Notes Last Chance for Status Golfs Yogi Berra
Byrum is among 20 players who have been granted various levels of medical extensions for 2007. He had knee surgery this summer, causing him to miss the final four months of the season. Byrum will get 17 starts to make $559,804, which would give him the equivalent of No. 125 on the money list and allow him to finish out the year.
Byrum and Scott Hoch were among a dozen players who sought and were granted extensions through the major medical category. Others on that list and the number of starts they get include Chris Perry (18), Scott McCarron (13), J.L. Lewis (14), Kevin Na (21), Hank Kuehne (21) and Carl Paulson (15).
Hoch's request was peculiar because he is 51 and might not even play a full schedule. His exemption is a carryover from 2005, and Hoch can get as many as 27 starts if he wants them. He also is eligible for as many two more exemptions from career money, depending on how he does when -- or if -- he plays on the PGA Tour.
'It would make it an advantage for me to play the regular tour for the sake of endorsements,' Hoch said. 'The deals I've got are a lot more if I played the regular tour.'
He said Yonex did not renew his equipment deal -- Hoch had been with them since 1990 -- and he declined to say with whom he has signed because the contract was not final.
If he does play the PGA TOUR, his first start might not be until after the Masters. He wants to try the Champions Tour first. He is no longer eligible for Doral, where he won in 2003, because it is now a World Golf Championship. And he fears the Bay Hill Invitational requires more power than he has.
Meanwhile, minor medical extensions -- injuries that kept them from playing for fewer than four months -- were awarded to seven players, including Rocco Mediate (10), Thomas Levet (10), Bill Glasson (3) and Steven Bowditch (5).
Andrew Magee also received a nonexempt medical extension, giving him two starts.
GOLF'S YOGI BERRA
Fred Couples has delivered some of the most perplexing lines in golf, such as 'I'm a lot older than I was 10 years ago,' and 'I'm playing as well as I've ever played, except for the years I played better.'
Even though he is in the twilight of his career, golf's version of Yogi Berra hasn't lost his touch. Consider this comment from the Target World Challenge when asked about his career back problems, then try to figure out what he means.
'I wouldn't be playing great golf every week if my back didn't hurt,' he said. 'I wouldn't be able to play golf if my back really, really hurt, and I don't. So therefore, I try to play.'
David Duval and Bob Tway are the only players using a one-time exemption from career earnings to keep their PGA TOUR cards for next year.
Duval's five-year exemption from winning the British ran out this year. His exemption is from the top 25 on the career money list (Duval is No. 24), and because he is more than $4 million clear on 50th place, he should be able to use a top-50 exemption next year if he needs one.
Tway is 29th in career earnings, and will use his one-time exemption from the top 50. An eight-time winner and former PGA champion, Tway finished 175th on the money list, his lowest position since 1992. He did not need an exemption then because he had a 10-year exemption from his '86 PGA victory.
J.J. Henry didn't want to see the 2006 season end.
'If somebody told me I'd have won my first tournament, played in the Ryder Cup, played in the Tour Championship and got to play in the World Cup, I'd probably have had to pinch myself,' Henry said in Barbados. 'I'm proud of the way I played this year.'
His first PGA TOUR victory came at the Buick Championship in his home state of Connecticut. He was unbeaten at the Ryder Cup (three halves) and finished his breakthrough season with more than $2.3 million.
A year like that means his first trip to Kapalua for the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship, and his first trip to the Masters.
Henry's offseason will be a quick one. He plans to leave Sunday for a New Year's celebration in Hawaii.
'The offseason is kind of bittersweet,' he said. 'We only really have about three weeks until we fire it back up again, but there's two ways to look at it. I didn't really take a lot of time off, per se, this offseason but at the same time I feel like I'll be ready to play in Maui.'
Mike Weir is seeing quick progress with his new swing.
The Canadian changed coaches after back problems -- which he believed were caused by his swing -- hampered him late in the season.
Weir, who helped Canada tie for 15th at World Cup in Barbados, said he'll be spending much of his offseason further honing his new swing. He won't open his 2007 season until the Bob Hope Championship, the third event of the year.
'I'm seeing results already,' Weir said at the World Cup. 'I'm striking it well and it's the time of year where I don't have a lot to do. I'll have about five weeks off until the Bob Hope, so I'll be able to get some good work done this winter and be ready to go for next year.'
Weir's last PGA victory was the Nissan Open in February 2004.
The World Amateur Golf Ranking, sponsored by the Royal & Ancient, will make its debut next month. Officials say 280 amateur events around the world will count toward the weekly rankings. ... Cottonwood Valley, one of two courses used for the Byron Nelson Championship, will reopen Saturday after redoing its greens and tweaking some of the holes. The course was lengthened only 29 yards. Bigger changes were replacing the turf with fresh bent grass and renovating bunkers with new sand and keep. The first green is still the shape of Texas, with a bunker the shape of Oklahoma right above it. ... Europe's Ryder Cup team was selected for the Association of Golf Writers' Trophy for 2006 for another smashing win over the Americans. Darren Clarke was voted second, while U.S. Amateur champion Richie Ramsay of Scotland was third.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Thirteen players will be playing the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship for the first time.
'Everyone is trying to get to that level. I don't know if that's ruined players or made them better.' -- David Toms, on Tiger Woods' affect on the PGA TOUR.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long
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
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 GolfChannel.com 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
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 GolfChannel.com 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
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.
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.