Golf notebook: Williams, top-ranked amateur, turns pro

Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

--Chris Williams, the No. 1 amateur in the world, turned pro last week and signed with Nike before making his debut in the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn.
The 22-year-old Williams recently was selected winner of the Ben Hogan Award as the top player in college and amateur events.
"Joining the Nike family is a dream come true," Williams, who played college golf at Washington, said in a statement. "They have the most talented athletes, and I am excited to be a art of this elite group."
Williams also collected the Mark H. McCormack medal as the No. 1 amateur in the world, which earned him a spot in the U.S. Open.
In his final event as an amateur, Williams shot 75-74--149 and missed the cut by one stroke in the U.S. Open when he carded a bogey on the difficult 18th hole at Merion.
"I missed the cut, but I had (my pro debut) to look forward to right around the corner," said Williams, who grew up in Moscow, Idaho. "It was a good week, but I was ready to move on and start my professional career, and it was nice to be able to hop on that 45-minute charter and come right up here (to River Highlands)."
Williams also has received sponsor exemptions to the AT&T National, the Reno-Tahoe Open and the Wyndham Championship. PGA Tour non-members can receive as many as seven sponsor exemptions per season.
Last year, he captured the Western Amateur and was a quarterfinalist at the U.S. Amateur. In 2011, Williams won the Sahalee Players Championship and the Pacific Coast Amateur in addition to teaming with Justin Thomas and Steven Fox in leading the United States to the World Amateur Team Championship.
In his first tournament as a pro, Williams posted a tie for 30th in the Travelers, shooting 68-69-69 in the last three rounds after opening with a 1-over-par 71.
--Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain will receive his country's most prestigious sports award, the Prince of Asturias prize, it was announced.
The 47-year-old Olazabal, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2009, has won 31 professional titles around the globe, including the Masters in 1994 and 1999.
Last year, he captained the European team that made a memorable rally in Sunday singles to beat the United States at Medinah.
"One of the best golfers in history, with two Masters titles at Augusta and four Ryder Cup wins, a competition in which he also showed his leadership qualities, as captain helping the Europe team to an epic comeback in 2012," the jury said in announcing its decision.
The jury added that Olazabal was a "worthy successor" to the late Seve Ballesteros, his friend and compatriot, who won the award in 1989.
"I'm over the moon," Olazabal said when he received the news at the BMW International Open in Munich. "First of all, I want to thank the Royal Spanish Federation for nominating me as a candidate, and also my colleagues for their support.
"I got a little bit emotional when I got the news this morning, because it's a very special award. Some great sportsmen have won it in the past, including Seve, so to follow in his footsteps is fantastic.
"It's very difficult even to get nominated for the award, so I never thought I'd win it, to be honest. Without question this is the most prestigious award I've ever received, so it's a real honor."
There are eight Prince of Asturias awards across different social categories including arts, science, sports and literature.
Previous recipients of the award in all categories include Nelson Mandela, Woody Allen, Mikhail Gorbachev, J.K. Rowling, Arthur Miller, Placido Domingo, John Glenn, Susan Sontag and King Hussein I of Jordan.
Crown Prince Felipe will present the awards at a ceremony in October in the northern city of Oviedo.
--Organizers of the Humana Challenge announced that its pro-am, which has been an important part of the tournament for its 55 years, will be expanded next season.
Humana, which partners in the event with the Clinton Foundation, announced that for the first time the top amateur players will play in the final round with the professionals, as is done in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
"We wanted to improve on an already fantastic format by doing even more to upgrade the experience for our amateur competitors," said Bob Marra, executive director of the Humana Challenge, which will be played Jan. 16-19 in La Quinta, Calif.
"Humana has implemented a variety of programs since its sponsorship began to raise the stature of the tournament and the experience for its guests in the pro-am. The opportunity to make the cut for those players who have performed the best in the amateur competition will significantly enhance the experience."
Under the new format, the three amateurs with the lowest net scores and three amateurs with the lowest gross scores after the first three rounds will play in Sunday's final round with two professionals, starting on the 10th tee on the Palmer Private Course at PGA West.
The amateurs will not benefit from the pro's score, but will play individual stroke play from the amateur tees.
The Palmer Private Course is the host venue of the Humana Challenge, with the first three rounds also played on the Nicklaus Private Course at PGA West and La Quinta Country Club.
Until 2012 in what was once the Bob Hope Classic, amateurs played only the first four rounds of the then five-round tournament. In 2012 and 2013, amateurs played only the first three rounds of what is now a four-round event.
In addition, the tournament has added the Club Team Challenge Pro-Am, an event that will feature three amateur members from the same club, a PGA Tour professional and a PGA Club pro.
The Challenge will be played on Monday, Jan. 13, on the Jack Nicklaus Private Course at PGA West.
--Jarrod Lyle of Australia is pointing toward a return to the PGA Tour in the middle of the 2014 season after beating acute myeloid leukemia for the second time in 14 years.
The 31-year-old Lyle reported recently that tests have shown no signs of the illness following four months of chemotherapy, for which he stayed in a Melbourne hospital away from his wife and daughter, and stem cell transplant.
"It'd be different if I was just coming back from a torn hamstring or something like that," Lyle told "But it's not, and there is still a lot of unknown about things like how much flying I'll be able to do, and until all the questions like that are crossed off, I don't know when exactly I'll be back.
"It's a matter of getting all the way healthy and staying healthy and making sure that this horrible disease doesn't come back again."
Lyle tied for fourth in the Northern Trust Open last year but did not feel well after tying for 37th the following week in the Mayakoba Golf Classic, so he returned home to tests that showed the leukemia he had beaten at 17 had returned.
Before leaving his home in Shepperton, Australia, for his four-month stay in Melbourne, Lyle got to hold his newborn daughter, Lusi Joy, but then had to leave his wife, Briony, and their first child behind.
"That was hard, having to leave them there, but also the best thing because I did get to see (Lusi)," Lyle said. "But then came the whole unknown thing of whether I would see her again, whether I'd get out of hospital, whether I'd be there to see her grow up. That was the hardest part of this whole deal. ...
"When I look at them now, I feel like I'm the luckiest man alive. And now, we've finally got our health. And just walking around, I couldn't be happier."
Other than the moments with his family, Lyle said the best part of the process was watching a 40-minute video of well wishes from PGA Tour members put together by commentator Tripp Eisenhower of the Golf Channel.
Lyle viewed the video for the first time in the hospital after his first session of chemotherapy.
"Guys like Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia, all the Aussies, caddies, (PGA) Tour officials, everybody out there," said Lyle, who has won twice of the Tour but has yet to break through on the PGA Tour. "I cried for 45 minutes. It was just amazing to me, first that Tripp would put this together.
"I'm lying there in hospital, and to know that these guys I'm trying to beat week in and week out actually care about how I'm doing? To me, that's pretty humbling."
Normally 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Lyle has put back some of the 45 pounds he lost during chemotherapy and has been going to the gym several times a week to rebuild his strength.
Lyle has played some golf, and when he is up to it, he plans to play in a series of four-day pro-ams, with the primary goal to walk the golf course from start to finish.
--The PGA Tour has filed a motion in the New York Supreme Court to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Vijay Singh in May.
Singh, 50, admitted in a Sports Illustrated article that he was using Ultimate Spray, which contained IGF-1, a growth factor like human growth hormone that was on the circuit's banned substances list at the time.
Even though Singh was later absolved of any doping violation after the World Anti-Doping Agency said deer-antler spray was no longer prohibited, Singh filed his lawsuit last month, the day before the start of the Players Championship, the PGA Tour's flagship event.
The suit alleges the tour damaged Singh's reputation.
"This case is about bullying, and we are trying to prevent the bully from bullying," said Jeffrey Rosenblum, Singh's attorney, who added that the PGA Tour wants the case dismissed because players sign a contract when they become members that says they can't sue the Tour.
Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour's executive vice president of international affairs and communication, declined to comment on the motion, saying that the organization does not discuss ongoing litigation.
--Bernard Hunt, two-time captain of the European Tour Ryder Cup team and a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, died at the age of 83.
Hunt, who was born in Atherstone, Warwickshire, captured 30 titles during his career and played on eight Ryder Cup teams between 1953 and 1969, posting a 6-16-6 record in the event, including 4-3-3 in singles.
"Bernard Hunt was one of Britain's truly great Champions and has been a steadfast ally to all of us involved in the growth of the European Tour," said George O'Grady, chief executive of the Euro Tour.
"He was enormously respected by all of his fellow players, as was evidenced when he was appointed Ryder Cup Captain in 1973 and 1975, and Captain of the PGA in 1966 and again from 1995 to 1997."
Hunt was one of Europe's leading players in the 1950s and 1960s and played for Great Britain in the famous Ryder Cup victory over the United States at Lindrick in 1957, before the rest of Europe was added to the team from the other side of the Atlantic.
In 1963 he and his brother, Geoff, became the first brothers to play in the same Ryder Cup team.
Hunt, who turned professional in 1946, captured the Harry Vardon Trophy by topping the Order of Merit, which was then based on points rather than money, in 1958, 1960 and 1965.
Although he never won a major title, he posted four top-five finishes in the Open Championship and was particularly fond of St Andrews, where he tied fifth in 1955, tied for third in 1960 and finished solo fourth in 1964.
By the time the European Tour was introduced in 1972, he was past his playing best but still finished in the top 20 on the money list in 1973 at the age of 43.
Hunt followed in his father John's footsteps as head professional at Hartsbourne Golf Club, and later became the first head professional at Foxhills Golf Club in Ottershaw, where he served for 25 years and where one of the courses bears his name.
He is survived by his wife, Meg, and three children, Matthew, Sophie and Viv.

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