Maybe Playing Alongside the Men Isnt So Bad
Lets see ' at first, we knew about only one. Suzy Whaley qualified to play at Hartford when she won a PGA club pro tournament late last year ' albeit playing from the forward tees while the gents played from the deep stalls. But then, Annika Sorenstam got the idea in January, actually hinting on the Golf Channel the first time that she might do it. Lo and behold, she did it at the Colonial.
Next, the kid ' 13-year-old Michelle Wie ' played first the Canadian Tour, then the Nationwide Tour. She remains a prime target to carry on with this ' providing she continues to improve.
Oh ' did we say three?? Make that five ' the Champions Tour welcomes their female when Jan Stephenson plays this week in the Turtle Bay Championship in Hawaii. And the Korean Open will have Laura Davies teeing it up.
Regardless of how I try, I cant get in a righteous snit over Stephenson playing. I suppose anyone who considers it a shame that old women play with older men is at least partially right ' there are certainly other places for Jan to play without bothering the gents.
But maybe in Stephensons case, her situation is different. Maybe the reason is because a kindly gentleman ' yes, a senior golfer ' gave her HER start in golf. Something inside me says she deserves to play, if only for this man. I wish ' and she really wishes ' that he were here to see it.
That man was her father. I say was, because he died in 1988. Jan was crushed, distraught beyond belief.
He worked for the Australian government in the transportation department in the city of Sydney. Jan and her parents lived in downtown Sydney. Jan was still very young when her father took her out to play for the first time.
Dad worked the night shift. He would toil all night, then come home and wake up Jan early in the morning for her golf. She would get up, hurriedly dress, and then go practice. Eventually dad would drop her off at school after she finished hitting golf balls.
Dad would then go to bed, sleeping while Jan was in school. But he would be right there at 3:30 sharp, waiting once again to pick her up and take her to play golf. No, she didnt feel pressured ' she loved golf!
He was absolutely the best dad anybody could have ever had, she says now, remembering oh-so-well those days as a schoolgirl.
One day, dad came home in the early-morning hours and Jan didnt want to get up. He shook her gently and said, Come on, weve got to go. No, said Jan, its too cold today. She didnt want to go practice.
You see, their house had neither air-conditioning nor heat. A cold wave had swept through the area and now the chill outside was foreboding, while the bedcovers were so warm and toasty.
Her father sat on the edge on her bed for a moment. Then he spoke.
Ill tell you what, he said. If you get up right now and come practice, you might win the U.S. Open. It was enough ' Jan said, Aw, OK, and straggled out of bed.
Years later, Jan had occasion to remember that little speech. Eighteen years later, in 1983, she did indeed win the U.S. Open. And her father recalled so vividly that time back in Sydney when she was 13.
Dad said, I dont suppose you remember that cold day when you were a child, Stephenson related. I said, Dad, Ive never forgotten that day. Thats why I got out of bed. I wanted to win the U.S. Open.
Jan and her father had a very special relationship. He caddied for her when she swept through the youth ranks, winning five consecutive New South Wales Schoolgirl Championships, then continuing to win four consecutive New South Wales Juniors. He was there by her side when she turned professional at age 21, winning the Australian Open.
He was there when she came to the United States the following year, in 1974, and finished runner-up in the LPGA qualifying tournament. He watched her finish in the top 10 six times that year and be named rookie of the year.
He was Jans caddie for the first five years she was on the LPGA, until 79. He was her own special guiding light, but when he felt she was self-sufficient enough to make it on her own, he dropped back into the shadows.
She also tells the heart-breaking story of her next caddie, a man named Rick White. Rick was excellent, but late in the 89 season, he had a sore throat and requested a couple of weeks off. He was having trouble walking up the hills. Jan sent him to the tournament doctor to have him examined, then she was off to play in Japan.
When she returned home, she got the terrible news ' Rick had died of lung cancer. She was in hysterics.
He didnt want me to know how ill he was, she said. He kept telling people, I dont want Jan to know. I dont want to disrupt her. If only I had known, I might could have done something for him.
This week, she will play with the men. Shell probably laugh, tell a lot of stories, reminisce about the old days all the things that people do when they get a few years on them.
But she has already been to the grave and back with men. And she has been to heaven and back with her father. Somehow, Jan Stephenson playing alongside the men at the Turtle Bay Championships doesnt seem like a bad idea. Dad would love it.
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Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?
Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.
Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.
Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.
Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.
Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.
Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.
Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.
Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.
Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.
Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.
Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.