Youngster Hopes LPGA Will Waive Age Limit
Hoping to capitalize on the influx of talented young golfers, Carmen Bandea sent a letter to the LPGA on Tuesday asking for a waiver of its 18-year-old requirement to become a member of the women's tour.
Bandea wants to enter LPGA qualifying school this fall, which would give her a chance to earn her tour card for 2006. She has never played in an LPGA event, and failed in her attempts to qualify for both the men's U.S. Open and the U.S. Women's Open this year.
Still, Bandea believes she is ready to become a professional, at least on a limited basis.
'Hopefully they will let me in,' she said from her home in suburban Atlanta. 'There's no reason not to. If I can shoot the score, why not let me go play some tournaments?'
Bandea, who just turned 15 on Monday, could play in a maximum of six LPGA events a year using sponsor exemptions -- the route Wie has chosen. That doesn't appeal to Bandea.
'Exemptions are like cheating,' she said. 'It's like they're giving you something on a silver platter and saying, 'Here, take it.''
Bandea said she's not interested in a full-fledged pro career. At most, she only wants to play 10 LPGA events a year.
Outgoing LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw can waive the age requirement if a teenager shows she can be competitive, has a strong support system and demonstrates the maturity to be a professional. Aree Song, for instance, was allowed to join the tour at 17.
'Normally, we wouldn't publicize requests of this nature,' Votaw said from Colorado, where he's attending this week's U.S. Women's Open. 'All I can is that we have received the letter, and we are in the process of reviewing.'
Bandea is also a promising tennis player, with her sights on being a two-sport star.
Tennis is more lenient about teen players, though it limits the number of events they can enter between 14 and 17. Bandea plans to become a tennis pro in the fall.
'I've already been doing them both for a long time,' she said. 'It may be unique to everyone else, but to me it seems normal.'
Not lacking for confidence, Bandea already can envision head-to-head showdowns with two teen prodigies: tennis star Maria Sharapova and Wie on the golf course.
'I don't pay attention to anyone but myself,' Bandea said, 'but I assume there would be a rivalry with (Wie) and with Sharapova in tennis.'
Wie has not asked for a waiver of the age limit. Song is the only player allowed to turn pro before her 18th birthday, a decision that was justified when she took medalist honors at Q-school and finished as runner-up at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
'She graduated high school, so she had the same level of education that others had,' Votaw said, explaining his decision.
'She made the cut in 11 of 14 LPGA events she had played since she was 13, and all six majors. Her 18th birthday would have been in early April the following year, so we had only six LPGA events prior to her turning 18. Given all those things, she deserved a waiver.'
In her letter to Votaw, Bandea wrote, 'The main reason that I want to qualify is because I believe I'm as good as anybody on the LPGA Tour and it would be an awesome experience to play in your tournaments. These girls rock -- and I want to rock, too!'
While Annika Sorenstam is the dominant force on the women's tour, an exciting group of teenagers is coming through the ranks. The 15-year-old Wie has contended in several majors, including a runner-up finish to Sorenstam at the LPGA Championship two weekends ago. Eighteen-year-old Paula Creamer became the second-youngest winner in tour history last month.
Bandea was on the course Tuesday, attempting to qualify for a spot in the men's U.S. Public Links championship.
'I want to play in some LPGA tournaments,' Bandea said. 'It would be fun to see if I can qualify. The worst I can do is lose.'
Bandea is home-schooled by her mother, Becky, who holds a masters degree in education. The teenager plans to take some college courses next year through online programs and by attending classes.
There are numerous examples of young athletes burning themselves out by taking on too much, too soon. Bandea isn't worried about tumbling down that path, insisting that she approaches sports with the proper perspective.
'It's a game,' she said. 'You don't burn out playing Monopoly.'
The 5-foot-8 Bandea admittedly needs a lot of work on her putting, but her 280-yard drives compare favorably with male competitors.
'When I'm on the putting green with guys, it feels kind of weird. That's not my greatest thing,' she said. 'But when I'm on the driving range, I'm fine, because I can drive it past them.'
If the LPGA rejects her request for Q-school, Bandea simply will turn her attention toward male competition. She already feels more comfortable playing from the men's tees.
'Carmen is going to be really competitive in men's golf,' Becky Bandea said. 'If they won't let her play women's golf, she'll just play where she's allowed to play.'
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Rahm (62) fires career low round
The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:
Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)
What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.
Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.
Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.
Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.
Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.
Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.
Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta
Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.
The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.
It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.
"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."
Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.
Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.
"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."