Notes: U.S. Open alternates important this year

By Associated PressJune 6, 2017, 10:01 pm

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Alternates from U.S. Open sectional qualifiers were never more important as they were this year.

The USGA held back six spots from the 10 sectional qualifiers to make sure it could accommodate anyone who got into the top 60 in the world ranking after this week. It was a safe move because the U.S. Open field is capped at 156 players.

But there won't be a lot of movement this year.

Chris Wood is at No. 60 in the world, and he would stay there provided Scott Piercy doesn't finish among the top 20 at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. So that's one spot, maybe. But with Soren Kjeldsen withdrawing from the St. Jude Classic, only one other person has a mathematical chance to get into the top 60 in the world, and he would have to win the St. Jude Classic. That applies to only about five players, such as Ian Poulter and Hudson Swafford.

So at least four spots will be going to alternates, and that doesn't even include Phil Mickelson, who plans to withdraw because of his daughter's high school graduation.

It's difficult to miss U.S. Open qualifying by one spot, but the playoffs to determine first alternates were critical this year.

Among the first alternates was Davis Love IV, who goes primarily by Dru and is the son of the two-time Ryder Cup captain. He played in the Georgia sectional, which awarded the fewest spots (2) of any U.S. qualifier and could be high on the alternate list.

In Columbus, Michael Putnam was the only player who didn't advance in the 4-for-3 playoff Tuesday morning, but he was first alternate. The first alternate in the Texas sectional was Ryan Palmer. Along with the 10 U.S. sectional qualifiers, there was one in Japan and one in England. Those sites also have an alternate.

The mystery is which alternate gets chosen first.

The USGA does not disclose the priority list, though it keeps in touch with players to allow them time to get to Wisconsin. The U.S. Open starts June 15 at Erin Hills. The priority is based on a formula that includes how many spots each section was allocated, and the strength of field determined by the world ranking (pro and amateur).

GOOD TO GO: Rory McIlroy took off more time than he expected after The Players Championship to rest his ailing ribs, but it appears he'll be ready to go next week at the U.S. Open. McIlroy withdrew from the BMW PGA Championship and then the Memorial.

''I am ready for Erin Hills and looking forward to playing there for the first time,'' McIlroy told The Guardian. ''The last few weeks have obviously been frustrating - I never like to miss events either on the PGA Tour or European Tour - but it was important I got back to a level of fitness where I felt like I could give myself the best possible chance at the U.S. Open.

''As I have said many times before, majors will ultimately determine my golf career, but I have had the rest of this busy season to consider as well.''

McIlroy will have gone a month without competition heading into the U.S. Open.

BONUS MONEY: Anirban Lahiri did his part in the Memorial by closing with a 65. And then he got a little help when he could no longer win.

Jason Dufner clinched it with a 30-foot par putt on the 18th hole to finish at 13-under 275. Lahiri had finished hours earlier at 10-under 278. But then Rickie Fowler muffed a delicate chip on the 18th and closed with a bogey, dropping him to 10 under with Lahiri and Justin Thomas. And with the tournament decided, Thomas went into the right bunker and missed a 12-foot par putt, dropping him to 9 under.

Fowler and Thomas making pars would have meant a two-way tie for third for Lahiri. Instead, their bogeys gave him a two-way tie for second. That's a difference of $261,000 - Lahiri earned $765,600, when he could have easily had $504,600 for that two-way tie for third. It's also a difference of 83 FedEx Cup points.

The PGA Tour season is loaded with such moments - if not for this putt made or that one missed - but this might be worth bearing later in the season as Lahiri tries to make his way through the FedEx Cup playoffs.

A year ago, the difference of advancing to the BMW Championship was nine points. The difference in making the Tour Championship between 30th place (Charl Schwartzel) and 31st place (Fowler) was less than one point (0.57).

So yes, every shot counts.

JACK PASSED: Jack Nicklaus broke the record for most majors when he won the 1973 PGA Championship for No. 14. He won his 16th and 17th in 1980, and then started cutting back on his schedule as he split time among other interests, particularly his kids. Nicklaus used to wonder if he would have won more majors had the previous record been more than it was.

That's why Nicklaus was so amused when someone mentioned Bernhard Langer breaking his record with a ninth senior major.

''If I'd have known Langer had come along, I would have played more,'' Nicklaus said.

He was kidding.

''I think he's been a better player as he's gotten older,'' Nicklaus said. ''I think he's an amazingly good player. He's a good guy. I'm happy for him.''

DIVOTS: Three-time Hale Irwin was selected to be the honoree for the Memorial next year. Irwin was a two-time winner of the Memorial. Jock Hutchison and Willie Turnesa will be honored posthumously. ... Tiger Woods fell to No. 899 in the world ranking, his lowest position. He had been No. 898 until he finished 15th at the Hero World Challenge last December when he returned from a 15-month layoff. ... Matthias Schwab of Vanderbilt makes his pro debut in his home country at the Lyoness Open in Austria. ... With I.K. Kim winning the ShopRite LPGA Classic last week, the LPGA Tour now has gone 13 straight tournaments to start the year without a multiple winner. At this point a year ago, four players had multiple victories.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Andy Pope has qualified for the U.S. Open three straight years - twice by getting through 18-hole local and 36-hole sectional qualifying.

FINAL WORD: ''If you look at the next 10 sites, we'll have people complaining that we don't go anywhere new.'' - USGA executive director Mike Davis on the U.S. Open being held at new courses - Chambers Bay and Erin Hills - over the last three years.

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.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

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

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

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.''