LPGA Tour Report Cards
The LPGA Tour season has come to a close and its time to report on standout performances. This year we chose to grade players in golf lingo ' birdie, par, bogey - instead of letter grades.
Who better to start with than Annika Sorenstam. Sorenstam dominated the LPGA Tour in a way that hasnt been seen in decades. As far as the 'birdie-par-bogey' scale is concerned, Annika far surpassed her fellow competitors. She is in a category all by herself, having practically rewritten the record books this season. It was an eagle year for Sorenstam.
She was named Player of the Year and its no wonder when you consider that the 31-year-old took home eight tournament titles, four in a row - one of which was a major - and became the first woman to record a score of 59 in competition. She also became the first woman to break the $2 million mark in a season - finishing No. 1 on the money list with earnings of $2,105,868. Vare Trophy, yes, that went to her too, along with her name next to the record breaking 69.42 scoring average.
Birdies go to Se Ri Pak ($1,623,009) and Karrie Webb ($1,535,404), who had above average seasons. They were the only other players, aside from Sorenstam, to earn more than a million dollars this season. Between these two ladies and Sorenstam, they captured 16 wins on Tour this year and came to be know as the big three.'
Pak had a very strong birdie year. Take into consideration that she was winless in 2000 - finishing 12th on the money list - then rallied to win, not only the first tournament of the year, but four others as well. The South Korean sensation had her best money year on Tour, breaking $1 million for the first time in her four-year career, in addition to finishing second on the money list for the second time.
While Pak was winning her first two events of the season (YourLife Vitamins LPGA Classic and Longs Drugs Challenge), Webb was making strong overtures at winning (she recorded back-to-back second-place finishes at the Subaru Memorial of Naples and The Office Depot). But she was slower out of the gates than Pak. It wasnt until June that Webb made a major mark by successfully defending her title at the U.S. Womens Open.
The dauntless Aussie went on to capture the McDonalds LPGA Championship - her second major win of the year. In doing so she became the fifth woman (Juli Inkster, Pat Bradley, Mickey Wright, Louise Suggs) - as well as the youngest - to win the career grand slam.
Karrie didnt win again until the season-ending Tyco/ADT Championship, making it a year some would question as successful after her 2000 season. Webb was duly satisfied and so are we since she finished third on the money list, in addition to stomping the field at Trump International Golf Club in the finale under grueling conditions.
More birdies go to Dorothy Delasin and Laura Diaz. A rookie in 2000, Delasin successfully defended her Giant Eagle LPGA Classic title and won the Samsung World Championship this year - upping her total wins on Tour to three. The California resident moved up 11 places from last year to finish 14th on the money list.
Laura Diaz has no wins on Tour, although shes flirted with the winners circle four times this year ' each time shes finished second. Diaz moved from 64th her rookie year to 33rd in 2000, to finish ninth on the money list this year and earned three-quarters of a million dollars in the process. Mhairi McKay and Cristie Kerr both finished in the top 30. McKay finished tied for second twice this year and earn a career-best single-season earnings of $430,174, while Kerr tied for third twice and earned $373,947.
Standout Marisa Baena could not be overlooked in the birdie category. The Colombian woman, with the inviting smile, finished 33rd this year with $318,819 in earnings.
A rookie in 1999, Baena finished 87th and 101st the past two years. But a career-best finish of third at the Kathy Ireland Championship as well as a tie for third at the Mizuno Classic and a fourth-place finish as the Subaru Memorial of Naples left her just outside of the top 30. Yet, she was close enough to make it into the season-ending Tour Championship field and on the lists of many as an up-and-comer on the LPGA Tour.
Greatest come-from-behind birdie goes to Laura Davies, who played poorly the first half of the season until winning the Wegmans Rochester International. It was excruciatingly painful to watch Davies at the beginning of the year. Her performance was incongruous with years past.
Some would have quit. Word has it that she contemplated doing so. But she didnt, and thank goodness because she has become one of the most entertaining women to watch, both on and off the golf course. Amazingly, after missing five of 10 cuts, Davies gambled on herself, racked up a win and managed to play her way into 18th place on the money list with almost $500,000 in prize money.
Par is a very respectable score, nothing wrong with it. Players who received par had really good years with the ability to do better.
Rosie Jones and Dottie Pepper made par this year. Jones took home 'media honors' of becoming the first winner from the U.S. with her victory over Mi Hyun Kim at the Kathy Ireland Championship, and crossed the $5 million in career earnings. The 20-year veteran took home her fifth career victory at the Sybase Big Apple Classic, and made the cut in all 22 events in which she entered.
Although Pepper had won the Arch Wireless Championship in 2000, she wasn't able to follow her success with a win this season. Ten top-10 finishes - including two second-place and four third-place finishes -were as good as it got for the feisty Florida resident who was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr this summer. She has been treating the virus with B-12 shots and multi-vitamins and is looking forward to better results next year.
Kim joins Jones and Pepper in the par division. Kim earned $762,363 this season without a win. She recorded 13 top-10 finishes, three of which were second-place finishes, yet was unable to bring home the trophy and dropped from seventh to eighth on the money list.
The hardest thing to do is to take a look at the field and determine who had a year as disappointing as making bogey. Jan Stephenson, Silvia Cavalleri and Jen Hanna were awarded bogey.
Stephenson can tell you its not easy to have a good season every year, especially when youve been playing professional golf going on 30 years. The attractive Australian finished in the top 30 just two years ago, then had a disappointing year in 2000 and continued her slide into obscurity - winning $5,078 to finish in the proverbial lumberyard at the close of 2001.
Cavalleri also receives a bogey after barely managing to finish in the top 20 three times this season and missing the cut in seven of her 23 starts. Hanna missed the cut 50 percent of the time this season. Even with her inability to make the cut at 11 events, the second-year veteran - who recorded a career-low round of 64 at the Firstar LGPA Classic in 2000 - was able to move up the money list 12 places. But when were talking 121 to 109, there arent a lot of listeners.
The final bogey went to rookie Amy Langhals. Langhals tied for 37th at Q-School to earn non-exempt status for the 2001 season - in which she finished with $875 in prize money. The Ohio State University graduate with a degree in sport and exercise science missed 14 out of 15 cuts. Remarkably, she kept her card for 2002 and is reported to be on a strict training program in preparation for next year.
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.