AP Golf Writer
PARAMUS, N.J. (AP) — Jordan Spieth celebrated a big birthday with friends in Las Vegas, had a two-week stretch at Firestone and the PGA Championship, and then headed home to Texas to take advantage of the biggest perk to turning 21.
He finally played Preston Trail.
The private club in Dallas is strict about its rules, and one of them is that a player has to be at least 21. Never mind that Spieth contended at the Bryon Nelson Championship while still in high school. Or that he became the youngest American to ever compete in the Presidents Cup. Or that he reached No. 7 in the world when he was 20.
“I must have played Bent Tree about 50 times and I always looked over at Preston Trail knowing I couldn’t go over there,” Spieth said. “When I was playing in college, or even last year as a professional, I’d get home and a couple of buddies would say, ‘Yeah, we’re going over to Preston Trail.'”
He was invited to play by Malcolm Holland, a Preston Trail member and prominent USGA official. Spieth said the superintendent prepared for their visit by rolling the greens twice and finding some of the toughest pin positions. He played with former U.S. Amateur champion Colt Knost and Carlos Ortiz, who tops the Web.com Tour money list.
It was everything Spieth thought it would be.
“Like a tour event without the rough,” he said. “We played 16 holes when the storms rolled in. I was at 6 under with a putt to go to 7. I was up a bunch of money and it washed all the bets. So I still haven’t played 17 or 18. I told them the fact we didn’t finish means we get another round.”
Scott Verplank, another Dallas prodigy, laughed when he heard the story. He has his own tale.
Verplank was 17 when he received a phone call from Byron Nelson. It seems Lord Byron had been seeing some remarkable scores by Verplank in the newspaper and wanted to get together.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you meet me at Preston Trail?'” Verplank said. “So we go out there and I probably hit about six balls. Here comes the head pro. He says, ‘Young man, how old are you?’ I told him I was 17. He said, ‘You’re not going to be able to hit golf balls here.’ Then he said, ‘Mr. Nelson, y’all are going to have to leave. The club rule is you have to be 21.’
“Byron didn’t know,” Verplank said. “And me being 17, I was like, ‘You’re telling THIS guy he has to leave?'”
So they went to Northwood and played 18 holes.
Verplank eventually got in his round — and a lot more — at Preston Trail. He won an NCAA title at Oklahoma State. He won the U.S. Amateur. He won his first PGA Tour while still in college. And when he turned pro, he joined Preston Trail.
“My goal was to join when I was 21,” he said. “I’ve been a member for 29 years now.”
EARLY EXIT: The PGA Tour policy for a 54-hole cut — in effect when more than 78 players qualify for the weekend — was not popular among the players when it began in 2008 at the Sony Open. Imagine how much attention it got during the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Brian Davis was No. 100 in the FedEx Cup, and the top 100 advance to the second playoff event. He not only made the cut, he was five shots out of the lead going into the weekend, a real chance to move up. Instead, he went the other direction. Davis shot 77 and finished out of the top 70s and ties on Saturday. He missed the 54-hole cut. His season was over.
Scott Langley (No. 73) was four shots out of the lead. He shot 76 and made the 54-hole cut on the number. The next day, Langley closed with a 66 and wound up improving eight spots to No. 65. Now he has a reasonable shot at advancing to the third playoff event.
“Think about it. If I had made one less putt and missed the second cut, I could not have the great round today,” he said Sunday. “I think it’s important to have the opportunity to play well the next two days when you make the cut. You have a bad day, and then you a great day and you’re back in the tournament. It stinks for a guy right on the bubble, because now he doesn’t have a chance to have a good Sunday.
Langley is on the Player Advisory Council. He never liked the policy, even in the regular season. He also understands the rules, and it comes down to playing better.
But in the playoffs?
“That rule is put under a microscope this week,” he said.
The 54-hole cut has happened only twice in the playoffs. The other time was in 2008 at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Andy Pazder, the tour’s chief of operations, said he received a number of text messages from players on Saturday night suggesting the 54-hole cut be eliminated during the FedEx Cup playoffs because of what’s at stake. He said it would be reviewed at the next PAC meeting at the Frys.com Open in early October.
STEFANI BREAKTHROUGH: Shawn Stefani goes into the Deutsche Bank Championship at No. 67 in the FedEx Cup and with a reasonable chance to get to the third playoff event in Denver. Even making the Tour Championship is not out of the question.
He never saw this coming.
“If you had told me in March I’d be in the playoffs, I’d have laughed at you,” Stefani said.
Stefani was sidelined by a neck injury last year that kept him from keeping his card. He was on a minor medical to start the year, meaning he had two tournaments to earn just over $84,000. Finding tournament to play was going to be equally difficult, so it was surprising when Stefani shot up the alternate list for the Sony Open and chose not to play to Hawaii at the last minute. Besides, he was deer hunting.
“Biggest key to my success was hunting,” he said with a smile. “It gets my mind off golf.”
Preparation was a big deal, too. He played a few events on Texas mini-tours in the winter to stay sharp. He played once in San Diego and missed the cut. His last chance came from Steve Timms, the executive director of the Shell Houston Open who gave the local kid (Baytown, Texas) a spot in the field. Stefani finished fifth, made $256,000 and was on his way. Three months later, he lost in a playoff to Justin Rose at Congressional.
Stefani only missed three cuts the rest of the year, and one of them ended happily.
He missed the cut at the British Open and went to London with his girlfriend. On Sunday morning, Stefani had barely rubbed the sleep out of his eyes when he rolled over, took a diamond ring he had placed in his shoe the night before and said to Jackie, “Will you spend the rest of your life with me?” She said yes.
DIVOTS: Minjee Lee of Australia has won the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the No. 1 women’s amateur for 2014. The 18-year-olld won the Australian Women’s Amateur and finished in the top 25 at two LPGA majors. … Carlos Ortiz of Mexico earned his instant promotion to the PGA Tour by winning his first Web.com Tour event — at the final event of the year. Ortiz still has status ahead of the Web.com Tour Finals graduates that will be played out over the next month. … Kingsbarns Golf Links just south of St. Andrews will host the 2017 Ricoh Women’s British Open.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Since the 54-hole cut began on the PGA Tour in 2008, Phil Mickelson has missed it only twice — both times in FedEx Cup playoff events.
FINAL WORD: “There’s nothing he can do that is going to equal what he’s already done this year.” — Phil Mickelson on Rory McIlroy.
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