Former college star gets a shot at PGA Tour

Former college star gets a shot at PGA Tour

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Two years after he led UCLA to an NCAA title, Kevin Chappell is headed to the PGA Tour.

With his first Nationwide Tour victory among seven top 10s this year, he is No. 8 on the money list with two tournaments remaining and mathematically assured of finishing in the top 25 to graduate to the big leagues.

“If I look at it emotionally, it feels like a very long time,” Chappell said. “But if I look at it in terms of my career, it feels like a short time. If I want to play until I’m 50, then it’s only two years out of about 30.”

Chappell won the Jack Nicklaus Award in 2008 as the nation’s top college player, and he had high expectations. But he started his first full season as a pro with no status on the Nationwide Tour, and he had to try to Monday qualify.

He missed out on his first nine attempts.

What kept his spirits high was his performance at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where he tied for sixth in a tournament that was shortened to 54 holes because of rain. That was worth $197,487, and it was enough to pay the bills as he struggled on the Nationwide.

“I felt like I was playing with house money,” Chappell said. “But it still was stressful to shoot 68, feel like I was playing good, but not get into the tournament. Once I got in, I was able to break down that wall, and it seemed like it was easier.”

With a full schedule this year, Chappell had top 10s in two events before February, won the Fresh Express Classic and tied for second in the BMW Charity Pro-Am, which put him atop the money list in May and sent him on his way.

Chappell, who tied for 24th in the Open last week at CordeValle, is among 98 of the top 100 players on the Nationwide Tour money list at the Jacksonville Open, which starts Thursday on the Valley Course at the TPC Sawgrass, then goes to South Carolina for the Nationwide Tour Championship.

He is more relaxed than most, since his PGA Tour card is assured. And while he didn’t go straight from college to the PGA Tour like Dustin Johnson, J.B. Holmes and most recently Rickie Fowler, Chappell thinks he might be better off.

“My whole career has been about improving, stepping up the ladder when I was ready,” he said. “With my personality, I think it would be harder for me to take a step back than to start from the bottom and work my way up.”

JONES AWARD: Lorena Ochoa has been selected to receive the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor from the USGA that recognizes distinguished sportsmanship in golf. Ochoa, who retired last year at age 28, was chosen because of her foundation that helps hundreds of less privileged children in her native Mexico.

Ochoa at first was not sure what she had won.

“It was very exciting,” she said. “I went to the Internet, trying to see what it was all about, and I said, ‘Wow!’ I enjoyed reading about Bob Jones and all of the past recipients. Then I told my mother. Now, I just plan to enjoy the good news, the ceremony, the whole thing.”

She will receive the award Feb. 5 in Phoenix at the USGA’s annual meeting.

The Lorena Ochoa Foundation runs La Barranca, an elementary school in her hometown of Guadalajara where 250 underprivileged students are enrolled. The foundation two years ago began running a high school for 21 freshmen.

“I play golf for a reason, and the foundation is the main reason,” Ochoa said. “That was my motivation to keep playing and practicing for many years.”

NEW GEAR: David Duval was the first player to win a major with Nike irons, and the company stayed with him during some lean years. The relationship ended on Sept. 27, and Duval is a free agent.

When he tied for sixth last week in the Open, he was using a Titleist driver and golf ball, Scratch Golf irons and Mizuno wedges. He is open to a new deal, without actively pursuing one. Most important, he said, was playing what he wants.

“If a deal works out based on what I choose works out, that’s great,” Duval said. “If not, I won’t do a deal. I want to make sure I use what I want. And in this (economic) climate, it’s not like there are big deals out there.”

A TIP TO TIGER: Most players say winning a major championship requires a few good breaks. For Graeme McDowell, his big break occurred off the golf course.

McDowell can’t look back on his U.S. Open victory without thinking about Tiger Woods.

He was at No. 55 in the world and seemingly done for the year when Woods was injured in his car accident the night after Thanksgiving and withdrew from his Chevron World Challenge. The tournament awarded ranking points for the first time, so alternates had to come from the top 50 in the world on Sept. 20.

McDowell was No. 46 on that date, and so on his way back from the World Cup in China, he was tapped to replace Woods.

That started what can only be described as a bizarre sequence of events.

McDowell finished alone in second, which was worth 28 points. Five months later, he was No. 50 in the world when he tied for 28th at Wentworth to stay in the top 50 and be exempt for the U.S. Open. Without those ranking points from replacing Woods at Chevron, McDowell might not have been at Pebble Beach.

“The small things that happen in your life can kind of shape into bigger things, you know what I mean?” McDowell said last week on a conference call for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. “Without Chevron, perhaps I’m outside of that window and maybe I’m not even at Pebble Beach. It’s amazing how things happen.”

It’s not the first time Woods has had a ripple effect on a player’s fate.

As a favor to his Kiwi caddie, Woods agreed to play the New Zealand Open in 2002 and tied for sixth. Because the No. 1 player was there, the field strength was elevated to a level that the winner – Craig Parry – became eligible for the World Golf Championship. Seven months later, Parry won the NEC Invitational for his first victory in America.

DIVOTS: Bubba Watson’s father passed away last week after a lengthy bout with throat cancer. … The European Tour will have a special pro-am on the Monday of its flagship BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth to commemorate the 40-year anniversary of the tour. It will be called the Seve Ballesteros Invitational Pro-Am. Proceeds from the 18-man field will go to Ballesteros’ foundation for Cancer Research UK. … At the Open, Rocco Mediate became the first player since Brad Faxon in the 2001 Sony Open to make an eagle in all four rounds and win the tournament.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Rocco Mediate and Charley Hoffman are the only PGA Tour winners who did not play in a major this year.

FINAL WORD: “He’s a good enough player to do it, there’s no question about it. It’s just that as more time goes on, those chances start to dwindle more and more.” – Greg Norman, on whether Tiger Woods will break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.

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