Rookies are All the Rage on PGA TOUR
The most compelling rookies are on the PGA Tour, not the LPGA.
David Toms learned about them quickly. Already a winner at the Sony Open, he was in contention two weeks later at the FBR Open, only three shots out of the lead going into the final round.
'I was there with a chance to win,' he said. 'I wasn't playing against Tiger, I was playing against Holmes and Villegas and some young guys. I felt like I was going to play well that day. I just didn't perform.'
One of the youngsters to whom he referred was J.B. Holmes, a 23-year-old rookie from Kentucky who overpowered the TPC of Scottsdale, wore out his wedge and had a superb week with his putter. That's usually an unbeatable combination, and it sent Holmes to a seven-shot victory.
The other rookie was Camilo Villegas, a 24-year-old from Colombia who looks like he belongs in one of those men's perfume ads found in fashion magazines.
Villegas was noticed early by playing with Michelle Wie in his 2006 debut at the Sony Open, shooting a 64 in the second round despite a hang nail so painful he nearly withdrew. He tied for second in Phoenix, then dazzled at Doral with his natty attire (all white one day, orange shoes the next) and dynamic game to finish one shot behind Tiger Woods.
Fans are paying attention to the rookies for various reasons.
Holmes was the first player in 23 years to go from college to medalist at Q-school, with a stop in Chicago along the way to help the United States win back the Walker Cup. He wears a black glove, closes his eyes and recites a Bible verse to focus, then shows no mercy on the golf ball.
He is not flashy or full of himself. If he played quarterback, he would be Troy Aikman.
Villegas is all style, from his Johan Lindeberg wardrobe to his Cirque du Soleil style of reading putts. He flexes his right foot under his body to go horizontal, almost like he's doing a push-up, to get a level look at the break in the green. It works for him, even if the putting stroke has looked shaky at times.
The best measure is their results.
Holmes already has locked up a two-year exemption by winning in Phoenix, and at No. 10 on the money list, he has a decent chance of qualifying for the Masters.
'I like his game; I really do,' Brad Faxon said with an appreciative smile. 'He's going to be good for the tour.'
Faxon got a close look at Riviera when they were grouped together the first two days. Holmes wasn't at his best on the greens, although his game got Faxon's attention. The eye-opener came on the par-4 fifth hole, where most players hit 3-wood or a hybrid to keep it short of a steep hill that separates the fairway.
Holmes hit driver.
'It's soaking wet, and he hit it down the fairway at the bottom of the hill,' Faxon said. 'And it backed up.'
On the strength of his two runner-up finishes, Villegas already has earned $850,831 and is 14th on the money list. Not only is he assured of keeping his card -- the immediate goal for most rookies -- he has an outside chance this week of getting into The Players Championship, and perhaps the Masters.
'He's an incredible player and very likely to win this year, and he'll be a strong presence,' Phil Mickelson said.
They are the two that stand out.
For sheer entertainment value, meet 27-year-old Bubba Watson, he of the hot pink shaft in his driver and tee shots that don't just go to the moon, they orbit.
Watson has plenty of showmanship. At Doral, he was launching drives over the back end of the range, over buildings that house Jim McLean's golf school and into a pond on the other side that no one knew was there. Then he would stop, and gaze around to see who was watching.
Steve Williams was. Woods' caddie sat on a cooler witnessing the power display, shaking his head in disbelief.
Watson is first in driving distance and dead last in driving accuracy, although he shows some restraint on the golf course. He made it through Tucson without a bogey, the first player without a bogey in a 72-hole PGA Tour event since Lee Trevino in 1974. Watson tied for third that week, and coupled with his fourth-place showing at the Sony Open, has $424,112 (No. 34 on the money list) and is well on his way to keeping his card.
'I see success as when you start winning,' Watson said. 'Right now, I'm a nobody in the golfing industry because I haven't won. Third place isn't looked upon highly unless you're Michelle Wie.'
Two months don't make a season. Success is better measured over the course of the year, when they are tested by the week-to-week grind and a variety of courses.
Even so, these three players are part of a broader trend geared toward youth.
Four of the top 10 players on the money list are in their 20s, led by 29-year-old Rory Sabbatini and 28-year-old Geoff Ogilvy, the Aussie who recently captured his first World Golf Championship. Honda Classic winner Luke Donald is 28, while Holmes won't turn 24 until the end of April.
Two others in the top 10 -- Woods (30) and Chad Campbell (31) -- can hardly be considered ancient.
A year ago, 23-year-old Sean O'Hair won the John Deere Classic and finished 18th on the money list, and UNLV grad Ryan Moore became the first player since Woods to earn his PGA Tour card without having to go to Q-school.
Whether they eventually can challenge Woods remains to be seen.
For now, however, they're worth watching.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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.
Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return
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.
Vegas lists Woods at 20-1 to win a major in 2018
He hasn't hit a competitive shot in nearly a year, but that hasn't stopped one Las Vegas outlet from listing Tiger Woods among the favorites to win a major in 2018.
The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook published betting odds this week on dozens of players to win any of the four majors next year. Leading the pack were Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at 3/2, with Rory McIlroy next. But not far behind was Woods, who has been sidelined since February because of a back injury but was listed at 20/1.
Woods will make his much-anticipated return next week at the Hero World Challenge, and next month he will turn 42. Next summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major championship victory, a sudden-death playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.
Here's a look at the odds for several marquee players on winning any of the four biggest events in golf next year:
3/2: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth
5/2: Rory McIlroy
7/2: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day
9/2: Justin Rose
5/1: Brooks Koepka
15/2: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey
10/1: Adam Scott
12/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed
15/1: Daniel Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay, Branden Grace, Kevin Kisner, Alex Noren, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson
20/1: Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Tony Finau, Martin Kaymer
25/1: Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Chappell, Bryson DeChambeau, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman
30/1: Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, Bernd Wiesberger, Brian Harman, Padraig Harrington, Emiliano Grillo, Ross Fisher, Si Woo Kim, J.B. Holmes