Bill Nichols

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Inside the Ropes at HP Byron Nelson: Weirdness on 18

IRVING _ It was Easter all over again for the woman walking on the cart path along No. 18 fairway.

She spotted a dimpled white orb in the rough, picked it up, held it aloft like the Stanley Cup, and then tossed it toward the fairway, setting up Jason Day’s routine par. Day dropped from the spot where his ball was confiscated, punched through the trees to the right greenside bunker and then blasted to two feet.

Weird and important things occurred regularly on 18. With a pond bordering the left side, and a left-to-right wind blowing balls into the trees right, officials moved the ropes back three times to protect fans from errant shots. At one point, both players in four of five groups landed in the trees.

Talk about a tough closer. The par-4 18th ranked as the most difficult hole, averaging 4.57 strokes. It surrendered only two birdies, 37 pars, 26 bogeys and nine doubles.

Keegan Bradley and Ryan Palmer had to play it twice. Bradley made par, and then Palmer birdied from six feet to force the playoff. Both hit into the trees on the right. Lemonade stands, umbrellas and chairs had to be moved for Bradley to have a shot. He hit underneath two trees, hooking it around the last one. His ball rolled onto the ridge fronting the pond, and stopped.

Palmer, with a tree behind him, over-hooked his ball into the water en route to bogey. Bradley secured victory with a par.

``I was nervous, and that hole is so tough to hit the fairway there, and I kinda wiped it over to the right a little bit,’’ Bradley said. ``Then I really hit the shot of my life. I hit about a 50-yard hook … and if it goes two inches more to the left, it’s in the water. That’s how it works, and I got a lucky break I guess.’’


Steven ``Pepsi’’ Hale, Bradley’s caddie, won a 2011 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, as part of the tournament’s ``Caddy for a Caddie’’ promotion. No wonder Hale convinced Bradley to play the Nelson instead of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.

The car will be shipped to Hale’s Denver home. Asked if he or his wife would drive it, Hale said, ``It will probably be me. Luckily we were able to buy a new car for my wife about a week ago.’’


Gary Woodland won the Long Drive Contest, presented by Ropes, with a wind-aided 409-yard blast on No. 1 in the third round. Charley Hoffman, Scott Piercy and Scott Gordon tied for second with 386-yard pokes, also on No. 1 during the third round.

Woodland also notched a 384-yard drive on No. 1 in the final round, which tied for fifth longest.


About 10 players accepted Peggy Nelson’s written invitation to a picnic at the Fairway Ranch in Roanoke, the late Byron Nelson’s home for 60 years and one month.

The families ate barbecue, fished in the two ponds, and toured the ranch and Nelson’s woodshop. More player could have come if not for rounds that lasted 5 hours, 35 minutes.

``Alexandre Rocha said the reason he came to the tournament was because his wife wanted to come to the picnic,’’ Peggy Nelson said. ``It was interesting because some of the young couples were interested in Byron’s wood work.’’


What did it take to win the Nelson, other than patience? Bradley ranked seventh in driving distance (316.8 yards), tied for 10th in driving accuracy (59 percent), tied for sixth in greens hit (65.3 percent), and tied for 45th in putts per round (29.5).


Jordan Spieth has a busy summer before leaving for his first semester at Texas. He plans to play U.S. Open qualifying, the Sunnehanna Amateur, Northeast Amateur Invitational, U.S. Junior Amateur, Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur. If he’s invited to a third straight Nelson, he said he’d be interested as long as it doesn’t conflict with the NCAA Championships.


Scott Verplank gets honors for best autograph. He signed 11-year-old Drew Sherrell’s insulin pump, a Medtronic model similar to Verplank’s, after the second round.

`You sure you want me to sign it?’’ said Verplank, who talked to Drew for several minutes. ``You can do whatever you want. Just make sure you control your diabetes so it doesn’t control you.’’

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