As hard as it is to fathom the devastation caused by last week’s typhoon to the central Philippines, it’s even more incredible to think that a professional golf tournament is about to commence in that ravaged country.
But, indeed, the Manila Masters will play on.
“Filipinos have very strong heart,” said that country’s most decorated player, 53-year-old Frankie Minoza. “We are used to typhoons hitting our country, but it was unusual this year. We’ll get over this as we are survivors and we help each other.”
In a statement, Mike Kerr, the Asian Tour’s chief executive officer, cited the long history of supporting golf in the Philippines. “We feel for the people affected by this unfortunate tragedy and hope that through the staging of this tournament and through our support of aid and relief programs, we will be able to help in whatever way possible.”
Tacloban, the city on Leyte island that took the brunt of Typhoon Haiyan (known as Yolanda in the Philippines) and was basically leveled, is some 360 miles southeast of Manila. Think San Francisco to Los Angeles, roughly, so the effects are vastly different in the two cities. But, still, in relative terms the golf tournament will be played not far from where nearly 1,800 have been confirmed dead, an estimated half-million are homeless and where massive relief efforts are underway.
But those involved say the decision to play has merit.
“It was unfortunate and it’s really bad with what has happened in Tacloban, but we Filipinos are strong and we’ll get through this,” said Gerald Rosales, a Filipino who is entered in the Manila Masters.
Minoza said he would love to win at the Resorts World Manila and contribute a sizable portion to the typhoon victims and tournament officials insisted this was in line with the thinking behind going through with the event.
“They want to use the opportunity to try to raise some funds for the victims,” said Asian Tour media director Chuah Choo Chiang, speaking on behalf of the tournament sponsors. “They’re talking to various people, and they hope to come up with some firm plans of what they want to do.”
It’s no surprise to find Daniel Chopra in the field. He was “global golf” before global golf became in vogue, as eclectic a world traveler as you’ll find. Born in Sweden and raised for a good portion of his youth in India, Chopra earned first professional victory in Malaysia in 1993, and he has won twice on the Asian Tour.
At 39, he has played the majority of his golf in the past 10 years in the United States, but he has not lost his sense of adventure. So when his low priority ranking (41st) coming out of the Web.com Tour Finals left him without chances to play this fall, Chopra knew what to do. He packed his bags, took his passport and headed for last week’s Indian Open.
Chopra finished 24th, which was positive stuff, but the better news was that he had secured a spot into this week’s PGA Tour tournament in Mayakoba, Mexico. Yet Chopra surveyed his options and decided to turn that down; instead, he would go through with a commitment to play in the Manila Masters.
“I had committed to this event awhile back as I didn’t think I had a chance to get into Mexico,” Chopra said via email. “So even though I did get in at the last minute, I wasn’t going to go back on my commitment here.
“It wouldn’t have been fair to the event, and especially now with the tragedy that’s happened. At a time like this if we as golfers can do anything to help, we should. There are a bunch of fund-raising and charity initiatives in place this week. If I can be a part of them and help, then I am happy to do so.”
As much as he has traveled and as much as he has seen, Chopra said this was unlike anything he has witnessed.
“Everyone in Manila is still in a bit of shock and trying to grasp the magnitude of the situation,” he said. “Even when I arrived (Tuesday) morning, there were aid planes landing and loading supplies to ferry to the affected areas. It is all a bit surreal. We can only hope that the situation gets better.”
Sitting a world away in our luxury and comfort, we struggle to put our arms around the devastation. Certainly, some will consider a pro golf tournament to be a trivial matter and hardly worth pursuing in the face of such human suffering. But typhoons are a fact of life in that country, and veteran Angelo Que and 19-year-old Miguel Tabuena said this week’s Manila Masters and next week’s World Cup in Australia, where they will represent the Philippines, are important.
“Unfortunately, the typhoon has to happen, but we’re all good to help. I think it’s a good thing that all players get together and help out,” said Que, 34, a three-time winner on the Asian Tour.
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HOMETOWN HERO: He has warmed the hearts of Aussies from Sydney to Perth. Now if only Adam Scott could do something about the weather Down Under.
“Very cold and wet,” reported Scott’s manager, Justin Cohen, where the Australian Masters gets underway Thursday at Royal Melbourne.
Of course, if things go the way they did at last week’s Australian PGA, even cold and wet weather won’t bother Scott. He outplayed Rickie Fowler over the final nine holes to win and continue his brilliant homecoming. With the green jacket in tow, Scott has been treated to one special event after another. As the first Aussie to win the Masters, Scott hasn’t been to his homeland in more than six months, but the time away has been worth it. Before the start of the Aussie PGA, Scott was given the keys to the city of the Gold Coast by Mayor Tom Tate, then Scott won the tournament with his family watching.
True, it came against a mediocre field – Scott received just 22 world-ranking points, or the same amount as he got for finishing T-5 at the PGA in August – but one of the most difficult things to do for a world-class player such as Scott is to win when you are expected to do nothing less. So plaudits to Scott, who is a quarter of the way through this massive homecoming.
He’s got the Aussie Masters, then the World Cup, followed by the Aussie Open. Though a clean sweep is too much to expect, Scott is off to a brilliant start.
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TO MEXICO, WITH HOPE: If you’re going to play the PGA Tour from the periphery, you need to keep the clubs and passport within easy reach. You never know when you’ll need to catch a flight.
That reality was driven home this week when Jim Renner determined on Tuesday that he had best make plans for a trip to the Cancun region, just in case.
Sitting 44th on the priority list out of the Web.com Tour Finals, Renner didn’t figure to get into the OHL Classic in Mayakoba. Late last week, he knew he was well down the alternate list, so he was prepared to practice and be ready for the Sony Open in Hawaii (Jan. 9-12). Then, the withdrawals started coming in – Angel Cabrera, Roberto Castro, Russell Henley – and when Daniel Chopra called to say he wasn’t coming, Alex Prugh got a spot, elevating Renner to first alternate.
Of course, you can’t get in if you’re in Orlando, so Wednesday morning at 9, Renner flew from Orlando to Miami, then on to Cancun. Somewhere en route he received word that his efforts were going to be rewarded. Troy Merritt had withdrawn, so Renner was in.
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NO PLACE TO PLAY: Six of the bottom 10 in the list of 50 who earned 2013-14 PGA Tour cards through the Web.com Tour Finals failed to get into even one of the first six tournaments.
Daniel Chopra, No. 41, did qualify for this week’s tournament in Mayakoba, Mexico, but he opted to stay on the other side of the world for the Manila Masters on the Asian Tour. Mark Anderson, No. 45, did not play, either, nor did Nos. 47-50 – Kevin Foley, Matt Bettencourt, Will Wilcox and Ben Alvarado, respectively.
For them, good news will arrive in the form of larger fields at the Sony Open (144 players) Jan. 9-12, the Humana Challenge (156) the following week, then the Farmers Insurance Open (156).
Of the bottom 10, only No. 46 Kevin Tway (three sponsor exemptions) got into three tournaments. Alex Prugh got into two, once as a sponsor exemption, once on his number, while No. 43 Miguel Angel Carballo will play this week for the first time and Jim Renner for the second.
Of course, none of these 10 players will be affected much by the upcoming reshuffle after this week’s Mayakoba; their priority ranking will remain low. But given the likelihood of playing at Sony, the Humana, in San Diego and at Pebble Beach, they have a short window to show their stuff before the next reshuffle, Feb. 24.
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IF ONLY IT WERE THIS EASY: Taking time as winter settles in to put together my “wish” list for the world of golf:
• Oh, to put an end to these gimmicky pre-tournament publicity photo opportunities. Last week, Tiger Woods hit a golf ball on a bridge in Turkey. This week in Dubai, Lee Westwood & Co. hit balls off the roof of a Dubai hotel. In the past, players have hit balls off of ships, over gorges and onto floating targets. By now, they’re cliches.
• Even if they say it, let’s not write that players “have worked hard” on their golf games. They’re supposed to; they’re professionals. Millions of people work hard at what they do for a living, too.
• Tom Watson favors a world without captain’s picks in the Ryder Cup? Let him walk the walk. Tell the boys, “Top 12 make the team.”
• As of Jan. 1, caddies no longer can stand behind players and “line them up,” be it a tee shot, an approach, a putt or to get through the buffet. My rule.
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MR. CONSISTENCY: As he goes on his annual November global adventure – this year featuring a double-header at Royal Melbourne, the Aussie Masters and World Cup – Matt Kuchar remains a consistent marvel. At his hometown Sea Island event last week, Kuchar ran his streak of consecutive cuts made to a PGA Tour-best 28.
He hasn’t missed weekend play since the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah. Even more impressive, Kuchar has missed just three cuts in his last 70 tournaments, a stretch of golf that has featured three victories and a whopping 27 top-10s.
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NAME SOUNDS FAMILIAR: If following bloodlines is what you’re into, then the PGA Tour second-stage Q-School in McKinney, Texas, warrants your focus. Among the competitors are Sam Saunders, grandson of the legendary Arnold Palmer, and a number of young men whose fathers grounded it out in more than 3,000 PGA Tour tournaments combined – Travis Wadkins (Lanny), Jamie Sindelar (Joey), Olin Browne (Olin) and Matt Weibring (D.A.).
As further testament that pro golf is a humbling business, two former major winners – Todd Hamilton in McKinney; Shaun Micheel in Kingwood – are in Texas at second-stage sites.
Curious note out of McKinney, because it isn’t often that two second-stage Q-School competitors already have played in two PGA Tour events. But that’s the case with former Alabama standout Justin Thomas and journeyman Kyle Reifers. Thomas received sponsor exemptions into the Frys.com Open and the McGladrey Classic; Reifers was a Monday qualifier into the Shriners and the McGladrey.
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ROUGH STRETCH: You won’t hear Scott Verplank laughing about tournaments routinely categorized as “silly.” From his participation in the 2012 Shark Shootout and 2013 Tavistock Cup, Verplank earned $131,250.
On the other hand, in 25 PGA Tour starts since 2012, Verplank has earned $94,073.
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TURNED THE CORNER? Making the cut in back-to-back tournaments hardly seems to be a celebratory occasion in the mega-rich PGA Tour world, but it was for Aaron Baddeley. When he got into weekend play at the CIMB and McGladrey events, it marked the first time since last April (Valero, RBC Heritage) that he made two straight cuts.
The McGladrey also put a halt to a long stretch of pedestrian play by Scott Langley and Seung-Yul Noh.
Langley wound up T-22 at Sea Island, halting a streak of 25 tournaments in which he had not been inside the top 25. That skid began right after his T-3 at the Sony Open in his debut as a card-carrying member.
Noh was T-27 at the McGladrey. Doesn’t sound like much? Well, since finishing T-16 at the Northern Trust last February, Noh had played in 21 full-field PGA Tour stops with his best effort a T-46.
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NO. 5 SUITS HIM: Not that he repeated the feat when the tournament officially began, but Jason Kokrak showed that his pro-am effort in the McGladrey Classic was a good omen. Kokrak aced the 409-yard, par-4 fifth hole at the Seaside Course at Sea Island GC.
Improbable that he would do that again, but in the fourth round of the tournament, Kokrak did eagle the hole, and in Round 1 he made birdie. In between were two pars, so all in all, safe to say that the big man will take the fifth – at the Seaside Course, that is.