Future Bright for Big Breaks Tucker
Of 17 members of the Duramed FUTURES Tour who qualified for this year's Open, only Tucker survived the 36-hole cut. And not only did she make it to the final two rounds, but the native of Stockholm, Sweden tied for 20th. It was a finish that qualified her for the 2007 U.S. Women's Open in Southern Pines, N.C. -- only a short trip down the highway from where she played college golf.
And of eight standout Blue Devils in the Open, including last year's co-runner-up Brittany Lang and former NCAA individual champions Candy Hannemann and Virada (Oui) Nirapathpongporn, it was the slender Swede who stepped up at the biggest event in women's professional golf.
'I'm not surprised at all,' said former Tour member and former Duke teammate Kalen Anderson, who is now the assistant women's golf coach at Duke. 'As a freshman, Kristina won her second college event and I knew right away she was going to be a good player.'
Reed-thin, Tucker is soft-spoken and mild-mannered, but her huge desire was evident earlier this year when she competed on The Golf Channel's 'Big Break V: Hawaii' show. Even at the Open, fans in the gallery shouted her name and made reference to the 'Big Break' show. What they didn't realize was that her performance at this year's Open was, indeed, the big break she has needed for a dose of confidence heading into the season's final six Duramed FUTURES Tour tournaments. A tie for 20th alongside such notables as Lorena Ochoa and a career-high payday of $41,654 gave Tucker a new boost in her young professional career.
'It was fun to be out there with so many people cheering for me,' said Tucker, 26, who now lives in Pageland, S.C., with husband Paul Tucker. 'Some people told me they had driven hours to come watch me play. It makes me happy that I can inspire other people to play golf or to enjoy watching golf.
'And the whole week taught me that my game isn't that far away from being up there with players on the LPGA Tour,' she added. 'I played with some great players at the Open and I got to see how they managed their game. They didn't hit every shot perfectly. Now I know if I can play well, I can be there with them.'
Tucker was there with them. After the first two rounds on rain-soaked and long-playing fairways at Newport Country Club, the slender Swede was ranked second in the tournament field in greens in regulation. The secret?
'I hit my fairway woods and driver really well and I wasn't in the rough that much,' she said. 'Longer courses suit me better and making pars is easier than making birdies.'
Interestingly, when Tucker arrived in the States as a freshman, it was her short game that helped her become a two-time winner of the Swedish Girls' Championship (1997, 1998). And it was her mental game that enabled her to win three college titles and to record seven top-10 collegiate finishes, as well as to endure a tough start at an academically challenging university with English as her second language.
'Even though we had a great team, I was really, really homesick at Duke and I called home and cried every day for two months,' she said.
'She was almost mute during her first semester here because she said nothing,' said Anderson. 'She struggled with the language and she couldn't understand the professors.'
But while Tucker was quiet during that transition period, Anderson said the Swede 'just observed everything' and suddenly became a 'chatterbox.' By the second semester, she 'got everything.'
Of course, her Swedish accent -- on an already international team with players from Thailand, Brazil and Spain -- made her an easy target for her teammates. Using the letters V and W interchangeably in Swedish, the team never let her forget when they had her call the front desk of their hotel and ask where the 'wending machine' was located. Tucker didn't even know what a vending machine was.
'That's when we started calling her 'Inga From Sweden',' said Anderson. 'That's what we still call her.'
Former Duke teammate Leigh Anne Hardin recalls asking Tucker at one tournament if she wanted a turkey or veggie sandwich.
'She said she wanted a weggie,' said Hardin.
And so the fun began. But while Tucker appears to be all business on the golf course, she also has learned to cut loose. A few years ago, she and two other Swedes -- Anna Knutsson and Louise Friberg -- were spotted crammed into a golf cart together during a Tuesday practice round, singing ABBA songs at the top of their lungs and shimmying along in the cart on the way to their next shots. The singing Swedes helped make Tucker's next transition from college golf to the Duramed FUTURES Tour easier in her 2004 rookie season.
'I was used to traveling with the [Duke] team, so there were those lonely times in the beginning,' said Tucker of her rookie start. 'I learned a lot, but I wasn't happy with my game. I learned pretty quickly that you have to go out there and do your job even if you don't feel like practicing.'
Tucker had to requalify for the Tour at the end of the 2004 season, finishing 101st in earnings and making seven of 14 tournament cuts. By the 2005 season, she still struggled with some technical aspects of her swing while her mental game improved, but by season's end, she had improved to No. 56 and had made 11 of 15 cuts. She also fired a career-low round of 67 in her final tournament and finished tied for eighth in Indiana for her best Tour finish.
The Big Break show was filmed last fall following the 2005 season and when Tucker showed up this spring to kick off the Tour's 2006 schedule, she had a different spark in her eye and a new tool in her bag.
'Competing in the Big Break helped me learn to control my nerves,' she said. 'It made me realize that I can be nervous, but still pull off shots even if my hands are shaking.'
And that was a tool that definitely helped at the Open two weeks ago. With husband Paul (who played golf for the Duke men's team) on her bag and her family and in-laws following in her gallery, Kristina Tucker finally looked like the confident amateur player from Sweden, the confident college player from Duke and the confident survivor from the Big Break TV show.
'I know she's skinny, but she hits it hard,' said Anderson. 'And the U.S. Women's Open is a great place to showcase your talent. Anybody in that field is good enough to make the cut and play great and she's certainly good enough to play with the best. I hope she realizes that. Hopefully her performance there will spark other great things for the rest of the year.'
After Hardin missed the cut in Indiana two weeks ago, she drove to Rhode Island to watch her former Duke teammate play her final round at the Open. She wanted to be there to support the Swede, who is a year older. She wanted to see her take the next big step after three years of college golf and two years on the Duramed FUTURES Tour together.
'At the Open, she was very comfortable and it was fun to watch her play with such confidence,' said Hardin. 'A top-20 finish out there is pretty great.'
But Tucker's teammate and Tour travel companion believes the recent major championship could be just the catalyst the Swede needs this year.
'I don't think she's played to her potential on the [Duramed] FUTURES Tour,' added Hardin. 'Golf is a hard game because there are a lot of peaks and valleys. Inga just has to keep it going because she's on the right track.'
And with such highlights on her resume as Swedish national titles, an NCAA team championship (2002) and now a top-20 finish at the U.S. Women's Open, truly the quiet Swede has something to sing about.
Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.
Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.
''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''
First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.
''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''
David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.
The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''
The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros
Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.
Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.
I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.
One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.
So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?
You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?
Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?
I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.
This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.
Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:
Once we give 'em a lesson, we are faced with:— Trackman Maestro (@TrackmanMaestro) January 16, 2018
A. Will they do what we asked them to do
B. Can they do what we asked them to do
C. Will they put in the practice time
D. The fact that golf is a hard game
We face multiple barriers as golf instructors.
On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.
The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:
“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”
Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.
Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.
Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.
Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field
Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.
Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.
In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.
Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.
After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth.
Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.
Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder
Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.
“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”
After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).
Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129.
The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.