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Stroke Survivors Turn Golf Buddies Find Strength on the Course

Mark Sutton

For the majority of their lives, Tom Leonardis, age 76, and Mark Sutton, age 64, were typical American men, raising their families in the great city of Austin. Tom was the CEO of Ember Industries while Mark was enjoying the life of retirement. They had never met. Within seconds, although a few years apart, the courses of their lives were changed forever by
a single event – a stroke.

Their ability to express themselves through language was taken away, and they were presented with the challenge of finding their way back to normal life. After completing physical, cognitive and speech therapy provided by their insurance, they found themselves still struggling to connect with their friends and family as they had before.

Following several peer recommendations, they enrolled in the intensive therapy boot camps offered by Austin Speech Labs and met during a group therapy session. Between exercises, a topic that kept coming up was their shared passion for the sport of golf.

Through the fight to regain their ability to communicate, verbally and non-verbally, they found comfort in occasional silence. Golf was the perfect outlet, and who else better to share this with than a fellow stroke survivor and golf enthusiast?

Tom and Mark on Driving Range

Tom and Mark started frequenting the greens together, playing 18 holes and forgetting about the limitations they felt outside the course. All they had to focus on was that perfect swing. Although the conversation was often light, through silence and a love of golf, they became best

Tom and Rose

“He lived and breathed golf,” explained Tom’s wife, Rose. “Playing with Mark has been incredible because they both feel they are in the same boat. Golf is important to him… I think as important as getting his speech back!”

Mark’s daughter, Ashley, says “It’s fun seeing things pop-up on his calendar. Who’s Tom? It’s his friend from Austin Speech Labs that he plays golf with on a regular basis.”

Mark Sutton and Daughter Ashley

The journey of stroke recovery isn’t simple, but with support, dedication and a calm state of mind, it is possible. For Tom and Mark, their friendship and their golf games provide just that. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of golf.

About Austin Speech Labs:
A stroke is a scary and often isolating event, but it’s not the end of the road. Stroke recovery is a process that takes time, support and, above all, relentless dedication. If you or anyone you know is looking for affordable, intensive speech therapy for stroke survivors, please visit or give us a call at (512) 992-0575.

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Kuchar Goes Where No man Has Gone Before

In his morning match against Terell Hatton, Matt Kuchar teed off 0n the 13th hole and attempted to drive the green.  The hole is a short par four, 317 yards long with water all the way up the left side and in front of the green.  Players will sometimes hit driver in an attempt to clear the water and use the Dell Hospitality tent as a backstop.  That leaves them with a short pitch shot that is not to difficult if the pin is in the front of the green, as it was during the morning matches.

Kuchar in 15th fairway, waiting on group on the 15th green to clear. Stenson-Bjerregaard twosome in background watching.

A cold front had just blown through. The wind had picked up and switched to the north.  So, the 13th hole that had been playing into the wind all week, was now playing downwind.

Kuchar hit his driver slightly to the right of the hospitality tent.  It hit a cart path, bounded high over the crowd came to rest in the 15th fairway, 75-80 yards past the 13th green and directly behind the two story Dell hospitality tent that sits behind the 13th green.

Meanwhile, the Stenson-Bjerregaard twosome were playing the 15th hole.  That group was standing in the 15th fairway waiting for the green to clear so they could play their second shots.  When they figured out what Kuchar was doing in “their” fairway, they were seen laughing at Kuchar’s plight.

There were hundreds of people in the gallery between Kuchar and the 13th green.  The Dell hospitality tent was ten yards from the back of the 13th green and the water was just beyond the front of the green.  The gallery would have been difficult to move because the fans from Tiger Woods-Rory McIlroy match were mixed into the galleries on the 15th hole and there was not a lot of room to spare.  Trying to do so would have created a significant delay and disturbance.  There was no where for Kuchar to go to get line of sight relief from the corporate tents.  So, Kuchar had to play over the gallery and the Dell hospitality tent.

The shot Kuchar faced from his perspective. He played the shot over the gallery and the Dell Hospitality tent.

Meanwhile, Kevin Na and Justin Rose were putting out on the 15th green.  Kuchar had to wait for them to clear before he could play his second shot because he was only 50 yards from the 15th green and the crowd reaction to his shot would have disturbed the players on the 15th green.  So, everything came to a halt until the 15th green cleared.   Both Rose and Na had long birdie putts and had to putt twice each, so it took a while.

In the meantime the gallery between Kuchar and the 13th green were yucking it up and saying things like “We are right in his line of flight. I hope he hits a good one and doesn’t skull it.  We’d have to duck.” Kuchar was about 20-30 yards from the gallery and aimed right at them.

Some non-golfers who were in the crowd were slightly confused and said “I don’t understand whats happening here.  Are you saying he is on the wrong hole and is going to hit his ball over us and that building onto a green? Why that’s crazy.”

Kuchar plays his second shot to 13 from the 15th fairway, over the gallery and the Dell hospitality tent.

To say it was a blind shot is slightly misleading in that he did have a tent to aim at.  The shot required that he hit the ball over the tent and onto the green.

Fortunately the north wind provided him with a lot of resistance, making it a fairly straightforward wedge shot if he could judge the distance correctly and use the wind as a backstop so the ball would land softly on the green.  He hit it over the tent onto the green about 20 feet away, two putted for par and halved the hole.

Kuchar played from right side of this photo over the Dell Hospitality tent in middle of photo onto the green at left of photo

In the photo to the left, Kuchar was on the right hand side and playing over the gallery and the tent to the green to the left.  All in a day’s work for the PGA professional. Kuchar eventually won the match and is in the semi-final matches.



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Bjerregaard’s Seven Birdies Too Much For Stenson In Sweet 16

Lucas Bjerregaard

Lucas Bjerregaard of Denmark made seven birdies and two bogies during his match against Henrick Stenson of Sweden to win 3&2 and advance to the quarterfinals of the Dell Match Play World Golf Championship.

Bjerregaard birdies the first, fourth, sixth and seventh holes and turned at two up.  He went on to make three more birdies on the back nine and win after 16 holes.

Stenson (right) congratulates Bjerregaard on the win

On paper Stenson was the favorite because of the more impressive resume.  And, although he has not played well this season appeared to be on form as he posted seven birdies in 14 holes with no bogies in his match on Friday.   But, today he made only three birdies to go with two bogies.  Golf is a fickle game and today was Bjerregaard’s day.

Bjerregaard advances to the quarterfinals and will play Tiger Woods in the afternoon match.



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Woods in Sweet 16 at Dell Match Play

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods defeated Patrick Cantlay 4 & 2 in third round of the Dell Match Play World Golf Championship to advance out of the round robin portion of play to the “sweet 16” portion of the tournament.

Woods Advances to Match Play with two points in pool 13

In his post round interview he indicated that he had given away a couple of holes on the front nine with a missed opportunity on the par five 6th and a bogey on the par four eighth.

The match turned slightly in his favor when Cantlay got a bad break on the ninth hole after a perfectly struck drive rolled through the fairway into the hazard.  That provided a slight momentum change headed into the back nine only one down.

After a tie on the 10th hole, Woods got hot at the right time. Birdies on 11 and 12, an 83 yard hole out for eagle on the 13th, and another birdie on 14 took him from one down to three up in four holes.   He hit a solid drive on 15, made his approach to just past the pin and narrowly missed another birdie with his putt. Cantlay made par so Woods went to the 16th three up.

After an errant tee shot on 16 kicked back into the fairway, Woods played his second shot on the par 5 to just short of the green and wound up with a four foot putt for birdie that was conceded when Cantlay missed his birdie chip.  The match ended at 4&2.

Crenshaw and Woods after Woods 4&2 win to advance to sweet 16

Woods was congratulated by Austin’s Ben Crenshaw just before heading to the press tent.  Evidently they had something to celebrate because they were both smiling and having a good time.

Woods said ” I’m glad the match ended early so I will have the afternoon off and could rest prior to the morning round on Friday.  The weather Friday is predicted to be a bit cooler with a front rolling in around noon.

He is scheduled to play at 8:30 Friday morning against Rory McIlroy, who defeatied Mathew Fitzpatrick 4 & 2 in the third round.  McIlroy is undefeated thus far in the matches.

Woods and McIlroy have never gone head to head in match play.

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Tiger Woods – Fun To Watch In Spite of Large Crowds

The fans at the Dell Match Play Championship were treated to a great match between Brand Snedeker and Tiger Woods.

Not that it’s news to anyone, but watching Woods in person is like going to the circus in some ways.  First, there are lots of people.  Walking in a Tiger Woods gallery is a challenge because you can’t really follow him on a hole by hole basis, unless you are tall and can see over most people.   Plus, it is difficult to keep up with the pace when there are traffic issues after each shot.

Tiger Woods putting on hole #7

For example, on the 7th hole, Woods is shown here putting.  He three putted from 50 feet to go two down to Snedeker.  Notice the pathway behind him leading to the next tee.  After the players finished the hole, the entire gallery has to wait until the players pass before they can move.

That leaves the gallery to try and catch up, and deal with the gallery to that has already moved ahead of Woods to the next hole so they could secure a good viewpoint.

Woods, Snedeker gallery on hole #7, waiting to go to hole #8

But as you can see, that is a bit of a challenge, when due to the limitations of the course traffic patterns and the size of the gallery, no one can move along until the players have advanced and the gallery funnels through the available space to the next hole.

The front nine of the tournament layout does not have the room for galleries to roam because the terrain is hilly and full of canyons that limit the gallery to one side of the hole.

So what ends up happening is a leap frog effect when someone watches Woods one hole, skips a hole to get ahead of the gallery then watches the next hole.

woods hole 6-2019

Every green is normally surrounded by a gallery that is five or six deep and in some places significantly more.  For example, on the 6th hole, Woods is left of the green in a sand trap and the viewing opportunities are limited to basically one side of the green.

Woods played this shot to about six feet and then missed the putt to make a par five.  Snedeker two putted for a birdie to go one up in the match.  The gallery then walked around the 7th tee to watch the action and had room to secure a good view.

So far the Woods matches have included some spectacular golf and some that was less than what you would expect.  It never ceases to amaze what these guys are capable of doing, both good and bad.   For example,  Woods misses a five foot birdie putt on the sixth hole to go one down, three putts the next hole to go two down and then makes a difficult downhill breaking 25 footer for birdie on the next hole to go back to one down.

Then to top it all, after going long with his second shot on #10 and winding up under a bush, he played a left handed shot from his knees, holding the club upside down. He’s seventy feet away from the hole.  With the club almost parallel to the ground during the stroke, Woods somehow managed to make solid contact, roll the ball under the limbs of the bush through the mulch onto the green four feet from the cup and hole the putt for a par to half the hole.  Unbelievable!

After tying the next two holes, Woods then dumped his tee shot in the water on the short par four 13th and wound up losing the hole to go two down.   Next he drives it into the left hand bunker on the difficult 14th.  Just when you think he is in trouble, he plays a 170 yard shot out of the bunker to a difficult front right pin and knocks it to within a foot of the hole for birdie and to go back to one down.

Viewing structures on the back nine of Dell Match Play

So, now we are on the back nine, coming down the stretch in a close match with lots of people following Snedeker and Woods.  Fortunately the PGA tour has had some experience with running tournaments and has placed the hospitality structures so people can walk with the group or get into a good viewing spot in one of the structures.

One thing I know from being in these throngs of people.  They feel like they are watching one of the best players of all time and they love being there despite whatever inconveniences they may encounter.  The commentary reveals their appreciation for the opportunity.

Inside the 1899 Club, 15th hole.

Fans will cheer a good shot, no matter who they are rooting for but their is definitely a pro- Woods bias.  It takes a strong player to deal with all the distractions that go with playing a match against Woods.  Not to mention, he is a pretty good golfer.

But today, Snedeker’s steady play and experience in dealing with the circumstances provided him with a 2 and 1 victory.  Congratulations Mr. Snedeker.


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Locals Enjoy Watching The Stars

Steve Rodriquez and Lowell Harvey watch players on practice tee

The Dell Match Play World Golf Championship sold all available tickets for the fourth consecutive year.  As the top 64 players in the world golf rankings assembled at Austin Country Club, many of the local citizens were on hand to watch the players final preparations on Tuesday.

Steve Rodriquez and his father-in-law Lowell Harvey were relaxing on the practice tee watching the action of the players hit balls.  Lowell and Pam Harvey are from Wichita Falls but are also part time Austin residents because Steve and their daughter Renee live in Austin.

It’s difficult to determine who is the most avid golfer in the family because Hunter,  Steve’s eight year old son, is a good player and absolutely rabid about the game. Hunter was collecting player autographs while the rest of the family was trying to learn from the best players in the world.  Three generations of that family were enjoying the tournament.

Amy Werneke

Amy Wernecke loves the game.  Her father, Ty Willis, is a member of Austin Country Club and her husband Matt Werneke is the golf coach at Vandegrift High School.  Matt is one of the better amateurs in Austin and a former Austin Men’s City Champion.

Vandegrift has one of the top three golf High School programs in the city.  Most of the 5-A and 6-A high school state championship teams have come from the Austin area in the last five years.  That includes both the boys and girls teams.

Amy is a familiar face in the Austin Amateur golf circles as she roots for the girls and boys high school teams as well as for Matt in various local tournaments or in team events such as the Rudy’s Cup.
Its always great to see her at the tournament.

Mark Hendrix, Phillip Vescovo, Kirk Smith

Mark Hendrix, Phillip Vescovo and Kirk Smith were there Tuesday, waiting for Tiger Woods to show up.  Unfortunately, they left just before he appeared on the practice tee.  All three are talented players in their own right.

Mark, who plays left-handed is playing to a single digit handicap and has recently started playing even better.

Phillip played golf for the University of Texas when Phil Blackmar was on the team and George Hannon was the Coach.  Phillip carries a low handicap, still occasionally shoots under par and is a student of the game.

Kirk Smith is a kind of under the radar player.  I became aware of how good he is during last season when he played well in both the Austin Men’s City Senior Championship and the Texas Golf Association State Senior Championship.

So, all three were very interested spectators on the practice tee and had the knowledge to appreciate what they were seeing on display there.

Mike Martin, Lisa Allen, Tim Sittler, Jane Knudsen

Mike Martin, Lisa Allen, Tim Sitter and Jane Knudsen were enjoying the scenery around the practice area.

Mike, who has recently been taking golf lessons and improving rapidly, enjoys volunteering at the tournament as well as watching the players.  He was explaining that be was beginning to understand more about the game and why these players were so good.

Tim, who plays at Lost Creek Country Club,  seemed to be watching intently for tips to improve.

Lisa, who is a member at ACC, was appreciating the “wow” factor of watching stars like Brooks Keopka, Tiger Woods, Jordan Speith and so on.  Jane, who was a Spanish Teacher at Westlake High School for most of her teaching career, feels like this is a great chance to visit with former students, friends and is also slightly interested in the golf.

Good to the locals enjoying the event.

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Dell Match Play A Hit With The Kids In Autograph Zone

As the players started arriving and playing practice rounds at Dell Match Play World Golf Championship, hosted at Austin Country Club in Austin, Texas, the kids seemed to be enthralled with the whole scene.  In a designated autograph area, next to the practice tee, youngsters were trying to capture autographs as the players entered and exited the practice area.

As a player walked by, you could hear these kids, saying “Can I have your autograph?” or “You are a star, can I have your autograph?

When they were lucky enough to get one of the players to autograph their Dell Match Play pin flag or their hat, the kids would say thanks or something like, “Your a star, we believe in you”, or we think you’re gonna win.  And, the look on the kid’s face was one of joy and accomplishment.

The players were cooperative and you got the impression they enjoyed hanging out with the kids and being able to provide an autograph.  Shane Lowery is shown here  providing an autograph as he enters the practice area.

As the kids roamed around in the autograph zone, some could be seen swing imaginary golf clubs and mimicking what they were seeing the stars do about 100 feet away on the practice tee.

Renee and Hunter Rodriquez in the Autograph Zone

Moms and Dads watched the players hit balls while the kids were in a safe autograph zone and everyone seemed to be enjoying the entire scene.  Renee and Hunter Rodriquez were among those present and were good enough to pose for a photo.

Hunter is a young golfer here in Austin and when I spoke with him he said this was the last day of his Spring Break and that tomorrow he had to go back to school.  Now doubt he will be thinking of other things while sitting in the classroom.

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Dell Match Play Preparations Near Completion

As a member of Austin Country Club, I am often questioned by friends and family about the Dell Match Play World Golf Match Play Championship that will take place at ACC March 25-31, 2019. One of the most surprising questions I encounter is “Have they started setting up all those tents yet?”

This question pops up in early March when people start seeing adds for the championship on television or in the paper.  My normal response is a polite yes.  Sometimes I mention that the construction has been going on since mid-December, sometimes I don’t.

These structures and the rest of the preparations that take place are amazing to watch. For me and other members, it is both interesting and annoying at the same time.  The engineering of these structures is quite impressive and the small army of workers who construct them are generally polite and try to be respectful to the golfers.  However, it’s hard not to be distracted by the volume of trucks in the parking lot, service vehicles and workers on the course.  While I’ve gotten somewhat accustomed to the noise and distractions, they do occasionally interfere with my concentration.  A backfiring vehicle while putting comes to mind along with the pounding hammers etc.

The next couple of weeks will increase the intensity of the activity on the course as the final preparations take place.  All the media and support vehicles for the services that go with providing the public with a quality television experience, will appear and set up in the lower parking lots.

Final grooming on the course itself will take place and it will be in excellent shape for the tournament.  The rough is not as deep as in the past, the fairways and greens are in good shape.  Because the spring has been wet the fairways will not be as fast they have been in the previous tournaments.

The irritations of the preparations will disappear from mind and be replaced with the pleasures of watching the worlds best golfers play my favorite sport.

We should know later this week whether Tiger Woods will play in the Dell Match Play.

Smart money says he will not play because the amount of golf required for the match play tournament amounts to basically playing twice as much golf in one week as a normal tournament would require.  But that is only for those players that advance to the final two days of play.

Given the new PGA Tour schedule and the looming Masters tournament, it would be a lot of golf for a player of Woods age.  His comments this week at the Players Championship indicated that he is seriously considering playing the match play event.  We will see.



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Bob Estes 3rd In The Oasis PGA Champions Tour Event

Bob Estes

Bob Estes, who played for the University of Texas Golf Team and currently plays at Austin Country Club, finished third in his season opening event on the PGA Champions Tour.  Estes combined rounds of 67, 68, 68 for a 13 under par total at the Oasis Championship.

Estes, who is sporting a new set of irons this season, said he was feeling good about his game headed into the season.  This week’s performance confirms that the work he put in during the off season was time well spent.

Estes, who was born in Graham Texas and raised in Abilene, compiled four wins during a successful career on the PGA Tour.  This is his second season on the PGA Champions Tour. He finished 37th in the Champions Tour standings in 2018 while playing a partial season.   For more information on Estes golfing career, click here.

Wes Short Jr.

Wes Short Jr., who is also from Austin and has had a very successful PGA Champions Tour career, finished 38th in the event.  Short finished in the top 20 on the money list in 2018.  He is a former Austin Men’s City Champion and won on the PGA Tour as well.


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Ben Carter’s 64 Wins Bluenonnet Cup

Ben Carter, 2018 Bluebonnet Cup Champion

Ben Carter, who started the final round of the Bluebonnet Cup three shots behind Peach Reynolds, shot 64 to post an 11 under par total and capture the championship.  Carter made nine birdies and one bogey in an impressive round.  He had 27 putts and made them when they counted.

As the day unfolded, several players contended for the championship.  While Reynolds faded, Jonathan Alden, who matched Carter’s four under on the front nine, was one shot behind Carter at the turn. Alden was six under, and Carter was seven under par for the tournament with nine to go.

The two traded birdied during the course of the back nine but Carter kept making putts during the closing holes and posted 32-32=64.  Alden shot 67 and finished third.

Tyler Ware – 2nd at Bluebonnet Hills Championship

Tyler Ware had a hot round going and eventually shot 66 to finish second with 69-66=135.   Ware, who watched  from the 17th tee as Carter holed a 10 foot par putt,  knew he had to birdie the last two holes to catch Carter.  Ware hit a good tee shot on the 17th but missed the birdie putt and made par.  He made par on the last hole to finish two back.

So, Ben Carter, who has played consistently well over the last several years and had a number of top finishes in local tournaments, closed the deal at the Bluebonnet Hills Championship and claimed his first local championship.  If he continues to play like he did on Sunday, it will not be his last.

Thanks to Dylan Lemke and his staff for dealing with the difficult weather conditions and providing a quality tournament.  The course was in good condition and the greens were great.  Thanks Dylan.





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