We are the champions

By Jason SobelSeptember 28, 2011, 2:36 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – There are a few magic numbers in golf. Like 59 and 18 – and if you have to ask, you’re probably on the wrong website right now.

At this week’s Golf Channel Am Tour national championship, some other magic numbers were in play.

There were 570 total competitors in the open division flights. They played in temperatures that reached 100 degrees each day. Which meant there were 20,000 total bottles of water consumed and more than 4,000 iced towels distributed.

There was one more magic number, too: Six. That’s how many national champions were crowned on Tuesday. These are their stories:

Paul Erdman knows all about close calls.

“I’m probably the only guy who’s missed the U.S. Open by a shot, the U.S. Amateur by a shot, U.S. PubLinks by a shot and U.S. Mid Am by a shot,” the affable 43-year-old said. “I mean, losing in playoffs and stuff. It’s always been a shot here or a shot there.”

Not this time. Erdman parlayed a final-round 2-under 70 into a three-stroke victory in the Championship Flight, as he was the only player in the 65-man field to break par for the tournament.

Throughout the last day, he always knew what was at stake.

“The heart is pumping, breathing getting heavy – that’s something I’m not used to,” he said. “I haven’t had that much adrenaline going through me in a long time. That’s hard work dealing with that stuff.”

Erdman is no stranger to hard work. He founded the golf program at University of Maryland-Baltimore County, which is now defunct, then worked as a general manager and head professional before regaining his amateur status in 1999.

Now an insurance agent in Erie, Colo., this culminated a perfect season, as he won every single Golf Channel Am Tour event in which he competed – but it was the last one that meant the most.

“This is great, man,” he said excitedly. “I just won something that I’ve been thinking about for years and years.”

As winner of the Palmer Flight two years ago, Patrick Polzin had some words of advice for 54-hole leader Kyle Zeitz prior to the final round.

“It’s tough playing in the lead,” Polzin said from experience. “I let him know that last night. I also told him this is the course I shot 68 on and that he was going to have a hard time sleeping.

“I told Kyle, ‘You know, buddy, I hope I have an opportunity to put some heat on you early and see what you’re made of. I want to make you earn it. If you win and you beat me, I’m fine with that.”

It didn’t happen. Zeitz posted four double-bogeys in his final six holes to turn a five-shot lead into a six-shot loss.

For his part, Polzin, a 45-year-old sheet metal worker from Indian Head Park, Ill., just played solid golf as his playing partner flailed, taking his second title in three years.

“I didn’t think he was going to crumble,” Polzin said, “but I planted the seeds in his head last night. That’s fair game.”

As a golfer, Tim Williams calls himself a “competition freak.” As a solution architect for Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, he calls himself a “geek.”

Great combination, huh?

“Actually,” Williams said with a laugh, “not really.”

The Hogan Flight’s self-described freak-and-geek needed to make a par on the final hole to win his first national championship title.

“I tried not to let the pressure get to me,” said the 43-year-old from McKinney, Texas. “On the outside, you wouldn’t  know I was under pressure, but on the inside, I was just in knots. This is one of the first times I’ve ever felt pressure like this.”

After the round, Williams appeared more tired and relieved than triumphant, but maintained it was just a result of all the mental energy he used up on the course.

“It wasn’t a very difficult course, but I made it difficult,” he explained. “I said to myself, ‘This is it. Last group. Let’s just step on the pedal.’ And that’s what I did.”

For a guy who had never played the Golf Channel Am Tour prior to this year, Brad Bishop didn’t realize how nervous he could get.

“I joined it just for the competition. I never imagined coming here, but I qualified, so I came,” he explained. “But from the first tee shot all the way through the round, I was pretty nervous.”

Coming down the stretch in the final round of the Sarazen Flight, Bishop led by just a single stroke with two holes to play, but extended that differential to four en route to the victory.

After opening rounds of 89-85, the Alden, N.Y. closed 80-81 – not far off from his career best of 77.

“Everything went my way, I guess,” said the 31-year-old residential painter. I just kept saying I wanted to hit the fairways and the middle of every green – and I think I only missed one fairway today.”

Just after closing out his Jones Flight victory by a single stroke, Suneil Aggarwal was posing for photographs while kissing the crystal trophy.

“I like the way that sounds,” he said with a laugh.

The sound should be familiar. Aggarwal, 39, successfully defended last year’s title in wire-to-wire fashion, though he needed to make a five-foot bogey putt on the final hole to clinch the victory.

“I can’t say it feels better this year,” explained the Alpharetta, Ga., resident, who works as a vice president of sales for a technology company, “but it does, a little bit.”

Consider this one validation, as last year’s final round was rained out, giving Aggarwal a weather-shortened three-round triumph.

“This puts to rest a lot of people who were questioning whether I could hold it together for four days,” he said. “I know I was questioning whether I could hold it together for four days.”

Bilal Jordan just started playing golf in late-2007. It quickly turned from a hobby to a passion to an obsession.

How much of one? Since qualifying for the Snead Flight national championship in early August, the Houston-based physician and insurance company owner traveled to the Jim McLean Golf School in Palm Springs three separate times to work on his game.

The extra effort paid off, as he posted the best score of the final round – an 88 to secure the title by four strokes.

“I want to get better. My goal is to continue to get better,” said Jordan, 32. “I put in some additional work and it paid off. Hard work pays off.”

It should be noted that he is the first player in quite a long time to win while decked out in a red shirt, black pants and a TW-logo hat.

“I had to represent the Tiger red today,” he said with a laugh. “I had to put on the red and black.”

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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.