Notes Diaz Ends the Year Strong

By Associated PressNovember 16, 2004, 5:00 pm
Now that Laura Diaz is starting to see progress, the LPGA Tour season is about to end. But at least she gets one more week, which is all she wanted.
Diaz was headed for her worst season in four years until a birdie-birdie finish in the Tournament of Champions moved her up to second place and earned her enough money to finish in the top 30 on the money list and qualify for the ADT Championship at Trump International.
'I really, really wanted to play this week,' Diaz said.
It was a small consolation for the 29-year-old Floridian once touted as a rising star in women's golf.
Diaz won twice in 2002 and finished seventh on the money list, but then injured her left ankle. She continued to play last year and qualified for her first Solheim Cup team, but surgery in December revealed four tears in the tendon and a torn ligament.
'When the doctor opened it up, he didn't know how I could play golf, let alone walk,' Diaz said.
Compounding problems, Diaz tried to return a month ahead of schedule to play in the first major at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She had only one top 10 the first half of the season.
The change started in July, when her regular caddie returned to the bag. Diaz tied for fourth at the Giant Eagle Classic, and had four top 10s over the final three months of the season, getting to No. 27 on the money list.
'I could end the season knowing I played my heart out,' Diaz said. 'I'm happy with my season, but I'm not happy with where I am on the money list. Unless you're No. 1, I don't think you can ever be satisfied.'
The 50-and-older Champions Tour will again feature 28 tournaments with at least $50 million in prize money.
The tour released its 2005 schedule Tuesday, and the only significant change is swapping out south Florida for Seattle. The tour could not find a title sponsor for the Key Biscayne event, which had been the first Champions Tour stop on the mainland.
The first three weeks will be in Hawaii, including the Skins Game at Wailea Resort during Super Bowl weekend. After a week off, the tour resumes in Naples, Fla. The only new tournament is the Greater Seattle Champions Classic, to be played Aug. 19-21 on the TPC at Snoqualmie Ridge.
The Champions Tour will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year.
The PGA Tour season is over, and Fred Couples is about to get busy.
Couples, also known as the 'king of the silly season,' is playing in the UBS Cup this week at Kiawah Island, followed by the Skins Game on Thanksgiving weekend against Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam and Adam Scott.
Couples is a four-time winner of the Skins Game, and could top $3 million in career earnings.
'I would hate to say I take it more seriously than PGA Tour events, but at the same time, I've been on tour for 24 years and this is my 11th one,' he said of the Skins Game. 'I look forward to them.'
Couples holds a share of the Skins Game record with nine birdies in 1999. He realizes not everyone likes the Skins Game, but there are few other places he'd rather be.
'I do know there are some guys who do not really care for the format because it's not to their liking, and I don't know why,' Couples said. 'Because for me, you're in Palm Springs in November on Thanksgiving, and everyone is watching, and it's a lot of fun to be out there.'
A world ranking system for women's golf is a little behind schedule and might not begin until the start of the 2006 season.
The rankings were announced in May and were to help determine teams for the World Cup, to be played in February at Fancourt in South Africa. Instead, the LPGA Tour will rely on the money list. Meg Mallon is the top American and can choose her own partner.
'We wanted to get it done right,' LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw said. 'We think it will get rolled out in the middle of '05, but I think a realistic chance is '06.'
Garrett Willis became only the third player to win his first tournament as a PGA Tour member in the 2001 Tucson Open, and it's been all downhill since.
Willis finished out of the top 125 on the money list the next three years, and last week failed to advance out of the second stage of Q-school. He now must rely on his status as a past champion.
Others who failed to reach the final stage included former Masters champion Larry Mize and 2003 U.S. Amateur champion Nick Flanagan.
The second stage will be wrapped up this week at four sites, with most of the focus at Black Horse on the Monterey Peninsula. Among those in the field are Bill Haas, former U.S. Amateur champion Ricky Barnes and Casey Martin. Haas goes into the second stage having tied for fourth with his father, Jay Haas, at the Franklin Templeton Shootout.
Hank Kuehne and Camilo Villegas have signed on with J. Lindeberg. The Swedish clothing designer said Villegas is one of the 'coolest' new golfers and reminded him of Marlon Brando. Exactly who gets to see Villegas in his new duds remains a mystery since he failed to get out of the second stage of Q-school. ... Greg Norman has signed an endorsement deal with MacGregor Golf. The Shark is expected to play around the world next year, perhaps even on the Champions Tour when he turns 50 on Feb. 10. ... The 2005 U.S. Open is a sellout for the 19th consecutive year. The USGA is offering additional practice round tickets for Monday and Tuesday (June 13-14) at $35.
Total prize money for the silly season is $23.5 million. Twenty years ago, total prize money on the PGA Tour was $21.3 million.
'If I told you I am going to win the U.S. Open next year, you will sit there and laugh. But if I said it 10 or 12 years ago, I would seriously mean it.' - Fred Couples.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

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.

Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

"It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

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.