Big prizes on the line as Asian swing gets underway

By Randall MellOctober 1, 2014, 4:49 pm

The major championship run is over this year in women’s golf, but substantial prizes still lie in wait.

The expanded Asian swing begins in China this week with some important awards, meaningful trophies and giant paydays still hanging in the balance.

Rolex world No. 1 Stacy Lewis, No. 2 Inbee Park and No. 4 Suzann Pettersen join defending champion Shanshan Feng in the 81-player field at the Reignwood LPGA Classic in Beijing beginning Thursday. It’s the start of a stretch run of eight LPGA events in the remainder of the 2014 season, including six on the fall Asian swing. It’s all pointing to the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in Naples Nov. 20-23 and a $1 million jackpot awaiting the winner of the season-long CME Race to the Globe.

Lewis tees it up this week looking to set up a major haul at the Rolex awards dinner in Naples. She leads the tour in races for the Rolex Player of the Year, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average and the LPGA official money-winning title. No American has swept all three awards since Betsy King in 1993.

“Really, the goal for the rest of the year is looking at those year‑end awards and stuff like that,” Lewis said in her pre-tournament news conference in China. “I definitely want to win tournaments, but those year‑end awards are goals, too.”

Lewis also leads the CME Race to the Globe, the season-long points battle for a $ 1 million jackpot, the largest paycheck in women’s golf. She’s looking to lock up all those prizes by adding to her three victories this season.

“I checked off a lot of goals I had for this year already, and I still have six tournaments left to take it up another notch,” Lewis said. “I have probably more energy than I've had in the last couple years at this time of the year. I'm excited to have a few tournaments left.”

Lewis finished runner up at last year’s Reignwood Classic, losing to Feng by a shot after Feng closed with an eagle.

There’s more at stake for Lewis than a title this week. She will be looking to hold off Park, who is eager to take back the No. 1 ranking Lewis took from her 18 weeks ago, a ranking Park originally took from Lewis last year.

“That would be one of the goals I have this year.” Park said. “I played really good this year, very consistent.”

Park will move back to No. 1 with a victory in China if Lewis finishes solo third or worse.

Park is getting back to her best form, riding a streak of five consecutive top-10 finishes, including a victory at the Wegmans LPGA Championship in August. With six victories last year, three of them majors, Park started this season with her own shadow over her. She has two LPGA titles in 2014.

“This time last year, I felt like I was really chased, and I put a lot of pressure on myself.” Park said. “I feel like this year is a much different story, and I am enjoying where I am.”

For Feng, this week is like a major championship. She delivered under enormous pressure winning as the crowd favorite in her homeland a year ago. Expectations are still there in her title defense this week and will be again in three weeks with the tour returning to China for the new Blue Bay LPGA event on Hainan Island.

“I feel a little pressure, of course,” Feng said.

Despite her disappointment losing last year, Lewis understood what Feng’s victory means to China.

“Just having this event in China, we can thank Shanshan for that,” Lewis said. “Her winning here was massive. For her, it was probably a dream come true, to win in her home country like that. It's going to be great for the game of golf here, and it's going to continue to grow. So 10, 15 years from now, you'll see probably a lot of Chinese players coming, like Se Ri and South Korea. I think it's one of those moments that's going to change history down the road.” 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.