Jeong Leads Futures Tour ILOVENY Championship
Of course, that strategy changed today when Jeong fired a 5-under-par 66 to take the lead in the $85,000 ILOVENY Championship. Jeong posted a round that included 15 greens in regulation, seven birdies and two bogeys -- both bogeys resulting from three-putt greens.
'My putting was good in the practice rounds, so I had confidence,' said Jeong of Kyungki, Korea, who earned her first win this summer in Lima, Ohio. 'I talked a lot to my mom [and caddie] about the read and speed on these greens. They're not too tricky.'
And Jeong's assessment of the greens at the Capital Hills at Albany course must have been on target as she rolled in putts from a range of five to 20 feet, with a chip-in for birdie from 45 feet on the 14th hole.
But for the player ranked 31st on the season money list to have a chance to move into the Tour's top 15 with the winner's $11,900 check on Sunday, Jeong couldn't help but allow her thoughts to drift back to the Tour's quickly culminating money race.
'I have won before and I don't think it was just luck,' said Jeong, of her victory in June. 'I'm trying to think about this as [preparation] for LPGA Q-School, but now, I'm thinking about moving up [the Tour's money list].'
Jeong doesn't have much breathing room, however, with second-ranked Charlotte Mayorkas of Las Vegas and Danielle Downey of Spencerport, N.Y., breathing down her collar one shot back at 67 (-4). Mayorkas, who turns 23 next Monday, wants nothing more than a chance to win her third Tour title this year and close the gap between herself and top-ranked Song-Hee Kim of Seoul, Korea, who carded an even-par 71. Downey, ranked 27th, wants nothing more than to win again and to win in her home state.
'This is the last event of the year, so I want to finish on a good note,' said Downey, 25, a non-exempt LPGA Tour member whose last win came in 2004 in Lima, Ohio. 'Obviously, everybody's thinking about the top five, but I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I'll just go out there and play.'
The Tour's 19th event obviously carries considerable weight this week. The top five money leaders at the end of Sunday's final round earn fully exempt 2007 LPGA Tour status. The next 10 players on the money list who are not already non-exempt LPGA Tour members automatically advance into the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament in December, avoiding the LPGA's sectional qualifying stages. Players who currently have non-exempt LPGA status will be skipped for the next available non-LPGA player.
And with her top-five status largely secured, Mayorkas admitted that having placed herself in the No. 2 position has made this week's final event less stressful.
'I feel really relaxed,' said Mayorkas, a San Diego native who played collegiately at UCLA. 'For me this week, it's more about trying to make putts to win the tournament than it is about trying to get into the top five. All I have to worry about is going out and playing my best.'
Tied two shots off the lead at three-under-par 68 is the trio of season winners Hye Jung Choi of Seoul, Korea and Meaghan Francella of Port Chester, N.Y., along with seventh-ranked Allison Fouch of Grand Rapids, Mich., who is trying to notch her first professional win. Francella is ranked eighth, followed by Choi, at No. 9. A win for any of the three could reshuffle the top five money-list positions.
'Sometimes I get tight out there and yeah, I feel the pressure, but as long as I'm playing golf and staying busy, I'm OK,' said Fouch, a non-exempt member of the LPGA Tour who has two runner-up finishes this season. 'It's easier to deal with it on the golf course. Maybe the pressure keeps me focused.'
Fouch posted three bogeys and one birdie on her first nine holes, but made the turn to the front nine and rolled in five birdies on the first six holes for redemption.
Choi missed only two greens in her round, but stayed patient on the front nine, where she had nine consecutive pars. On the back, she carded five birdies and two bogeys, admitting she feels the pressure of this week's event.
'I'm very nervous,' said Choi, a non-exempt LPGA Tour member and second-year player. 'I guess I don't want to make any mistakes right now.'
Francella said she spent most of today's round trying to focus on each individual shot. The non-exempt LPGA Tour member soared to two-over par after three holes, but settled down with five birdies and a 10-foot par save on the 15th hole to finish out her round on the hilly 6,121-yard municipal tract.
'I did a lot of work today staying in the present,' said Francella. 'And this week, that's really hard to do.'
Nine players are tied at two-under-par 69, including fifth-ranked Angela Park of Torrance, Calif., who is trying to hold on to or improve her position this week.
'I know this is a very important week and I want to do well,' said rookie Park, 18, who moved into the top five at the Tour's last event in Gettysburg, Pa. 'I think you have to be a little greedy this week and I know I need to make the putts that really count.'
One player, Katie Connelly of Beloit, Wis., was two-under par when one unfortunate swing landed her in the back of an ambulance heading to a local hospital. Connelly's tee shot on the 10th hole landed in a rocky area to the right of the fairway. Trying to punch out her shot, Connelly's ball struck a rock and ricocheted back, hitting the player squarely in her right eye. Connelly was treated and released from the hospital with a small fracture in the medial wall of her eye socket, a lesion on her cornea, and two tears in her iris.
'My eye is swollen completely shut,' said Connelly, reached by telephone, who was forced to withdraw from the tournament with an injury. 'I was in tears not because I'm in pain, but because I wanted to finish out the season. I was playing with Song-Hee and I was playing so well. This is just really disappointing.'
A total of 30 players carded scores of par 71 or better in today's first round.
Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA
Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.
Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.
Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.
With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.
Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.
“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”
Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.
Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return
Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.
Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.
Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.
Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.
“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.
As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar
Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.
With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.
That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.
That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.
And that’s a magic word in golf.
There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.
Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.
The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.
Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.
A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.
The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.
Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.
For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.
The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.
The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.
“It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida. “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’
“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”
And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.
“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”
The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.
Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.
The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.
Parity was the story this year.
Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.
Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.
The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.
The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.
“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”
If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.
Parity was the theme from the year’s start.
There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.
This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.
Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.
Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.
She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.
The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.
Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return
Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.
“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”
Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.
According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.
Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.
Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.
“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”
Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.