Lewis after 67: 'It was such an easy day'

By Randall MellJune 19, 2014, 8:19 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – Stacy Lewis took her time in the practice rounds getting ready for the U.S. Women’s Open this week.

It wasn’t so much the extra balls she was hitting, but all the extra time she was taking to sign autographs as she made her way around Pinehurst No. 2.

Joe Hallett, Lewis’ swing coach, couldn’t help asking her about it.

“I’m just building a lot of good karma out here,” Lewis said.

All that goodwill Lewis built came flooding back to her Thursday in a brilliant start to this historic week. With a 3-under-par 67, Lewis shot to the top of the leaderboard among those off in the morning wave. She is hoping to pick up where Martin Kaymer left off when he won the U.S. Open here last week. She might not be as far out front as Kaymer was early, but, like Kaymer, she seemed to be playing a different course than everyone else.

“It was such an easy day,” Lewis said.

Somebody cover the ears of the USGA executive director Mike Davis, who oversees setups. Easy? Well, yeah, when you hit every fairway except one, and every green in regulation except one, it feels easy. That wasn’t the case for most of the women slugging it around Pinehurst No. 2.

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Don’t tell world No. 2 Inbee Park it was easy. The defending champion opened with a 76, nine shots worse than Lewis and just two better than 11-year-old Lucy Li.

Park, winner of the first three majors last year, walked off Pinehurst No. 2 bewildered over how many shots got away from her around those turtleback greens. When Park won the U.S. Women's Open a year ago, she bested Lewis by 12 shots in their pairing together over the first two rounds. Lewis seems determined to return the favor this week. They're playing together again.

“It’s beyond disappointment,” Park said. “It happened so quickly, I don’t know what happened. I was just really shocked at how the golf course played. I didn’t feel like I played horrible, but the score is bad. It’s so easy to make a lot of big numbers here.”

Tell Emma Talley about it. The U.S. Women’s Amateur champ had a share of the early lead but needed three shots to get out of the bunker in front of the fifth green and made triple bogey. She shot 75 playing alongside Lewis and Park.

With the U.S. Women’s Open being played for the first time on the same venue as the U.S. Open in back-to-back weeks, Lewis would relish following the Kaymer script in a wire-to-wire victory.

“I liked watching the men last week,” Lewis said. “I like to hit a cut a lot like Kaymer does. So on a lot of those holes, it was cool to see the plan I had laid out in my head. He was kind of doing the same thing. So it was nice coming into the week, knowing that my plan was going to work on this golf course.

“I thought that somebody can run away with this. If you're hitting the ball well enough, you can definitely run away with it. At the same time, you have to know par is a good number and keep grinding away.”

Kaymer opened with back-to-back 65s and never looked back in his eight-shot runaway. Like Kaymer, Lewis came here with a hot hand. She has two LPGA titles already this season and has finished among the top 10 in all but two of her 13 starts this year. That form doesn’t bode well for a field that knows how she can close.

“Stacy is playing unbelievable,” said Juli Inkster, who opened with a 71. “I don't know if anybody can catch her.”

Before Lewis headed out to the first tee early Thursday morning, she bumped fists with Hallett, her swing coach.

“Remember, brains equal birdies,” Hallett told her.

Nobody played smarter than Lewis on Thursday. With the course playing dry and firm in what felt like a furnace, with temperatures rising to 96 degrees, Lewis was the only player who didn’t make a bogey in the morning wave. She never got herself in trouble hitting 17 of 18 greens and 13 of 14 fairways.

“She didn't make many mistakes today, from tee to the green,” Park said. “She was really good at making clutch par putts today. I think that was really strong part of her game today.”

Lewis, 29, a two-time major championship winner, tied for third in the first U.S. Woman’s Open she ever played back in 2008 at Interlachen. Having just turned pro that summer, she led through 54 holes before faltering in a final-round 78. She hasn’t finished better than a tie for 14th in this championship since.

Every part of Lewis’ game, however, is becoming more suited to winning majors. She wasn’t a terrific putter when she joined the tour, but she leads the tour in putts per greens in regulation this year, ranking just ahead of Park. She was middle of the pack in driving distance when she joined the tour. She ranks 16th in driving distance today, hitting the ball farther and higher than she ever has. She is even working diligently on her demeanor, on being calmer and less upset in a round when circumstances turn against her. She thinks it's an integral component in winning majors, especially a U.S. Women's Open. She has noted how cool and unshakeable all the South Korean winners of the U.S. Women's Open seem, and they have won five of the last six of them.

Inkster sees how driven Lewis is to be the best.

“She's got the heart for it,” Inkster said. “She's got the want. She wants it. Golf right now is a big part of her life. She wants to be No. 1. There's a lot of people out there who say they want to be No. 1, but I'm not really sure they really do. She wants to be. I think it's great for our tour. She's a phenomenal player.”

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”

Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)

Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. 

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

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

Former Web.com 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 Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com 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.