Gone But Not Forgotten

By Mercer BaggsJune 14, 2000, 4:00 pm
The 100th U.S. Open will officially begin on Thursday. But before play could commence, a somber ceremony was held early Wednesday morning to pay tribute to the 1999 champion.
For the second time in his celebrated career, Payne Stewart captured the National Open in 1999 at Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Tragically, he perished in a plane crash just four months later.
In the eight months since his passing, tales have been told and memories have been shared. On Wednesday, one last tribute was showcased before the trophy is to be officially handed over to another man.
Some 40 players, including Byron Nelson, Tom Lehman, Davis Love III, Chris Perry, Phil Mickelson, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia gathered with friends and family at 7:00am PT on a captivatingly poetic oceanfront green to pay homage to the late Payne Stewart.
USGA President Trey Holland spoke first, and then stood aside for Stewart's long-time friend Paul Azinger.
Choking back tears, Azinger said: 'I challenge you not to forget Payne Stewart, not just Payne the golfer, but Payne the person.'
Tracey Stewart, Payne's widow, then followed Azinger. She spoke on the difficulties of coping without her late husband, as well as delivering a message of hope.
After Tracey spoke, the song 'With Hope' was played. Then, 21 players approached 21 tees lined along the fairway facing the Pacific Ocean. On Holland's command, they hit the balls simultaneously into the ocean.
A second wave of players then repeated the 21-shot salute. The silence was punctured by the statement: 'We love you, Payne!'
For the first time since an auto accident sidelined Ben Hogan in 1949, an Open champion will not defend his title. Stewart, who loved Pebble Beach dearly, certainly would have been one of the favorites this week. As it is, that role will be divided among several others.
Tiger Woods heads the list, if for only the fact that he won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February.
There's David Duval, who earned his best finish of the season last week. Duval lost to Dennis Paulson in a playoff at the Buick Classic.
With new vision and a new putter, Vijay Singh could add the Open to his 2000 Masters title. Singh ditched his 3-foot model for the Paul Azinger-style 45'-putter. He also underwent laser eye surgery two weeks ago.
'My putting hasn't changed, but I anchor it into my belly,' Singh said. 'To me, it doesn't feel like a long putter. I've got a normal grip and I'm standing up exactly the same way. It's just the extension that makes the difference.'
As for his corrected eye sight, Singh said: 'Each week it gets better. I didn't see things very well last week, but it's getting to where I can see everything right now.'
Of course, there are the usual U.S. Open suspects to keep an eye out for - Two-time champion Ernie Els, fellow multiple winner Lee Janzen, Lehman, who has four top-5's in the last five years, 1999 runner-up Mickelson, 1996 runner-up Love III and 1994 runner-up Colin Montgomerie.
Statistics show Monty's success is dependent upon his ability to drive the ball into the fairway. On three occasions, the Scotsman has finished the tournament in the top-three in driving accuracy. Each time he's finished the tournament in the top-three.
'I've happened to hit more fairways than anyone else. And that's a good start,' said Montgomerie. 'I feel if I can hit the fairways, then I can hit the greens and then you have a birdie putt. If you don't hit the fairways, you aren't having many birdie putts.'
Montgomerie isn't the only European with a chance to win this week. Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke both have victories over Tiger Woods under their belts this season. However, one European who won't be adding this major championship to his resume is Paul Lawrie. The reigning British Open champion withdrew earlier in the week due to a groin injury. Don Pooley replaced him.
Lawrie joins Steve Elkington on the inactive list this week. Elk withdrew Wednesday because of a sinus and ear infection which kept him from flying. South African Rory Sabbatini replaced the Australian.
While it's easy to be transfixed on the odds-on favorites, you can't overlook players like Nick Price or 5-time AT&T champion Mark O'Meara. Price is an excellent wind player and O'Meara's five wins at Pebble Beach speak for themselves.
Thursday at 6:30am PT the group of Mark Brooks, Brent Geiberger and Bob May will commence the 2000 U.S. Open. Three days later, someone's name will be engraved on the trophy. That will officially end Payne Stewart's reign as U.S. Open champion. And while he won't be there in body to acknowledge or congratulate the 2000 champion, he'll be there in spirit and in mind. As he has and will always be for so many of those associated with the game of golf.
*This year's purse is $4,500,000. The winner will receive $800,000.
*The 2nd hole has been changed from a par-5 to a 484-yard par-4. The overall par for the course is 71.
*At 60-years-old, Jack Nicklaus will be playing in his 44th consecutive U.S. Open championship, dating back to his first in 1957 at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio as an amateur.
*The Open winner will receive an Open exemption for the next ten years, invitations to the Masters Tournament and the PGA Championship for the next five years, invitations to the British Open and THE PLAYERS Championship for the next ten years and exempt status on the PGA TOUR for the next five years.

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.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

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

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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.''