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.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.