Ladies Start Your Engines

By Randall MellFebruary 18, 2010, 12:05 am

LPGA Tour _newFor all the hardships the LPGA endured last season, the year ended with so much promise.

In a painful year of transition, with the forced ouster of a commissioner and dreary news of lost title sponsorships, there was hope in the season’s final chapters.

Michelle Wie turned confidence gained in her tour de force performance at the Solheim Cup into a rookie breakthrough with a victory at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in the second-to-last event of the season.

Ochoa fought off Jiyai Shin’s challenge to claim her fourth consecutive Rolex Player of the Year title in a competition that raged until the final hole of the year’s final event.

Anna Nordqvist showed her rookie breakthrough winning the McDonald’s LPGA Championship in June was no fluke with terrific closing skill to win the season-ending LPGA Tour Championship.

Suzann Pettersen returned to winning form claiming the CN Canadian Women’s Open last September.

Michael Whan brought a wave of positive new energy with his hire as the new commissioner.

The 2010 season opens with a focus on building on that upturn in momentum.

Between the ropes, the season begins with one question.

Does Lorena Ochoa still hold dominion over this tour?

Ochoa is the defending champion at the season-opening Honda PTT LPGA event at Siam Country Club’s Old Course in Chonburi, Thailand, but she arrives with a sense of vulnerability.

The fact that Shin came so close to ending Ochoa’s Player-of-the-Year reign only ratchets up the intensity of so many players who would like their shot at being No. 1.

“During the offseason, all we think about is catching Lorena and being No. 1,” said Wie, who turned 20 last October. “I have such great respect for Lorena. You’re always going for the top. There’s a lot of great players out there, and it’s tough. That’s why we work so hard.”

Count Paula Creamer among those eager to challenge Ochoa. Creamer, 23, is finally healthy after 15 months of physical woes that included stomach ailments and a thumb injury that’s just now fully mending.

“Lorena is the No. 1 player in the world, and there are so many people that want to be in that spot,” said Creamer, who is looking to add to her eight LPGA titles after a winless ’09. “She knows that. People are coming after her.”

Ochoa, 28, showed how important her place atop the game is to her holding off Shin in a dramatic duel at the LPGA Tour Championship, and yet she didn’t win the event. She won just three times last year after winning 21 times overall in the three previous seasons.

There were moments of uncharacteristic frustration in Ochoa’s struggles last season, especially at the majors, where she was shut out. She winged a ball in disgust into the bushes at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April and fired a ball into the turf coming off a green at the U.S. Women’s Open in July. The outbursts seem mild on their surface, but they were revealing given Ochoa’s even-tempered nature. While there was speculation that the imminent change in her personal life was affecting her emotionally, Ochoa never acknowledged as much last season.

Ochoa’s life changed dramatically in December. She married Aeromexico executive Andres Conesa and moved from her home in Guadalajara to Mexico City. She became an instant mom to three children. She is building a new life with her husband and a 14-year-old son and 12- and 7-year-old daughters.

“They are at a fun age,” Ochoa said. “We go and play, sometimes golf, sometimes tennis. We like to spend some time together.”

With sponsors Ochoa has always tended to so conscientiously, it begs a question of how she’s going to balance it all. She takes all her responsibilities so seriously, how will she handle the new juggling act? Will she remain devoted to being the best in golf, or are her priorities changing?

“I think if you are happy, it's a lot easier to play good golf,” Ochoa said.

Ochoa acknowledges wanting children of her own, but . . .

“I think I still want to wait a little bit,” she said. “I'm going to keep playing for a few years, and then after that we'll make a decision.”

Ochoa can feel the competition pushing her to keep improving.

“I know that the competition is getting tougher and tougher,” she said. “But at the same time, I never pay too much attention to other players. I always try to focus on my game and to see where are the things that I can improve and work on. This has been the case this year, just trying to improve on my short game and my putting. Believe me, I have enough motivation. I want to stay at the top and practice very hard every day to be up there.”

Fellow LPGA pros will see how talented Ochoa is as a juggler of priorities this season. Juli Inkster showed that you can have it all, that you can raise a family and nurture a Hall of Fame game, but Inkster never rose to No. 1 in the world.

Annika Sorenstam, who reigned as No. 1 before Ochoa came along, knows the challenges ahead of Ochoa better than anyone. Sorenstam stepped away from the game to focus on family and her businesses last year. She’s a mom to 5-month-old Ava Madelyn McGee.

Sorenstam isn’t sure she could have been as committed to being No. 1 in golf if she were raising a family.

“I don’t know if I could handle that myself,” she said. “To be the best player in the world, it’s a full time job, especially the way the competition is today. You are traveling around the world more, on top of that you have sponsor obligations and practice. I admire moms on tour because now I can see what they have to go through. It’s not easy. I admire them.”

There’s much admiration for the class Ochoa’s shown in her reign as No. 1. If she can keep her reign going in this new phase of her life, the respect will reach new heights.

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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

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

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