Lewis, Pettersen, Park have become LPGA's 'Big Three'

By Randall MellOctober 25, 2013, 1:50 pm

For so long, womens golf was defined by a single, dominant player.

Really, for almost a dozen years after the turn of this century, you could name one overwhelming force in the womens game, the one player who reigned superior over everyone else.

From Annika Sorenstam to Karrie Webb to Lorena Ochoa and then to Yani Tseng, there were long runs where nobody could touch these players.

They defined eras.

Yes, Sorenstam and Webb were equals for a part of their runs, the last real rivals in the womens game. There was a time near the turn of this century where they were the Big Two in womens golf. They didnt just separate themselves from the rest of the game. They pushed each other to new heights.

We just might be getting back to that dynamic in the womens game.

With Suzann Pettersen making a run this week at winning the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship, womens golf is watching three players of this era separate themselves from everyone else. Were watching them push each other to new heights as a trio.

Call them the Big Three.

Inbee Park, Pettersen and Stacy Lewis have dominated this LPGA season, and theyre currently ranked Nos. 1-2-3 in the world, respectively.

Park, of course, is enjoying one of the greatest years in LPGA history, a season in which she won the first three majors, a feat equaled only by Babe Zaharias way back in 1950.

Overall, Park has won six LPGA titles this season.

Normally, that ought to seal a players spot as the Rolex world No. 1, as Player of the Year and the leading money winner.

In fact, Park might sweep all those honors, but its not a lock quite yet with four events left this season.

If Pettersen wins this week, the Big Three will have combined to win more than half of all the LPGA events played this year. They will have won 13 of the 25 played so far.

Parks won those six, Pettersen will have won four and Lewis three.

Theyve also combined to win all the majors, with Park taking the Kraft Nabisco, Wegmans LPGA Championship and U.S. Womens Open, Pettersen taking the Evian Championship and Lewis the Ricoh Womens British Open.

Notably, they seem to be answering each other.

Early in the year, Lewis won the HSBC Womens Champions and RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup in back-to-back starts to take the Rolex No. 1 ranking from Tseng.

Park responded with her run of three majors, securing the No. 1 ranking along the way.

A defining moment among the trio seemed to arrive at the U.S. Womens Open at the end of June. Park, Pettersen and Lewis were all paired together in the first two rounds at Sebonack Golf Club. Park, though, didnt just go on to win the championship. She blew away her nearest rivals. In their first two rounds playing together, Park beat Pettersen by a cumulative 19 shots and Lewis by 12.

That appeared to rile up Pettersen and Lewis, because they had spirited answers in the second half.

Lewis went on to win the next major, the Ricoh Womens British Open.

Pettersen went on to win the last major, the Evian Championship. Pettersen is still on fire. Since getting thrashed by Park at the U.S. Womens Open, here are Pettersens finishes: T-6, T-4, T-7, Win, Win, T-3, T-3.

Since Sebonack, here are Lewis finishes: T-6, T-7, Win, 2nd, T-6, 2nd, T-6.

Park has one top-10 finish since Sebonack.

After the U.S. Women's Open, Park topped the Rolex Womens World Rankings with 13.27 average points. Pettersen was No. 3 with 7.92. Now, Pettersen is within less than a point. If she wins this week, Pettersen will pull to within .66 points of overtaking Park. Its possible Park could end this remarkable year without the No. 1 ranking.

Clearly, that thrashing at Sebonack motivated Pettersen. She learned there that she had to become a better putter to stay with Park, the games best putter.

That was almost a wake-up call for me, Pettersen said after winning at Evian. I had to see where the hurdle was. I had to look at my game. It was a question of being honest. I couldnt lie. For me, it was definitely the putting. Its been a part Ive been trying to improve, and its nice when it pays off that quickly.

David Leadbetter, Pettersens swing coach, saw how Park changed Pettersens approach to practice.

Suzann has changed her practice regimen to where shes spending a lot more time on her putting, Leadbetter said. She never really had a regimen for her putting. It was always a sort of secondary thing.

Just last month, Lewis and Park both talked about the effect theyve had on each other this year.

Since last year, Ive always watched Stacys score after I finish my round, Park said. She has been somebody that I have always thought had the game to be No. 1. She is a good ball striker. I really try to learn from her, what she is doing good. I think she is such a nice person outside the golf course, too. I think having somebody like that definitely helps your game to improve.

Lewis said: I watched Yani a lot when she was in her run. We seemed to play a lot together, so I learned a lot playing with Yani and what she was doing. Now, youre kind of doing the same with Inbee. Were making each other better. Were pushing each other to work harder. I think its great for both of us ... I do watch her scores. I watch what shes doing. I watch how shes preparing. I think you can learn a lot by watching people when they are playing their best.

Pettersen is playing in Taiwan this week with Park and Lewis both taking the week off. Lewis is scheduled to play the Mizuno Classic in Japan next week with Pettersen and Park both off. All three are expected to tee it up in the final two events of the year, the Lorena Ochoa Invitational and CME Group Titleholders. The Big Three seem poised to make the last month of the season compelling.

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.

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Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”

For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.

There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.

“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”

But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by GolfChannel.com paints a different picture.

Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”

“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”

Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.

“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”

It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.

Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”

The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”

You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.

How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?

“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.

Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.

The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.

Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.

Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.

“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.

Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.

The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.