International Crown intensity high at LPGA opener

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2014, 8:14 pm

The LPGA’s season opener in the Bahamas next week is about a lot more than shaking off rust.

With the International Crown making its debut later this year, the intensity will immediately ratchet up in the ranks of the South Koreans, Americans and Japanese.

While the eight nations qualifying for the International Crown were set at the end of last year, the competition to see who makes those four-player rosters continues. The most intense battles look like they’ll unfold for the South Korean, American and Japanese rosters.

For South Korea, with fierce nationalistic pride in its country’s dominance of the women’s game, there promises to be escalating scrutiny on who qualifies and who doesn’t. So Yeon Ryu said there is already pressure building with South Korean fans expecting a win to prove that nation is truly the world’s best in women’s golf.

“The really hard part is Koreans are pretty sure we’re going to win this tournament,” Ryu says of her country’s fan base. “I think that makes it really hard.”

It’s practically a free-for-all for the final spot on the South Korean roster.

On the American front, there’s no guarantee American stars Cristie Kerr and Paula Creamer hold on to the last two U.S. spots. They have work to do to secure their places over the next three months.

Japan has a bunch of players in the top 50 in the world with a chance to make its team.

The International Crown is scheduled July 24-27 at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owing Mills, Md.

South Korea, the United States, Japan, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Chinese Tapei and Australia claimed spots into the event based on the cumulative world rankings of their best four players near the end of last season. However, the competition for rosters spots on those teams remains open through March 31, the Monday before the Kraft Nabisco Championship begins.

That leaves just six LPGA events for players from those eight countries to make their team, though qualifying isn’t limited to LPGA events. The top four from each nation in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings on March 31 will make the team.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan believes this will be a showcase event.

“It takes our tour’s greatest asset and puts it on display,” Whan said. “Fans and viewers have different views on this, but the global nature of our tour, the fact that the best players come from all over the world, and that the whole world is watching, that is our greatest advantage at the LPGA.

“When we play in Korea, Japan and Taiwan, what you realize is that they are so country proud, it’s unbelievable. So we’re going to give them an opportunity to be country proud. We’re going to give them an opportunity to put up the flag, paint the face, sing the anthem and let’s see who the best country in the world is.”

Here’s a look at how the roster battles shape up for each country with the world rankings in parenthesis:

South Korea: Inbee Park (1), So Yeon Ryu (5), Na Yeon Choi (7), I.K. Kim (10), Ha Na Jang (14), Amy Yang (15), Jiyai Shin (16), Hee Young Park (18), Hyo-Joo Kim (24), Sun Ju Ahn (27), Chella Choi (28), Se Ri Pak (30),

The South Koreans are so deep, they literally could have had three or four teams qualify for this event if more than one team from each nation were allowed to make it. Pak, the Hall of Famer who inspired her nation’s dominance, would make quite the story if she could work her way on to the team.

United States: Stacy Lewis (3), Lexi Thompson (9), Cristie Kerr (12), Paula Creamer (13), Angela Stanford (17), Lizette Salas (20), Gerina Piller (36), Jessica Korda (42), Brittany Lincicome (46), Morgan Pressel (47), Jennifer Johnson (56), Michelle Wie (61).

That’s quite the bunching there with Thompson, Kerr, Creamer, Stanford and Salas all within 11 world-ranking spots.

Japan: Ai Miyazato (21), Mika Miyazato (22), Sakura Yokomine (34), Rikako Morita (38), Miki Saiki (44), Shiho Oyama (48), Mamiko Higa (49), Yumiko Yoshido (51), Chie Arimura (66).

The Miyazatos aren’t sisters, but they are the most well-known Japanese players to LPGA fans. There’s a lot of talent, though, on Japan’s own women’s tour who could make international names for themselves at Caves Valley.

Spain: Beatriz Recari (19), Azahara Munoz (31), Carlota Ciganda (39), Belen Mozo (172), Mireia Prat (247), Maria Hernandez (340), Patricia Sanz Barrio (367).

The trio of Spaniards leading the way here were a big part of Europe winning its first Solheim Cup on American soil last year.

Sweden: Caroline Hedwall (23), Anna Nordqvist (26), Pernilla Lindberg (119), Mikaela Parmlid (146), Karin Sjodin (180), Linda Wessberg (216), Camilla Lennarth (250).

Hedwall and Nordqvist are proven international team match-play dynamos as part of the last two winning European Solheim Cup teams. Hedwall was the first player to go 5-0 in a Solheim Cup in last year’s Euro win.

Thailand: Ariya Jutanugarn (29), Pornanong Phatlum (35), Moriya Jutanugarn (85), Thidapa Suwannapura (123), Onnarin Attayabanphot (141), Nontaya Srisawang (166), Patcharajutar Kongkrapan (237).

There’s a lot of young, emerging talent here. The Thais could really surprise.

Chinese Taipei: Yani Tseng (37), Teresa Lu (54), Candie Kung (92), Hsuan-Yu Yao (163), Yun-Jye Wei (207), Tzu-Chi Lin (406).

This is Yani’s team. She is revered in her homeland, and she’ll be looking to regain her best form to help make her nation proud.

Australia: Karrie Webb (8), Katherine Hull-Kirk (107), Stacey Keating (114), Lindsey Wright (129), Rebecca Artis (148), Sarah Jane Smith (185), Nikki Campbell (213), Bree Arthur (223), Sarah Kemp (231), Kristie Smith (232).

Webb may be the only Hall of Famer to qualify for this international team event, but this is a team with proven winners in the United States, Europe and their native Australia.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.