Old Ryder Cup Foes Go Separate Ways
Both their careers have seen their best years. Ballesteros has suffered with a wrenched back and has not won since 1995. Azinger was at the height of his career in 1993 when he was blindsided by cancer.
Ballesteros appears to be sidelined permanently now, withdrawing from a string of events on the U.S. tour this year when his spine just wouldnt hold up to the rigors of tournament golf. Reports last month had him holed up at home Spain, where he was spending a considerable portion of each day laboring to get out of bed.
Azinger, also plagued by a problem back, has not had a prognosis nearly as disheartening, but his golf game has been somewhat underwhelming the past year. He had missed four straight cuts beginning with Honda until, suddenly, he showed some very strong signs of life at Houston.
It was there that he finished in a tie for 6th.
And it was the latest in a career-long series of makeovers for Zinger. He has been on the roller coaster for so long he is beginning to look like a bobble-head doll. He was among the worlds best when he competed so fiercely for the American Ryder Cuppers, then almost lost his game ' and his life ' when he was mowed down by cancer at the end of 93. He slowly built up his skills to the point where he won in Hawaii in 2000, was a captains pick at the 2002 Ryder Cup.
In 2003, he was down again. He went to the starting gate 26 times, missed the cut 14 times and withdrew twice. The back, you know ' isnt that perennially the ailment with golfers?
Finally, he went to see Jim Hardy, much better known of late as a course designer with Peter Jacobsen. That was in October of last year, after Azinger spent most of his earlier career of working with John Redmond. Hardy told Azinger exactly what he wanted to hear ' that there would be no six-month waiting period to see what the results might be. If youre not hitting it better in the next five or 10 minutes, Hardy said at the first meeting, then Im telling you wrong.
Azinger has been much improved over what he was last year. Hardys words were, indeed, exactly what the doctor ordered. Azinger cringes when he thinks back to the in-again, out-again swerves his career has taken.
When I first came out, I was great, said Azinger, And then I just was awful. And then I got OK and then I got awful, then I got actually pretty good. And for a point I got really bad again last year.
The hardest thing is - you think experience will make you play good, but it's experience with desire. None of us can see ourselves, so we have to have good information. If you're not getting good information, it doesn't matter how strong your desire is.
Azinger and Hardy have been working towards flattening out Azingers swing ' the same pattern as it was during the time Zinger was among the worlds best. Azinger had gradually gotten more upright down through the years. Now that he is beginning to see the light, he also has begun to hit the ball squarely in the back instead of the inside.
My swing was just not functional, said Azinger. He (Hardy) was kind enough to work with me. He's not really - I don't even think he fancies himself a teacher because he only works with guys he feels - when he feels like doing, it for the most part. He's got several guys that he'll work with any time, but he's really not allowing too many other players to - he just doesn't have time. He's really busy in golf course design and all that.
And Azinger is beginning to get the feel of the new swing, although to him it is much more a case of getting back to the old swing.
I'm real comfortable right now that I'm not going to be just completely swing-conscious on the golf course, he said. But you have to have some keys. Everybody has a few keys, and I'm just working on a couple keys, and I think I'm going to be just a little bit more effective than I was when I was up there.
Hes just like any other golfer who has found it, then lost it. Nothing is quite as frustrating as having once been one of the best in the world, then watch it slowly erode away.
I think anybody out here who has a talent is either getting good information or bad information, he explained, and I think that most of us out here would jump through a hula hoop and swing if that was a perfect technique to hit good shots.
But it's not, so we would try it and try it and if someone says that's the way I need to do it, you wouldn't hit good shots. The golf ball is going to tell you if the information is good or not.
My point is, I guess, I would say just about everybody out here has the skill to produce whatever someone is asking them to do in a matter of minutes. And it shouldn't take weeks and weeks or months.
Maybe Zinger can do something for his old foe Ballesteros. Azinger himself apparently is on the right track.
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If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it
NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.
She says she always gets nervous starting a round.
You don’t believe it, though.
She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .
Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .
Or disarming ticking bombs . . .
“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.
Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.
Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.
Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.
At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.
She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.
She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.
And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.
There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.
Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.
It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.
Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.
Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.
“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”
About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.
Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.
“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”
David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.
“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”
Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.
Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . .
“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.
Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.
“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”
Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.
“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.
Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.
National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.
The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.
Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.
These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:
Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.
This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.
“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”
Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.
In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.
If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Web.com Tour finals.
“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”
Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.
Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.
''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''
The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.
The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.
''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''
Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.
''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''
First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).
Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.
''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.
''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''