Whaley Thrilled for Opportunity to Play
Babe Didricksen Zaharias did it twice ' it 1937 and in 1945 at the Los Angeles Open. Annika Sorenstam will do it in two weeks now when she walks into a starburst of publicity at the Bank of America Colonial.
And then its Whaleys turn, at the Greater Hartford Open. She earned her way in, competing and winning her male PGA Sectional in the Hartford area. Almost every tour event has the sectional winner of that area in its field. The fact that Whaley won the sectional using forward tees matters somewhat. But come July 24 when Hartford officially begins, Whaley will compete from the back tees with all the rest of the pros.
Whaley isnt a rank novice at this golf stuff. Shes a former LPGA player, having competed from 1991 to 1993. She began having a family (two daughters and a husband) and decided to turn her attention homeward, where hubby is the head pro at the tournament where the Greater Hartford is held ' the TPC at River Highlands. She herself is a head pro also, at Blue Fox Run Country Club in Avon, Conn.
So dont get the idea that she just jumped up and excused herself from dinner so she can go play the GHO. She has been around pro golfers before ' just not to THIS extent.
For a while after winning her sectional competition, it appeared that Whaley was going to be the trailblazer, the first woman to compete against men in 58 years. From the end of last year until Sorenstam announced her plans to enter Colonial in February, Suzy was buried in an avalanche of publicity. The spigot of ink was shut off abruptly when Sorenstam accepted the Bank of America invitation at Colonial. The lemmings flocked immediately to Annika, but that didnt change things for Whaley ' she still has to compete against the men in Hartford, from almost 7,000 yards.
Whaley, though, doesnt mind at all. Ever Miss Congeniality, she put her best foot forward last week while competing in the LPGAs Michelob Light Open.
For me, Annika - if this is something that she wanted to do for Annika - I support her 100 percent, said Whaley. She is the best female golfer in the world. I wish her the best at Colonial.
She realizes the reason Sorenstam is playing, and she realizes why she is playing.
I'm a PGA club professional who earned an exemption into the Greater Hartford Open by winning my section championship, she says. As such I have a lot of opportunity to inspire a lot of people to get out on the golf course and help grow the game - which is really our mission.
Suzy Whaley never knew the furor that would erupt the minute she made the Hartford field. She still cant imagine why it is such a point of curiosity - only that her decision to compete has affected so many people.
I was overwhelmed by the amount of attention, she began. I don't even know how to describe it to you. I won a tournament, went to bed, thinking that that's what happened, I won a tournament. We celebrated, we were thrilled about the fact that I won it.
I woke up the next morning and by the end of the day I had at least 300 phone calls, my e-mail was locked, my cell phone was locked. My husband had at least 300 calls to his workplace. Most stories I think in the media have a peak, and they go on to the next thing. For me it was a story that kept evolving. And then when Annika announced, obviously it happened all over again.
And the messages from fans?
I received hundreds of letters, she said, more so recently from young women in high school. I received two or three from women in high school who now told me that they have the opportunity and the guts to try out for their female girls golf team, because they feel if I can go and play on the men's tour, they can at least try for play their female golf team. And that was fun to receive those letters. I feel I have done some aspiring and that's pretty special.
But Whaley still can laugh about it a little. She is certainly aware of the historical importance of her playing on the PGA Tour. At the same, shes not going to kid anyone. She knows she will do extremely well to just make the cut. To win ' that is really remote.
You have to laugh, she said. I don't want to sound like I'm not taking this seriously, I want to play really well there. I'm hitting it very well now. So I'm going to do my best to play well.
But at the same time I think you have to keep it all in perspective. And the fact is that I'm a club professional. In our area, or in our section, the last 21 section champions (all men, of course) have not made the cut. There hasn't been a cut made in 21 years.
Whaley, let it be noted, is an instructor, playing against men who play the game for rent money. But as an instructor, she really likes what she sees in Sorenstam at the moment. Annikas odds of making the cut ' or better ' at Colonial look very good to Whaley.
My expectation as an outsider looking go in, she will make the cut. She is the most determined hard working player I ever watched, said Whaley. As a teacher, (I think) she right now is playing unbelievable golf, if you were to look at her golf swing on video, so I have hopes that she will do very well.
And Whaley? What does she think of the whole experience and how it will affect her?
I went through a period of time after I first decided, and it was extremely stressful, she says. I was doing interviews daily. I was saying yes to just about everything and it was very stressful and then I was concerned about what my performance would be.
I realized in the last couple of months that just doesn't work for me. I'm a much more laid-back person than that. On the other hand, I'm very serious about my preparation and what I'm doing to play well.
So, on the one hand, she will entering a golf tournament ' period. On the other hand, its a PGA Tour tournament. She had so much trepidation about entering. She didnt make her decision to enter until one day
My oldest daughter probably made the decision for me, she revealed.
Every day I went back and forth. One day I would say I'm in. The next day I would say I'm definitely out. I mean it was a daily thing for us. I told my daughters every day, I want them to grow up believing that you have to work harder than the person sitting next to you. You have to take the opportunities when they come, because it's rare that they come and when they do enjoy every second of them,
My daughter looked at me one night when I was giving her my lecture after a soccer game and said, Why aren't you playing? I said, You are right. I am.
That's the day I decided. My daughter really decided for me.
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.