Notes: One year later, Choi not a part of LPGA rivalries

By Doug FergusonNovember 20, 2013, 12:59 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Na Yeon Choi finished last year by winning the LPGA Titleholders and buying a new house at Isleworth outside Orlando. She was No. 2 on the money list with nearly $2 million. She was No. 2 in the world. She was the U.S. Women's Open champion.

One year later, Choi was missing from the conversation.

Inbee Park won three straight majors and last week clinched LPGA player of the year, the first South Korean to win that award. Suzann Pettersen has challenged Park and has a chance this week to win the LPGA money list. Stacy Lewis, who rose to No. 1 earlier in the year, has a slim lead in the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average.

As for Choi?

She gave up the lead on the back nine at St. Andrews and tied for second behind Stacy Lewis in the Women's British Open. She was runner-up in the HSBC Champions in Singapore. And those were the highlights. Choi has failed to win a tournament, has slipped to No. 6 in the world and is No. 9 on the money list.

Choi has won at least $1 million the last five years. She needs $80,000 at the Titleholders to keep that streak going.

''I think I put a lot of pressure on myself at the beginning of the season,'' Choi said Tuesday. ''I started the season No. 2 in the world, and I really, really want to be No. 1. But I think I got too much pressure, too much to think about - winning a tournament or about the results and lower scores.''

Choi's solution is to go back to being a rookie. That means working harder and not worrying about results. As a rookie, she had no fear.

''But right now, I'm kind of scared to play, too much thinking, too much worry about,'' she said. ''So I really want to go back to how I started golf, or when I came to the LPGA tour, that kind of demeanor.''

SPIETH TO SHERWOOD: Jordan Spieth's first round of the year was a pre-qualifier to get into the Monday qualifier at Torrey Pines. His last round will be at Sherwood Country Club, a last-minute alternate to the Christmas holiday bonus known as the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge hosted by Tiger Woods.

Spieth was selected as an alternate Tuesday to replace Brandt Snedeker, who is being extra cautious from a slight knee surgery from when he lost his balance on a Segway during a corporate outing in Shanghai.

The World Challenge is Dec. 5-8.

Spieth never needed that qualifier for the Farmers Insurance Open. He got in on a late sponsor's exemption, missed the cut, and then headed off to the Tour. His plans shifted to the PGA Tour in March, and the results were amazing – enough money to secure a card, a win at the John Deere Classic to instantly get his card, No. 7 in the FedEx Cup standings and a spot in the Presidents Cup.

Sherwood will be a bonus.

INKSTER TO THE BOOTH: Juli Inkster's closest friends in golf have always worried about whether she could ever retire. This might be a step.

Inkster is one of three additions to the Golf Channel's cast of on-air talent for the 2014 season. The others are Karen Stupples, already a strong voice of golf for the BBC, and Paige Mackenzie.

Inkster, the 53-year-old Hall of Famer, is not giving up on golf. She will work five events for Golf Channel, starting with the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic in May.

Stupples will work at just over a dozen tournaments as an analyst and on-course reporter. Mackenzie will be the co-host on ''Morning Drive'' and contribute to news programming while continuing to play.


RULES OF THE GAME: Annika Sorenstam is one of the few players who has gone through a USGA rules seminar and taken the test, and it would seem to raise a question. If golf is their livelihood, shouldn't all tour players go through the seminar to know the rules of the sport they play?

Steve Stricker might have had the best explanation.

''We're playing for a lot of money,'' he said.

There is golf, and there is tournament golf, and while they are played the same, it's different. Even the highest-rated rules officials who have scored 100 on the test have blown calls, such as Trey Holland at the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont involving Ernie Els.

There are 34 rules. There are more than 1,200 decisions. With so much at stake – either money or prestige – players would rather put a decision in the hands of the experts, whose word is final.

''We can always call one of the officials out of the woods,'' Stricker said.

''That's a week out of their life,'' Slugger White said when asked why more players don't go to a rules seminar. ''If you went to a rules school and you're coming down the stretch in a tournament, they'd call every time. They don't want to make a mistake.''

White is the PGA Tour's vice president of rules and competition. When he played the tour, he gave himself a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10 in his rules knowledge.

FIRST LADY: The PGA of America has selected Annika Sorenstam for its ''First Lady of Golf Award.''

The award began in 1998 and is given every other year to a woman who has made significant contributions to promoting golf. That goes beyond Sorenstam's 89 worldwide wins and 10 majors. Since retiring five years ago, she has developed a teaching academy, golf course design firm, financial-planning group, an apparel collection and a foundation geared toward teaching children a healthy lifestyle through fitness and nutrition. She also has a junior golf program.

Sorenstam, a mother of two, is the first international woman to win the award. She will be honored Jan. 22 in Orlando at the PGA Merchandise Show.

''I have been so fortunate through my life to have people who helped pave the way for me to work hard and exceed my goals on and off the course,'' Sorenstam said. ''I truly feel like I am living a dream and want to help the next generation do the same.''

SWANN'S WAY: Lynn Swann is the latest board director for the PGA of America.

Swann helped lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s, after playing on a national championship team at Southern California. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Swann, a member at Augusta National, joins the board Saturday at the PGA's annual meeting in San Diego. He will serve a three-year term.

''I came to the game late in life, but hope over the next three years to help the PGA bring golf to so many more people early in life,'' Swann said.

DIVOTS: Nick Price has added a tournament to his schedule, all because his son (Greg) took up golf eight months ago. They will play the PNC Father-Son Challenge for the first time on Dec. 12-15 at The Ritz-Carlton Club in Orlando. ''I just want him to enjoy it,'' Price said. ''If he enjoys it, he'll want to do it again.'' ... Charles Howell III, who had five top 10s a year ago, already has three in five tournaments this year. ... The Players Championship raised $7.1 million for local charities, beating last year's record $6.5 million.

STAT OF THE WEEK: The Official World Golf Ranking board has approved ranking points for the new PGA Tour China series next year. The winner of the China events will get six points, or the equivalent of 19th place at The Players Championship.

FINAL WORD: ''You're witnessing the best player on the planet at the minute, for sure. I don't think there's anybody to go up against him.'' – Ian Poulter on Henrik Stenson, who won three of his last seven events to claim the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai.

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.

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Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.

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Spieth vs. Reed random? Hmm, wonders Spieth

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 6:42 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Monday’s blind draw to determine the 16 pods for this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play didn’t exactly feel “blind” for Jordan Spieth, whose group includes Patrick Reed.

Spieth and Reed have become a staple of U.S. teams in recent years, with a 7-2-2 record in the Ryder and Presidents Cup combined. So when the ping-pong ball revealed Reed’s number on Monday night Spieth wasn’t surprised.

“It seems to me there's a bit more to this drawing than randomness,” laughed Spieth, whose pod also includes Haotong Li and Charl Schwartzel. “It's not just me and him. It's actually a lot of groups, to have Luke List and Justin [Thomas] in the same group seems too good to be true. It might be some sort of rigging that's going on, I'm not sure.”

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Spieth will play Reed on Friday in the round-robin format and knows exactly what to expect from the fiery American.

“I've seen it firsthand when he's been at his best. And we have history together in a couple of different playoffs, which is a match-play scenario,” Spieth said. “I've got to take care of work tomorrow and the next day for that day to even matter. But even if it doesn't matter, trust me, it will matter to both of us.”