By TERRY LYONS
CROMWELL – With the winds blowing at a steady 15 miles per hour accompanied by frequent gusts up to 25 mph, you’d think the $20 bill would’ve blown down the fairway. Instead, it floated directly to the ground, right in the middle of a cart path at TPC River Highlands golf course in small, central Connecticut town.
A couple of sports reporters were walking the course Friday afternoon and the floating currency quickly caught the eye of one newsman who glanced up and traced the bill directly to a patron who was holding her purse. The two groups, walking in opposite directions, were quickly separated by 20-25 yards as the spectators moved along, all following the action of the Travelers Championship golf tournament, a wonderful jewel on the PGA Tour. It took an all out sprint by my colleague to catch the woman.
Good karma is an indescribable phenomenom in the sports world, but the luck that comes hand-packed like good ice cream with some karma on the side, might matter most in the sport of golf.. That is especially so at a PGA Tour level event where one inch, one putt, one gust of wind at the wrong time, one duffed chip and one stroke can send a tour member packing on Fridays with the three letters golfers hate the most – MTC – plastered next to their names on a scorecard.
The two reporters were walking 18 holes with a threesome of obscure tour golfers, grinding their way through the second round of this great golf tournament. The damp grounds were doused with buckets of rain earlier this week and it made many of the pathways look like a scene out of “My Cousin Vinny” with sopping-wet Alabama mud, making the PGA pros struggle mightily.
Among them, 42-year old rookie Chris Thompson of Kansas was the reason we chose to follow this particular threesome who were amongst the last to tee-off on the Back 9 at 1:50 pm EDT, with only one group following them. Thompson was accompanied by Kyle Jones (69, 71; E) and Chris Tallman (78, 76; +14). Thompson and my colleague met years ago while the writer worked at an esteemed Lawrence, Kansas publication and the story of a rare 42-year old PGA Tour rookie was surely enough to bite on this storyline.
While ultra-popular golfers like Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth were on the course at the same time, a group from world No. 1 Brooks Koepka, Travelers Championship reigning champion Bubba Watson and top 20 loving Tony Finau, the sheer make-up of “our” group was cause for a grand total of two media and a very small gallery of fans. Most were watching Tallman of nearby Holyoke, Massachusetts.
Thompson started his round by duffing a chip on the 10th hole (+1 on day), and missing challenging par putts on the 11th (+2) and 12th (+3) as he played the back nine. Those numbers, combined with a (+2) 72 from Thursdays opening round, were a forecast for disaster and the dreaded “missed cut” (MTC) which would come to all not able to post a (-2) for the qualifying rounds.
But then, properly returning the $20 bill, a few mystical wind gusts mixed in with the good karma and a streak of great golf all came together.
Just after the reporter placed the $20 in the pocket of its rightful owner, Thompson registered his first birdie of the day on the 530-yard, par 5 13th hole. He followed with yet another birdie on the 402-yard, par 4 14th, building momentum and cutting his deficit to (+1). Talk of the good karma made the 289-yard, par 4 15th hole the make it or break it benchmark for the Friday afternoon adventure.
Wouldn’t you know it?
Thompson drained a 26-foot, one inch eagle putt on the 15th hole, and then followed that with yet ANOTHER birdie to go from (+3) to (-2) in the matter of four golf holes.
After two holes of par golf, the threesome made the turn, from the 18th to the 1st hole, and a long walk of reality set it, as it often does in the most competitive golf circuit on the planet. Thompson would suffer through five bogeys on the final nine holes and was sent packing (72, 72; +5) for the tournament.
On the PGA Tour, unfortunately REALITY > Karma.
Here Now, The Notes … WSC Sports, an Israeli company that helps several American sports entities automatically generate digital video highlights, has received a sizable boost to its leadership ranks with the addition of NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern and former ESPN executive vice-president John Kosner as company advisors. … Stern, the NBA’s Commissioner from 1984-2014, has been an active advisor and investor in numerous sports technology firms since leaving the league. Kosner in his prior role as ESPN’s executive vice president of digital media, played a key role in helping turn that company’s online presence into the most highly-trafficked entity in all of global sports’ digital media. He now operates his own advisory firm Kosner Media. … The pair will help WSC Sports expand into new sports, territories, and market applications. … “It’s an honor to have David and John join WSC Sports in an official capacity,” said Daniel Shichman, WSC Sports chief executive and co-founder. “David’s vision and know-how have helped the NBA become one of the most tech-savvy and consumer-focused sports leagues. We know he will have the same impact on WSC.” … Six-year-old WSC Sports uses artificial technology to automatically generate personalized sports video content in near real-time, and its technology has been a key tool in the social media content strategies for many leading sports entities. WSC Sports clients include the NBA, WarnerMedia, Major League Soccer, and the PGA Tour. … Stern will headline the annual #HASHTAG Sports conference to be held in New York this week. … In another NBA-related sports front-office transaction, he new XFL’s DC franchise named former 76ers Director of Communications Michael Preston its “Head of Communications.” If Preston can deal with the turmoil surrounding the Sixers with Allen Iverson, Chris Webber and the unknown of NBA-ville, he can certainly deal with the relative obscurity of the XFL.
He Find Me: The former NFL running back who wore “He Hate Me” on his jersey during his season in the XFL was found safe after going missing in South Carolina, according to a report from the Charlotte Observer. Police said Tuesday evening that Torrold “Rod” Smart was located and was OK, the Observer reported. Earlier in the day, the Lancaster (S.C.) County Sheriff’s Office said Smart was a “missing endangered person” and was seeking information regarding his whereabouts. … Smart, 42, played college football at Western Kentucky. As an undrafted free agent in 2000, he was signed by the then-San Diego Chargers but was released. The following year, he played for the Las Vegas Outlaws of the XFL, then later in 2001 played in the Canadian Football League and with the Philadelphia Eagles. He played four more seasons with the Carolina Panthers. He gained 1,814 all-purpose yards in his five-year NFL career, plus 364 more during two playoff runs with the Panthers. … “It is unusual for him to be out of touch for this long,” the sheriff’s office wrote in an advisory posted to its Facebook page. “Mr. Smart’s family is worried about his safety and well-being.” … Maximum Security will race on today for the first time since the 3-year-old was disqualified from the Kentucky Derby. … On Thursday, trainer Jason Servis entered the horse in the $150,000 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. The 1 1/16-mile race is considered a warmup for the major summer races for 3-year-olds, in particular two Grade 1 events: the Haskell Invitational on July 20 at Monmouth and the Travers Stakes on Aug. 24 at Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York. … Maximum Security crossed the finish line first at the Kentucky Derby on May 2 but was disqualified for interference. With no Triple Crown on the line, the horse didn’t run in the Preakness Stakes or the Belmont Stakes. Servis reportedly had considered making the horse’s next race the Haskell but decided to enter him in the Pegasus.
British Open Futures: After the SCOTUS ruled on the legality of sports gambling, the sport which enjoyed the most informal relationship with gambling has emerged as a sport of choice for novice sports gamblers. … Brooks Koepka fell short in his attempt to win his third consecutive U.S. Open, but the four-time major champion has already been installed as the early favorite to win next month’s Open Championship in Northern Ireland. PointsBet listed Koepka at 9/1 and FanDuel at 7/1, slightly ahead of Rory McIlroy (10/1 and 8.5/1), who will be an overwhelming crowd favorite as he seeks to win The Open in his home country. Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods were all listed at 12/1 by PointsBet on Monday, while FanDuel had Woods at 9.5/1 and the other two at 12/1.
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