Enjoying the sights and sounds of golf's greats

By Mercer BaggsMay 7, 2016, 11:54 pm

THE WOODLANDS, Texas – There are days filled with words you wish you never heard. And then there are days when you keep quiet and enjoy the sights and sounds of others.

Today was a good day.

There’s Gary Player, sitting in the middle of a three-chair set; black, long-sleeve shirt; white saddle golf shoes with the big white, tasseled flap over the laces.

“I’ve been a pro for 63 years,” he says, almost triumphantly. “Traveled more miles than any man alive.

“These guys today, talking about being tired from all their travel.”

He fully spreads his arms across the two empty chairs and slides down in his.

“They get their own jet. Million-dollar appearance fees. I’d travel 40 hours, with six children, stop four times in the most unbelievable places …”

You’ve probably heard that before. But, hey, it’s Gary Player. It’s better than listening to the a guy explain why he hit a full 7 instead of a laid-off 6, a nostalgic reprieve to cliché and banality.

Player was one of nine greats who teed off Saturday afternoon at The Woodlands Country Club, a half-hour after the final group set out in Round 2 of the Insperity Invitational.

Included among them: Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Hale Irwin, Ben Crenshaw, Dave Stockton, Tony Jacklin, Tom Weiskopf and David Graham.

Their combined accomplishments:

PGA Tour wins: 203
PGA Tour Champions wins: 128
Major victories on the regular tour: 45
Major victories on the senior circuit: 29
Hall of Fame plaques: 7

They were even observed on Saturday by another World Golf Hall of Fame member, former president George H.W. Bush.

Of course, money is involved. These guys aren’t playing the 3M Greats of Golf for free. But it doesn’t matter what the primary incentive is – cash, camaraderie, competition –all that matters is that they have gathered again to entertain.

It's not all for fun. You can tell that these guys still want to win and beat one another, even if it’s an 18-hole, three-man, three-team scramble.

You can hear it in the, “Oh, Jack. C’mon,” on the fourth hole.

You can see it when Jacklin turns to Graham, flabbergasted that his tee shot on the par-3 eighth came up short of the green.

You can feel it when Irwin doubles over after a birdie miss at No. 9.

The golf was the golf. Team Irwin-Crenshaw-Stockton prevailed. But even they admitted, that didn’t really matter.

It was in the experience, and in the stories.

Prior to the event, two press conferences were held. One with Nicklaus, Player and Trevino. One with Crenshaw, Irwin and Stockton.

In the former, a question was asked relating to how the three players lifted each other’s games. Trevino started talking, telling a story about how in 1979, “you guys, you guys were starting to write about he’s finished, and what did I say? You know, in the wintertime when you go in a cave, you find a sleeping bear, leave the guy alone, don’t wake him up. You guys woke him up! He comes back, wins two majors.”

Then Player chimed in: “Funny enough, I was in his house. … and Sports Illustrated wrote about the end of Jack Nicklaus’ career, and I remember it like yesterday. He took that Sports Illustrated and he threw it down like that on that table.”

The story went on for a while. And then Trevino spoke again. And then Player. And then …

“A little while ago you asked a question,” Jack said with a smirk.

Seven quick minutes had passed. And no one wanted to be anywhere else. Nicklaus talked about focusing on Arnold Palmer, to his detriment at times. They talked about the current crops of players. They talked about the state of the PGA Tour Champions, and they talked about John Daly. Most of it was rehash, but it was Nicklaus, Player, Trevino rehash, which is the best thing you'll hear most any day.

When the next trio sat in the still-warm seats, the clock continued to move without notice. The topics were similar, the responses equally in depth. There was even reverence for the men who spoke before them.

“They’ve given us so much, and they’ve allowed us to do what we do, and there’s an awareness in the golfing world that those three and Arnold Palmer – they have given us this opportunity,” Crenshaw said.

“You see respect written all over the room,” added Irwin.

Eventually, the interviews had to end. There was lunch to be had – with President Bush – and golf to be played.

Word of advice: If you can only spend five minutes at a golf tournament, do so when Lee Trevino is on the first tee. And if Player and Nicklaus are there, all the better.

“First up, and arguably the best player of all time, Jack Nicklaus!” the first-tee announcer said as an introduction. Without missing a beat, Player said incredulously, “Arguably?!?” To which Trevino countered with, “Trump might have won more club championships.”

After Trevino was announced, a guy yelled, “You the man!” Trevino shot back, “A woman never says that.”

The main attraction – their following well out-numbered Daly’s for most of the round – didn’t disappoint. They poked fun at one another, shared quips, and interacted with the fans.

Waiting on the fifth tee box, Nicklaus sat in his cart. A guy started a mostly one-way chat and then brought up ice cream. He now had Jack’s attention. Nicklaus shifted his body toward the fan and began to list every flavor of his eponymous brand.

A 76-year-old man talking about ice cream in earnest. And it was great.

“Sounds like you haven’t got a flavor you don’t like,” someone said. “Can’t you tell,” Nicklaus replied.

As the day faded, Jack, Gary and Lee rolled up to the 18th green. Hale was there, and Ben, and Tom, and Dave and David. Only Tony was missing, because he had to catch a flight.

The greatest of the Greats couldn’t convert their final birdie putt. But no matter.

There must have been 50 people on the 18th green, hundreds more in the roped-off fairway and surrounding stands. Ben hugged David. Hale chatted with Tom. “Nice being with you, pal,” Lee said to Jack amid a mighty bear hug.

And then everyone stopped. Everyone.

Everyone looked up to the Jumbotron to watch the Kentucky Derby. Even the remaining eight legends.

Sometimes it’s good to be silent and enjoy the sights and sounds of others.

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.