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.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

 

 

Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."


Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout


Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.