A volunteer who tracks flight of golf balls


A volunteer who tracks flight of golf balls

HONOLULU (AP) The Sony Open is known for the royal palms that blow gently in the Pacific breeze, the endless ocean, the rolling surf behind the 16th green and along the 17th hole, and the lady on No. 9.

Hardly anyone knows her name, but they sure know her moves.

Liz Taga is the volunteer on the tee at the par-5 ninth hole at Waialae Country Club. She monitors the gallery movement and uses an orange paddle to show the flight of the tee shots so the marshals in the fairway have an idea where the golf ball is going. That's simple enough. Volunteers at every PGA Tour event do that.

But none like Taga.

``It's the best pre-shot routine in golf,'' said Grant Berry, the caddie for Carl Pettersson.

``She's intense,'' Scott Piercy said.

Taga keeps the orange paddle tucked between her legs as the player gets ready to tee off. When he stands over the ball, she holds the paddle over her head, not unlike a samurai warrior, the base of it nearly resting on the bill of her visor. She is a picture of concentration. Once the ball is in the air, Taga goes to work.

She takes a couple of steps forward, slowly, and then the pace quickens, like a cat ready to pounce. Her fingers work their way down the paddle as she moves the orange board slightly to the left or right, depending on the direction. Finally, she lowers the board as the ball descends and gives it a demonstrative jab toward the ground when it lands.

``My supervisor came in and told me, `It's a little dramatic, Liz.' But it's so exciting,'' she said. ``But my facial expressions, I need to tone that down. I just feel so bad when the wind starts to blow the golf balls.''

Taga isn't trying to bring attention to herself, and she opened her mouth in surprise when told all the players know who she is, even if they don't know her name. She loves the civility and respect of golf. She thinks the world of the players. And all she wanted to do was the best job she could.

That's where Bo Van Pelt comes in.

``My first time was in 2005 and Bo Van Pelt and three other pros came to the tee,'' Taga said. ``I was asking questions of my bosses, and they teach you left, center and right because we track the ball. That was basic training. But I wanted to be a good volunteer. So I said to him, `Excuse me, sir, could you show me want you want me to do.' And he said, `I'd love to.' They went back to the green and showed me every step of the way.''

Van Pelt was contacted at his home in Tulsa, Okla. He was asked about the Sony Open, and a volunteer, and that was all he needed.

``The lady on No. 9?'' he said. ``She's awesome.''

Van Pelt remembers the day Taga asked for a little guidance, mostly on where she was supposed to stand. Van Pelt used to caddie as a boy, and he recalled getting chewed out for standing behind his player in his line of sight. So he shared with Taga what he learned that day.

``I told her to stand where you're looking at my back or looking at my chest,'' Van Pelt said. ``Stand right in line with the tee markers, and no player will ever move you, and people down the fairway can see you.''

As for the moves?

``That same year on Saturday, somebody said, `Did you tell the lady at No. 9 to do that?' And I hadn't paid attention to her because she's behind me,'' Van Pelt said. `She has flair, pizzazz. I give her all the credit for that.''

Taga takes her job so seriously that she had her eyes checked to make sure she could sufficiently see the ball. But she cringes at the thought of her first day on the job during the tournament. The first player to hit, she never saw the ball. She just stood there.

``My boss came running down and said, `Liz, what are you doing?' And I told him that he hit it so fast I never saw it. He asked if I knew who that was and I didn't know anybody. They called him the `Walrus,''' she said.

It was Craig Stadler, one of the quickest players in golf.

She knows them now, particularly Van Pelt for showing her where to stand, and Bubba Watson. The Masters champion was so intrigued by Taga that he had a special paddle made for her so that she could sign it.

How popular is Taga?

Pettersson was on Facebook earlier in the week when he saw a posting from Jarrod Lyle, who played the Sony Open last year. It wasn't much longer that Lyle discovered his leukemia had returned, and he faces a life-threatening battle back home in Australia. Pettersson said Lyle had one comment about the Sony Open that made him smile.

``Is the lady on No. 9 still there?''

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Jay Gruden on Trent Williams' holdout: 'No updates whatsoever'

Jay Gruden on Trent Williams' holdout: 'No updates whatsoever'

The Redskins are now less than three weeks away from taking the field in Philadelphia to kick off their regular season on Sept. 8, and Washington's cornerstone left tackle has still yet to report to the team.

As the Burgundy and Gold gear up for their third preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday, left tackle Trent Williams continues to hold out.

After the Redskins practice on Monday concluded, head coach Jay Gruden was asked if he had any updates on the situation. He immediately shot that down.

"There are no updates whatsoever," he said.

The third preseason game is usually the 'dress rehearsal' for the regular season, with the starters playing close to a half before the reserves enter. But No. 71 still remains absent from Redskins Park and has given the team zero indication whether he plans on returning or not.

For now, Washington must roll with the players they have present. 

"We're preparing with the guys we have right now," Gruden said. "That's all we can do. We're getting Geron [Christianson] ready. We're getting [Donald] Penn ready. So we'll go that route."

Throughout his holdout, Williams has chosen to remain silent. He has not spoken publicly once since the start, and the actual reasons he has still yet to show up still remain in the rumor phase. He has reportedly made it clear he doesn't plan to return, and other teams have reached out about a potential trade.

Redskins running back Adrian Peterson, one of Williams' longtime close friends, doesn't even know what Williams plans to do.

"I shot my shot. I know how Trent is, so I just left it alone," Peterson told reporters last week. "After we talked that first time about it, I wasn't going to be the guy that was going to pester him or anything like that... I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't come back, and if he did, I wouldn't be surprised. That's honestly where I sit."

When asked on Monday if he had communicated with Williams during his absence, Gruden refused to give reporters a clear answer.

"Talked? Maybe," Gruden said on his communication with the Redskins' Silverback. "Texted, talked, maybe. It is what it is right now. He's not here, so we're going to talk about the people we have."


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Despite some tears, youth football helped Chris Thompson discover his love for the game

Despite some tears, youth football helped Chris Thompson discover his love for the game

Maybe Chris Thompson was always destined to end up with the Redskins.

When the running first partook in the game of football growing up, the team he played for ended up being the same one he'd enter the NFL with.

“My little league team just so happened to be the Redskins," Thompson told NBC Sports Washington.

From a Pop Warner to the pros, he still carries the memories of his youth football days as they played a major part in molding him into the player he is today. Yet, it wasn't all positives.

For someone as talented an explosive as Thompson, one would probably expect him to have a great amount of success from the start of his football days. But, his first season was quite the opposite.

“My first year, we lost every single game," he said. "So I went home crying every single day. After every single game, because I hated to lose.”

We've all been there. Losing a game as a kid, no matter what the circumstance is, can be heartbreaking. I would be lying if I said I never had a meltdown or two on the little league field when I couldn't find the strike zone.

While going through a season with no wins is probably enough to deter a lot of young kids from a sport, Thompson wasn't ready to give up. He came back for another season, and things quickly turned around.

“The next year, we went undefeated," Thompson said. “I literally got tackled one time the whole season.”

A 180-degree change in the following year, Thompson and his teammates enjoyed a lot more success and fun. The running back said the one tackle came in the championship game, and that he racked up plenty of touchdowns during that campaign.

As a young kid, being able to rebound from a low moment and come out on top is something that Thompson has carried with him throughout his entire career. Battling back from injuries and doubts, he's always been someone who wants to do better every time he steps on the field.

“So it was just kind of, as a young kid, added motivation for me," Thompson said about his youth football experiences.

Though that first season may have not been the most enjoyable experience for a young Thompson, he's forever grateful for his early playing days. Even now being at the highest level of football, he understands the impact it had.

“It’s fun man. I feel like you really start to, you build friendships through sports big time. It’s just those moments back then, even through high school, you won't forget cause it’s just fun," Thompson said. "You’re just having fun, being able to play the game you love and nothing else really matters.”

“I feel like that’s when you really start to love the game of football."