Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars 1st OTA: Plenty of Questions

Competition is what it’s about for Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley. It doesn’t start at a specific time, and it’s obvious with him, it never ends.

“Everything counts,” Bradley said after practice. “Everything. They way they walk on the field, they way you handle yourselves in the huddle, the way you talk to your teammates, all those things. Everything counts.”

So it was no surprise that in their first Organized Team Activity (OTA) the Jaguars had loud music, an up-tempo pace and a fairly stressful environment from start to finish.

“We went two periods of no huddle” the Head Coach explained regarding the tempo. “That really strained them. We’re trying to get to the point where we can execute under strain.”

The players run from one drill to the other, in between periods and whenever they’re not in the play, they’re fully engaged. In fact, Bradley and the coaching staff have instituted a couple of “flexibility” periods. It’s a chance to see where guys could play a couple of positions if necessary.

“You saw some of the younger guys are playing multiple positions. We’re looing for position flexibility,” was the explanation when Bradley was asked about moving players around. Offensive linemen were put in multiple positions. Linebackers were moved all over the place. JT Thomas played middle linebacker.

While doing that, Bradley said “the guys with their helmets off” were challenged to become coaches. You saw veteran players teaching and learning from the process. “It didn’t go as well as we would have liked, but we’ll get there,” Gus explained.

As far as the tempo, it’s part of the learning but part of the conditioning process as well.

“That heat, it’s no joke,” DL Red Bryant said in the locker room peeling off his practice uniform.

“It’s a race to maturity,” according to Bradley. “We’re trying to speed up the learning curve.”

Four players sat out of practice today, including Josh Evans who had a procedure for a bone spur on his foot. Bradley says he’ll be back for training camp. Chris Clemons was not at the “voluntary” practice, the only veteran not in attendance. He had “an issue” according to Bradley and is expected soon.

All four quarterbacks saw action today. All seemed well suited for what they’re being asked to do. “We’re trying to speed it up and by keeping it simple, we can do that,” Bradley said when asked about the QB’s. Blake Bortles looked like a rookie with a lot of talent, but still a rookie. “It’ll all settle down for him when he knows the offense,” Bradley explained.

The Jaguars also signed fifth round draft pick LB Telvin Smith from FSU. He’s the fifth of nine draftees under contract. That leaves Blake Bortles, Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson and Brandon Linder unsigned.

There was one dust-up in today’s workout. OL Sam Young and Bryant got into a minor skirmish when Young’s helmet went flying in the middle of a play. Both were separated and nothing seemed to come of it.

OTA’s are Wednesday and Thursday of this week and Monday, Tuesday and Thursday of next week with Thursday, June 5th open to the public. The Jaguars are still waiting on an official time for that day (there have been conflicting reports) but right now it’s set for 10:50-12:50.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Rookie Camp: A Look At The Future

It didn’t take long for Jaguars fans to get excited about the draft class of 2014. At the first rookie mini-camp at the practice fields, more than 2,000 showed up to see Blake Bortles, Marqis Lee and the other 7 draft picks take the field for the first time as professionals and for the first practice as members of the Jaguars organization.

“It’s my job to come out here and work my tail off and compete,” Blake Bortles said in front of a large media contingent after practice. Two national cable networks, a couple of statewide cable operations, three Orlando TV stations and beat writers from all over the southeast were an addition to the normal Jacksonville sports media in attendance.

Bortles looks like a quarterback. He has a quarterback’s presence. He walks like one, he talks like one, he acts like one.

“Its great having the same quarterback in there,” 7th round pick Storm Johnson told us in front of his locker. “Different cadence but the same voice. It was great to take the ball from him, catch passes from him. He knows what he’s doing in the huddle,” Johnson explained about his teammate from UCF.

While he has all of the attributes, Bortles does look like a raw version of what he and the Jaguars hope he becomes. He’ll know the offense better each day. He’ll become more familiar with the Jaguars personnel and he’ll get physically stronger. Some passes today were blown around by the wind; others came out of his hand singing.

Lee looks to be that explosive “stretch the field” receiver the Jaguars have been lacking since Jimmy Smith. He’s exceptionally fast and quick and has an upbeat personality that his teammates are drawn to.

“Marqis is always talking, always smiling,” Gus Bradley told us on the field after practice. “Allen (Robinson) is a little different, a little more straight focused but both good.” Robinson does have that big body coaches love to envision blocking out defensive backs downfield. He believes he has a lot of room for improvement, saying “You can always be a better route runner.”

“Route running” has come a long way since the “Square in” and “post” or “fade” days of yore. Coaches are always looking for the smallest nuance to get receivers in and out of breaks, getting them into open spots. It’s a combination of athletic talent, coaching and art. Robinson wants to use all three.

“You can always be a better route runner,” the Penn State product said in the locker room. “I want to work on my technique and get better everyday.

Much like last year’s draft class, this year’s has a wide variety of personalities with different skill sets. But when you spend any time with these guys, you see the similarity in that one thread of their personality: they love to play.

Bradley says he wants players who want to compete, and he and GM Dave Caldwell obviously put heavy emphasis on that when it comes to selecting new players. There’s no half-commitment on a Gus Bradley team. You’re either buying in or you’ moving out.

“I wanted them to get used to the tempo today,” Bradley explained. “Some guys were surprised. I want them to know that ‘this is how we practice’ and what’s expected of them. I liked what I saw today, running from one drill to another, the tempo out here. We’ll get them all ready and caught up for our mini-camp. It was great.”

You could see some of the players head spinning today during practice, trying to absorb all of the information thrown at them before they took the field. But you could also see the better, faster players Dave Caldwell talked about after this year’s draft.

Where they go from here is up to them. But after day one, optimism rules.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars “Sustainability” Seems Upward

As the main presenter on Tuesday, Jaguars President Mark Lamping reviewed what the team calls the “sustainability” of the franchise, outlining different ideas to create revenue and not raise ticket prices across the board. Owner Shad Khan admitted they have big ideas in their organization. From the no-reality of the big scoreboards, to the potential of the team being the developer of the Shipyards property with a Jaguars theme in the Sports Complex, a concept of a roof over the stadium, a change to the club seats to enhance the experience, and even their own version of “courtside” seats, the Jaguars owner wants his team to compete on the scoreboard and on the balance sheet.

“I can tell you if there’s one difference in the last two years, it’s that there’s no sense of entitlement,” Khan told me as his eyes flashed at the idea of complacency. “None of our former players will ever say again that they enjoyed their vacation in Florida,” referring to Aaron Ross’ comment when he went back to the Giants. (Ross was mediocre at best while he was in Jacksonville anyway despite signing a big free agent contract)

Khan wants a competitive organization in football and in his business and believes that’s what makes you successful. As one of the wealthiest people in America (and pretty high up on the worldwide list as well) the Jaguars owner wants all of his businesses to have that mindset. He told a local group recently that his biggest fear was “having too much money and too much time.” So if somebody at his level is still getting after it, he expects his organizations to be doing the same.

Lamping laid out the economic realities of having the smallest fan base in the NFL and also having among the lowest ticket prices. It’s a business model that’s not sustainable. So they are looking for new ways to create revenue.

“It seems to me they’re competing,” Head Coach Gus Bradley said after the presentation. “Just like the culture that we’re building on the team, they’re doing the same on the business side. They want to compete.”

Lamping agreed. “We’re competing. You can feel the buzz in the organization. We just need to give the fans what they deserve, a winning team. Shad’s confident Gus and Dave (GM Caldwell) have us in the right spot right now.”

Jaguars revenue is up 8% over last year, buoyed by their London foray. Otherwise they would have been fairly flat in 2013. Not bad after a 2 win season but they say the current uptick in the season ticket sales and the increased sponsorship dollars are the leading indicators of a competitive, sustainable franchise.

They’ve always said that Jaguars fans are the best in the league; they’re just not enough of them. So building a competitive organization means changing the culture on and off the field.

“When you come in you absolutely feel the drive and the hunger,” Khan told me afterwards in the back of the room. “Whether on the field or on the business side, you can feel it. And you have to have that in order to be a successful organization.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Kaymer Wins Players: Wins Fans Too

Expecting a shootout between Germany’s Martin Kaymer and the USA’s PGA Tour wunderkind Jordan Spieth, fans surrounded the first hole from tee to green, five deep when the two approached for their 2:35 tee time. Kaymer ripped it 310 yards down the middle. Spieth hit it in the right rough. A chink in the armor? You might have thought so but actually Spieth took the lead with a birdie on 4 to go to -13. And that was it. Kaymer inherited a share of the lead after Speith bogeyed 8 and then took the lead for good at nine with a birdie out of the bunker while Spieth’s second shot in the rough forced him to settle for par.

Kaymer had it to 15 under before play was suspended while he was playing the 14th hole forcing a 91-minute delay because of lightning. That changed the fabric of the end of the tournament, with Kaymer and Spieth, along with Sergio Garcia and Francisco Molinari among the contenders finishing in front of just a smattering of fans.

The golf course yielded some low scores among those not contending. Former champ K.J. Choi shot a 65 and finished the tournament at -7. Rory McIlroy’s crazy experiences here at The Players continued, shooting a 66 on the final day to finish at -9. McIlroy shot 31 on the back, birdieing 16, 17 and 18 to continue his great play at the Stadium course on holes with double digits. “Overall it looks like another back door top 10 but it’s getting close. I’m playing solid, things are headed in the right direction.” McIlroy played the back nine in 17 under this week, but 8 over on the front hurt his chances. “I feel very comfortable on the back nine here; and just played the front nine a little better (today) and ended up shooting a lower score.”

The leading money winner on tour, Jimmy Walker opened on Thursday with a 75 and was wondering if he’d make the cut or not when he teed off Friday. Instead, Walker shot 65 on the final day for a top ten finish, including an eagle on eleven. “I was running and gunning,” he said after his round. Make a couple of birdies, and if the wind picks up and the storm starts to maybe come in, you never know what could happen.” As the top ranked player, Walker is having some new experiences at tournaments and he said it’s making him change his game a bit. “It makes me feel like I need to keep the pedal down. Sure would be good to be number one at the end of September so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

After the rain delay, Kaymer certainly made it interesting, making double bogey from the left trees on 15 and taking a one-shot lead to the final three holes. A par on 16 didn’t give him much cushion over Furyk who was doing interviews in the rain while waiting to see what might happen.

“I’ve struggled at this golf course,” Furyk told us while after making a 2 ½ foot putt to finish at 66. My results haven’t been nearly as good as I would have liked. It’s fun to play well in front of friends and family.”

Meanwhile, Kaymer hit the strangest shot on 17, just clearing the bunker and spinning back to the high rough in the front of the green. A short chip left him with a long par putt that he poured right in the middle of the cup to maintain a one shot lead and continue the drama. “It was hard to read because it was getting a little dark,” he said afterwards. “But it went in and it’s on the card so I’m happy.”

Two shots on 18 put Kaymer on the front of the green with just under 50 feet to the hole. Two putts would win the title for him and Kaymer thought back to the putt he made to win the Ryder Cup last year. “I was walking up there thinking that one of the best players in the world should be able to make it in two putts to win.” He admitted the just over 3 footer he had left was no easy roll for the victory. “It was left to right and downhill and I was thinking, ‘Just go in’ and it did.”

Kaymer was incredibly gracious in the awards ceremony, thanking the fans for being “fair, even though I was playing an American the last couple of days.” He admitted the opening round 63 put a lot of pressure on him for the rest of the week. But said playing with Jordan Spieth really helped him. “He’s a good guy, and a really good player for someone so young. You have a great player to watch for a lot of years to come.”

“When you shoot that low score on Thursday, everybody expects you to win,” Kaymer explained. “You expect to finish high, there’s just a lot of pressure.”

Interestingly enough, Kaymer was 12 under through 36 holes in this year’s Players, and won at -13 under, the fourth consecutive year that score was good enough to win.

He also thanked the volunteers and reminded everybody to be nice to their mom, not just on Mothers Day. He’s a good player, and proved over the last 4 days he’s a pretty good guy too.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

The Players: First Round Update

As predicted, low scores were the rule of the day among the morning players in the first round of The Players. Russell Henley shot 65, seven under par while, eight players, including Lee Westwood, Gary Woodland, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia are at -5.

“It’s playing a little softer,” Woodland said after his round. “The key out here is to, keep the momentum going, and avoid the big number.” Woodland also changed a bit of his strategy this week as well. “I only hit 4 drivers today. Callaway strengthened my 3-wood and that seems to be working.”

There are a lot of different experiences to be had at the Stadium Course during the tournament. Henley had nine birdies today, but double bogeyed the 7th. No bogies on his card. Lee Westwood didn’t play any holes over par today, making five birdies enroute to his 67. Ernie Els shot 68 with three bogies, an eagle (on 4) and three birdies, the best a chip in on 14.”

“I’m never comfortable here,” Else explained immediately after his round. “I tried to come in on Thursday morning but I had an early tee time,” he joked, adding that he didn’t arrive until Wednesday afternoon. “The tee boxes here all point you to the right. I have to pick my spot. Pete Dye is a genius but he is a sinister man.”

Jordan Spieth’s 67 in the morning included five birdies for his first time seeing the Stadium Course for this tournament. He’s played here before in junior golf and leaned on some of that experience. “I’ve played enough PGA Tour courses to change my thinking to pick my lines and be a little safer,” he said after his round. “It’s the same here. You just have to commit to the shot.”

Scott Stallings was a mid-morning starter and said he “thought” his way to a 67. “You have to pick your shots here the take a big number out of play,” he explained right behind the 18th green. “Every hole is a birdie opportunity but every one is also a double waiting to happen. You try and eliminate that.”

Justin Rose played the par 5’s in one-over today, leading him to think there could be a lower score than his 67 waiting tomorrow. “I’ve been working on a lot of things, hitting it great on the range for a while. I’m hoping it’s all coming together.”

Among the afternoon players, Bill Haas (-4 through 8) John Huh (-3 through 8) and former champion Tim Clark (-3 through 9) are moving up the leaderboard.

Phil Mickelson shot 75 today, Rory McIlroy 70 and Adam Scott is one under through 7.

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Players 2014: Will The Greens Be Up To Par?

Tee times for the first two rounds are out fo the 2014 Players. They’ll play in threesomes and start at 7:15 as expected, going off the first and the tenth tee. If you’re a morning player on Thursday, you go in the afternoon on Friday and vice versa.

In the morning on Thursday, last week’s winner J.B. Holmes goes off the 10th tee at 7:47 with Ken Duke and Rory Sabbatini. Stuart Appleby is at the same time going off one. A contender last week, Martin Flores is in the first group off of #1 with Lee Westwood and Brendon de Jonge.

Patrick Reed is playing with Jason Dufner and Luke Donald at 8?08 off #10, the start of four good groups in a row going off the back. Zach Johnson, Jordan Speith and Graeme McDowell at art 8:18, the Harris English, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy at 8;29 followed by Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia at 8:39.

Billy Horschel is a morning player on Thursday at 8:18 at number one. K.J. Choi is at 7:57 on #1 and Ernie Else is at 8:39 on number one.

The afternoon rounds start at 12:25. Angel Cabrera goes off number 1 at 1:07. Keegan Bradley in the next group at 1:18 with Jonas Blixt and Webb Simpson. Jim Furyk Henrick Stenson and Brandt Snedeker are at 1;28 and then Rickey Fowler, Adam Scott and Steve Stricker at 1:39. They’re followed by Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson and Jimmy Walker at 1;49. Matt Every is at 1:39, Ian Poulter at 1:49 and Russell Knox at 2:21.

Phil Mickelson played a practice round this morning with Ricky Fowler and Dustin Johnson. They all switched clubs on 17, with Fowler and Johnson playing Mickelson’s left-handed irons. All three had nice swings from the other side, a testament to their athletic prowess. Fowler actually knocked one on the green. Mickelson does just about everything else right-handed, so he looked good from that side of the ball as well. Mickelson had his press conference this afternoon and laid out the nuances of the Stadium Course. His approach to 17 will be “middle of the green. I think you make more birdies that way,” he said about the island green. Phil says the course is a bit softer than in past years so he’ll keep driver in the bag and hit it a lot. “I think we’ll see some low scoring.” Mickelson is toying with two putters this week, and probably will play “the blade” after working with it on Monday.

Bubba Watson played in the morning as well. He said he likes to look at “the ground, how it lays out, and it’s difficult here because the fairway and the rough seem to blend together when you’re looking from the tee.” Watson doesn’t like to aim at trees, so that’s his reason for never seeming to drive the ball well here. Watson laughed when he was reminded that if he wins here he could move to #1 in the world. “Let’s remember that my best finish here is 37th. We probably don’t need to worry about that.” But it was interesting that his assessment of the rankings is that they’re flawed. Phil Mickelson has never been the top ranked player and Watson doesn’t see how that’s possible. “I played against Tiger when he was at his very best,” Mickelson reminded everybody. Watson said LeBron James and Kevin Durant have been in contact with him since his Masters win.

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem held his annual “State of the Players” media session, limiting his comments to the Players. He noted that the television broadcast of The Players this year could reach a billion people, being broadcast in 230 countries. Regarding the greens, Finchem sais they’re going to replant the Stadium Course with a strain of grass called TifEagle after the 2015 tournament. The Tour has struggled getting the greens right since moving to May in 2007 and they now believe giving a little more room on the greens, changing them slightly and going with the new grass could be the answer.

Finchem didn’t seem concerned that the NFL draft was rescheduled for this week. He joked that if “Shad would share with me who the Jags were going to draft in the first round, I might watch that.” Finchem also downplayed Tiger Woods’ absence, saying “it’s not the first time we haven’t had Tiger.

As far as The Players staying in May, the Commissioner said he likes the date and hopes to make it work. But if they keep having what he called “these weather related issues, we’ll re-think the date.”

Finchem has been Commissioner for 20 years and recently named Jay Monahan as a Deputy Commissioner, kind of a Commissioner in waiting role. Monahan was the Executive Director of The Players in the past and has fulfilled a variety of roles with the Tour, putting him in a position to become Commissioner. When? Finchem says he’ll be around for a while and is looking forward to finishing his tenure.

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Players 2014: Who Can Win?

As the PGA Tour progress through the past five decades, some of the old adages have faded away. Fields were smaller and not as deep, meaning you could probably pick the winner any week out of a pool of about 20 players. Jack Fleck beating Ben Hogan was a huge story on tour, given Hogan’s standing and Fleck’s lack thereof. Golf course design and advances in agronomy made the competition tighter and certain players seemed well suited for different courses. Augusta’s design was famously if not subtly changed when Bobby Jones commented on Jack Nicklaus’ game as “something I’m not familiar with.” Jack’s length and his ability to hit a high fade presumably gave him an advantage at Augusta National.

But all of that seems to have changed. Certainly there are courses that will always favor certain aspects of a player’s game, particularly prodigious length. But as the popularity of the game advanced and more and more prize money was offered, some top athletes started to look at the game as a profession instead of the traditional, football, baseball, basketball, hockey options. It’s not hard to imagine Tiger Woods as a defensive back in the NFL, or Dustin Johnson brining the ball up for some NBA team. While professional golfers in the last 40 years of the last century came in all shapes and sizes, an emphasis on fitness and technology has brought a standard body type to the Tour. Very few guys out here who compete week in and week out don’t also look like they’d be comfortable putting in a few miles on the treadmill. Gary Player was considered a bit out of the box with his emphasis on fitness as a player. Today, he’s the standard bearer of what’s happening on Tour. Greg Norman took those ideas to the next level, and Woods looks like he could be the light-heavyweight champion of the world.

So how does that play into who the favorite is at The Players?

Actually, it doesn’t. And that’s the beauty of this golf course and this championship.

Looking over the winners at the Stadium Course, it’s about as varied a group of champions as you’ll find at any event. It doesn’t favor long hitters, nor great putters. It’s not tilted to somebody right or left-handed, a player who hooks or fades the ball as their natural shot. Greg Norman holds the course record at -24, and he’s considered the longest, straight driver ever on Tour. But Tom Kite, Justin Leonard and Lee Janzen have won here as well, none considered among long hitters in their era. Phil Mickelson won here, and barely hit driver all week. David Duval’s plan was to just hit fairways all week, and it lead him to victory in 1999.

So what thread runs through the Champions Locker Room at The Players? That week, they had control of their entire game.

“This course will make you use every club in your bag,” Tom Kite once told me during a practice round. “And if you’re not hitting all of them good, you’re not going to win.”

Some players think it’s a drivers course, others believe it’s all about the second shot. Twenty years ago a shot on the green on the wrong side was a recipe for an automatic three putt. “You just can’t get it close,” Nick Faldo once said. “Too severe, too fast.”

The golf course has changed, and the names and games of the players have changed as well. But the constant is playing the Stadium Course with the idea that you’re whole game will be tested. Anybody playing well will have a chance to win. You’ll never be comfortable out there.

Greg Norman summed it up after winning here in 1994.

“You have to learn to get comfortable with that uncomfortable feeling,” .

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Players Preview 2014

For most of it’s existence, The Players signaled the beginning of the golf season for many fans. While the Masters was a sign that spring is here, The Players in March is where golf fans started to focus on the season and the sport. Many of the top players skipped the California swing (private jets and 24 hour communication services were not a part of PGA Tour life yet) and started their season in Florida. Stops in Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Miami and here provided easy travel, similar conditions and usually warm weather to get the season started. (Although The Players was originally scheduled for the first week of March, it eventually moved to the final week of the month and, of course, to May in 2007).

What’s different about this year is that The Players is nowhere near the beginning of the season. In fact, it’s the 26th event of the Tour’s “wraparound” season, with just 15 tournaments remaining in this “year.” That means a win here can go a long way in the end of season FedEx Cup standings and qualifications for the Ryder Cup, the Tour Championship playoffs and extra cash.

“It’s my favorite week of the year,” Ben Crane said yesterday, echoing the sentiment of just about every player we talked to. “It’s our championship, the field is great, the golf course is a tough test. It’s a Major in my mind.” You also hear that a lot from the current participants. While the first generation of players in this tournament were almost unanimous in their disdain for calling this tournament anything but a “bigger” competition, (some of that coming from a general animosity for then Commissioner Deane Beaman) the current players have no such bias. When Adam Scott won in 2004, he said it felt like a major to him because he grew up in Australia watching this tournament on television and imagining winning it one day. While the Tour increased the payout for winning The Players exponentially every year, getting the attention if not the respect of the players involved from the beginning, comments like Lee Trevino’s “It’s hard to read dirt,” and Jack Nicklaus’ “I don’t think you’re supposed to be able to hit 4-iron to the hood of a car and stop it,” ensured that The Players would stay stuck in a slightly elevated status but never up for “Major” consideration.

A little historical perspective is important when you look at The Players development. Beman’s dream of the Tour having their own championship grew out of his belief that “the Super Bowl, the playoffs and the World Series of our sport were owned by somebody else.” While the USGA, the R&A, Augusta National and the PGA owned the four major championships; the PGA Tour ran the week to week competition that brought the names and faces of the Tour into fans living rooms. As a former player, Deane had some history with Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as well as the rest of his contemporaries. He won the US Amateur; he won on Tour and was a rival, albeit mostly friendly to the guys out there playing.

Remember as well that Jack had started the Memorial and Arnold his tournament in Orlando, each with the idea that it would be the next “significant” tournament. Nicklaus never tried to tamp down the idea that the Memorial could be on track to be the next Major. And both of them, along with Gary Player as the Big Three, had expanded their reach in the game to building golf courses. All three expressed real reservations about the Tour getting into the golf course building business as their competitor. So if The Players was in essence, “Deane’s Tournament” it wasn’t going to get their approval as anything but the next stop on the Florida swing.

The media followed the Big Three’s lead, most turning their noses up at the idea there could be a “5th Major.” Legendary golf writer Dan Jenkins once wrote, “TPC sounds like something you sniff, not a golf tournament.” The Players represented the TOUR: fans, excitement, money and fun. It was a long way from the hushed locker rooms of The Country Club, Oakmont, Seminole and other tradition-laden clubs. The Tour itself couldn’t quite identify what The Players was supposed to be either. Was it “Augusta South?” For a while they tried to emulate the major championships and even shunned their home-town, stiff arming North Florida and South Georgia, insisting the byline for stories and television coverage be “Ponte Vedra” with no mention of Jacksonville (my friend Verne Lundquist admitted it took him two years to figure out how to pronounce the host town) Then The Players was marketed as an international destination, which it is becoming. But in recent years, they’ve embraced Jacksonville and North Florida, understanding that without the full support of the local community, they’d just be spinning their wheels.

I read an article the other day where the author said you could have put the Stadium course anywhere. I chuckled at his lack of historical knowledge, not knowing that the local support of the Greater Jacksonville Open through the volunteer force and the foresight of Beman, the Fletchers and others landed the PGA Tour headquarters and their showcase event in the right spot.



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The Players : Wide Open

As the last qualifier for The Players, JB Holmes has quite a story. He was a well-known quantity on the PGA Tour. A popular player with galleries and a two-time winner in Phoenix, one of the most raucous stops on the circuit, Holmes embodied the ‘grip it and rip it” bomber style popular on Tour. Then all of the sudden he was diagnosed with a rare brain disease, recovered from that, was allergic to the resin that kept things in his head in place, and recovered from that. Hurt his elbow hitting balls trying to get back on Tour, but didn’t have surgery on that until he suffered a broken ankle and figured he wouldn’t be playing anyway so he finally got it fixed. Then, of course, he was back on Tour playing on a medical exemption and won one of the toughest events, getting him into the Players this year and the Masters in 2015.

Because Holmes wasn’t already eligible for the Players, he pushed Ryo Ishikawa into the first alternate spot. JU’s Russell Knox stays in the field of 144.

As well as he’s playing; it’ll still be interesting if Holmes contends this week. The Stadium course doesn’t favor anybody who just stands on the tee and kills it. It’s a bit too demanding in the landing areas, and the players haven’t been able to overpower that part of the golf course. Yet.

That’s why somebody like Luke Donald should do well here. Not particularly long but accurate and a good putter. When he won in 1994, Greg Norman shot 24-under, setting the tournament record. He took advantage of how long and straight he drove the ball in comparison to his peers. Plus his putting touch that week was impeccable. Nobody seemed to enjoy that, except for Norman and the runner-up Fuzzy Zoeller. Add Jeff Maggert to the mix and those three lapped the field. Everybody else was down near -10 and in single digits. It was enough of a low score though to change the golf course to make it harder and faster and more difficult. The funny part is that the last three years, ’11, ’12 and ’13, the winning score has been the same: 13 under.

Look at the winners over the years and there’s not one thing that binds those guys together. Some long hitters, some short knockers have won, but that week, they all were able to manage their game perfectly. “It’s not a golf course for scatterguns,” former PGA Tour Commissioner once told me during a round at the Stadium. I’ve always thought that the golf course identifies the player who has command through his whole bag. He’s driving it straight, he’s accurate with his irons, he’s chipping well and rolling it well with the putter. That’s how Justin Leonard and Jodie Mudd won here. I’m surprised Nick Faldo never won at the Stadium as meticulous as he is.

Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Stuart Appleby and Matt Kuchar (again) are likely candidates to be near the top of the leaderboard. Matt Every and Bill Horschel have the regional knowledge to contend. I’d say Camillo Villegas but he’s been nowhere for so long. Harris English has played well here as well. And while Phil Mickelson said he played “two great rounds and two pathetic rounds” at Charlotte, he likes it here and of course is a former champion.

In other words, it’s wide open!

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

The Players Update: Monday Afternoon Some greens still closed

For a while it was a murmur, then some idle chatter but the talk about the greens at the Stadium Course for this years Players has grown into a full-blown conversation today. It’s been customary to allow players to practice on the Stadium course starting on the Saturday before the tournament, accommodating those who either missed the cut in Charlotte or didn’t play last week. Instead, the course has been closed until today, with no play anywhere on the Stadium for the last 9 or ten days. (It’s been closed to resort play for about 3 weeks already). So while they’ve had trouble this year with grass on 4, 9, 11, 12, 13, and 14, they’ve only kept 4, 11 and 12 closed today and until further notice.

The greens have noticeable patches on them, and perhaps growing grass for the next three days non-stop will help their playability and their appearance.

Either way, no players, caddies, no anybody on the greens.

The players found out today with a memo posted about the condition of the greens. There has been no official comment, and won’t be until tomorrow at Commissioner Tim Finchem’s press conference.

“It’s not unusual based on the weather we’ve had,” one player told us this morning, “but for this tournament, this late, it’s pretty rare.”

The Tour has said an “over aggressive” chemical application is the cause. Locals (including some charter members) have told me it’s a combination of the chemical, the bad weather and poor use of the “sub air” system they have here to take moisture off the greens.

“They can’t get the roots to grow,” one member of 27 years told me. “Worst I’ve ever seen it.”

This tournament has 29 of the top 30 in the current FedEx Cup standings in the field. Only Jason Day is not here because of injury. Twenty-seven of the top 30 in the official world golf ranking and 20 of the 21 PGA Tour winners in this season are here.

Eight former Players winners are in the field, 23 major champions and 15 of the participants are first timers. By the way, if the winners seem younger to you, 10 of the 21 different winners on Tour this season are under 30. Twenty countries are represented, with Australia second behind the US with 10 players.

Jim Furyk, Jonas Blixt, David Lingmert, Matt Every, Luke Guthrie, Russell Knox and Billy Horschel are players in the tournament who call North Florida home.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Pre Draft Jaguars Ramblings

It’s annually called the “Pre-Draft Luncheon” and it qualifies as that because it is before the draft and they do serve lunch. (Great potato chips and nice BBQ sliders this year). It’s mainly a chance to get the powers that be with the Jaguars on the record about their philosophy when it comes to the draft. They’re not going to tell us who they’re going to pick, nor are they the type of organization that is trying to send out false signals to the other 31 teams in the league.

For the last two years, it’s been a chance to hear General Manager Dave Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley give us their ideas about the process, both in and out of Jacksonville, and how they’ll arrive at whatever decisions they make in the first round and beyond.

“I like it loud and busy,” Caldwell said today when asked how he likes to set up the draft room. “I get antsy when it gets too quiet.”

Caldwell will make the final decision if it comes down to picking one player or another, but Bradley is fine with that. “I completely trust Dave,” Gus told us at today’s get-together. “its kind of fun that we’re preparing him and the scouts and personnel people for making the picks next Thursday. We’ll have input, but he’s sharp, he’ll make the call.”

What role has Bradley played? “This year, knowing Dave better, being more comfortable, I’ve been challenging him, like you guys would,” the Jaguars head coach said pointing at the assembled media. “With this extra time (two weeks) I’ve had a chance to ask him, ‘What about this’ and ‘What if this happens’ over and over so he’s ready when it comes time to make the pick.”

Both guys on the hook for selecting what they hope are the Jaguars of the future have run through every scenario possible for the first round. With only two picks in front of them, they know somebody they like will be there. They both said they wouldn’t be surprised by pretty much anything that happens at that point. Later, that’s a different story.

“I’ve told Gus to be prepared for a good player to be available in the second round,” Caldwell related when asked about surprises. “I think we might be surprised at who might still be there and what we’ll have a chance to do at that point.”

Bradley isn’t worried about the first three rounds, saying, “They’re going to be fine. It’s the 4th round picks and guys like that you have to hit on. Looking at the stats of what guys in the 4th round have done in the league; gotten injured, didn’t make the active roster or whatever. If we can do a little better than the average in those spots, we’ll be ok.”

With picks near the top of each round, the Jaguars have plenty of leverage if they’re looking for more picks. Caldwell said at the owners meeting in March that ideally he’d like between 12 and 14 picks in this draft. The Jaguars currently have eleven. “That would be an ideal scenario,” he reiterated today.

With strength in this class in the top 10 picks, and at defensive line, offensive line, running back and wide receiver, the Jaguars think they could get 5 or six eventual starters out of the class of 2014. That top ten is important because Caldwell said he would have to be offered a pretty special package to move any lower than that in the first round. But he’s open to moving back, primarily because those guys in the top ten are all potential stars and starters and can help immediately.

So when it comes time to select in the third spot, will they make the pick right there or wait for the phone to ring?

“It depends on what happens in front of us with the first two picks, ” Caldwell said with a sly grin.

Interpret that anyway you like. I think if Jadeveon Clowney is somehow there, they’ll snap him up. If not, they’ll listen to offers to move back to take one of the other guys they have rated in the top ten. If no offers come to them they like, they’ll take Sammy Watkins or Khalil Mack. What about quarterback? They think it’s the last piece to the puzzle so taking somebody in the second or third round and seeing if he can develop into a reliable starter: AJ McCarron, Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray, is where they’ll begin.

The first round, finally, is next Thursday.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

The Players Field Almost Set

In addition to Tiger Woods, add Jason Day’s name to the list of PGA Tour players not participating in next weeks Players. Day is still recovering from a thumb injury and has decided he needs at least another week of rest before reentering competition. The 26 year old Australian won the Match Play Championships in February and has only played once since, at the Masters, because of the injury. He had his left hand put in a cast as a precaution last week but now it appears he might not play until the Memorial. Day is the 6th ranked player in the world.

Most of the world’s top players will be here next week for The Players, traditionally the strongest field of the year. In addition to Tiger and Day, Victor Dubuisson, Miguel Angel Jimenez, David Lynn, Scott Piercy, Bob Estes and Chez Reavie are the only players eligible who are not in the field because of injury or otherwise.

It appears that JB Holmes will make the field by way of his FedEx cup points after this week’s tournament in Charlotte. That would may Ryo Ishikawa the first alternated. Former JU Dolphin Russell Knox would then be the last qualifier and could only miss the tournament if this week’s winner isn’t already in the field.