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.
Rahm, Koepka both jump in OWGR after wins
Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka both made moves inside the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings following wins in Dubai and Japan, respectively.
Rahm captured the European Tour season finale, winning the DP World Tour Championship by a shot. It was his third worldwide victory of 2017 and it allowed the Spaniard to overtake Hideki Matsuyama at world No. 4. It also establishes a new career high in the rankings for Rahm, who started the year ranked No. 137.
Koepka cruised to a nine-shot victory while successfully defending his title at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix. The victory was his first since winning the U.S. Open and it helped Koepka jump three spots to No. 7 in the latest rankings. Reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele, who finished second behind Koepka in Japan, went from 30th to 24th.
After earning his maiden PGA Tour victory at the RSM Classic, Austin Cook vaulted from No. 302 to No. 144 in the world. Runner-up J.J. Spaun jumped 48 spots to No. 116, while a hole-out with his final approach helped Brian Gay rise 73 spots to No. 191 after finishing alone in third at Sea Island.
Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas with Rahm and Matsuyama now rounding out the top five. Justin Rose remains at No. 6, followed by Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson. Rory McIlroy slid two spots to No. 10 and is now in danger of falling out of the top 10 for the first time since May 2014.
With his return to competition now less than two weeks away, Tiger Woods fell four more spots to No. 1193 in the latest rankings.
Love to undergo hip replacement surgery
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Two days removed from arguably the most hectic week of his year, Davis Love III will undergo replacement surgery on his left hip.
Love, who hosted and played in last week’s RSM Classic, said he tried to avoid the surgery, but the pain became too much and he will undergo the procedure on Tuesday at the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala.
“I had a hip problem the last few years, and I had a hip resurfacing trying to avoid hip surgery because I’m a chicken, but after playing [the CIMB Classic and Sanderson Farms Championship] I realized it was an uphill battle,” Love said.
Love said doctors have told him recovery from the procedure will take between three to four months, but he should be able to start work on his chipping and putting within a few weeks.
Love, who missed the cut at the RSM Classic, said earlier in the week that his goal is to become the oldest PGA Tour winner and that the only way to achieve that was by having the surgery.
“Now I’m excited that I’ve crossed that bridge,” said Love, who will turn 54 next April. “Once I get over that I can go right back to the Tour. I won after a spine fusion [2015 Wyndham Championship] and now I’d like to win with a new hip. That’s the reason I’m doing it so I can get back to golf and keep up.”
LPGA awards: Ryu, S.H. Park tie for POY
NAPLES, Fla. – In the end, the CME Group Tour Championship played out a lot like the entire 2017 season did.
Nobody dominated the game’s big season-ending awards, though Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park came close.
Thompson walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. If she had made that last 2-foot putt at the 72nd hole Sunday, she might also have walked away with the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.
Park shared the Rolex Player of the Year Award with So Yeon Ryu. By doing so, Park joined Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year titles in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park also won the LPGA money-winning title.
Here’s a summary of the big prizes:
Rolex Player of the Year
Ryu and Park both ended up with 162 points in the points-based competition. Park started the week five points behind Ryu but made the up the difference with the five points she won for tying for sixth.
It marks the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.
Ryu and Park join Inbee Park as the only South Koreans to win the award. Park won it in 2013.
Thompson won the award with a scoring average of 69.114. Sung Hyun Park finished second at 69.247. Park needed to finish at least nine shots ahead of Thompson at the CME Group Tour Championship to win the trophy.
There were a record 12 players with scoring averages under 70.0 this year, besting the previous record of five, set last year.
CME Globe $1 million prize
Thompson entered the week first in the CME points reset, but it played out as a two-woman race on the final day. Park needed to finish ahead of Thompson in the CME Group Tour Championship to overtake her for the big money haul. Thompson tied for second in the tournament while Park tied for sixth.
By winning the CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn had a shot at the $1 million, but she needed Park to finish the tournament eighth or worse and Thompson to finish ninth or worse.
LPGA money-winning title
Park claimed the title with $2,335,883 in earnings. Ryu was second, with $1,981,593 in earnings.
The tour saw a tour-record 17 players win $1 million or more this season, two more than did so last year.
Ryu came into the week as the only player who could pass Park for the title, but Ryu needed to win to do so.
Rolex world No. 1 ranking
The top ranking was up for grabs at CME, with No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park and No. 3 So Yeon Ryu all within three hundredths of a ranking point. Even No. 4 Lexi Thompson had a chance to grab the top spot if she won, but in the end nobody could overtake Feng. Her reign will extend to a second straight week.
Rolex Rookie of the Year
Park ran away with the award with her U.S. Women’s Open and Canadian Pacific Women’s Open victories among her 11 top-10 finishes. She had the award locked up long before she arrived for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.
Ko ends first winless season with T-16 at CME
NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko carved a hybrid 3-iron to 15 feet and ended the most intensely scrutinized year of her young career with a birdie Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.
“Nice to finish the season on a high note,” Ko said after posting a 3-under-par 69, good for a tie for 16th. “Obviously, not a top-10 finish, but I played really solid. I feel like I finished the season off pretty strong.”
Ko posted two second-place finishes, a third-place finish and a tie for fifth in her last eight starts.
“Ever since Indy [in early September], I played really good and put myself in good positions,” Ko said. “I felt like the confidence factor was definitely higher than during the middle of the year. I had some opportunities, looks for wins.”
Sunday marked the end of Ko’s first winless season since she began playing LPGA events at 15 years old.
Let the record show, she left with a smile, eager to travel to South Korea to spend the next month with family after playing a charity event in Bradenton, Fla., on Monday.
Much was made of Ko beginning the year with sweeping changes, with new equipment (PXG), a new coach (Gary Gilchrist) and a new caddie (Peter Godfrey).
In the final summary, it wasn’t a Ko-like year, not by the crazy high standards she has set.
She saw her run of 85 consecutive weeks at No. 1 end in June. She arrived in Naples holding on to the No. 8 ranking. She ends the year 13th on the LPGA money list with $1,177,450 in earnings. It’s the first time she hasn’t finished among the top three in money in her four full years on tour. She did log 11 top-10 finishes overall, three second-place finishes.
How did she evaluate her season?
“I feel like it was a better year than everyone else thinks, like `Lydia is in a slump,’” Ko said. “I feel like I played solid.
“It's a season that, obviously, I learned a lot from ... the mental aspect of saying, `Hey, get over the bads and kind of move on.’”
Ko said she learned a lot watching Stacy Lewis deal with her run of second-place finishes after winning so much.
“Winning a championship is a huge deal, but, sometimes, it's overrated when you haven't won,” Ko said. “Like, you're still playing well, but just haven't won. I kind of feel like it's been that kind of year.
“I think everybody has little ups and downs.”