Notes From Russia with Love

By Associated PressJune 28, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 U.S. WomenSOUTHERN PINES, N.C. -- Maria Kostina walked 100 yards away from the scoring tent to have a moment alone with her sister, distraught after making her U.S. Women's Open debut with an 89 at Pine Needles.
It was a momentous occasion Thursday, and it had nothing to do with her score.
Kostina, who celebrated her 24th birthday on Monday, became the first Russian to play in the U.S. Women's Open.
'To be honest, I felt very nervous,' Kostina said. 'I didn't feel very comfortable at all the first three holes, and then I was trying to limit the mistakes in my swing. I wanted to play better than this.'
Her 22-year-old sister, Anastasia, became the first Russian in the U.S. Women's Amateur two years ago, although she failed to advance to the match play portion of the tournament.
Both attended Washington State, and both now play on the Futures Tour.
How they got both places is amazing, especially considering they were born before Moscow even had a golf course.
The first 18-hole course in their country was built about 10 minutes from their home, in the Moscow suburb of Nakhabino. Although there was a program that allowed juniors to play for free, Kostina said there weren't many takers.
'I always liked to try new sports,' she said.
She started by hitting balls on the range, not realizing there was more to golf than that. But when she played her first round, from tee to green, she was hooked.
'We fell in love with it,' Anastasia Kostina said. 'We wanted to play every day. We stopped going on our summer vacations, because the summer is not very long, and we didn't want to miss a chance to play golf.'
Playing on a national team led Maria Kostina to Washington State, where she was an honorable mention on the All-Pac 10 team and an Academic All-American for two years. Anastasia followed her to Pullman, Wash., and both earned degrees in psychology.
On the Futures Tour, they get financial support from Russian friends who live in the United States, chasing their dreams. Even though it was a bad start at Pine Needles -- Maria took a 10 on the 17th by hitting two balls out-of-bounds -- she already has learned from her first trip to the Women's Open.
For one thing, she has never seen so many fans on a golf course.
'I like it when people watch me,' she said.
She is one of six players with the surname Park at Pine Needles, but Angela Park has a history that sets her apart. Although her heritage is South Korean, she was born in Brazil, and she grew up in California, where she learned to play golf.
'I have citizenship in Brazil right now,' she said. 'When people ask me, 'Are you Brazilian, Korean, American,' I think I'm three of them all mixed up together. I'm not fully Korean. I speak English very well. I'm very accustomed to your American culture. But I was also born in Brazil. I speak the language, and I have family in Brazil. So I kind of mix and match everything.'
Park, 18, contemplated college after her sophomore year of high school but decided that summer she wanted to turn pro.
She's a rookie on the LPGA Tour this year, having finished fifth at Q-school. Already she has led after the first round at two tournaments, including the LPGA Championship. Perhaps more amazing for a rookie, she has yet to miss a cut and is 13th on the money list.
'That was one of my goals coming into this year, not missing any cuts at all,' she said.
It was an itsy-bitsy spider, but it caused Morgan Pressel plenty of concern.
She saw what looked to be a small black ant on her ankle, but it turned out to be a spider. The bite caused her ankle to swell so much that the LPGA Tour's youngest major champion in history walked with a limp Wednesday and had to cut her practice round to nine holes.
Much to her relief, the swelling subsided.
'It's still a little swollen, but it's gone down a lot, and I had no pain when I was swinging,' Pressel said. 'So that's good.'
Pressel opened with a 71 on Thursday, six shots better than the score she posted in her first U.S. Women's Open six years ago when she was 13, at the time the youngest qualifier.
Cristie Kerr is starting to putt better, even though it took money out of her pocket.
Kerr was in South Korea six weeks ago when she got so frustrated with her putting that she visited a pro shop, tried four or five putters and bought the one that felt the best. She shot a 3 under the next day, then returned to the LPGA Tour and finished third at the Ginn Tribute in South Carolina.
'I went to the Ping representative and said, 'Does it look like it sets up for me? Because it feels pretty good,'' Kerr said after opening with an even-par 71. 'I'll buy every putter if I putt that well with it.'
Lorena Ochoa always gets plenty of support whenever she plays, but this week she can recognize faces in the crowd.
'My family is here watching me play, and I think it was very special for my mom to be there, too,' Ochoa said.
She said her mother, two aunts and three close friends from Mexico are at Pine Needles, and her brother, Alejandro, was due to arrive Thursday afternoon. Her mother attends about 10 tournaments a year.
Maybe it's a good omen.
Karrie Webb's mother made the trip from Australia in 1999 and was at the du Maurier Classic when Webb won her first major.
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  • 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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    Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

    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.

    National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

    The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

    Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

    These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

    Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

    By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

    This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

    “I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”

    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

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    Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

    In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

    If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Tour finals.

    “He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

    Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

    By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

    Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

    ''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

    The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

    The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.

    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

    ''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

    Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

    ''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

    First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

    Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

    ''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

    ''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''