies in 2013, 23 of them teed it up in Honolulu, 15 of them made the cut, and three finished within the top 20. Of the five rookies who were playing in their first PGA Tour tournaments, four earned checks: Gardiner, David Lingmerth, Henrik Norlander and Robert Streb.
No wonder you could hear a collective sigh of relief from one corner of Waialae to the other. The anxiety was thick, said Norlander, 25.
“I was 3 over after six holes. I could barely feel my hands,” said the big Swede who helped Augusta State win back-to-back NCAA Championships. “I started bogey, bogey and there weren’t many good shots.”
But there was the realization that Henley and Langley – peers against whom Norlander had competed against in college – were atop the leaderboard. “That gave me confidence. I just realized that it’s just golf. Just go out and trust your game,” he said.
Norlander’s fellow Swede and rookie, Lingmerth, double-bogeyed his first hole, the relatively soft, par-4 10th.
“I’m not going to lie. The first few holes it took a while to settle in,” said Lingmerth, who played collegiately at Arkansas. “That was a rough start to my PGA Tour career.”
Lingmerth, 25, settled down nicely after that, rounds of 69-68-66-68 leaving him in a share of 31st.
“It’s nice to get out here and make a cut right away,” said Lingmerth, who figures the biggest stage he had played on before was the Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open two years earlier when he had to have a high finish to get into the Web.com Tour Championship. He pulled it off, but takes greater pride in his finish amid the Hawaiian palm trees.
“I know I can compete with them,” he said.
Truth is, nearly all of the rookies think that way – and for good reason: They are showing it time and time again.
Norlander had a second-round 64 to easily make the cut, and while he fell back with a 71-68 weekend and finished T-41, he wore a big smile. A far cry from Thursday’s start when “I thought I was going to pass out in the first few holes,” he said.
Not that it was all positive. Eight of the 23 rookies missed the cut. David Constable, for instance. At 23 he was playing in just his first PGA Tour tournament. After having made it through Q-School, he went home to Minnesota for more than a month. He might have been rusty and in awe at Waialae, but Constable still managed to soak it all in, different as it was.
“Not many guys know me around here,” he said.
Norlander felt similarly, though by the end of the week he knew a few more players. One of them was fellow Swede Carl Pettersson. As Norlander stood waiting to hit at his first hole Thursday, he noticed Pettersson coming toward him. “He had played in the morning and just wanted to say hi,” Norlander said. “He introduced himself, which was really nice.”
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RUST? WHAT RUST? You wouldn’t know it by his 21 birdies and an eagle and the fact that it took an uncanny and historic effort by Henley to beat him, but Tim Clark didn’t exactly grind away in the offseason. With refreshing candor, the 37-year-old South African said, “When I take time off, I truly take time off.”
He played his final PGA Tour event of 2012 in Las Vegas in early October, then didn’t compete much after that, save for a rain-shortened tournament in South Africa. It’s always been his style to give himself a true offseason, but especially with Clark having had a rough go of it in 2011 and early 2012 because of an elbow injury, he figured the rest would be good for him.
So after a bit of a tuneup at the Kukui’ula Golf on Kauai, which is owned by the same folks (DMB Associates) behind Clark’s home club in Scottsdale, Ariz., Silverleaf, he arrived at Sony feeling refreshed and ready. The payoff: He finished second for the second time in four starts at Waialae, where in 16 rounds Clark is now a whopping 47 under.
“It’s strange. When I come here it reminds me a lot of Durban, South Africa, where I grew up. The weather’s the same, the grasses are the same, and it’s not an overly long golf course,” said Clark, who shrugs when asked about his lack of offseason work.
“I do better when I don’t practice that much,” he said.
Because Clark wasn’t in action in the latter weeks of 2012, he was not around to be asked his thoughts on the USGA/R&A proposal to ban anchoring come 2016. Clark, of course, anchors a long putter and has done so for a long time, a big reason being that he has a rare congenital condition and can’t rotate his arms and get his palms facing upward.
He knew the questions would come at Sony, but Clark is world-class when it comes to dignity. He will remain silent on the topic for now, not because he doesn’t have thoughts, but because it’s the prudent thing to do; better to sort his opinions, assess the landscape, listen to his confidants and proceed judiciously.
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ALL QUIET ON THE STORM FRONT: So far, so good for the calmer Pat Perez.
The calmer Pat Perez? Don’t laugh, because he has taken on the tough task of settling his emotions. Having enlisted the help of mental coach Chris Dorris of Scottsdale, Ariz., Perez – admittedly as tough on himself as you’ll find – is starting his 12th campaign with a different approach. When things go astray, he sees opportunity, not a chance to erupt.
“My coach and a couple of guys were trying to get me to do it,” said the 36-year-old Perez. “I always knew I had to do something, eventually, but I didn’t want to admit it, I guess.”
Calling angry outbursts “wasted energy,” Perez said the key is reacting to a negative shot and having “an immediate change of thought.”
Sounds easy? Perez shakes his head.
“It’s hard for me. I’ve done it my whole life.”
If he has a role model in this quest, it might be Dustin Johnson. “I hang out with Dustin all the time, and nothing bothers that guy because he knows he can do it,” Perez said.
Now Perez played nicely at the Sony, breaking par each day and riding a second-round 63 into contention, so there weren’t many chances to put his feet to the fire. He wound up finishing at 14 under to get a share of ninth.
“It will be a real challenge for me to stay in that positive light,” he said. “But I’m actually looking forward to the opportunity when it comes.”
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ROCK ROLLED, THEN FADED: With Rory-Tiger madness being shoveled at us in all directions, this business in Abu Dhabi will be treated as if it were the Super Bowl and Kentucky Derby rolled into one. Seems a logical time to remember what happened a year ago when the same sort of hysteria was scripted: Guy by the name of Robert Rock beat McIlroy, Woods and all the other world forces, too.
Immediately there was outcry that Rock wasn’t in the Masters field. Well, he soon proved why he didn’t belong; in 21 tournaments after his shocker in Abu Dhabi, Rock missed nine cuts and didn’t have a top 10 in a stroke-play event. Oh, and in his three major appearances – the U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA – he went a cumulative 40 over par in just six rounds, missing the cut each start.
Sort of puts Abu Dhabi in perspective, eh?
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MONEY PILES UP: As he unsuccessfully chased Henley down the stretch at the Sony Open, Charles Howell III got decent exposure on Golf Channel. The commentary that accompanied Howell’s camera time, however, revolved around a 33-year-old with immense talent but a record that doesn’t quite match. Howell has two wins in 12-plus seasons, and commentator Johnny Miller suggested he probably had earned more money than any other two-time winner.
Guess what? Miller is correct.
Howell has $24,073381 in his column, good for 25th on the career list. Everyone ahead of him on the list has at least four wins.
Most career money with just one win? That would be Tim Clark, sitting 39th with $19,986,325. Jerry Kelly, in 26th place with $23,845,162, has the most career money of those with three wins.
You have to go down to No. 99 on the career list to find the player with the most money with no wins, Briny Baird.
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FATHER AND SON: While on the subject of PGA Tour riches, Jay Haas still has earned more career money than his son Bill. Sitting 79th on the career list, dad is at $14,440,317, with son in 80th at $14,172,394.
Of course, it took Jay parts of 31 seasons and 798 tournaments, while Bill has gotten there in just seven seasons and 214 events.
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MOVING UP IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD: The benefits to being a Tour winner have kicked in already for Henley. Having been paired with fellow rookies a week ago, this week at the Humana Challenge Henley will tee it up alongside one of the steadiest and best Tour veterans, Bo Van Pelt.
The pairing certainly offers quite the contrast. Though Henley won in just his third PGA Tour tournament – and first as a member – Van Pelt needed 229 tournaments to finally break through.
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CHANGE OF ADDRESS NOT LIKELY: If you’re looking down the road, Vijay Singh’s 50th birthday is Feb. 22. Unless he makes a decent push in coming weeks, it doesn’t look as if he’ll be spending it at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship (Singh is ranked 86th; the top 64 get in), but don’t start thinking you need to ship the birthday card to a Champions Tour locale. First up, there’s no Champions Tour stop that week. But it doesn’t appear that Singh has designs on playing with kids his own age – at least not right now.
Coming off a steady end-of-the-year in 2012 when he was top 10 in four of his last tournaments and for the season missed just four cuts in 27 starts, Singh opened strong at the Sony. He made just three bogeys in four days, broke par each day, and finished T-11.
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SHORT SHOTS: Playing in 2013 on a one-time exemption for being top 25 in career money, Mike Weir finished level par and missed the cut by two at the Sony Open. He has now missed the cut or withdrawn in 17 consecutive tournaments, his last check coming at the AT & T National in July 2011. . . . Howell is now working with Gary Gilchrist, but when the subject focuses on leaving David Leadbetter, he shakes his head. “I love David. He’s like a second father to me,” Howell said. “I’ve worked with him since I was 10. I’ll still bounce ideas off him.” But in Gilchrist, who for years worked for Leadbetter, Howell sees the relationship more as a coach than an instructor. . . . Brett Quigley has been given a sponsor exemption into this week’s Humana, where a year ago he finished T-30 in his only tournament of the year.