LPGA Season Starts with One Subject in Mind
He started with Annika Sorenstam. He didn't get much further.
'I hear skepticism,' Votaw said.
For good reason.
Is there any LPGA Tour story besides Sorenstam?
After a three-month break from tournament golf (excluding the Skins Game in Hawaii), the LPGA Tour starts Thursday in Tucson, Ariz. Sorenstam will wait one week before making her season debut in Phoenix.
Not that it will matter.
Some might notice that Karrie Webb is in better shape than ever after a strict diet and fitness program. She has won at least one major championship each of the last four years and might be ready to challenge for No. 1 in the world.
Still, she'll be asked: 'What do you think of Annika playing against the men?'
Laura Diaz has made huge strides every year since her rookie season, winning twice last year. If the pendulum keeps swinging in her favor, this might be the year she breaks through and wins a major.
'Do you think women's golf will suffer if Annika doesn't make the cut at Colonial?'
Se Ri Pak has been the second-best player the last two years and could become the youngest woman, at 25, to win the LPGA's career Grand Slam.
'Would you like to play a PGA Tour event, like Annika will?'
Get ready for all Annika, all the time.
Asked if he's concerned the LPGA Tour might turn into a one-woman show, Votaw replied, 'Any more than Tiger is a one-man show?'
The men got tired of talking about Tiger Woods, but only until they realized how much he helped their bank accounts grow.
The year Woods turned pro, Tom Lehman won the money list with $1.7 million. Thanks to two television contracts negotiated since Woods arrived, three players already have earned more than $1.8 million this year after just 10 tournaments.
'The guy has brought so much into our sport -- money, popularity, more people,' David Toms said. 'How can you get tired of talking about him?'
Sorenstam won't bring the LGPA Tour more money, just more attention, which in some respects is just as valuable.
'Just being in the fray, being noble in her pursuit of testing herself -- people will admire her for that and will follow the LPGA like never before,' Votaw said.
Will other players get tired of talking about Sorenstam at every stop?
'Some will,' Votaw said. 'Some will have a harder time seeing the forest through the trees. That happens on any issue.'
The LPGA Tour has a dynamic crop of rookies, starting with Lorena Ochoa of Mexico. Beth Baeur and Natalie Gulbis, both in their second year on tour, give the tour hope that the brightest young stars won't have to carry a passport.
The Solheim Cup will be played in Sweden. The major championships are played on outstanding courses -- Pumpkin Ridge for the U.S. Women's Open, Royal Lytham & St. Annes for the Women's British Open.
Still, the only thing on anyone's calendar is the last week in May, when Sorenstam will become the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour.
That has caused more media coverage than when Sorenstam became the first woman to shoot 59 in 2001, or when she won 13 times around the world last season, the most by a golfer in nearly 40 years.
Votaw doesn't think it's fair, but he doesn't have his head in the sand.
'If this is what captures the public's imagination, if this is what brings more eyeballs to the LPGA, then anyone who questions how good this is for women's golf is being shortsighted,' he said.
The LPGA will have its players' meeting on Monday in Phoenix, and Votaw plans to bring a book 'the size of the New York City Yellow Pages' crammed with articles written in January and February about Sorenstam and her decision to play in the Colonial.
'We didn't play any tournaments in January and February,' he said. 'I'm going to place it with a loud thud on the table at the meeting -- the point being, people are talking about the LPGA, and we should all be thankful.'
Votaw sees progress in other areas.
The LPGA Tour is in the second year of a five-year plan. Attendance was up 12 percent last year (the goal is 15 percent every year), but television viewers increased 20 percent and the Web site had traffic increases, too.
The average purse is $1.27 million, the highest in history.
The real spike comes over the next two months. The LPGA Tour has eight tournaments before the Colonial, and Sorenstam is playing in six of them.
Attention on the LPGA Tour figures to be higher than ever. The question is how long it will last after Sorenstam's PGA Tour debut.
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.