LPGA swings into Bay Area on a high note

By Randall MellApril 21, 2015, 6:30 pm

DALY CITY, Calif. – This sweeping saga they call the LPGA keeps making twists and turns that seem destined to define it as the new golden era in women’s golf.

Give these players credit - they are continuing to deliver one dramatic chapter after another this year in an attempt to break out of their little niche in the sports landscape.

Sei Young Kim’s victory at the Lotte Championship on Saturday, with her wild finish of chipping in to force a playoff and then holing out from 154 yards for eagle at the first sudden-death hole, couldn’t have been more spectacular if it had been punctuated with a crack of thunder.

Kim is a 22-year-old rookie from South Korea who now tops the Rolex Player of the Year and Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year point races. How rare is that? Only Nancy Lopez has won the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season. She did it 37 years ago.

With the tour moving to San Francisco this week for the Swinging Skirts Classic, another strong field will vie to keep the magical storylines going. There’s almost a major championship feel to the event with 19 of the top 20 in the world rankings teeing it up on a strong test at Lake Merced Golf Club. Jessica Korda is the only player among the top 20 not scheduled to play.

Photo gallery: 2015 LPGA winners

The women gathering here are making this a special time in their game. You could argue we’re already in the midst of a golden era in their sport. While history always has final say in such matters, there’s evidence in assessing just what today’s players are achieving.

The extraordinary nature of this collection of talent can be seen in the records they’re setting.

Lydia Ko is the defending champion this week. At 17, she is the youngest No. 1 in the history of men’s or women’s golf. At 15, she was the youngest winner of an LPGA event. Earlier this month, she equaled a modern record in the women’s game, tying Annika Sorenstam’s mark of 29 consecutive rounds under par. Though she turns 18 in three days, Ko will have four chances this year to become the youngest woman to win a major.

Last year, Stacy Lewis became the first American in two decades to sweep the Player of the Year, Vare Trophy for low scoring average and the money title in the same season.

The year before that, Inbee Park won the first three major championships of the year, something no woman had achieved since Babe Zaharias in 1950. Her run didn’t end until Lewis won the Ricoh Women’s British Open, taking the title at St. Andrews, where she closed hitting one of the best shots in major championship history to make birdie at the famed Road Hole.

You want great shots in majors? These women are practically making a habit of them. Brittany Lincicome is still aglow after making eagle at the 72nd hole to force a playoff that ended with her winning the ANA Inspiration three weeks ago. Mo Martin rattled a 3-wood off the flagstick at the final hole of the Ricoh Women’s British Open last summer, almost closing out her victory at Royal Birkdale with an albatross. She won, instead, with an eagle.

These women have been unrelenting delivering compelling theater for three seasons now, from Park’s historic run of major championship victories, to Suzann Pettersen’s leading the Euros to new Solheim Cup glory to Kim’s amazing finish last weekend.

A year ago, Paula Creamer’s emotional celebration winning the HSBC Women’s in a playoff with a 75-foot eagle putt went viral on the web . . . Michelle Wie broke through to claim her first major on the largest stage a women’s event had ever been played upon, winning the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst a week after the men played there. She did so holding off then-world No. 1 Lewis . . . At 31, after toiling six years to make it to the LPGA, Martin fashioned a Cinderella story winning the Women’s British Open in her third season on tour . . .  Big-hitting Lexi Thompson beat Wie in a final-round dream pairing to win the Kraft Nabisco for her first major . . . Hall of Famer Karrie Webb won twice . . . Christina Kim fought her way back from injury and depression to win again . . . Spain’s dynamic quartet of Azahara Munoz, Beatriz Recari, Carlota Ciganda and Belen Mozo won the intriguing new International Crown team event and Ko ended the year taking home the largest payday in the history of women’s golf ($1.5 million) as winner of the CME Group Tour Championship and CME Globe.

There hasn’t been any let-up so far this year.

Na Yeon Choi won a dramatic season opener at the Coates Golf Championship in a back-nine duel that saw Ko endure a rare collapse and still vault to No. 1 in the world with her second-place finish. Ko proved she was more than worthy of her lofty new ranking, winning the Women’s Australian Open and LET’s New Zealand Women’s Open in back-to-back starts. There was more riveting action to follow in Singapore as the HSBC Women’s Champions gave us a rare treat with the Rolex world Nos. 1-2-3 players battling in the final grouping of the final round with Park winning. There was more theater when the LPGA returned to the United States, with rookie Hyo Joo Kim taking just about everything Lewis could throw at her in a final-round duel to win the JTBC Founders Cup. Cristie Kerr followed that up at the Kia Classic, winning for the first time as a mother, with her 1-year-old son Mason there to hug at the end. Lincicome’s dramatics came directly after at the ANA, with Sei Young Kim’s fireworks following last week.

With an extraordinary rookie class, maybe the LPGA’s best ever, the women’s game has never been deeper . . . or looked so golden for a while.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.