A. Jutanugarn overcomes demons for first LPGA win

By Randall MellMay 9, 2016, 1:11 am

If there are golf demons, they’re just memories posing as something more sinister.

They’re bad memories.

They’re echoes of failure that sit on a player’s shoulder whispering destructive reminders.

That’s what made Ariya Jutanugarn’s victory Sunday at the Yokohama Tire Classic such a special triumph. She didn’t just hold off Stacy Lewis, Morgan Pressel and Amy Yang coming home on the back nine of the Senator Course in Prattville, Ala.

With all due respect to those formidable competitors, Jutanugarn beat a tougher pair of foes. She beat the memories of two epic collapses.

And Jutanugarn, 20, didn’t just beat those golf demons. She beat all the doubts that followed her after she tore the labrum in her right shoulder three years ago, an injury that robbed her of the strength and confidence many thought would take her to the top of the game.

Jutanugarn triumphed over all of that Sunday in Alabama.

“It’s great because she was really struggling with her confidence,” Gary Gilchrist, her new swing coach, told GolfChannel.com. “It’s great how she’s turned her game around.”

A little more than a month ago, Jutanugarn was two shots ahead with three holes to go at the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship. She blew the lead bogeying all three of those holes and lost to Lydia Ko. The championship ended with Jutanugarn snap hooking her final drive into the water.

“The last three holes, I really get nervous,” Jutanugarn said.

The collapse added to the weight on Jutanugarn’s shoulders, because three years before that she blew a chance to win her first LPGA title at the Honda LPGA Thailand in equally heartbreaking fashion. She took a two-shot lead to the final hole there, looking to become the first player from Thailand to win an LPGA event, but she watched her homeland wince and groan, instead. She made triple bogey and lost to Inbee Park.

Yes, Jutanugarn was only 17 when she lost to Park, but when she collapsed at the ANA, people wondered if the dots were connected.

Was this once immensely gifted player lacking something internal necessary to close out?

Jutanugarn answered on Sunday with strength of heart and mind.

After a bogey at the 17th reopened a door of doubt, she slammed it shut getting up and down for par at the end.

“Last putt, my hands shake, my legs shake,” Jutanugarn said. “I not have it this bad before, my putter shaking.”

This time Jutanugarn beat those nerves and became the first Thai to win an LPGA title. She did so on Mother’s Day, with her mother, Narumon, and her sister, Moriya, watching greenside.

“Good thing in my life, my mom and my sister always trust in me,” Ariya said.

When Jutanugarn turned pro three years ago, she looked as if she were on the fast track to stardom. She looked ready to challenge Ko and Lexi Thompson as the best young players in the game. She won a Ladies European Tour event in one of her first starts as a rookie on that tour and didn’t finish worse than a tie for fourth in five starts playing LPGA events via sponsor exemptions and Monday qualifying. Still 17, she rocketed to No. 15 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

And then Jutanugarn hurt herself.

In a practice round at the 2013 LPGA Championship, Jutanugarn playfully chased her sister off a tee box and stumbled down a steep slope. That’s how she tore up her shoulder. She underwent corrective surgery and was out for eight months. But when Jutanugarn returned in 2014, she still wasn’t right. Her shoulder still hurt, forcing her to change her swing to a more over-the-top move. It nearly robbed her of the strength of her game – her power.

“When you go through an injury as an athlete, and you aren’t playing, your mind takes over, and your mind takes you in all different directions,” Gilchrist said.

Jutanugarn made it through LPGA Q School at the end of 2014, and she showed a few flashes of her former self last year, but she had plummeted to No. 124 in the world. She also missed 10 consecutive cuts. Ariya and Moriya sought out Gilchrist together at the start of this year, and they’ve been working together ever since. Ariya came to Gilchrist with no confidence in her driver, the best weapon in her bag when she was at her best. She was hitting it all over the place.

“I think Ariya started losing trust in what she was doing,” Gilchrist said.

Gilchrist went to work on improving both Ariya’s and Moriya’s transition, on their move into the ball and impact position. Gilchrist also said they worked on changing their focus to what was working instead of what wasn’t working.

Slowly, confidence began to return.

“At one point, Ariya told me, `I’m going to win this year,’” Gilchrist said.

That was before the ANA collapse, but Gilchrist said Jutanugarn was more emboldened than discouraged finishing solo fourth at the ANA Inspiration.

“She walked away saying `I can do this, I can win,’” Gilchrist said. “If she didn’t believe she had what it takes to win, she wouldn’t have won this one.”

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

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Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm