“I’ve always felt blessed to be on the PGA TOUR ... I always say that you’re really close to making/falling off the Tour. All it takes is one mental thought, bad mental thought, get what we call the yips and everything.”
— Bubba Watson during Tuesday’s news conference for this week’s Zurich Classic
Bubba Watson is riding a high, and he knows it.
But, judging by the Masters champion’s comments Tuesday in New Orleans, where he is defending his Zurich Classic title, he also knows it can be fleeting.
That’s why one of the nicest recent golf stories was Ben Curtis grinding out a victory Sunday at the Valero Texas Open. The win, cemented by a clutch par putt on the 17th, was Curtis’ first on the PGA Tour since 2006, and the fourth of his up-and-down career.
Curtis had a rough year on the PGA Tour last season, falling to 149th on the money list, losing the ability to choose his own schedule because of his conditional status. So, the 2003 British Open champ did what many others do when they are running out of options, seeking refuge on the European Tour, joining the likes of fellow Open champ John Daly and Canadian Masters champ Mike Weir, and 2002 PGA Championship winner Rich Beem.
Following Curtis in Dubai in February, where he finished a respectable 13th in a tournament with a strong field, you couldn’t help but wonder how he had ended up there. His slide was far less noticeable than that of Daly or Weir, but there he was plodding along nonetheless.
And like most golfers struggling to find something in their game, he didn’t lose faith. When asked Sunday if he thought he’d never win on the PGA Tour again, Curtis said he didn’t focus on that.
“Well, I mean you always have that thought, maybe, going through your head, but you try to think that that’s not the case; that, you know, if you work hard good things will happen and it’s so tough to win out here,” Curtis said. “I just felt like, yeah, you get yourself in contention and just have that belief, anything can happen.
The win gives hope to the likes of Weir, Daly and Beem, all of whom would rather be playing a full PGA Tour schedule instead of relying on sponsors’ invites and past-champion status to get into events.
“At the end of the day, you look at what’s more convenient and where the money is,” Beem told the Associated Press this week of his preference of playing on the PGA Tour. “But I love it on the European Tour. It’s been nothing short of fantastic.”
Sure, a European vacation is great, but it can’t rival Curtis’ feeling after coming all the way back with that PGA Tour victory.
AMAZING GRACE? HUH?
Who’s the hottest young golfer at the moment?
Well, PGA Tour rookie John Huh is getting a lot of press, and rightly so. The 21-year-old Q-school graduate has become almost a phenom, winning once already and coming pretty close with his runner-up finish behind Curtis at the Texas Open on Sunday. Huh is one of those amazing Q-school stories that will soon go away with the PGA Tour’s changes to qualifying, but he has made the most of his chance, winning his fifth start at Mayakoba and sitting at 14th on the FedExCup points list.
Pretty impressive stuff, but you can’t discount the amazing start of Branden Grace on the Euro Tour, either.
Grace, 23, also made it through Q-school in 2011 and has made the most of his 11 starts on the European Tour, winning three times, his first two back-to-back, his third Sunday at the China Open.
The South African — a graduate of the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation just like Masters runner-up Louis Oosthuizen — now sits fourth in the Race to Dubai, in heady company with Rory McIlroy, Oosthuizen and Justin Rose holding the top three spots, respectively.
“I thought my first win was around the corner. To have three before May is literally unbelievable, but I’ve been playing well so I’ve been feeling like I can win and I’ve been giving myself opportunities,” Grace told EuropeanTour.com on Sunday. “It’s just amazing and shows you the standard of golf that I am playing right now. To have three wins on The European Tour at this stage of my career is awesome.”
Just two players have won three Euro events in a season when they were younger than Grace: Seve Ballestero and Sandy Lyle.
Currently sitting at 66 in the official world golf ranking, we could see more of Grace in North America should he climb into the top 50.
OH, OH, OH, YEAR?
For those of you who didn’t take the vocal stylings of the Golf Boys seriously, maybe it’s time to listen up, their leader says.
Ben Crane, who spearheaded the boy band project last year with Watson, Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan, said the critics of the moonlighting golfers may have to change their view now.
“It’s taken on a whole life of its own, and it’s been super fun,” Crane said Tuesday in his news conference ahead of the Zurich Classic. “And then obviously having Hunter play so well this year and then Bubba won the Masters, that’s pretty good.
“I think for a while there was a statement that, ‘Well, these guys should be working on their golf game and they’re like out there having fun, like that can’t be productive, like go spend some time working on your golf game.’ ”
BIG JUMP FOR HEARN
David Hearn, on the strength of a fine 11th place finish in Texas with a final-round 66, jumped 28 spots to number 113 in the FedExCup standings. Hearn, who came into the week at 141, made a nice cheque of $148,800 and now sits at $328,419 in earnings for the season.
ON THE TEE
Zurich Classic of New Orleans
TPC Louisiana (7,425 yards, par 72), Avondale, La.
* Masters champ Bubba Watson returns to defend title. Canadians include David Byrne, Graham DeLaet, David Hearn and Stephen Ames.
Mobile Bay LPGA Classic
Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Magnolia Grove, The Crossings (6,521 yards, par 72), Mobile, Ala.
* Canadians include Alena Sharp, Steph Sherlock, Jessica Shepley, Lorie Kane, Maude-Aimee LeBlanc, Rebecca Lee-Bentham and Samantha Richdale.
European Tour/Asian Tour
Blackstone Golf Club (7,237 yards, par 72), Seoul, South Korea