Nike Irons Swoosh into Tigers Bag in Time for Ryder Cup
NIKE IRONS IN TIGERS BAG: Tiger Woods has switched to Nikes forged irons, further engraving the ubiquitous Swoosh into his professional image.
Woods has been a Nike endorser since he turned professional in 1996, so it was a foregone conclusion that once that company entered the club business, he would eventually use the products. But the timing of the switch ' the eve of the big-money American Express Championship in Ireland, with the Ryder Cup the next week ' is telling. Top players tend not to change anything in advance of majors or other big events for fear of sending their games into a tailspin. Woods switch shows extraordinary confidence, Nike says.
Surely it shows some faith, but dont think for a moment that these clubs are truly new to Woods. Inside word is that Tiger has made multiple trips to the Fort Worth, Texas shop of Tom Stites, the veteran club designer and Nikes director of product creation, for fine-tuning. Woods also played a number of practice rounds with the prototype sticks at Shady Oaks, the late Ben Hogans old club.
Nike began working its way into Tigers bag earlier this year with its forged titanium driver. It was in his bag for the two majors he won, the Masters and the U.S. Open.
Titleist products made way for the Nike gear. Tiger had used a 975D driver before switching, and had Titleist forged prototype irons before this switch. He continued to use those clubs long after he had severed any endorsement ties with Titleist. Woods continues to use a Titleist putter by noted designer Scotty Cameron as well as Titleist wedges by Bob Vokey. But Nike already has wedges, and Nike execs have coyly refused to deny rumors that putters are in the works. That may be another foregone conclusion.
BERTHA RETURNS: After getting away from the famous moniker for a few models (Steelhead, ERC, C4), Callaway Golf is returning to the legendary name with the Great Big Bertha II titanium driver, which will hit stores this month. The 380 cc head, 130 cc larger than the original, features a precisely located center of gravity for optimum launch angle and spin rate, Callaway says. The size increase makes the club more forgiving as well, Callaway says, by raising that all-important moment of inertia, or resistance to twisting.
I know what youre thinking: Yes, this club is U.S. Golf Association-legal, coming in just under the .80 limitation. But a higher C.O.R model, the Great Big Bertha II+, will be available in markets where the restriction doesnt apply, that is, the jurisdiction of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.
Nonetheless, Weve taken a modern classic and revved it up, said Richard C. Helmstetter, Callaways design chief.
Callaway tour professionals who have already switched include Annika Sorenstam, Charles Howell III, Rocco Mediate, Jesper Parnevik, Jim Colbert, Emilee Klein and Kelli Kuehne.
Available lofts are 9, 10, 11 and 12 degrees (but no 12 for left-handers), and a Pro Series model comes in 8.5 and 9.5-degree lofts (right hand only). The Pro Series has neutral face angles, but the standard models offer a draw bias to make it easier to square up the clubface. Both models carry a suggested retail price of $500.
MAKE ME A COPY OF THIS: Not all the sponsorship news is bad this year. The PGA Tour has signed a deal with Kinkos Inc. to become title sponsor of the Kinkos Classic of Austin (Texas), and to create a marketing alliance.
This is the first time a PGA Tour-related event will come to Austin since the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf relocated after the 1994 tournament. The new, 54-hole tournament will have a $1.6 million purse, and will be contested over The Hills Country Club, a Jack Nicklaus design. The inaugural event is set for the week of May 5, 2003.
As for the marketing link-up, Kinkos will be the Tours official document services provider, receiving tournament site, broadcast and print exposure, as well as the increased advertising opportunities involved in most PGA Tour marketing alliances. Kinkos claims to be the worlds largest document services company, employing 20,000 at 1,100 digitally connected locations.
Hey, while were on the subject, can they make a copy of Tiger Woods?
FATHER AND SON OPEN ANOTHER ONE: Speaking of The Hills and Jack Nicklaus: The Bear and his son, Jack Nicklaus II (do I get credit for avoiding the obvious Cub joke?) have opened the first course in Texas that they have co-designed. Flintrock Hills is the second 18 at The Hills, so named because of its proximity to Texas legendary hill country (translation: You better be able to play in wind). Nicklaus Senior commented that the terrain (and therefore, the routing) has nice movement, which is a high compliment from a man who values good flow in a golf course.
The Hills is a ClubCorp property, the tenth club with Nicklaus designs that ClubCorp has opened or managed. ClubCorp, the Dallas-based club management company with more than $1.6 billion in assets, hooked up with Jack Nicklaus in 1998 for a special marketing union. The result has been a number of courses, including the Bears Best tracks in Las Vegas and Atlanta. Those courses feature recreations of holes from some of the 200-plus golf courses Nicklaus has designed since 1967.
OCEANS OPEN: Jack Nicklaus began his design career in collaboration with the famed (and infamous) Pete Dye. Jacks mentor has been busy on his own ever since, most recently with the updating of one of his most notable creations. The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island (S.C.) has just reopened after its owners let the Diabolical Dye at it again.
Word is Dye made subtle but substantial changes. The 18th green complex will be most noticeable; its now 25 yards closer to the ocean, which is what Dye says he intended all along.
But its not all hit-and-heartache. The landing area for drives on No. 2 was enlarged, and the second (!) marsh crossing on that hole got new bulkheads. That should make it easier to see, so players will be able to prepare and hit less shots that will trickle into the wetlands.
All in all, the course is an improved challenge, says Dye. But with the second shot on 18 almost directly facing the ocean, its still a heart-thumper. My suggestion: Do what I did at Carnoustie. Check your ego at the door and have fun.
Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders
PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.
She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.
Her confidence is high.
“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”
Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.
Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.
“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”
Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.
“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”
Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.
“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”
That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.
Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead
PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.
While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.
But then . . .
“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”
In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.
She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.
With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.
At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).
Park’s back with a hot putter.
That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.
“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.
“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.
Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.
“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.
Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.
Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.
They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.
Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.
“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.
“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”
Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.
“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”
Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.
“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”
Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers
PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.
It came on St. Patrick’s Day.
“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”
Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).
One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.
“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.
Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year. Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.
Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF
PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”
She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.
That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.
With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.
Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.
Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.
Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?
“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”
Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.
“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”
Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.
“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”
About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.
“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.
Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.
While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.
Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.
“You never know,” she said.