As Hall of Fame door opens up, so does Park

By Randall MellJune 9, 2016, 12:36 am

SAMMAMISH, Wash. – Inbee Park says her final putt to complete Thursday’s first round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship may be the most thrilling of her career.

When that last putt drops, she will officially become a member of the most difficult Hall of Fame to qualify for in sports.

She will be an LPGA Hall of Famer.

“I really can’t imagine myself walking up to 18 and just actually waiting for that last putt,” Park said. “It’s going to feel so much better than maybe a championship putt.”

The big question is whether Park can play through the pain in her left thumb to get to that last putt and actually qualify for the Hall of Fame. While she met the 27-point requirement for induction late last year, she still has to meet the tour’s 10-year membership requirement. She needs to make her 10th start this year to do so and she must finish the round to do that on Thursday.

“I always believe in myself, that I can overcome all these kinds of injuries, all the tests,” Park said. “I've overcome so many other obstacles in my golfing life. And I really believe that I can overcome this.”

Park has exemplified class in her 10-year career, and qualifying for induction ought to be a glorious affair. She deserves that.

That’s the potentially difficult deal with the way Thursday is setting up, because nobody should want to see Park struggling to reach the finish line. Leave it to Park, though, to put everyone’s mind at ease with her sophisticated perspective. Even if Thursday’s tough, even if the thumb makes her march to the finish line agonizing, she says there will be something fitting in that. She says there will be poetry even in that, because if we’re going to celebrate the entire scope of her career, we’ll see there was a lot of pain and heartache that had to be overcome to get to the Hall of Fame’s front door. In fact, there’s probably been more pain than glory in every Hall of Famer’s career.

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“Playing good golf is Inbee Park, and playing bad golf is also me,” Park said. “I'm thankful for every moment that I had the last 10 years, whether it's a struggle, whether it's successful moments. And that's why I'm here. Maybe this is happening for a reason. I really do believe that everything happens for a reason.

“If I was just successful all the way through from the start of my career, and if I didn't have any obstacles or hard tests, I probably wouldn't appreciate where I am right now.”

Park, 27, knows all the questions swirling about her won’t end even after she makes that last putt Thursday and becomes just the 24th player to make it into the LPGA Hall of Fame.

Where does she go next? Will the inflammation in the ligament and tendon of her left thumb allow her to compete for a gold medal in this summer’s Olympics? Or will the injury force her to shut down her game and get the rest she needs, or the medical treatment she needs? Will her desire to start a family lead her to leave the game entirely?

Park addressed all of that in the best way she could, with the class she has always exhibited in the face of the hardest questions.

About retirement . . .

“If knew right now how long I'm going to play, I'd tell you,” Park said. “Unfortunately, there is no surprise announcement right now, whether I'm going to quit after this week or I'm going to retire after this year. I really don't have the answer for you right now.”

Park said she will play as long she’s happy doing so.

“I am happy right now that I'm here, so I am playing,” she said. “But [the end] can be tomorrow. It can be three years. It can be five years. It can change overnight.”

About wanting to start a family . . .

“Obviously, I'd like to have a family, probably within three years or so,” she said. “And after that, I'm not sure if I'm going to play professionally, or whether I'm going to just retire. That, I don't know.”

About how her thumb is holding up after causing her to withdraw after posting a career-high 84 in her last start two weeks ago . . .

“Over the last week or last 10 days, I definitely felt some improvement,” Park said. “I don't feel as much pain as before. I can see improvement and that’s really important.”

On whether she can make a run at becoming the first woman to win the same major championship four consecutive years . . .

“I wasn't going to miss this opportunity, no matter what,” Park said. “It's hard, because I've seen my scores, and I've seen where my balls were going the last month or two. I know there is pain, and I know it's not easy, but you've just got to overcome that challenge. I'm not going to die because of the thumb pain. That's the good news.”

On whether she thinks she can recover from the injury and compete in the Olympics in August . . .

“If it was, like, two weeks ago, I would say I probably can't play,” Park said. “But right now, I think I definitely have a chance to play . . . , It's just hard, because it's still two months away and I just don't know what my thumb is going to do until then. It's hard because it's for the country. It's not for individual, same as UL International Crown that we're going to have next month. If I'm not at my full condition, I kind of feel like I need to give a chance to somebody else who can perform so much better than me at the moment.”

It’s human nature to wonder where Park goes next, but that really shouldn’t be what Thursday’s about. It isn’t about the questions that will linger. It’s about celebrating the answers she has already so magnificently provided in earning her way into the LPGA Hall of Fame.

When Park’s last putt drops Thursday, she’ll join Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Patty Berg, Betsy Rawls, Mickey Wright, Kathy Whitworth, Annika Sorenstam and 16 other greats in the most select Hall of Fame in sport.

“It just feels surreal,” Park said. “I really, truly, feel honored that I get to put my name among the greatest players in the world.”

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x