Friday, November 30, 2007

Charlotte's Tucker plotting comeback at 50

Chris Tucker has been playing golf around Charlotte for decades and had a two-year run on the PGA Tour in the early '90s that gave him a taste of what could be his.

Tucker never made it back to the PGA Tour but now has a chance to play the Champions Tour in 2008.

The opportunity doesn't come with any guarantees -- by virtue of his high finish at qualifying school, Tucker is now eligible to play Monday qualifiers for most seniors events -- but all Tucker wants is a chance.

"The Monday qualifying will be harder than the actual event if I get in," Tucker said.

Tucker jokingly calls the Champions Tour the "most closed society in the world" and it's close to that. The qualifying school he recently completed doesn't award tour spots to the top finishers. It just gives them entree into the Monday qualifying events where 50 to 60 players vie for nine spots most weeks.

Tucker, who turned 50 in November, is just over a year removed from rotator cuff surgery that some thought might end his competitive career. They were wrong.

Always a terrific ball striker, Tucker putted his way through qualifying school to earn his chance to play alongside Jay Haas, Loren Roberts and many of the other guys he played against in his brief PGA Tour career.

To get ready, Tucker played mini-tour events on Carolinas Pro Golf Tour as well as Carolinas PGA Section events.

He hopes to secure some financing to help him through his first crack at the Champions Tour and plans to be in Hawaii in mid-February when the tour season begins.

"If I can play well enough in the one-round shootout to get in the tournament, I feel like I'll have a chance to win," Tucker said. "I may be shocked but I think I can win. I know I can compete with them."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ochoa has confidence to dominate

Lorena Ochoa is quiet, conscientious and the new undisputed queen of women's professional golf.

For all the talk about Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel and the once-inspiring Michelle Wie, Ochoa has redefined the hierarchy of women's golf with the season she completed Sunday in winning the ADT Championship.

In winning eight tournaments and a record $4.36-million, Ochoa definitely replaced Annika Sorenstam as the game's best player and the distance between her game and everyone else's may require a yardage book.

While Sorenstam will continue to chase history, her best days are behind her.

Though it's tough to imagine a season being better than this one, it's possible Ochoa's best days are still ahead.

She always had the game. Now Ochoa has the confidence to finish what she starts and that means winning tournaments in bunches.

Ochoa had a Tiger-quality year and there's no reason to think next year will be any different.

Plus, she donated $100,000 of the $1-million she won Sunday to a relief fund in her native Mexico and she has worked quietly but diligently to help those less fortunate than herself.

She's the new face of women's golf and that puts a smile on many faces.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Golf is always surprising

When you've played golf for more than 40 years and the only holes-in-ones you've encountered are three you've seen other people make, you've quit stepping to the tee on a par-3 hole and thinking this might be the swing.

But there I was at the Quail Hollow Club Thursday watching the wind take my 6-iron shot on the par-3 13th hole and drop it 15 feet left of the hole. And there we stood, my host David Clark, Buck Wearn and Greg Currie watching my ball roll to the right, closer, closer, closer to the hole.
And then it disappeared.

Part of golf's charm is the way it can surprise you. Every once in a while, a 50-foot putt will fall in or a bunker shot will come out perfectly, skip once and dive into the hole.

If you're lucky, there are times in your golf career when you can walk up to a green, thinking your ball is in the hole but you're not entirely sure, and you have the thrill of peeking into the cup and seeing it staring back at you.

As we approached the 13th green Thursday afternoon, my golf ball was nowhere to be seen.

They let me go first toward the hole.

And there was my golf ball.

On the back fringe.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Justin Timberlake reviving a golf trend?

The announcement Monday that Justin Timberlake is the new host of the PGA Tour’s annual stop in Las Vegas raised one important question - are bright red Sansabelt slacks about to be in vogue again?

The official name of the event will be the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital For Children Open - rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it? - but it’s what the move represents that sends those of us old enough to remember the 1960s and ‘70s rushing back to the glory days of celebrity golf.

There was a time - and I know I’m showing my age here - when a handful of tournaments were known by their celebrity hosts rather than banks, car manufacturers and hotel chains.

It started with Bing Crosby’s event on the Monterey Peninsula and included Bob Hope’s annual birdiefest in Palm Springs.

Glen Campbell, the Rhinestone Cowboy, had his name on a tournament. So did Jackie Gleason, Sammy Davis Jr. and Andy Williams.

It was a time when golf clothes were as wretchedly ugly as the Panthers’ offense and ‘double knit’ was what people wanted to wear - at least until they figured out they could make you sweat in places where you didn’t need to sweat.

Gradually, the names disappeared like the stars, leaving Hope’s name as the only one still affixed to a trophy.

Now Timberlake is bringing back the celebrity event. He can sing. He can dance. He can even tell secrets about Britney Spears if he wanted.

Maybe more celebrities will follow his lead.

Al Pacino could host the ‘Hoo-ah’ Classic.

Rachel Ray could host the ‘365 Ways To Make A Bogey Championship.’

Diddy could host the ‘Diddy Open.’

Tiger Woods could have his own tournament. Oh yeah, he has three - his Target World Challenge, the AT&T National in Washington and the Masters.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

PGA Tour season ends -- quietly

The 2007 PGA Tour season officially ended Sunday -- almost two months after it felt like it ended at the Tour Championship in Atlanta -- with the last important order of business being finalizing the top 125 money winners.

That was the focus of the seven-event Fall Series, which produced some interesting golf but didn't exactly captivate the sporting public like the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts.

The Fall Series did several things -- it reminded us that Justin Leonard still has some game left, as does Jesper Parnevik. It also made winners of George McNeill and Daniel Chopra.

Nine golfers played their way into the top 125 over the final seven weeks including Charlotte resident Johnson Wagner and Charlotte native Bill Haas. The others who secured their 2008 status were Alex Cejka, Parnevik, Mark Hensby, Cameron Beckman, Shigeki Maruyama, Mathias Gronberg and Michael Allen.

And if nine guys played their way in, it meant nine guys slipped out. Those nine -- who get a free pass to the final stage of tour qualifying school next month -- are Ben Curtis, Brett Quigley, Harrison Frazar, Bob Heintz, Doug LaBelle II, Steve Allan, Ted Purdy, Craig Kanada and Joe Durant.

Another guy who didn't make the top 125 was former Wake Forest golfer Billy Andrade, who had made the list for 18 straight years.