Breaking Down Dawsons Peak
One such small package was unwrapped last week in suburban Chicago as the Chicago District Golf Association, LaSalle Bank, Kemper Lakes Golf Course, and the Buy.Com Tour joined forces and culminated in a pleasant present given to the players'the LaSalle Bank Open.
Kemper Lakes is the only course on the Buy.Com schedule to have ever hosted a men's major championship - the 1989 PGA Championship. Coincidentally, the winning score for both tournaments was identical. Twelve-under-par was good enough for the late Payne Stewart to earn his first of three majors, and it was good enough for Marco Dawson to grab his first-ever PGA Tour sanctioned title.
First year events on the Buy.Com Tour occur about twice as often as Santa's visits; that's not the surprise. But when they're as good as this one was, everyone feels as if Christmas came a little early. Not one negative word was uttered about the course or the tournament all week long. Unless, 'This course is just too tough for me,' is considered negative.
The fact that Marco Dawson won would never qualify as a surprise. Those who know him and have competed against him over the years will tell you that his victory was as overdue as Kraig Kann's American Express bill. Of the various superlatives that the professionals use to describe a good player, the one most often heard when Marco is the topic of conversation is 'solid'.
The guy looks like a linebacker, treats people like Santa himself, and swings the golf club with the graceful power of a Kentucky Derby champion. At 38-years-old, the real surprise is that he hasn't established himself as a star on the PGA Tour. If sheer talent equated directly to dollars, Marco would be able to call Bill Gates 'neighbor.' Heading into the LaSalle Bank Open, Marco was the number one ranked all-around ball striker on the Buy.Com Tour.
The ball striking stat is a bit confusing, but here's a shot at it: Driving accuracy and driving Ddistance are combined to form the total driving stat. That is then added to the greens in regulation stat to derive ball striking. In short, it's everything that is practiced on the range, and excludes all that is learned on or near the practice green. It's the fun part of golf, the part that the majority of golfers are told they spend too much time doing. Drive for show and putt for dough is the old adage; however, at Kemper Lakes, old adages became old news.
When I called the course a ball strikers' course during a production meeting, I was asked to explain. 'Good players always prefer tough, demanding courses,' I said. 'In the players' minds, difficult courses that aren't tricky separate the field. Everyone hates the courses that are considered 'putting contests' and on courses like this, there's a feeling that the best player wins.
Certainly there's much more to championship golf than what goes on at the driving range, but the better ball strikers always gain the respect of their peers, even if they aren't at the top of the money list.
To prove my point, I did a little digging. Another old adage ' numbers never lie. I analyzed the top 10 players from a few of the yearlong statistical categories and compared those numbers with how they performed at a 'ball strikers' course. Here's what I found:
* The top 10 ball strikers stroke average last week was 71.50.
* The top 10 in scrambling averaged 72.25.
* The top 10 in putting average averaged 72.235.
The ball strikers beat the others by about three strokes for the tournament.
* The top 10 ball strikers took home 37.5% of the total purse.
* The top 10 in scrambling took home11.9%.
* The top 10 putters took home 7.2%.
* Five of the year's top 10 ball strikers finished in the top 15 in the tournament (including 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place).
* Only two of the top 10 putters finished in the top 15. (9th, and 14th)
* Three of the top 10 scramblers finished in the top 15. (3rd, 7th, and 9th)
Eight of the 11 players who finished in the top 10 last week (three players tied for 9th) ranked among the top 40 in ball striking this year.
Last week illustrated the importance of proficient ball striking. However, the yearlong money list also opened my eyes a bit as to its importance.
* The average earnings of the top 10 in ball striking is $133,852, or equal to 12th position on the money list.
* The average earnings of the top 10 in scrambling is $78,637, or equal to 33rd on the money list
* The average earnings of the top 10 in putting average is $73,418 or equal to 38th on the money list.
Does this prove anything? Perhaps, but perhaps it's just coincidence. When I prepared for the final group on Sunday and noticed that they ranked first, second and eighth in ball striking, I had a hard time thinking it was just happenstance.
All four majors typically defend their course set-up as trying to identify the best player. What defines the best player is undoubtedly more than just ball striking stats, but when a major championship venue hosts a Buy.Com event, the ball strikers had the edge.
There is one last little bit of irony though as the No. 1 ranked ball striker won the tournament, and he fell to number two.
How could that be? I'm glad you asked. Lucas Glover played in his seventh Buy.Com tournament last week. In doing so, he reached the required minimum number of rounds for the year to qualify for statistical ranking and narrowly edged out Marco Dawson.
Somehow I get this feeling that Marco doesn't mind.
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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders
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.”
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.
Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead
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.
“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.”
Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers
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).
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.
Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF
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.
“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.