O'Toole outspoken on issues with Women's Open

By Randall MellMarch 20, 2014, 11:32 pm

PHOENIX – They’re getting a hand-me down.

They’re getting the men’s leftovers.

In a nutshell, that summarizes what the women don’t like about the U.S. Women’s Open being played the week after the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in June, according to fourth-year LPGA pro Ryann O’Toole.

With USGA executive director Mike Davis speaking at an LPGA players meeting at the Founders Cup Tuesday night, O’Toole stepped up as the most outspoken critic of plans to play the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open in back-to-back weeks. She pressed Davis on why the women aren’t scheduled to go first.

“I think what we wanted to hear was more of the truth, and I think what we heard was what we were supposed to hear,” O’Toole said.

What O’Toole heard Davis say is the grasses and greens are easier to set up for a major championship test if the men go first. He also reassured the women that the course will stand up and offer them a quality major championship test.

“I think the biggest thing we will lose is the pristine conditions you get at a major championship,” O’Toole said. “When you go to a U.S. Open, the course is groomed to perfection. It’s the best course we play all year, but now we are going to be playing it the week after the men play it.

“You can’t tell me it’s going to look the same. It is not. We know what a U.S. Open course looks like after we’re done with it. For them to say the course is going to be in great shape, and the greens are the only reason why the men are going first, makes no sense. It’s just something we are going to have to see to believe.

“I’m not alone feeling that way. I would say 90 percent of the tour agrees with what I’m saying.”

Paula Creamer is trying to keep an open mind, hopeful that the exposure playing after the men will prove a boost to women’s golf, but she has her concerns.

“I think it’s awesome we are at the same venue,” Creamer said. “However, at a place like Pinehurst, we could be playing at the same time, on different courses.

“I’m just taking it as it is. There’s nothing I can do. I know a lot of people are upset with it and don’t agree with it.”

Cristie Kerr said Davis met some serious skepticism in his presentation to LPGA pros. 

“I think they believe what they are telling us is true, but we were all just sitting there doing this [shaking our heads],” Kerr said. “They are thinking the course will be in as good a shape the second week as it is the first. Mike Davis said if you think anything differently, you don’t really know agronomy. And we are like, 'Well, we’ve only been playing golf for 30 years.’

“They were here this week, so obviously they are concerned, but it is what it is. We all love the U.S. Open and we’ll just have to make the most of it.”

Juli Inkster hears the trepidation but is urging her fellow players to keep an open mind.

“We just need to see how this will play out,” Inkster said. “There are a lot of if, ands or buts, whatever, but until you get out there and let it play out, you can speculate all you want. My philosophy is it does you no good to say, 'Why aren’t we going first?’ The bottom line is men sell tickets. They’re going to go first. It could be really good for us, but you just got to let it play itself out.”

Morgan Pressel can’t wait to play Pinehurst, but she hears the trepidation from peers all around her. 

“There are people definitely nervous about the week,” Pressel said. “We don’t know what to expect. It’s unprecedented, and it will be interesting.”

Davis says the USGA's agronomy staff's challenges dictated the men go first. 

“It's the superintendent, and it's our Green Section staff who felt that we had a much better chance of getting the golf course right for both championships, how we want to set it up, with the men going first and the women going second,” Davis said earlier this year. “It really gets down to the putting greens, that they're going to be the same green speed for both weeks. But the first week, if Mother Nature is cooperative, they're going to be slightly firmer.”

Davis said it is simply easier to go from very firm greens to slightly less firm than the other way around.

LPGA pros are suspicious there’s more to the men going first than that.

“I think the bottom line is we weren’t going to kick up as much of a fuss as the guys would have playing second,” Katherine Kirk said. “The guys would never have done it. Obviously, that wasn’t said and probably would never be said.”

O’Toole believes that, too.

“The men would never stand for having the women go first, and then playing after us,” O’Toole said. “Ultimately, we think that’s the idea.”

The number of divots the women are likely to have to play through is a major concern, but they see the potential upside with all the attention the women's game is already getting for this U.S. Women's Open.

“The USGA has been awesome to us,” Kirk said. “I think they know what they’re doing, and I think it will be a great event. I think if we can turn it into a positive and ride the coattails of the men, it will be great for us.”

O'Toole is eager to play the U.S. Women's Open, even if it may not be in optimum conditions.

“At the end of the day, we’re still all excited to play Pinehurst No. 2,” O’Toole said. “It’s a great golf course. It’s one of my favorite courses.

“It could be a big plus playing it this way, or it could be a disaster.”

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.