The QBE Shootout already was surreal without having any fans.
Friday on No. 1 tee, it was more surreal, if that’s possible.
A familiar face was not there for perhaps the first time since Greg Norman’s PGA Tour event moved to Tiburón Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in 2001.
Naples’ Brendan Cunningham died of cancer at the age of 75 during this summer. He was a tee announcer at professional tour events around Southwest Florida and beyond, and also was involved in South Florida PGA Section events, and The First Tee of Naples/Collier.
Golfers were greeted by a picture of Cunningham, with the words “In Loving Memory Of Our Friend Brendan Cunningham” when they arrived Friday, and all of them, including Norman, signed the photo that will be passed along to Cunningham’s wife.
“He was a staple here,” Norman said Friday. “It was his voice, it was his personality. Everybody loved him.
“We definitely miss him. When I walked onto the tee, and you see — it just seems like there’s a part of the tournament that’s missing.”
Rory Sabbatini won the Shootout last year with Kevin Tway, and is making his 11th appearance in Naples. Sabbatini and Cunningham would often joke with one another.
“Brendan’s been such a mainstay of this tournament and such a character, that I don’t think he will ever even come close to being replaced,” Sabbatini said earlier this week. “He was such a fantastic man. He always made everyone smile and everyone feel welcome.
“It’s going to be sad to stand on that first tee this year for the first round and him not be there. It’s like Peter Alliss (who passed away last week) commentating during the British Open. There’s things that you associate specifically with tournaments. For him not to be there, it’s going to be a very sad moment.”
Bubba Watson, a two-time Masters champion, is playing in his sixth Shootout, and also was a favorite of Cunningham’s.
“First of all what a sweet person, what a kind person,” Watson said. “Then that’s what this tournament is about. You think about the history of this tournament, what this tournament meant to him, and you think about what the tournament has evolved to with his involvement, with his desire.”
Matt Kuchar is in his 10th Shootout, and the top player won the tournament twice with Harris English in 2013 and then again in 2016.
“Certainly always had fond memories coming back and seeing him,” Kuchar said. “It’s always great when you go to a place and you see familiar faces. He was a guy who was just a warm personality.
“We will miss seeing that familiar face on the first tee.”
ESPN’s Chris Berman is a usual pro-am participant in the Shootout, and he knew something was missing Wednesday and Thursday.
“He was a breath of fresh air, and certainly thought of him both days when we teed off at No. 1, and certainly looked around for him (Wednesday) and (Thursday) to be honest with you,” Berman said.
Slugger White and Mark Russell
Rules officials Slugger White and Mark Russell are moving toward retirement after careers of over 40 years, and Norman made sure to recognize them at Thursday night’s banquet.
“Forty years is a long time,” Norman said. “I pretty much was around Slugger and Mark for all of those 40 years. It was just great to see it.”
Norman relayed a story at the banquet when he nearly withdrew from the World Series of Golf. And he was leading. Norman refused to sign the scorecard of his playing partner, who he said had cheated. He said he was so disgusted that he was going to withdraw.
“I was leaving the tournament because I was so devastated for the game of golf that that would happen,” Norman said.
White stopped him in the parking lot, and talked Norman out of withdrawing.
“Everything he said was 100 percent right,” Norman said. “I came back and I won the tournament on Sunday. That’s the true friend, not only to me, but to the game of golf, too.”
Pro-am pairings, banquet done safely
Norman said earlier in the week that the pro-am party was the first allowed by the PGA Tour since returning from the break due to the coronavirus.
Tournament director Rob Hartman stressed the number of people attending was capped, everyone had to be tested (and to test negative in order to be allowed), and the event was held outdoors. Everything was set up to follow social distancing, and masks were required.
That was also the case at the banquet on Thursday night, after which Lady A’s Charles Kelley returned for a concert, again with tables set up far apart and outside.
“The PGA Tour has done a phenomenal job, they really have,” Norman said Wednesday. “They’ve got to work very, very closely — they’ve got bubbles, they’ve got protocols, they work closely with everybody to give them the right advice on how to proceed, and we’ve respected every one of those and we’ve actually implemented them.
“(Tuesday) night, pro-am draw party, I was told it’s the first function the PGA Tour has allowed to have, where we had like 150 people maybe in a gathering, but we had them all tested and not one person tested positive. I think that’s again a testament to the PGA Tour and the management of the process to make sure people are enjoying themselves at a PGA Tour event, and this is a co-sanctioned PGA Tour event.”
Women worth watching
The U.S. Women’s Open and USGA created the hashtag #WomenWorthWatching on social media to help promote the Women’s Open. Many PGA Tour players, including Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau and Jason Day, shared content with the hashtag.
Part-time Naples resident Steve Stricker, the 2021 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, already was a fan. He was seen in the gallery a couple of years ago during the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburón Golf Club, and if there’s a way he can make it out for that tournament next week, he will.
“I think they’re some of the most technically sound players in the game,” Stricker said. “I love watching it. I’ll come out and try to sneak out here and watch the last few holes probably.”
LPGA Tour star Lexi Thompson has played in the last four QBE Shootouts, first with Bryson DeChambeau, then twice with Tony Finau, and last year with Sean O’Hair.
But when the U.S. Women’s Open was moved to this week, that meant Thompson couldn’t play in the Shootout.
“Very bummed, but obviously this one beats the Shootout, being the U.S. Women’s Open Championship,” Thompson told reporters in Houston. “I wish I was there playing with the guys. It’s just an amazing event. Just so much fun being able to feel like I’m playing with my brothers, and just to joke around out there in a team event is always fun. But more important to be here and play against the best.”
Childhood cancer honoree
Peyton Armstrong, 20, was the tournament’s childhood cancer honoree through tournament charity CureSearch for Children’s Cancer. Unfortunately due to coronavirus restrictions, Armstrong gave his speech virtually at the Thursday evening banquet, whose attendance also was greatly reduced to follow recommendations.
Armstrong was diagnosed with high-risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia when he was 10, and underwent three years of treatment that resulted in complications, infections and unexpected surgeries. He is in remission.
Greg Hardwig is a sports reporter for the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @NDN_Ghardwig, email him at email@example.com.
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2020/12/11/qbe-notebook-late-tee-announcer/