The Best of the LPGA

By Mercer BaggsFebruary 13, 2007, 5:00 pm
Annika Sorenstam may be the face of womens golf, but shes not pictured on the front of this years LPGA Tour media guide.
For the first time in six years, the worlds No. 1-ranked female player is not gracing the cover. Instead, that honor belongs to reigning Player of the Year Lorena Ochoa, reigning Rookie of the Year Seon Hwa Lee, and ADT Championship winner Julieta Granada.
Seon Hwa Lee
Seon Hwa Lee had one win and seven top-10s in her 2006 Rookie of the Year campaign. (WireImage)
What does this say? With or without Annika, the tour is ready to move forward ' and promote itself on a global level.
Meanwhile, on the back cover of the guide is the 2007 tournament schedule ' and it says that the season is finally ready to begin.
The SBS Open at Turtle Bay will commence the new year, and do so without Sorenstam, who is set to make her debut in three weeks in Mexico.
Ochoa, however, is there. So, too, are Karrie Webb, who just won back-to-back tournaments in Australia; Se Ri Pak; Cristie Kerr; and just about every other notable player the tour has ' as well as a host of very talented players with who fans arent overly familiar, many of who are South Korean.
While players like Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis and Michelle Wie grab major headlines, these South Korean players are busy grabbing titles.
Last year, they accounted for 11 LPGA Tour victories ' four more than the next most represented country, the U.S. There were also NINE different South Korean winners. Only one other country (the U.S. with five) had more than ONE different winner in 06.
There has been a debate over recent years as to whether or not this is a good thing for the tour. Critics say American fans, in particular, cant relate to Korean players. They argue that many of these players dont speak English well ' or at all. Theyre not entertaining or charismatic.
And what? Should the LPGA order a South Korean embargo? Should they suspend players until they are fluent in a language most of its natives butcher every second of every day? Should they have to have the sex appeal of Gulbis or the fashion sense of Creamer?
I understand the concerns; and so, too, does the LPGA. Carolyn Bivens and company know they have to find a way to help popularize these players with their core audience and have the fans embrace them, because, as they are well aware, the South Korean contingent is only going to increase ' and they are going to continue to be a dominant force for many years to come.
To do so, the LPGA has provided tutors as well as online assistance to help foreign players learn English as a second (or even third) language. They have translators on site at tournaments. They have implemented classes to help them acclimate to a new culture. They even have Asian staff members to help their cross-cultural program.
The LPGA seems to be doing their part. And the Korean players should do theirs as well. They should do their best to try and gain a working knowledge of the language (if they don't already have it) and make an effort to interact personably with fans and their peers at events. This will help them professionally, personally and even financially.
But, more so, they need to do this for the tour. The LPGA is at a critical stage in its quest to increase exposure. And South Korean players are a significant part of the tour today. They, like all members, have a responsibility to help the tour grow and prosper.
This isn't to say that the South Korean players are being neglectful. Some may be, but I'm sure many are not. It's just to say that the opportunities exist and they owe it to themselves, the tour and Korean LPGA hopefuls to take advantage of them -- and to say to critics, be patient. It can't be easy for them to spend the majority of the year in a foreign country, even if they are surrounded by countrywomen and some family members. Adjustment time is needed.
Just imagine yourself playing full time on the Japanese Tour. How long would it take you to find your comfort zone? How long would it take to learn the language? And would you even try to read, write and speak Japanese -- so much so that you could interact socially sans interpreter.
There was a time when Se Ri Pak was the lone South Korean flag bearer on the LPGA. This year alone, there are 11 players with tour status with the last name Kim.
Overall, there are 42 Korean-born players with LPGA status this season. Thats up from 31 in 2006 and 24 in 05. And these numbers dont even include the handful of players who were born outside of the country but have Korean heritage.
Is this good for the tour? The question is irrelevant. Good or bad, its the way that it is. You just have to accentuate the positives.
The fact is, South Korean players have helped make the LPGA Tour the most competitive its ever been. They have helped popularize the game on a global level. Theyve helped the LPGA extend its brand far beyond the United States and into lucrative Asian markets.
Its not their fault that, on the whole, they are better than everyone else at the moment. The LPGA is for the best female players in the world ' and, right now, the best group of players originates from South Korea.
It would certainly be beneficial for the tour to have the likes of Gulbis or Creamer, or Morgan Pressel or any number of young American players to win more often. That would undoubtedly create more fan interest and better ratings in the States.
But the LPGA cant just hand trophies to these ladies. They have to go out and earn them. And to do that, theyre going to have to play better, play up to their increasing level of competition. Its as simple as that.
This is the current state of the LPGA. And a new season with 31 events begins this week in Hawaii ' where there just happens to be nine Kims, including the defending champion; four Lees; and three Parks in the field.
Enjoy it. Because these are the best female players in ' and from around ' the world.
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
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  • If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

    By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

    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.

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    Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

    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.

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

    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

    By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

    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.”

    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

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    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 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

    By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

    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.

    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

    ''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 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.''