Korean March Continues

By Brian HewittMarch 29, 2007, 4:00 pm
RANCHO MIRAGE, Ca. -- At precisely 1:47 p.m. Thursday the first round leaderboard at the Kraft Nabisco Championship listed 15 players with a Korean connection among the top 32.
As trends go this was nothing particularly new on the LPGA. Se Ri Pak has won five major championships and will fulfill her requirements for the World Golf Hall of Fame this year. Grace Park is among the most branded female golfers in the world.
But as waves go, the Korean talent pool is absolutely tidal. And it is increasing in size.
The latest to surface at the top, at least for now, in a major championship is Shi Hyun Ahn. The former LPGA rookie of the year, who resides in Californias golf-rich Orange County because it is safer than Los Angeles, birdied eight, nine and 10 Thursday en route to a four-under 68 that would have been even better if she hadnt bogeyed the 15th and 17th holes.
To be sure, Ahn is no stranger to major championships. Last year she posted three top 10s in them including a tie for fifth at the McDonalds LPGA.
My goal was to come through all the way, Ahn said through a translator after the first round. I didnt. I dont want that to happen again.
Her translator on this day just so happened to be her agent, Vicki Lee. Lee was born and raised in Los Angeles. Her English is perfect. And, she said, she wasnt insulted in the least at Ahns characterization of her home town as unsafe.
Meanwhile Lee defended the Korean women on the LPGA against the stereotype that they dont speak English well and they dont care to learn.
These women live, eat and sleep golf, Lee said. Learning a second language is hard for some of them to learn.
Especially when that second language is so idiosyncratic. And even more especially when your primary language is Korean, a native tongue that sounds about as much like English as a camel looks like a monkey.
Ahn said she learned that there is a price to play for golf 24/7 after failing to win at McDonalds last year. I had to change my mental game, she said. The biggest mental part of it for me thats different from last year is that I have fun. I do put pressure on myself but its not to the point where Im coming down hard on myself for not making a fairway or a part. Now Im thankful for each time I hit a fairway or get on the green. And Im taking it light-hearted and having fun with it.
Thursday Ahn hit 12 of 14 fairways and 10 of 18 greens. She navigated the difficult Mission Hills Country Club course with just 27 putts on a day when Annika Sorenstam, the worlds No. 1 ranked player, carded a 75.
Lee was hard-pressed to elaborate on what Ahn does when she isnt living, eating and sleeping golf. The LPGA media guide says Ahn enjoys quilting. There was nothing patchwork about her game in 2003 when she burst on the scene with a victory at the LPGAs CJ Nine Bridges Classic.
Fact is, one of the hardest working media outlets at the Kraft Nabisco this week is tvK, which serves Korean-American communities across the U.S. The viewing preferences of every family member in a Korean-American household is fulfilled within the scope of tvKs television offering, boasts tvKs website. tvKs equipment truck is prominent in its presence in the media lot here.
When a newspaper, say the Washington Post, sends a reporter to cover a major championship, one of that reporters responsibilities is to cover the locals, those players with ties to the Posts circulation area.
tvKs locals this week include Aree Song, Sarah Lee, Seon-Hwa Lee, Birdie Kim, Jee Young Lee, Jin Joo Hong, Jimin Kang, Mi Hyun Kim, Il Mi Chung, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Gloria Park, Young-A Yang, Hee-Young Park, Young Kim, Young Jo, Hee-Won Han, Sung Ah Yim, Jeong Jang, Joo Mi Kim, Soo-Yun Kang, Meena Lee, Kyeong Bae, Sun Young Yoo and Ji-Yai Shin.
By the way, at precisely 2:49 p.m. Thursday there were seven American women in the top 29 on the leaderboard. The American women are tired of having this pointed out to them. The LPGA spins the success of the Korean women as part of a healthy global reach of their game. And in fairness, most Korean women look at America as the place they must come to ultimately prove their talent.
I have been practicing and practicing, Ahn said Thursday.
Dont expect that, or for that matter, the inexorable forward march of Korean women on the LPGA to stop anytime soon.
Related Links:
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  • TV Airtimes
  • 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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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.