The Young and the Restless on the LPGA Tour

By Associated PressNovember 22, 2005, 5:00 pm
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Annika Sorenstam and Paula Creamer were all smiles as they stood next to each other on stage at luxurious Mar-a-Lago Club and posed for pictures at the LPGA Tour awards reception.
For those expecting fisticuffs, they were too busy holding their trophies.
And for the record, Sorenstam's was bigger.
Sorenstam was player of the year for the fifth consecutive season, winning 10 times and two majors and finishing more than $1 million ahead of Creamer on the money list -- the equivalent of five first-place checks.
'She is just a couple of steps ahead of me,' Creamer said at the start of the week.
One can only hope she was kidding, because Sorenstam is miles ahead.
Creamer was rookie of the year by about the same landslide as Sorenstam captured her award. The 19-year-old won two tournaments (the first one a week before she went through high school graduation), set a rookie record with $1.5 million and took charge of a U.S. team that won back the Solheim Cup.
She also laid the groundwork for a rivalry with Sorenstam.
It's one thing for a rookie to say she wants to be No. 1 in the world and will stop at nothing to get there. It's quite another when the rookie calls out the No. 1 player in public while paired with her in the first round of the season-ending ADT Championship, then stops just short of accusing Sorenstam of cheating.
'It's her conscience,' Creamer said of a drop Sorenstam was given on the 18th hole.
Translation: If that's what she thinks, fine. But she has to live with herself.
Sorenstam is a heavyweight when it comes to arguing the rules. She got into it with rules official Robert O. Smith last month over line-of-sight relief at Bighorn (she was wrong), and with USGA executive Kendra Graham two years ago in the U.S. Women's Open at Pumpkin Ridge.
In this case, Sorenstam thought her tee shot crossed a sliver of land before plugging into a sandy hazard. Creamer thought it was over water the whole way, and that Sorenstam should have gone back to the tee. Ultimately, rules official Janet Lindsay sided with Sorenstam.
Sorenstam referred to the shape of the flight as a little banana, although one player had a hard time associating the word 'banana' with a tee shot hit by Sorenstam, the most accurate player on tour.
Who was right? Who knows?
'Both players saw something different,' Lorie Kane said. 'I would have to agree ... that the only person who can really see straight down the line is the person who hit the ball. Paula believes what she believes and is a true competitor. It's not that she would want to be in someone's face. She just wants to make sure things are done right.'
Told the next day what Creamer said -- 'It's her conscience' -- Sorenstam said she was surprised and disappointed, and that maybe they would talk at the awards reception that night.
By then, the 'Tussle at the Trump' had taken on a life of its own.
Creamer didn't show up until after LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens started speaking, and those trying to read too much into it had no shortage of ideas. Some thought Creamer purposely arrived late to avoid a confrontation with Sorenstam. Others took note of the black cocktail party dress Creamer wore, which caused heads to turn when she entered through a side door.
Creamer accepted her award, thanked her sponsors, mentioned the excitement on the LPGA Tour and said, 'This is only the beginning.' Sorenstam went out of her way to congratulate Creamer for her outstanding season, and thanked her sponsors by calling out the names of all nine of them.
Sorenstam, 1 up.
The soap opera brought a chuckle to Kane.
'The media takes hold of things and runs with it,' she said. 'And that's not a bad thing. That's good chatter.'
It can only fuel the increasing attention on the LPGA Tour, where youth is all the rage. Bivens certainly added to the hyperbole last week at the World Golf Hall of Fame induction ceremony when she referred to Creamer as the most 'exciting and compelling rookie' since Nancy Lopez.
'In this society, it's 'What have you done for me lately?'' said Juli Inkster, who won two majors as a rookie and was in the crowd that night at the World Golf Village.
Backstage was Karrie Webb, who was about to be inducted. All she did was win four times as a rookie and capture the money title, becoming the first woman to earn more than $1 million in 1996. Also overlooked was Se Ri Pak, who created a frenzy on the LPGA Tour during her rookie year in 1998 by winning four times, including the LPGA Championship and U.S. Women's Open, and setting the 18-hole scoring record with a 61.
Bivens has been on the job only two months, but she is a quick study. Four days later at Mar-a-Lago, she called Creamer the most exciting, compelling and charismatic rookie 'in some time.'
'I think we have to be careful,' Kane said when asked about the LPGA Tour's emphasis on youth. 'As much as we need to embrace youth, we have to embrace where we've come from, and that means the founders right through the Inksters and the other Hall of Famers out here.'
Creamer might what to remember her roots.
The next wave of teenagers includes Morgan Pressel, whose explosive personality matches her game. She won the U.S. Women's Amateur and was runner-up at the U.S. Women's Open. Creamer and Pressel have a long, biting history on the AJGA, and it surely will continue.
Stay tuned. The next episode starts in three months.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.


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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.