A Handful of Questions
I was asked this week on a radio show to summarize the year as it currently stands. A very good question, which put me on the spot but also left me with two quick replies to that topic. Ill get to that in just a minute. But first, think along with me.
Was 2006 the best it could have been? Are we left searching for more as the PGA TOUR season winds down? Is the LPGA Rolex Player of the Year honor enough of a race to keep us enthused? Is the Frys.com Open compelling enough to keep us motivated for the TOUR Championship?
If you are like me, youve been left to ponder what was and think about what might be as we look ahead to 2007.
So with that, here are five questions to think about:
1. What was the PGA TOUR story of the year?
To which I answered on that radio interview that there were actually two. It started as the year for Phil Mickelson. No question ' he was the story leading into the Masters and heading out of the Masters. Mickelson had won the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol and arrived at the Masters with a blowout victory under his belt at the Bellsouth Classic. Mickelson won at Augusta, but blew it at the U.S. Open and was never heard from again in the same conversation. Mickelson was definitely a huge story this year.
Tiger Woods is the other story. Obviously hes reaffirmed our belief in him as the worlds best player. After losing at Augusta and missing the cut at Winged Foot, people tied his misfortune to the health of his father. After Earl passed, Tiger mourned and regrouped to play arguably the best golf of his career. Woods is back on top with an exclamation point. And we are left ' regardless of what happens the rest of the year ' thinking about Tiger and his dominance as the most important memory of 2006.
2. Is the LPGA at its highest point in history?
You could argue the point, thats for sure. Annika Sorenstams the best and that hasnt changed. But with Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak back in the mix, Michelle Wie closing in the rearview mirror, and a group of talented youngsters really making their presence felt, things are as good as the LPGA could hope for. Sure, we could question Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis as non-winners this year (thus far) and ask what happened to Grace Park (health issues), but that would be to nit-pick. Cristie Kerr is playing terrific and that Ochoa girl is a star. Bottom line ' the These Girls Rock campaign is legit. The LPGA is as good as it could possibly be and given that, the Solheim Cup cant come soon enough.
3. Was the 2005 Presidents Cup the exception?
Wow! What happened to Woods-Furyk and Mickelson-DiMarco? What happened to the United States turning things around in team competition? We all watched it together. And a few weeks back, I submitted a team of 12 that might actually have as good a chance. Guess who you all seemed to feel had been left off my team and Tom Lehmans team? John Daly, thats who. John Daly didnt even have a decent year in 2006 and youre putting him in the mix for a Ryder Cup? My how the USA has fallen. I like Daly, too, but at least pick him when hes on a roll. Next years Presidents Cup is in Montreal. Perhaps we should annex Canada before then and use the Presidents Cup as a building block for Valhalla in 2008.
4. Are the PGA TOUR stars really going to buy into the FedEx Cup?
That question has been asked a time or two of late as well. My hunch is that they will. But youd have to believe theres a chance that Woods could win the thing without playing them all. And given that, Mickelsons gone and not coming back until January or February ' theres no proof that the PGA TOURs second best draw will be there for the payoff. My gut says theyll both play the last three and the TOUR Championship next year, too. (Mickelson isnt scheduled to play this years TOUR Championship). Id hope they would. After all, Tim Finchems new plan is exactly what the big stars hoped for. Remember? A shorter season with a big show at the end. Well see.
5. Has Nick Faldo lost his mind?
Hell have more air-time next year than Regis and Kelly. Hes great in the booth and will be a huge asset to The Golf Channel and CBS in 2007. Overexposure is always a concern for any good act. I know hell be good. Im excited hes on our team at TGC. But if he thought his playing schedule was busy then wait until this train gets rolling.
And by the way, just who will Faldo be talking about most in 2007? Can Ernie Els come back? Can Vijay Singh find his winning consistency again? Can Phil rebound and get us hyped for a third Masters title? Or will it be all Tiger all the time.
Those are my questions. Im sure you have yours. And I always appreciate hearing them. I do read them all.
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann
If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it
NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.
She says she always gets nervous starting a round.
You don’t believe it, though.
She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .
Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .
Or disarming ticking bombs . . .
“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.
Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.
Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.
Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.
At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.
She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.
She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.
And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.
There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.
Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.
It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.
Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.
Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.
“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”
About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.
Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.
“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”
David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.
“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”
Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.
Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . .
“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.
Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.
“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”
Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.
“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.
Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.
National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.
The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.
Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.
These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:
Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.
This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.
“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”
Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.
In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.
If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Web.com Tour finals.
“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”
Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.
Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.
''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''
The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.
The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.
''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''
Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.
''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''
First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).
Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.
''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.
''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''