The End is Near

By Associated PressOctober 21, 2008, 4:00 pm
The boisterous ovation she heard walking toward the 18th green was the kind typically reserved for the winner. But if that were the case, Annika Sorenstam would have won her 13th consecutive tournament last week.
Instead, she tied for 25th at the Kapalua LPGA Classic. It was the ninth time in her last 11 events she failed to record a top 10.
Then she boarded a plane to China, and the countdown to retirement continued.
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam has not won an event since she announced she was 'stepping away.' (Getty Images)
This is not going the way Sorenstam would have liked, or most people would have imagined, when she announced May 13 that this season would be her last on the LPGA.
At the time, the 38-year-old Swede had just won the Michelob Ultra Open for her second straight victory, third of the season, 72nd of her career. She had played eight tournaments and finished out of the top 10 only once. She was runner-up in the first major of the year.
Why stop?
I have other priorities in my life. I have a lot of dreams that I want to follow, she said that day. I think Ive achieved more than I ever thought I could. I have given it all, and its been fun.
The question now is why she didnt stop then.
No other sport is more difficult to retire from than golf. Arnold Palmer was lured by the adoration of his army for so long that they quit posting his score at some tournaments. Jack Nicklaus fumed whenever someone congratulated him on making the cut, but was lucky to stumble into a graceful retirement at St. Andrews.
No one made a cleaner break from golf than Ben Hogan. On the 12th hole of the 1971 Houston Championship, he wrenched his knee on a tee shot, was driven off the course in a cart and never played another tournament.
All of them were well past their prime.
Sorenstam, by contrast, was coming off back-to-back victories when she said that she was done. She already had gone over $1 million for the 10th time in her career.
The only problem was she couldnt walk away at that exact moment for practical reasons. She owed it to the fans and her sponsors to finish out the year, and she owed it to herself to discover the admiration they have for her.
Plus, there were three majors still on the calendar. Sorenstam came within inches of making a birdie putt to join the playoff at the LPGA Championship.
But thats the last anyone saw of her ' at least, the Sorenstam they remember.
She has played eight times on the LPGA since then. She has broken 70 only six times in 31 rounds. She has cracked the top 10 only once, a tie for sixth in the 54-hole Safeway Classic. About the only shot anyone remembers is when she holed out with a 6-iron from 199 yards for eagle on the final hole of the U.S. Womens Open. That gave her a tie for 24th.
Some farewell tour.
Yeah, its been very different since I announced my stepping away, Sorenstam said in a conference call last week. I have not played as well. I dont know if its because Ive been very busy just getting involved with tournaments and saying goodbye and engaging with fans and sponsors, or just maybe unconsciously knowing that Ive made the decision and Im having a hard time focusing.
Im not really sure. But Ive definitely not played as well.
Adding to the malaise is the economy. One reason Sorenstam announced her retirement early in the season ' and in New York ' was to build momentum for her business interests when she steps away, from her brand to her academy to her foundation to golf course design.
This is a tough time to be doing business.
Meanwhile, the retirement tour drags on.
The overwhelming support she receives at every tournament comes with equal doses of distractions. She is reminded at every turn that she has only seven tournaments left, six tournaments left.
It happens every week, she said. Everybody asks me. Im sure I keep track of it myself. You know, the countdown has started. In a way, I just want to focus on each week. But of course, you cant get away from it.
It shows in the statistics, which are alarming.
Sorenstam has fallen to 48th in distance with an average drive of 251.3 yards, down from 269.7 yards five years ago. She is tied for 54th in fairways hit, once her hallmark. She has finished in the top 10 only nine times in 19 starts on the LPGA this year, her worst percentage since her rookie year in 1994.
The back and neck injury that cost her the better part of 2006 might have been more than a physical setback. Perhaps it was at home, away from golf, when Sorenstam realized how much she was sacrificing.
Maybe that explains why its so difficult to practice with the same resolve, knowing that in two months she wont have anywhere to play or anything to prove. Even leaving the game at the top doesnt make retirement easy in golf.
To compete at this level, you have to practice, and you have to dedicate yourself full-time, Sorenstam said. I just dont have that in me anymore.
She has one big road trip remaining. Sorenstam is scheduled to play twice in China, a skins game in Japan, the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico, then the ADT Championship in Florida, her final appearance on the LPGA Tour. Then its off to the Lexus Cup in Singapore, and the career-ending Dubai Ladies Masters.
If she plays well in China and Mexico, and wins the ADT Championship, Sorenstam could still win the LPGA Tour money title. That would be the ideal way to end a sensational career.
But as Sorenstam has discovered, the only thing to bank on in retirement are the memories.
Related Links:
  • Annika Sorenstam bio, results and photos
  • Park collapses; leaderboard chaos at CME

    By Nick MentaNovember 18, 2017, 8:47 pm

    Sung-Hyun Park started the day with a three-shot lead and slowly gave it all back over the course of a 3-over 75, leaving the CME Group Tour Championship and a host of season-long prizes up for grabs in Naples. Here’s where things stand through 54 holes at the LPGA finale, where Michelle Wie, Ariya Jutanugarn, Suzann Pettersen and Kim Kaufman share the lead.

    Leaderboard: Kaufman (-10), Wie (-10), Jutanugarn (-10), Pettersen (-10), Stacy Lewis (-9), Karine Icher (-9), Austin Ernst (-9), Lexi Thompson (-9), Jessica Korda (-9), Pernilla Lindberg (-9)

    What it means: It wasn’t the Saturday she wanted, but Park, who already wrapped up the Rookie of the Year Award, is still in position for the sweep of all sweeps. With a victory Sunday, she would claim the CME Group Tour Championship, the Race to CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and the money title, as she ascends to No. 1 in the Rolex world ranking. Meanwhile, Thompson, too, could take the $1 million and Player of the Year. As those two battle for season-long prizes, a host of other notable names – Wie, Jutanugarn, Pettersen, Korda, Lewis and Charley Hull (-8) – will fight for the Tour Championship.

    Round of the day: Kaufman made four birdies on each side in a bogey-free 8 under-par 64. A lesser-known name on a stacked leaderboard, she seeks her first LPGA victory.

    Best of the rest: Amy Yang will start the final round two behind after a 7-under 65. The three-time LPGA Tour winner could pick up her second title of the season after taking the Honda LPGA Thailand in February.

    Biggest disappointment: On a day that featured plenty of low scores from plenty of big names, Lydia Ko dropped 11 spots down the leaderboard into a tie for 23rd with a Saturday 72. The former world No. 1 needed two birdies in her last five holes to fight her way back to even par. Winless this season, she’ll start Sunday four back, at 6 under.

    Shot of the day: I.K. Kim aced the par-3 12th from 171 yards when her ball landed on the front of the green and tracked all the way to the hole.

    Kim, oddly enough, signed her name to a scorecard that featured a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. It was all part of a 1-under 71.

    Watch: Pros try to hit 2-yard wide fairway in Dubai

    By Grill Room TeamNovember 18, 2017, 5:20 pm

    While in Dubai for the DP World Tour Championship, the European Tour prestented a little challenge to Ross Fisher, Richie Ramsay, Nicolas Colsaerts and Soren Kjeldsen. On a stretch of road outside of town, the four players had to try and hit a 2-yard wide fairway. Check out the results.

    Rose (65) leads Rahm, Frittelli in Dubai

    By Associated PressNovember 18, 2017, 3:24 pm

    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Justin Rose will take a one-shot lead into the final day of the season-ending Tour Championship as he attempts to win a third straight title on the European Tour and a second career Race to Dubai crown.

    The 37-year-old Rose made a gutsy par save on the final hole after a bogey-free round for a 7-under 65 Saturday and overall 15-under 201.

    The Englishman leads South African Dylan Frittelli, who produced the day's best score of 63, and Spain's Jon Rahm, who played in the same group as Rose and matched his 65.

    Rose is looking to be Europe's season-ending No. 1 for the second time. His leading rival for the Race to Dubai title, Tommy Fleetwood, is only two shots behind here after a second straight 65 on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estates.

    Fleetwood did his chances no harm by overcoming a stuttering start before making eight birdies in his final 11 holes to also post a 65. The 26-year-old Englishman was tied for fourth place at 13 under, alongside South African Dean Burmester (65) and Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat (67), who closed with five birdies in a row.

    ''So, last day of the season and I've got a chance to win the Race to Dubai,'' Fleetwood said. ''It's cool.''

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    Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Race to Dubai title, is tied for 13th on 10 under after a 67.

    Fleetwood had a lead of 256,737 points going into the final tournament and needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

    Rose is hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey.

    Rose, who made some long putts for birdies apart from chipping in on the 13th hole, looked to be throwing away his advantage on the par-5 18th, when his second shot fell agonizingly short of the green and into the water hazard. But with his short game in superb condition, the reigning Olympic champion made a difficult up-and-down shot to stay ahead.

    ''That putt at the last is a big confidence-builder. That broke about 18 inches right-to-left downhill. That's the kind of putt I've been hoping to make. That was a really committed stroke. Hopefully I can build on that tomorrow,'' said Rose. ''I know what I need to do to stay at the top of the leaderboard. If I slip up tomorrow, he's (Fleetwood) right there. He's done everything he needs to do on his end, so it's a lot of fun.''

    The last player to win three tournaments in a row on the European Tour was Rory McIlroy, when he won the Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone and the PGA Championship in 2014.

    Fleetwood was 1 over after seven holes but turned it on with a hat trick of birdies from the eighth, and then four in a row from No. 13.

    ''I wanted to keep going. Let's bring the tee times forward for tomorrow,'' quipped Fleetwood after closing with a birdie on the 18th. ''Just one of them strange days where nothing was going at all. A couple sloppy pars on the par 5s, and a bad tee shot on fifth and I was 1-over through seven on a day where scoring has been really good ... Ninth and 10th, felt like we had something going ... it was a really good last 11 holes.''

    If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

    By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

    NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

    She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

    You don’t believe it, though.

    She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

    Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

    Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

    “In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

    Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

    Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

    At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

    She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

    She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

    And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.

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    There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

    Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

    It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

    Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

    Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

    “I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

    About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

    Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

    “She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

    David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

    “She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

    Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

    Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

    “Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

    Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

    “It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

    Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

    “No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

    Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.