Simpson's win continues first-timer trend

By Jason SobelJune 18, 2012, 5:12 am

SAN FRANCISCO – Good news for the roughly 6,884,909,953 people around the world who have never won a major championship golf tournament: Your time is coming.

These trophies used to be the exclusive property of singular-named superstars. From Bobby to Ben. Arnie to Seve. Jack to Tiger. It took a major pedigree to win a major title back in the day – and by “back in the day,” we’re talking all the way back in 2008.

Perhaps the greatest reason for those erstwhile prosperous 1 percenters is that winning begot more winning. The way it worked was that once a player broke through and collected his first, it meant he had developed the mettle to prevail again and again and again. The result was fewer major champions, each claiming a bigger piece of the major championship pie.

Ah, the good ol’ days.

Well, we live in a new era, golf fans. An era in which the last 15 majors have been won by 15 different golfers. That number dates back to Padraig Harrington’s win at the 2008 PGA Championship, extends to Webb Simpson’s victory at this U.S. Open, and includes a veritable cornucopia of eclectic winners, from Hall of Fame inductees to top-10 stars to second-tier talents to one-hit wonders.

This isn’t a competitive environment anymore. It’s a deli line.

Actually, based on the sheer volume of players who have come through the major championship turnstile lately, it more closely resembles a line at the DMV, with customers impatiently waiting their turn as the line backs up out the front door.

Simpson was the latest to hear his number called, stepping to the window and picking up his trophy and oversize check at The Olympic Club. To hear him analyze it, though, even he didn’t know he was ready to win a big one.

“If I was honest with you, I believed in myself I could win a major,” he said after beating Graeme McDowell and Michael Thompson by a stroke, “but maybe not so soon.”

While Simpson’s victory may leave certain veterans without a major depressed over their misfortune, it should actually serve the opposite purpose, instead buoying their confidence that next time may be the chance for which they’ve been waiting.

Apparently, the world’s best without a major are without one not because of any lack of talent or intestinal fortitude or good luck. Maybe they are without a major for the sole reason that it simply hasn’t happened yet. Their number hasn’t been called.

Yes, this means you, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald and Steve Stricker and Dustin Johnson. All players who have come so close and yet have failed to puff that victory cigar.

It’s an intriguing phenomenon – and one which left the most recent recipients grateful for their good fortune.

“Thank you, Vijay, Phil and Tiger,” said Paul Tesori, caddie for Simpson who claimed his 16th career win, but first major on Sunday. “Is that right? Is that who’s stolen all of them in the last however many years? I think it’s a great time in golf, to be honest with you. Obviously, Tiger is back to playing great golf. He’s going to win more majors. But it’s fun to have all these different guys, because you know every time you tee it up that you’ve got a chance to win the golf tournament. It’s a great feeling.”

There used to be a prevailing feeling that a list of contenders at any major would run maybe 20-30 players deep. Sure, there were certain occasions to refute that notion, but the majority of these tournaments would be claimed by the game’s upper echelon of elite talent.

That isn’t the case today. Simply put, the list of contenders mirrors the entry list for any given event. Which is to say, anybody can win.

Consider this strange confluence of events at the U.S. Open: Fourteen-time major champion Tiger Woods finished 17 places behind John Peterson, who doesn’t own status on any major tour; meanwhile, four-time major champion Phil Mickelson trailed low amateur Jordan Spieth by 44 spots on the leaderboard.

“One of my thoughts on the back nine was, ‘I don't know how Tiger has won 14 of these things, because the pressure,’” Simpson confided. “I couldn't feel my legs most of the back nine. It grew my respect for Tiger all the more. But I think the prime age 10, 15 years ago was mid 30s. Now it's moving closer to the mid 20s or late 20s. There's so many young guys.

“If I see Keegan Bradley win a major, I respect his game a ton, but I feel like, Keegan Bradley won one, I want to go win one. All these guys that won before me, I thought, ‘I played with these guys all my life. I want to win a tournament.’ They're great players, but I want to do what they're doing. Everybody is so competitive in this world that we just kind of feed off of each other.”

The truth is, they are. In fact, it’s becoming a feeding frenzy at these major championships, with every player even hungrier for a victory, because, well, everyone else is doing it.

It should send a positive message to those who have yet to break through that barrier: Your time is coming. In today’s era, everyone gets a chance to have their number called.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

"It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.