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.
Email your thoughts to George White
Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week
Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.
That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.
Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.
From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.
Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.
She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.
She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.
“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”
Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.
With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.
The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.
She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.
The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.
One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge
Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.
Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.
Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:
Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.
Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.
Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.
Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.
David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.
DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.
The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.
''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''
In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.
''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''
The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.
''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.
Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member
Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.
Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:
Matt Kuchar— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) January 17, 2018
"It's been a passion of mine to explore & see the world, and I'll now be joining the European Tour as an Affiliate Member, which is very exciting." pic.twitter.com/7wDbuGXz8j
As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.
Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.