LPGA's Asian connection began at Mizuno Classic

By Randall MellOctober 30, 2012, 8:00 pm

The LPGA planted its first seed in Asia at the Mizuno Classic in Japan.

That gives this week’s tournament a special place in LPGA history.

Thirty-nine years ago, this event made its debut as the Japan Classic.

While the rise of Asian dominance in the women’s game might have been inspired by South Korean Se Ri Pak’s breakthrough in the U.S. in 1998, the Asian connection was first formally made in this event in ’73. The LPGA reached halfway across the world to co-sanction the inaugural Japan Classic with the LPGA of Japan Tour, marking the first time the LPGA staged a competition in the Far East.

“It was very important for several reasons,” says Charlie Mechem, LPGA commissioner from 1990-95. “In those days, we did not really play much outside the United States, so the exposure was good for the tour, and by any measure, the sponsors were very dedicated and the events were fabulously run. Our players and staff were treated great, and it was just a lot of fun to go over there.

“Also, it provided us with important Japanese TV exposure. Those rights fees were the beginning of what is now a very large revenue stream for the LPGA. Japan was the seedling for what’s in place today.”

Today, Korean and Japanese TV rights packages are the LPGA’s two largest revenue streams.

American Jan Ferraris won the first Japan Classic in ‘73, with her winnings counting as unofficial money.

In its formative years, the tournament was dominated by Americans. Amy Alcott, Pat Bradley, Nancy Lopez and Patty Sheehan won it multiple times. Players from the U.S. won four of the first five Japan Classics, eight of the first 11, but momentum swung another direction here a long time ago. It has been 20 years since a player from the U.S. has won this tournament.

Betsy King is the last American to win it. She took home the trophy in ’92 and ’93, when it was known as the Toray Japan Queen’s Cup.

The relationship the LPGA started with the Japanese through the Mizuno Classic would help open a door for Japan’s Ayako Okamoto to come to the U.S. in 1981 and play the LPGA’s tour. Okamoto was a superstar in Japan, and her success in America helped fuel interest in the American tour in the Far East.

While Pak deservedly gets credit for inspiring South Koreans, Okamoto was the Far East’s first successful pioneer in the West in women’s golf. A World Golf Hall of Famer, Okamoto won 17 LPGA titles and was the tour’s leading money winner and Player of the Year in ’87.

“I would have to think what Okamoto did had an impact on Se Ri,” Mechem said.

Asians have won the last five Mizuno Classics. Japan’s Momoko Ueda is back to defend her title this week.

The LPGA’s inroad to the Far East would eventually lead to South Korea, Malaysia, China and Taiwan.

Six LPGA events are now staged in Asia, the most in the tour’s 63-year history.

“It just showcases how global our tour has become,” said Suzann Pettersen, who has won back-to-back in the last two weeks of this Fall Asian swing.

Since ’73, the LPGA has staged 87 events in the Far East.

It begs a question: Who is the queen of LPGA Asian golf? Or, who is the most successful player in LPGA events staged in the Far East?

So many of the biggest names in women’s golf have left their marks in Asia, but nobody quite as profoundly as Annika Sorenstam.

The Swede won eight LPGA tournaments staged in Asia, more than any other player. Sorenstam won the Mizuno Classic five consecutive years (2001-05). She was the first LPGA or PGA Tour pro to win the same event five years running.

“This is one of the biggest things I’ve ever done in my career,” Sorenstam said after claiming her fifth Mizuno Classic. “To do something nobody has ever done, ranks right up there.”

Actually, Sorenstam isn’t the only Scandinavian to have thrived in the Far East.

Pettersen, of Norway, is the LPGA’s new hottest player after winning the LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship and the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship in back-to-back weeks. It’s the second time she has won back-to-back events on the Asian swing. She won the HanaBank Championship and Honda LPGA Thailand in consecutive weeks in ’07.

Outside Sorenstam, nobody has won more LPGA events in Asia than Pettersen, who isn’t playing this week.

Here’s the list of players who have won the most LPGA titles in Asia:

Sorenstam – 8.

Pettersen – 4.

Yani Tseng – 4.

Karrie Webb – 3.

Jiyai Shin – 3.

Na Yeon Choi – 3.

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”

Amen.


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Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

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Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”


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More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

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Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Web.com Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the Web.com money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.


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Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

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List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).