Hull, 18, in no hurry to get LPGA card

By Randall MellDecember 4, 2014, 10:43 pm

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Rising young English star Charley Hull isn’t going to take the beaten path anywhere.

Her father, Dave, a retired plasterer, says that’s a family trait, traceable back to her maternal grandmother, a Polish resistance fighter who took a long, arduous journey making a new home in England.

Charley’s grandmother, Irena Pernak, was just 13 when the Russians invaded Poland, but that didn’t stop the Russians from sending her to a labor camp in Siberia after they captured her.

“Charley’s grandmother escaped from that camp,” Dave said Thursday behind the 13th green at LPGA International’s Jones Course as he watched Charley play the second round of LPGA Q-School. “She ended up in Persia, where she went to work for the Red Cross. Charley’s got a lot of her grandmother’s spirit. She’s going to do things her own way.”

And that brings us to Q-School, where Hull didn’t arrive this week feeling all the nerves that players typically bring to this 90-hole pressure cooker.

“I hate Q-School,” Hull said after posting a 3-under-par 69 Thursday to get herself back in the mix for a tour card after opening with a 75. She’s tied for 39th with three rounds to go.

Hull, 18, isn’t living and dying with every shot this week. In fact, she won’t be crushed if she doesn’t finish among the top 20 who earn full status to play the LPGA next season, or among the top 45 who earn conditional status.

“If I don’t get my card, I won’t be overly disappointed,” Hull said.

That’s because Hull doesn’t put a lot of validity in Q-School. She doesn’t like the concept as a true measure of whether a player is ready to play a tour. She knows from experience. After turning pro at 16, she failed to advance through the Ladies European Tour’s Q-School, but then she took the tour by storm anyway last year.

She got her first start at the Lalla Meryem Cup on a sponsor’s invite and finished second. That got her into the South African Women’s Open for her next start, where she finished second again. She would go on to finish second in her first five starts to earn full status on the LET Tour based on her non-member earnings.

“That’s why I don’t feel a lot of pressure this week,” Hull said.

Hull knows she’s ready for the LPGA. She showed it this year playing as a non-member. She won $213,005 in nine LPGA starts. She tied for seventh at the Kraft Nabisco and tied for third at the Airbus LPGA Classic.

If Hull must return to the LET full time next year, she will be content doing so, knowing she could get as many as 11 LPGA starts as a non-member. She could make it into all five LPGA major championships, plus play in up to six other events on sponsor exemptions.

Even if she wins an LPGA tour card this week, Hulls says she probably won’t play a full LPGA schedule next year. She still loves being at home in England, and she is intent on not missing out on her life with her friends there.

“I’m only 18 once,” Hull said. “You can never get your childhood back.”

Hull grew up in Kettering, England, where she still lives with her parents, Dave and Basinka. She is the youngest of their three daughters.

“Charley loves being with her friends, playing golf with them when she’s home, she really does,” Dave says.

Hull is no golfing machine. Under that bundle of blonde locks, and behind that bright smile, there’s a teenager with interests beyond making birdies.

“I have so many years to play in the future, there is no rush,” Hull said.

And yet Hull is racing to feats quicker than any woman in LET history. At 17, she became the youngest Solheim Cup player in history last year, helping the Europeans upset the Americans while capturing the fancy of American audiences when she upset U.S. star Paula Creamer in singles and then asked Creamer for an autograph.

Hull was the LET’s Rookie of the Year last season, and now she’s aiming to become the youngest Order of Merit winner in tour history. She will fly to the LET’s season-ending event at the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters next week in a bid to win the Order of Merit.

Hull’s independent spirit is something her father has encouraged, even nurtured. Dave didn’t take up golf until he was 45, and he doesn’t coach his daughter. In fact, he tries to stay as far in the background as he can. You won’t see him hovering behind greens or tee boxes this week. He’s typically a hundred yards away, watching from a distance.

“I wasn’t planning on coming to the course today, but Charley said she wanted to see me out here,” Dave said. “I believe if your child’s interested in golf, you get them lessons, and you support them any way you can, but you don’t get in their way. She likes learning things on her own. She believes it’s her game and nobody else’s.”

That’s why Dave didn’t hire a full-time caddie for Charley for her first 16 months as a pro. They hired local caddies, instead. She learned to do her own yardage books, pull her own clubs and read greens herself.

“I like to learn the hard way,” Hull said. “When people tell me things, I don’t listen.”

Before the Kraft Nabisco Championship earlier this year, the Hulls finally hired a full-time caddie, Gary Wildman, another Englishman who is just making his start in the profession.

“We’re learning together,” Hull said.

It promises to be golf’s version of alternative education.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”