Golf

Group effort gets Kentucky course ready for PGA Tour after Friday’s storms

Troy Merritt, right, joked with caddie Wayne Burch as they waited out a rain shower during the Barbasol Championship in Nicholasville.
Troy Merritt, right, joked with caddie Wayne Burch as they waited out a rain shower during the Barbasol Championship in Nicholasville. aslitz@herald-leader.com

Leaving the Champions Course at Keene Trace Golf Club on Friday night, it was difficult to imagine the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship would actually resume at 7:30 the next morning, as tournament officials projected.

The violent storms that ripped through Central Kentucky beginning early Friday afternoon didn’t spare the beautiful course nestled into a quaint country setting a few miles off of Harrodsburg Road. When the announcement was made around 6:30 p.m. that the second round would be halted, Champions was littered with evidence of the storms’ severity.

Trees were uprooted, heavy branches lay across cart paths, portable toilets were overturned and a large hospitality tent had blown past the green on hole No. 8 into the adjacent pond.

But as the last remaining members of the media began making their way home for the night, a small army of folks was already in action working to give the course a makeover.

A procession of golf carts hauled limbs and debris off the course. One of the course’s owners, Evan Mossbarger, waded into the pond at No. 8 to secure the doomed tent to a winch so it could be removed by a utility vehicle — a process that lasted well over an hour. Barbasol Championship executive director Brooks Downing said the cleanup effort took a village.

“It starts with this grounds crew, which is just incredible,” Downing said. “(Superintendent) Carl Gary and his staff had it planned out and executed it.

“On top of that you had ownership, friends and family members even came out to help. It was the greatest outpouring of support to see husbands and wives covered in mud from head-to-toe from helping the cleanup effort.”

The Champions course maintenance crew worked until after midnight, then returned at 4 a.m. Saturday to finish preparations. They were still working as golfers were finishing up their interrupted second rounds. At one point, staffers cut down a partially uprooted tree on hole No. 17 and stored it behind a scoreboard — a process that took just 15 minutes and was completed as a group of players was walking from the 16th green to the 17th tee box.

“How we got this thing started back at 7:30 today was incredible,” Downing said.

Mahan’s fond memories

Despite the biggest names in professional golf playing in the British Open in Scotland over the weekend, the Barbasol Championship still features plenty of star power.

One of the biggest names in the field is Hunter Mahan. The six-time PGA Tour winner was among the fortunate group of golfers that got to finish out their second round before severe thunderstorms halted play on Friday. The 36-year-old Californian made five birdies on his way to a 4-under 68, leaving him in a fifth-place tie at 10-under par through the tournament’s first two days.

Mahan went on to shoot a 64 in the third round and was tied for the lead at 18 under with Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt.

After his solid second round, he discussed a cherished previous experience in the Bluegrass state. Mahan was a key cog on the United States’ 2008 Ryder Cup team that knocked off the European squad at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville. It was the first U.S. victory since 1999 in the international competition, which is held every two years.

Mahan contributed a team-high 3 1/2 points to the Americans’ five-point victory. On Friday, he said he still has fond memories of that trip to Kentucky a decade later.

“It was just a fantastic week,” Mahan said. “The energy from the crowd was absolutely electric. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen or been a part of. It didn’t feel like golf, it felt like a rock concert half the time.”

Kentucky clearly agrees with Mahan. He returned to Valhalla for the 2014 PGA Championship, where he finished in a tie for seventh place. This weekend marks his first trip back to the Bluegrass state since, and he’s once again among the leading contenders to take home a title.

“Kentucky’s a great place to play,” he said. “This is a great golf course and it’s good to be here this time of year.”

Lincicome bullish on mixed-team potential

Though she failed to make the cut, LPGA star Brittany Lincicome made a ton of new fans at the Barbasol Championship. The two-time LPGA major winner commanded the biggest crowd followings of any golfer during her two rounds in Nicholasville. She was the first female golfer to compete in a PGA Tour event since 2008 and the sixth overall.

Her participation came on the heels of PGA commissioner Jay Monahan’s endorsement of the idea of staging a joint tournament with the LPGA in which male and female golfers would team up.

Said Monahan at TPC Louisiana in April: “We’re very interested in getting the men and women together inside the ropes in the same week and in the same competition ... I think that’s something you’ll see in the future. It’s just a matter of time. That’s really exciting and interesting.”

Lincicome is all for a mixed-team event. Asked about the possibility after finishing up her round on Saturday, Lincicome told reporters, “I would love the mixed-team event, to actually have a partner. I mean, I love being out here, it was so much fun.

“So to have an event like that, maybe I can keep pushing in that direction and we’ll get another one.”

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