Evian trying to prove status as fifth LPGA major

By Randall MellSeptember 10, 2013, 2:19 pm

EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France – There’s a new starlet in the LPGA’s major championship lineup.

Here in the shadow of the Alps, on the emerald fairways perched above Lake Geneva, the Evian Championship boldly steps up in class this week as the fifth major in women’s golf.

For a number of years now, this event has felt like a major for the Europeans in the LPGA ranks. Evian has built a reputation among pros for its first-class presentation and amenities, but now there’s a whole new standard to measure up to in its first year as an officially designated major. There is added scrutiny over whether this starlet will be a supreme enough examination to be worthy of its new status.

This championship was founded as the Evian Masters in 1994 as a Ladies European Tour event. It became a co-sanctioned LPGA event in 2000 with the LPGA announcing two years ago that it would be a major.

Evian Championship: Articles, videos and photos

The list of past winners is impressive, speaking to the caliber of fields the event has attracted from its start, with Helen Alfredsson winning the inaugural competition. Annika Sorenstam, Juli Inkster, Karrie Webb, Laura Davies, Paula Creamer, Jiyai Shin and Ai Miyazato are among an All Star cast that has won here. Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park is the defending champ.

The purse is also impressive at $3.25 million, equaling the U.S. Women’s Open as the richest on tour.

The largest question looming over Evian’s worthiness as a major is the redesign of the Evian Resort Golf Club. It was an $8 million undertaking over the last year, with everything about the course upgraded, from the tees to the fairway configurations to the green complexes and bunkering. It is a different and more substantial test that architect Steve Smyers and European Golf Design created in their collaborative effort. There’s a lot at stake with the nature of this new test likely having the ultimate say in whether this really feels like a major championship.

Will the golf be as pure as the famed spring waters here?

Will the test be as grand as the picturesque setting the Alps and Lake Geneva give this course?

“It’s coming together,” Smyers told GolfChannel.com. “We had extremely difficult weather in the winter, and then a cold and wet spring. It might have been the worst weather there in recorded history, but the staff there has done a wonderful job getting the course ready. The test will be there. You’re going to have a championship test that is really going to identify the best ball-strikers.”

While players say the test is admirably upgraded, that quirky elements of the original design have been softened, there are some issues with the new grasses. The early reviews are that this course is another year from being what Evian and the architects imagined. There are some bare patches in the new sod laid down, spotty enough that they are expected to be marked as ground under repair this week. There are also some issues in how the greens are a little inconsistent in the way they receive shots.

“I think it’s OK,” two-time major championship winner Cristie Kerr said. “Obviously, it’s not in the shape they wanted. That’s just the way it is when you try to get it all done in such a short period of time, but we do love this place.”

There is an undeniable affection for this event among players, and there’s hope that the newly redesigned course will win their affection as thoroughly as everything that goes with this week.

“I have always loved this golf course,” said Paula Creamer, who won the Evian Masters in ’05. “I think it’s a great test, but to be major championship worthy it needed to be tougher.”

Evian Resort Golf Club is built on the side of a mountain. Smyers and European Golf Design made it tougher adding length, making tee shots with drivers more challenging. They made it tougher flattening out some landing areas on the side of this mountain but then adding more undulation to the much larger greens they created.

The course is marked at 6,433 yards, which is actually a few yards shorter than it played last year, but Smyers said it has the potential to play 300 yards longer than a year ago. Also, it’s now a par 71 layout instead of par 72 with the 18th hole now a long par 4 instead of a short par 5.

In great measure, Evian’s elevation to major championship status is the fruit of Franck Riboud’s ambitious vision and LPGA commissioner Mike Whan’s bold leadership.

Riboud is the CEO of Groupe Danone, which owns Evian mineral water and Dannon, the yogurt company. Before Whan officially took over as commissioner in 2010, Riboud was in his ear, wooing him with his grand plan. In the end, it made sense to Whan, but only if Riboud and Evian’s tournament management could meet Whan’s list of demands. The course redesign was at the top of the list.

“I grinded over this a long time,” Whan told GolfChannel.com back when he decided to declare Evian a major. “If you asked me before I became commissioner how I would stand on designating a fifth major, I probably wouldn’t have been in favor of it. I’m really respectful of the game’s traditions. I didn’t want to mess with tradition without walking through this.

“There was a list of 10 things I really thought kept this tournament from being a legitimate major, and until they were addressed, there was really no point in talking about something more significant. To Evian’s credit, we knocked all 10 off the list.”

Majors evolve over time, but Evian evolved into one practically overnight.

The caliber of this week's winner, the nature of the leaderboard and the drama that unfolds will have a lot to say about whether this feels right as a major.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

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."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

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.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

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."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

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.