Successful Year for Futures Tour

By Lisa D. MickeyDecember 17, 2003, 5:00 pm
The 2003 Futures Golf Tour season began with a celebratory splash of hope and ended with a salute to a fallen member.

Players on the 'Official Developmental Tour of the LPGA' opened the year eager to compete for an expanded number of five fully exempt LPGA Tour cards awarded at the end of the season to players in the top five Futures Tour Money List positions. The expansion to five cards was announced March 18th by the LPGA. It was a giant leap forward since the Tour had received three LPGA cards in each of the last four seasons, graduating such rising-star players as Grace Park, Beth Bauer and Lorena Ochoa.

Also outlined was an improved direct entry into October's LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament for players ranked sixth through 10th on the Futures Tour Money List. Twenty-nine Futures Tour players earned some type of LPGA Tour playing status at that event in October.

But the wide-eyed eagerness of 300 Futures Tour hopefuls from 28 nations who competed weeks later in the early-November Futures Tour Qualifying Tournament was overshadowed by the recent death of three-year player Heather Wilbur of Canada, who lost her battle with leukemia on October 21 after less than a year. Wilbur was 27 with a developing game and improving results. Her death dramatically affected her young Tour peers, many who had little or no experience with mortality issues. They could only ask 'Why?' and attempt to collect themselves in the midst of the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament, where many first heard the news.

The Tour's 2003 season was a stage from which new talent emerged and ultimately spring boarded on to the LPGA Tour. South Korean rookie Soo Young Moon, a non-exempt member of the LPGA Tour, won the season's opening Lakeland Futures Golf Classic to kick off the year. The 19-year-old native of Keumsan, South Korea, posted nine top-10 finishes in 16 starts this season, including three runner-up finishes and two wins.

A co-medalist at the Futures Tour Qualifying Tournament in fall 2002, Moon's energized 2003 campaign for top season honors had moved her into the leading position on the Tour's Money List by early June. But the Korean encountered her biggest challenge of the year. Moon suffered injuries in a car accident early in the week of the Aurora Health Care Futures Charity Golf Classic in Sussex, Wis. Injuries forced her to withdraw from the tournament and to sit out of competition for two weeks.

Moon returned to action at the Michelob Light Futures Charity Golf Classic in Decatur, Ill., in mid-June, where she finished in a season-worst tie for 42nd. The talented teen climbed back into the top 10 the following week at the Bank of Ann Arbor Futures Classic in Michigan, where she tied for fifth. Finally, four weeks after the accident, she won the M&T Bank Loretto Futures Golf Classic in Syracuse, N.Y. Moon finished second on the Futures Tour Money List with $49,234 in season earnings and earned honors as the Futures Tour Rookie of the Year, earning her exempt LPGA Tour status for 2004.

Only Stacy Prammanasudh of Enid, Okla., beat out Moon as top money winner and Player of the Year. The former four-time All-American at the University of Tulsa won twice, finished second twice, posted a total of 11 top-10s in 14 events and earned a Tour-best $57,760. The non-exempt member of the LPGA Tour posted a season scoring average of 70.60 and joined Moon as a recipient of one of the five awarded exempt-status LPGA Tour cards. Her wins came at the Frye Chevrolet Classic in late April in Wichita, Kan., and again in mid-July at the Lincoln Financial Futures Golf Classic in Avon, Conn.

Just as Prammanasudh successfully transitioned from college golf to professional golf, so did 2001 NCAA Champion Candy Hannemann of Rio de Janiero, Brazil. The former Duke University star was on the cusp of earning one of five exempt LPGA cards and made the most of her position by winning two of the last three tournaments to jump into the top five. Hannemann captured her first professional win in early August at the Hunters Oak Futures Golf Classic in Queenstown, Md., then put a cap on the year at the final event Aug. 15-17, with a win at the culminating York Newspaper Company Futures Classic. Heading into the final event in York, Pa., Hannemann, 23, was fifth on the money list, having moved into the top-five after her first win two weeks earlier at Hunters Oak. Her $10,500 first-place check in York bumped up her season earnings to $43,097 and moved her into third place. The Brazilian posted eight top-10 finishes in 14 tournaments.

Hannemann's long-time friend from junior golf, Reilley Rankin, also emerged as a former NCAA All-American to become a winner on the professional level. Perhaps the most compelling story all year, Rankin not only successfully transitioned as a Futures Tour winner with two titles in her third season, but she also came full circle in a gallant long-term rehabilitative effort. Rankin survived a frightening diving accident in 1999 that not only threatened her future in golf, but also her life. The University of Georgia product mended broken vertebrae and bruised vital organs, turned professional in the summer of 2001 after her junior season at Georgia, and won her first pro tournament this May in Merrillville, Ind., at the Northwest Indiana Futures Golf Classic.

Rankin, 24, earned her second season title at the storm-shortened Betty Puskar Futures Golf Classic in Morgantown, W. Va., Aug. 8-10, and earned the fifth exempt LPGA Tour card with six top-10 finishes. Her second Futures Tour win moved her from eighth to fourth on the Futures Tour Money List, before she settled into the No. 5 spot after the final event with season earnings of $35,245.

Earning the fourth LPGA card was South Korean Ju Kim, who missed getting one of the Futures Tour's three exempt LPGA Tour cards in 2001 by $211. Kim didn't come up short this time. She won the Bank of Ann Arbor Futures Classic in late June, charging into the lead from six shots back of second-round leader Prammanasudh. She finished second in late May, losing a two-hole playoff in Sussex, Wis. Kim also finished third twice and recorded eight top-10 finishes in 17 events. With season earnings of $37,255, she on to the 2004 LPGA Tour.

Once the college season was over and the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship was complete, the Futures Tour gained two new members who made an immediate impact. Former Pepperdine University teammates and Australian compatriots Katherine Hull and Lindsey Wright turned professional after graduation and made their presence felt early. Hull won her pro debut May 30-June 1, at the Aurora Health Care Futures Charity Golf Classic, then added a back-to-back victory the next week at the Lima Memorial Hospital Foundation Futures Classic in Lima, Ohio. Not to be outperformed by her four-year collegiate rival, Wright captured her first professional title in a playoff at the GE Futures Professional Golf Classic in mid-July in Altamont, N.Y.

In her third season as a professional, Catherine Cartwright squeaked past Hannemann in early May to win her first Futures Tour title at the Isleta Casino & Resort Futures Golf Classic. But the 20-year-old emerging pro from Bonita Springs, Fla., represented the opposite end of the proverbial spectrum from Vicki Fergon, who won the week prior in El Paso, Texas at the IOS Futures Golf Classic. Fergon, a 26-year member of the LPGA Tour, used her veteran's savvy in 50-mph wind gusts to stay patient enough in the Texas sand blast to win at even-par 216. It was Fergon's first Futures Tour event and her win gave her the distinction of becoming the first woman to win on the Futures Tour, LPGA Tour and Women's Senior Golf Tour.

Golf headlines sizzled all season around the spectacle of top LPGA Tour player Annika Sorenstam, but it was PGA teaching professional Suzy Whaley, who inspired the Swede to compete in a PGA Tour event. Whaley earned the right to compete in the PGA's Greater Hartford Open (GHO) after qualifying as the winner of the 2002 Connecticut Sectional PGA Championship. As part of her tune-up for the GHO, Whaley, head professional at Futures Tour host site Blue Fox Run Golf Club, played in the Lincoln Financial Futures Golf Classic at her home course in Avon, Conn. Whaley fired the low nine-hole score of 30 in the second round and finished the 54-hole event at even-par 213.

Just as the LPGA Tour has experienced a groundswell of interest by Asian players in recent years, the Futures Golf Tour also has seen the highest Asian participation in its history. At November's Futures Tour Qualifying Tournament, 23 players from South Korea, 15 from Japan, five from China, as well as one player each from Taiwan, Thailand and The Philippines, competed in the 2003 event. Among the five players who earned exempt LPGA status following the 2003 Futures Tour season, two of the card winners were South Korean.

Overall, international participation and membership is at an all-time high, with players from 28 nations competing in this year's Futures Tour Qualifying Tournament. Second highest in participation from outside the United States was Canada, with 22 players, and Sweden, with eight. All total for the last five years, of 17 Futures Tour players who have automatically earned exempt LPGA Tour cards, nine have been international players.

Futures Tour members also are making a bigger impact on the LPGA Tour. They earned 15 of the 28 exempt LPGA cards awarded at the LPGA's Final Qualifying Tournament and 14 of the 35 non-exempt cards. A total of 58 Futures Tour members were in the field of 130 players competing in this year's LPGA qualifier.

The 2003 season also was a record-setting year for accuracy. Thirteen holes-in-one were recorded this year, including four at the GE Futures Golf Classic in Altamont, N.Y. The previous record was 11 aces, recorded in 2000.

But while 2003 was a year that marked new milestones for accomplishments, Tour members took the time to reflect on the life of their friend and colleague, Heather Wilbur - the good-natured woman from Moncton, New Brunswick who won hearts across America with her quick smile and small-town naivet. In her memory, the Tour established a player award to be presented annually. The Heather Wilbur Spirit Award, of which Wilbur was made the first recipient in October, will be presented to a Futures Tour player who best exemplifies dedication, courage, perseverance, love of the game and spirit toward achieving goals as a professional golfer. Players will vote for the recipient each year.

And as the Futures Golf Tour completes its 23rd season, each new year offers greater promise and opportunity for the future stars of women's golf.
Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''