Feel the Pressure

By Mercer BaggsJune 26, 2005, 4:00 pm
2005 U.S. WomenWhen the LPGA Tour says, These Girls Rock! they really mean it. The message itself is subjective. But what really jumps out is the subject of the message.
 
In the end, it wasnt a girl who won this week, but a young woman. Still, it was girls, not women, who dominated the landscape of the 60th U.S. Womens Open.
 
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam could feel the pressure in her bid to win the third leg of the Grand Slam.
There were 18 teenagers in the field at Cherry Hills. By comparison, there were none at Pinehurst for the men's Open. Such a discrepancy can only lead to one question: Why do kids, or young adults, fare so very well in womens professional golf as opposed to mens professional golf?
 
That one question can produce a variety of answers. It could be biological ' that girls physically develop faster than boys. It could be that the depth of talent in the mens game is far greater than it is on the womens side.
 
Maybe its a bit of both. Maybe its something altogether different. Whatever the reason, or reasons, Im probably not qualified to debate the social and professional well-beings between boys and girls.
 
But there is one thing I do know. One thing that was as much a storyline this week as was the teeny-bopper explosion. That one thing would be: pressure.
 
We all know pressure. Weve all experienced it on some level, to some degree.
 
I feel it just writing this, trying to make a self-imposed deadline. The mind starts to shut down a little, the muscles tighten, the words dont flow as freely.
 
Pressure is a parasite. It needs us to exist. It is entirely self-induced. We determine how long it lives and on how much of us it feeds.
 
Others can try and apply pressure to us, but it only attaches if we allow it to do so. If you dont care, it doesnt matter; hence no pressure.
 
But when you do care, you cant avoid it. Theres no way to deny it. When you want something so badly, you feel the pressure. It just means so much to you.
 
No one wanted to win this week more than Annika Sorenstam. And because of that, she dealt with the most pressure.
 
She just wanted it so damn much.
 
If golf was won week-to-week on ability alone, Sorenstam would never, ever lose an LPGA event. But there are other factors; and none of those factors factor more heavily in a major championship than pressure.
 
You think youre ready for it? 1973 U.S. Open champion Johnny Miller rhetorically questioned during the telecast. The Sunday of the U.S. Open is unlike any other (round). Its the ultimate gut-check.
 
And ' pardon the visual, but those figurative insides were strewn across the first few holes this Sunday.
 
Eight players led or were within two strokes of the lead to start the final round. Only two of them parred (Morgan Pressel and Angela Stanford) the opening hole. Karen Stupples, Birdie Kim and Young Jo bogeyed the first. Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer and Young Kim made double bogey.
 
Sorenstam started bogey-bogey, and in a dire effort to save her Slam, she just kept making more and more. The dream died in 296 strokes; 77 of which came on Sunday.
 
Lorena Ochoa entered the final round on the same number as Sorenstam (five back at 6 over), but was in a dissimilar situation.
 
After a stagnate start, Ochoa played the back nine nearly stress free. Nearly.
 
Well off the pace and without the burden of pressure, Ochoa birdied four holes from 10-16. That brought her to 3 over, and within one of the lead at the time. That also brought her a terrible amount of tension.
 
A birdie might have won her the tournament; so, too, just a par. But with all that pressure having jumped her all at once on the tee box, she took a divot the size of Guadalajara with her 3-wood and popped her tee shot into the lake.
 
I hate to use the word choke, Miller said soon thereafter. But thats what that was.
 
Ochoa made an ocho. It was just too much.
 
The pressure was too much for most everyone, not just Lorena and Annika.
 
Natalie Gulbis had a chance to post the clubhouse number at 5 over, but bogeyed the last. Brittany Lang, a 19-year-old amateur, had a chance to post 4 over, but did the same. The pressure of closing out a major championship ' and a very difficult finishing hole ' got the best of them.
 
Pressure reduced Michelle Wie from amateur superstar to a 15-year-old who couldnt make a 3-foot putt. The 54-hole co-leader turned in 42 and finished with an 82.
 
It got the better of Wie on Sunday. But not her playing companion.
 
No way should Birdie Kim have been able to handle this situation. She made three cuts in 20 starts in her rookie season in 2004. She had only one top-10 in 13 starts this year leading up to the Open.
 
Her name, which she recently changed from Ju-Yun Kim, was her only distinguishing feature.
 
Until now. Now, because of how very well she handled the pressure, she is more than just a girl ' young woman ' with a peculiar name. Shes forever a U.S. Open champion.
 
Pressel was the only other player to handle the pressure equally as admirably as Kim.
 
It looked like it was going to get the better of her, too. The tempestuous ' and ber-confident ' 17-year-old appeared ready to implode after bogeys on 4, 5 and 6 (she slapped her putter so hard after a poor shot at the fifth, it almost recoiled into her face).
 
But somehow she composed herself and made only two more bogeys the rest of the round.
 
She didnt win, but Pressel, the Annika Sorenstam of junior golf, handled the self-examination ' and the pressure ' better than did everyone else not named Birdie Kim. And that includes Michelle Wie. That will only give ammunition to those who feel Wie must first learn how to win before she wins.
 
But weve already touched on two topics; well save that one for another time.
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
 
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - U.S. Women's Open
  • Full Coverage - U.S. Women's Open
  • Getty Images

    Rahm (62) fires career low round

    By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

    The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

    Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

    What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

    Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

    Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

    Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

    Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

    Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

    Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

    Getty Images

    Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

    Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

    "Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

    Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


    Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

    "That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

    Getty Images

    Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

    By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

    There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

    Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

    Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

    Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

    @tommyfleetwood_1

    A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

    The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

    It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

    Getty Images

    Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

    Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

    The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

    It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

    "It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."


    Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


    Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

    Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

    "This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."