Greetings from 36,000 feet, somewhere between Dallas and Las Vegas. I have about two more hours in the air, then about a one hour drive to Mesquite, Nevada tonight for the next stop on this long leg of the HOG World Tour. More to come on that later. Time to reflect on my Sunday at the HP Byron Nelson Championship
Keegan Bradley Wins
Getting a 1st Tour win is huge, and getting one as a rookie is even bigger. The doors which a win open will have a great impact on the immediate future of the player, like playing in major championships. The financial relief of getting that win is big too. No need to worry about money for a while.
Keegan Bradley hugs caddy after winning the 2011 Byron Nelson Championship on first playoff hole – click for more images
Congrats to Keegan for the gritty performance at the Byron Nelson. The conditions were extremely tough. The winds were very high and the course wasn’t giving up much in the way of red numbers. For a tour event to have a winning number as high as -3 starts to get up into US Open difficulty discussion.
Texan Ryan Palmer had the crowd behind him all week. His play was exceptional, though he faltered a bit on the weekend. But he kept it together enough to give him a chance to force a playoff with a birdie on the final hole, from the last group.
Ryan Palmer celebrates playoff forcing birdie putt – click for more
The entire crowd had come from the rest of the course and congregated on the 18th hole. Palmer, playing with Sergio Garcia, came into the final hole needing a birdie to force a playoff. That final hole had only given up three birdies all day. Tall order.
Palmer’s drive hit the left side of the fairway, where he hit a punch pitching wedge from about 115. I watched the shot and the line looked perfect. It was. The ball came to rest six feet right of the hole. Palmer drained the birdie putt in dramatic fashion as the entire crowd erupted in a deafening cheer for their local player.
Bradley teed off firs and as he described it, “wiped his drive to the right.” Palmer’s drive was right as well, though not as far right.
For his 2nd shot, Bradley he had to hit what he called the “shot of his life,” a 50 yard punch hook from 165 yards with a 6-iron. Three trees were standing in his way. The shot hooked perfectly, within two inches. Bradley said in the post round interview that if the ball went two more inches to the left, it would have found the water hazard left of the green. Those two inches bought Bradley a long putt for birdie from the fringe.
Palmer’s 2nd shot was a punch shot as well, with trees preventing him from hitting a normal trajectory. As soon as he hit the shot, I could tell it wasn’t on a good line. It hit the sidehill left of the green and bounded into the water hazard. Advantage Bradley.
Palmer’s 4th shot (3rd shot was a penalty stroke) came to rest very short of his target. He hoped to at least put that shot close enough to guarantee a bogey and force Bradley to make par to win. With that kind of pressure, Bradley’s par was no guarantee.
Bradley’s birdie putt had a chance of going in, and ended up about two feet past the cup. Not a guarantee, but likely an easy putt.
For good measure, Palmer drained his long bogey putt, turning the stage over to Bradley. Would he gag on the 2-footer under the pressure?
No. Bradley stroked it in and threw both arms up as a local marine, one of many honored because of memorial day, watched.
Other players who had a chance
I followed several groups around and saw some good and bad golf. Ryuji Imada had a two shot lead early into his back nine. But that lead vanished Arjun Atwall, Imada’s playing partner, was tied for the lead at one time too, but couldn’t keep it. Last year’s winner Jason Day even popped up on the first page of the leaderboard, but just as quickly departed.
Amateur Jordan Spieth
A big story at last year’s Byron Nelson, was local Amateur Jordan Spieth. At the young age of 16 Spieth made the cut and finished T16. That is an amazing feat for a player who at the time had only been old enough to drive a car for one year.
This year Spieth dazzled his huge galleries again by not only making the cut, but having a chance to win late in the day Sunday. In fact, Spieth was only three shots off the lead at one point. The rest he’d gotten by not attending his one high school graduation ceremony the night before paid off.
Spieth would eventually fade under the high winds and tough conditions, as most players did in the final round. Still he proved he can play with the big boys and recorded a T32 finish.
Of course I’ve been blogging and taking photos of the players and course, but I also was brought in as part of the “Golf Social Media Team” to pump up the tournament on Twitter, Facebook and this blog.
The team was posting Twitter updates which would appear on the giant scoreboards around the course. Fans could chime in too, and see themselves. Their posts were moderated of course, to prevent any offensive, spammy or irrelevant material from appearing. It was a cool way of getting the crowd more interactive and feeling like part of the action.
The only outlet who’s updates appeared more than mine came from the HP Byron Nelson members. However, many of my posts were moderated to prevent me from HOGing (pun intended) the who board.
The live social media concept is very cool for golf and was a fun way to get people involved. In fact, this concept would be good not just for golf, but just about any sporting event or situation where large groups of people have gathered.
Behind the scenes
There were over 1,100 volunteers working the tournament. Having the access I did, I was able to see the immense planning and infrastructure it takes to put on an event like this. They did a fantastic job and every person I talked to who worked for the tournament as a volunteer or from HP was extremely nice.
I look forward to doing many more events like this one. Hope to see my friends at the HP Byron Nelson Championship next year! Just try to give me more than 10 days notice next time, OKAY?
Monday in the Nevada desert