LPGA card provides inside track to Olympics

By Randall MellDecember 2, 2015, 11:56 pm

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Gaby Lopez’s dream radiates beyond the LPGA at Q-School this week.

If she wins an LPGA card, Lopez can move into the fast lane in her bid to represent her beloved Mexico at the Olympics next summer. That’s because LPGA membership is more than a fast pass for so many international golfers looking to represent their countries in Rio de Janeiro next August. It’s a hyper-speed pass to the Olympics. That’s because Rolex Women’s World Ranking points are used as the qualification standard for Olympic women’s golf, and the LPGA offers so many more world-ranking points than any other tour in the women’s game, disproportionately more than the PGA Tour offers over other tours in the men’s game.

Just ask Israel’s Laetitia Beck how well the LPGA’s fast pass works.

Beck didn’t have a single Rolex world rankings point starting her LPGA rookie season earlier this year. She seemed a long shot to make the Olympics. And yet, 10 months after making her first LPGA start, Beck is in prime position to make it to Rio de Janeiro. If the Olympic women’s field were decided today, Beck would qualify.

Beck soared inside the Olympic qualifying standard this year despite a ho-hum LPGA rookie season that saw her record one top-20 finish while placing 111th on the LPGA money list. She’s back at Q-School this week looking to keep her Olympic dream alive.

“What I’m doing now, it’s about representing my country and being able to fly our flag next to my name wherever I go,” Beck told GolfChannel.com. “Being the first player from Israel to play the LPGA tour put our flag on a big stage. Obviously, the Olympics are an even bigger stage. It’s a greater opportunity to put Israel on golf’s map. For me, it’s exciting.”

Beck is a perfect example of how the LPGA has become the Autobahn highway to the Olympics.

The average LPGA event offers about four times more world-ranking points than the average Ladies European Tour event and about three times as many world-ranking points as the average Japan or Korean LPGA event. The average PGA Tour event doesn’t offer anything close to that differential with the average European Tour event.

Lopez is an amateur, but her Olympic dream led her to the final stage of LPGA Q-School this week with an eye on turning pro a year earlier than she expected. She’s a senior at the University of Arkansas who finished runner-up at the NCAA Women’s Championship last spring.

“My ultimate goal is to play in the Olympics for Mexico,” Lopez said after making a strong start Wednesday at Q-School, posting a 4-under-par 68 to move into a tie for fifth, three shots off the lead. “I know the best path to the Olympics is through the LPGA, to get Rolex ranking points.”

Lopez said she will turn pro at week’s end if she earns LPGA membership. If she falls short and earns only Symetra Tour membership, she may return to the University of Arkansas.

“I haven’t made that decision yet,” Lopez said. “My coach and my family and I will make a smart decision with our minds and our hearts. I know I have the support of the University of Arkansas and coach Shawna [Estes-Taylor]. She has been a huge part of my development.”

How realistic is Lopez’s bid to make the Olympics?

She’s already on the cusp of qualifying.

The top 60 players on the International Golf Federation’s Olympic women’s rankings as of July 11 will qualify. Those rankings are based on the Rolex Women’s World Rankings but adjusted based on eligibility.

Only two players per country are eligible for the golf competition at the Olympics. However, if players are ranked among the top 15 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, the top four from a country can qualify. That’s how Beck can be as low as No. 347 in the Rolex rankings but No. 54 in the IGF Olympic rankings. A lot of players who are ranked ahead of her in the Rolex rankings aren’t eligible.

Brazil’s Victoria Lovelady currently holds the 60th and final Olympic spot into the women’s field, but she’s guaranteed that spot because Brazil is the Olympic host country. So Colombia’s Lisa McCloskey actually holds the last qualifying spot in the IGF Olympic ranking. McCloskey is No. 59 in the IGF Olympic women’s ranking and No. 437 in the Rolex rankings. Lopez is No. 443 in the Rolex rankings.

Limiting the number of players per country who can qualify weakens the 60-player Olympic field, but it’s also pivotal in opening Olympic golf’s door to countries like Mexico, Israel and China.

“Not many people know about my sport in our country,” Beck said. “I hear people say, `What? Golf is an Olympic sport?’ If we are represented in the Olympics, so many more people will come to know the sport.”

Lopez carries the same vision for women’s golf in Mexico.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

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''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

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The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.