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‘Dawgs on Tour: Half-Tea, Half-Lemonade for Me Please

GOLF: FEB 27 PGA - The Honda Classic Photo by Aaron Gilbert/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

That just happened. The cover picture is of the newest minted PGA Tour winner, Sepp Straka. Who happens to have played golf at the University of Georgia.

The 28 year old, in his 4th year on the PGA Tour, started the Honda Classic final round a distant 5 shots behind 3rd round leader Daniel Berger. And he proceeded to bogey his first hole with a short missed putt. How disappointed must he feel?

Not much, apparently. He birdies the next two holes, while Berger doubles the par 5 third hole and comes back to the field by the 6th. Straka makes the turn at 1 under par for the round and within 1 of the lead. After a string of 4 straight pars (and missing a 4 footer for birdie), Straka gets hot. He birdies 14, steals another at 16 in The Bear Trap, and is on the 18th tee tied for the lead with Irishman Shane Lowry. A long hitter, Straka stripes one down the right center and hits the longest drive of the day on #18. Then the skies opened up.

A typical Florida rain shower hits as Straka strides towards his ball. With only 190 odd yards left to the par 5 green, but over water and a tiny landing area, Straka takes one more club in the driving rain and lands it pin high, 48 feet away. A cozy eagle try, Straka then tapped in for birdie while the rain continued to fall. Lowry, playing in the final group behind Straka, didn’t handle the weather as well with a low hook off the tee, a forced layup, and a pulled wedge. The missed birdie chance left Straka standing, in the rain, alone atop the leaderboard.

Sepp (short for Josef) is known for being born in Austria, attending high school in Valdosta where his mother is from, and joining his twin brother Sam in playing for Coach Chris Haack in the Classic City. He qualified and played golf in the Olympics last summer for his native Austria, placing 10th. He’s made the FedEx Cup playoffs in his first three years on tour, is the first Austrian to win on the PGA Tour, the 11th former Bulldog coached by Chris Haack to win on the PGA Tour, and the 2nd Bulldog to win on the Tour in 2022.

From Vienna to Valdosta to Victory Lane. And now the Tour moves to Central Florida - a special brand of hell that is like Columbia, SC but with more theme park and outlet malls, and more frequent rain showers.

Tournament: The Arnold Palmer Invitational, March 3-6, 2022

Course: Bay Hill Club & Lodge, par 72, 7,466 yards; on the outskirts of Orlando.

Purse: $12 million in total, $2.160 million to the winner.

Defending Champ: Bryson DeChambeau. In tough conditions, the long-hitting SMU Mustang overpowered the course to win but still only managed shooting 71 in the final round - tying the low score for the day. He’s nursing a bad wrist hurt last month, so he won’t be defending his title on the course.

Fun Fact: The driving range has the far right spot held in perpetuity by the now-deceased Arnold Palmer. A placeholder, a bag of clubs, and an iconic umbrella now holds the spot that Palmer would have occupied. And the tournament has “elevated status” - meaning a limited field of 120, extremely high purses, more FedEx Cup points available, and a 3 year exemption to the winner instead of the normal 2. So it’s not a major, but the bennies (in the golf sense) are equal to a World Golf Championship event.

TV Times: Thursday-Friday, 2 p.m.-6 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday-Sunday, 12:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. (Golf Channel), 2:30 p.m.-6 p.m. (NBC). Since CBS is gearing up for college basketball coverage, and Arnold Palmer was a major investor in the start-up Golf Channel (owned by NBC), that’s who will broadcast it.

‘Dawgs in the Field: 9. Keith Mitchell, Hudson Swafford, Kevin Kisner, Sepp Straka, Chris Kirk, Russell Henley, Greyson Sigg, Brendon Todd, and Davis Thompson.

There is an “alternate field event” being played in Puerto Rico. It has a weird “Tour event but not really a Tour event” vibe, as the purse is severely reduced, the FedEx Cup points are almost half, and the exemption and perks are also way down.

The Puerto Rico Open will also be held March 4-6 at Grand Reserve Golf Club (Championship Course), which is a par 72, and measures at 7,506 yards. Former Bulldog and Tour winner Ryuji Imada will be competing, as will fairly recent UGA grad Spencer Ralston.

Softball, baseball, track and field, and other sports are alive and well in Athens. But if you’re looking for former ‘Dawgs at the pro level, flip it on over to NBC properties (or ESPN+) to check out some pretty dang successful ones. And as always...