New Mexico tournament is golf to the extreme

By Associated PressJune 2, 2009, 4:00 pm
SOCORRO, N.M. ' Talk about an intimidating golf shot.
Theres only one tee box at the Elfego Baca Shootout, and its perched 2,550 feet above the hole and nearly three miles away.
After a kidney-busting trek aboard 4-wheel drive vehicles to the top of Socorro Peak, golfers have been hacking and whacking every year since 1960 at New Mexico Techs extraordinary single-day event.
Elfego Baca Shootout
Players hit their first shot from a wooden platform
I guess its a once-in-a-lifetime thing to go to the top of a mountain and play your way down, said Miguel Griego, defending champion of the Socorro Open. Youre never going to get another chance to hit your first shot 1,000 yards.
This years one-hole shootout is Saturday, a side event on the final day of the Socorro Open. The shootout was established to drum up publicity for the quiet college town of about 9,000 residents, located 75 miles south of Albuquerque.
In Spanish, Socorro means help, and thats what plenty of shootout golfers need while enduring the scorching sun, swirling winds and unforgiving terrain as they smash the ball toward a 50-foot circle chalked in the desert dirt.
The hazards? You name em.
Ive seen lots of rattlesnakes on the mountain, said 18-time champion Mike Stanley. One year we saw a mountain lion. Another time, we had an El Paso reporter and photographer with us. One of the guys slipped and fell on a cactus.
Because the terrain is so rugged, golfers are allowed to tee the ball on every shot. Many bring a swag of old carpet, an empty water bottle or a whisk broom that can be jammed handle-down into the ground.
Its OK to move the ball laterally or away from the hole, but that only solves half the problem of hitting it.
The hardest thing to do is get a stance built so you can stand and swing and not fall down, Stanley said. You pile up rocks. You dig with your feet. Anything to try to have some stable footing so you can swing and hit the ball.
Stanley, a 49-year-old explosives researcher at New Mexico Tech, carried only water, bug spray, a first-aid kit and tweezers when he played from 1980 to 2004. As for the clubs, it was only a driver and 5-iron.
It would be a little hard to carry a full bag up there, he said.
These days, many participants use laser range-finders to measure distances.
The key to success, Stanley said, is positioning the three spotters that each golfer is allowed. There have been instances where balls have sailed into abandoned mine shafts or inaccessible canyons.
Youve got to hit the ball where they can find it, he said.
Each competitor is allowed 10 balls and must finish with at least one. Any ball that cant be located within 20 minutes counts as a stroke.
Stanley said it also helps to know the mountain. Although the elevation drop has helped him smash drives 600 yards or longer, his most successful rounds came when he was able to carefully place the ball.
You try to hit it right to the top of a cliff if you can, so youre strategically positioned for the next shot, he explained. A lot of times, its not how far you hit it but where.
Once the ball is safely down the mountain and into the foothills above Socorro, its a series of shots where distance is the demand. But golfers still must negotiate sandy arroyos and thick fields of creosote bushes.
Stanley said the 5-iron is a must near the hole, and its never easy to stop the ball inside the 50-foot circle.
Its not trivial because youre not hitting onto grass like a golf course. The hole is in the rocks, the desert, Stanley said. Its hard to get the ball in. You just kind of chip it.
The course record is 9 strokes. Stanley said he usually averaged 18.
The event is named after Elfego Baca, a territorial lawman and politician who became famous during the Wild West years.
For more info about the Elfego Baca Shootout click here.

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.