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Golf notebook: Spieth pleased with decision to turn pro

The SportsXchange

--Jordan Spieth's gamble to turn pro without status on any tour after failing to advance past the second stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School late last year is about to pay off.

The 19-year-old, who left Texas after helping the Longhorns capture the NCAA Championship as a freshman last year, has earned $521,892 in four PGA Tour events this season, finishing in the top 25 of the last three.

"A lot of people told me I made the wrong decision," Spieth said after tying for seventh in the Tampa Bay Championship following a tie for second in the Puerto Rico Open.

Spieth can earn his PGA Tour card for next season by finishing in the top 125 on the 2013 money list. Last year, Kevin Chappell finished 12th on the money list with $647,510.

However, the events that made up the Fall Series will make up the start of the 2013-14 season, so it probably will take less cash to sew up playing privileges for next season.

That means Spieth is probably one more good finish away, and that could come this week for the Texan in the Shell Houston Open.

Already, he has earned enough money to be eligible for and accept Special Temporary Member status in the PGA Tour, meaning he can receive unlimited sponsor's exemptions for rest of the season.

"Right now it's excitement," Spieth said after a holing a chip shot for birdie on the 17th hole and holing a seven-foot birdie putt on the closing hole at the Copperhead Course to get his tie for seventh. "I'm just extremely happy. You know, obviously didn't think this would happen.

"When you go, at the beginning of the year, when you know that you only get seven unrestricted exemptions, first of all it's hard to get seven tournaments in, let alone make enough money to get your card. To be able to do it and really in three events ... .

"I missed the cut at Torrey, played well at Pebble, (Puerto Rico) and here, so I never would have guessed that I would get it this quickly."

Spieth planned to play mostly on the Web.com Tour, the PGA Tour's triple-A circuit, this season and earned $50,150 in his first two starts, leaving less than $5,000 from earning full status on that tour.

His tie for seventh in the Panama Claro Championship earned him a spot in the Colombia Championship, where he tied for seventh, with that top-10 finish earning him a spot in the Chile Classic in Santiago.

The only problem was that he had accepted a sponsor's exemption to play in Tampa Bay the same week and the smart money was in Chile.

But, again, Spieth proved he knew best.

--Stacy Lewis ascended to the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Women's World Golf Rankings with class and grace.

After coming from behind to win the RR Donnelley Founders Cup to become the seventh player, and second American, to top the rankings since they were instituted in 2006, Lewis thought of everybody but herself.

First, she said the victory was for her caddie, Travis Wilson, whose gaffe the day before handed Lewis a two-stroke penalty and left her four shots behind Ai Miyazato of Japan heading to the final round.

"Weird things happen when you play enough golf rounds, and I told (Wilson) that over and over and over again," the 28-year-old Lewis said. "He would have felt horrible if we lost by two, so that's why I just put the dagger in and made some more putts there coming in."

After hugging her father, Dale, once she putted out on the 18th hole to wrap up her seventh LPGA Tour victory and second this season, Lewis met with youngsters from the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Program for a group hug, and later donated $50,000 to the organization.

While accepting her trophy, Lewis paid tribute to three LPGA Tour founders -- Louise Suggs, Marilynn Smith and Shirley Spork -- who were on hand along with two other women pioneers, Carol Mann and JoAnne Carner.

"What you did was way harder than anything I do right now," Lewis said directly to them. "Thank you, thank you 100 times. ...

"If those ladies taught me anything, it's to give back to the game and leave it better than I found it."

Finally, Lewis had something to say about herself.

She didn't have to say much, because her story by itself speaks volumes about the type of determination she has after growing up wearing a back brace much of the time, and needing a metal rod and five screws surgically attached to her spine because of severe scoliosis.

"Almost 10 years ago I was going into surgery to put a rod and five screws in my back," Lewis said. "I'm really not supposed to be here. People with metal in their back, how do you play golf?

"I don't know how, I don't know why I'm here. I know that there's a reason, and I know that everything happens for a reason. Every setback you have along the way, everything good that happens, it all happens for a reason."

Showing what her contemporaries think of Lewis, Yani Tseng, who Lewis replaced at the top of the rankings in the world after Tseng held the No. 1 spot for 109 weeks, sent her friend and the new No. 1 a congratulatory note on Twitter.

--After a long delay because of a legal dispute, construction has started on the course that will be played when golf returns to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

The organizing committee for the Games in Rio said that clearing work had begun to remove "non-native vegetation" after a permit was issued by the city.

"We are delighted that work has begun on the golf venue and we remain on track to deliver the golf course for a test event in 2015 as scheduled," Carlos Nuzman, head of the Rio organizing committee, said in a statement.

The International Olympic Committee has repeatedly downplayed the ongoing legal dispute, but was officially notified about it by court officials during a recent inspection visit to Rio.

Two companies have claimed ownership of the land, with one having announced plans to build a housing complex there instead.

Gil Hanse, whose company was selected to design the course, has been frustrated by the problems because he has been on site for several months waiting to start work.

"We are very excited and pleased to have begun the initial clearing of the site," Hanse said. "It is the start of a long process to transform this property into a beautiful golf course, and we are happy to get started."

Official construction of the course, which will host the first Olympic golf tournament since 1904 in St. Louis, is scheduled to begin April 1.

The course will be built on a 240-acre piece of sandy, partly marshy terrain inland from the Atlantic Ocean in an area of Rio called Barra, about three miles from the Olympic Village.

--J.B. Holmes, who has been battling to reclaim his spot among the best golfers in the world since undergoing brain surgery in 2011, will be miss the next 8-to-12 weeks because of a broken left ankle he sustained in a roller-blading accident near his home in Windermere, Fla.

Holmes, whose ankle is in a cast, has missed the cut in four of the five tournaments he has played this season, in addition to tying for 50th in AT&T National Pro-Am.

"Just a freak little thing," said Terry Reilly, Holmes' agent with Wasserman Media Group.

The 31-year-old Holmes, whose two PGA Tour victories came in the 2006 and 2008 FBR Opens (now the Waste Management Phoenix Open), finished in the top 20 in only two of his 25 events last year after his return from brain surgery.

Holmes, one of the longest hitters on the circuit, missed the last part of the 2011 season after having brain surgery to repair Chiari malformations.

Reilly said his client was rollerblading, part of his training regimen, with his fiancee, Erica Kahldin, when he hit a rut in the road that caused his ankle to collapse sideways.

Holmes and Kahldin are scheduled to be married on April 20.

--Yani Tseng of Taiwan, knocked off her perch atop the Rolex Women's World Golf Rankings by Stacy Lewis, was looking forward to trying to regain the No. 1 spot last week in the Kia Classic.

Tseng never got to the first tee on Thursday, being forced to withdraw the day before per LPGA Tour rules because she missed her tee time for the pro-am at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, Calif.

"I'm embarrassed to admit that I wasn't feeling well last night and accidentally overslept and missed my tee time for the pro-am this morning," Tseng said in a statement. "I was extremely excited to compete this week to defend my title at the Kia Classic and to try to regain the No. 1 spot.

"This was an unfortunate mistake and I want to apologize to Kia, my sponsors and all of the fans. The Kia Classic is one of my favorite tournaments and I have so many great memories in San Diego. I can't wait to come back here next year."

Tseng, who won the Kia Classic last year at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, will get her next chance to regain the No. 1 spot in a week at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first LPGA Tour major of the season, which he won in 2010.

--Ye Wocheng, a 12-year-old from Dongguan in the Chinese province of Guangdong, will become the youngest player to compete in a European Tour event when he plays in the Volvo China Open.

Ye shot 68-74 -- 142 in a qualifier at Wolong Valley Country Club in Chengdu, China, earning his spot despite stumbling a little down the stretch with a triple bogey on his 16th hole of the second round after three-putting the last two holes in round one.

Guan Tianlang, who went on to capture the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship last November and earn a spot in the Masters, set the record when he played in the China Open last year at the age of 13.

"A year ago I set out to break Guan's European Tour record," said Ye, who captured titles in the Callaway Junior World Golf Championships in San Diego in 2010 and 2011, before finishing second last year.

"My dad was my first coach, so I owe him a lot for starting me off and helping me to develop my swing. He's a pretty good player himself, an eight handicap."

The Volvo China Open will be played May 2-5 at Binhai Lake Golf Club in Tianjin, near Beijing.

--Tom Watson wants more of his players on the 2014 Ryder Cup team to make it the old-fashioned way: he wants them to earn it.

Watson announced that he has cut the number of Captain's Picks he can make from four to three for the matches next year on the PGA Centenary Course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, at Gleneagles Resort in Scotland.

"Giving our players one more opportunity to earn a spot on merit, I believe, is the right thing to do," said Watson, who will make his three picks after nine players qualifying through the point standings.

Americans can begin earning point toward the Ryder Cup next month in the Masters. Only points earned from the majors count this year, but all PGA Tour events, with an emphasis on the majors, will count in 2014.

Captain Paul Azinger overhauled the U.S. points system before the 2008 matches at Valhalla in Louisville, Ky. He based the point standings on PGA Tour earnings instead of points assigned to top-10 finishes, put more emphasis on the season in which the Ryder Cup is held and increased the Captain's picks from two to four.

The changes led to a United States victory, but the European has won the biennial event the last two years, including last year, when the Euros rallied from a 10-6 deficit on Sunday by dominating the singles matches.

Watson, who will be 65 when the matches are played in Scotland, is the oldest captain in Ryder Cup history and plays only on the Champions Tour, so he might not know his players that well, yet.

"I've watched a lot of golf on Golf Channel and the networks," Watson said. "I know who Russell Henley (who won the Sony Open in Hawaii) is. I know Kevin ... Streelman (who won the Tampa Bay Championship). You're starting to see players really surge right now.

"Then you have the old stalwarts like Phil (Mickelson) and Tiger (Woods). They have got to step up to the plate as well and lead the team. That's my job as captain, to get the right frame of mind for the team as they approach the Ryder Cup and during the Ryder Cup."
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