More than one path to the top for Park, Lewis

By Randall MellApril 30, 2013, 1:30 pm

There is more than one path to the top of the women’s game.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park and No. 2 Stacy Lewis are textbook cases as they prepare to play the Kingsmill Championship this week in Williamsburg, Va.

Park turned pro when she was 17, Lewis when she was 23.

Park did not play collegiately, Lewis did.

They both claimed major championships as their first LPGA titles. Park was 19 when she won the U.S. Women’s Open, Lewis 26 when she won the Kraft Nabisco.

Inbee Park vs. Stacy Lewis

No. 1 Inbee Park   No. 2 Stacy Lewis
24 Age 28
South Korea Country  United States
 3/7 2013 LPGA wins/starts  2/8
6/147 Career LPGA wins/starts 7/116
2013 scoring average/(rank) 69.5/(T-1)
2013 earnings/(rank)  $636,803/(2)
250.714 yards/(76) 2013 driving distance/(rank) 261.125 yards/(25)
73.8 percent/(10) 2013 GIR/(rank) 76 percent/(5)

Today, it appears they may have a harder time separating themselves from each other than they will separating themselves from the rest of the women’s game; though, Suzann Pettersen might argue otherwise.

Park and Lewis are on the rise together despite having taken such diverse paths.

Park strengthened her grip on the Rolex No. 1 world ranking Sunday winning the North Texas LPGA Shootout in Irving, Texas. It was her third victory this season and her fifth in her last 18 starts. Lewis held the No. 1 ranking for four weeks before Park gained it three weeks ago. Lewis has won twice this year, six times in the last two seasons.

Rarely does a tournament pass these days where either Park or Lewis is not contending. Typically, they’re both in the mix. Of the LPGA’s eight events this year, Park and Lewis have won five. Just one event has ended without one of them finishing among the top 10 (ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open) and Park didn’t play in that.

“It’s always good to see my name on the top of the leaderboard almost every week,” Park said. “I mean, not every week, but close to every week. It’s really good to see my game improving every week, every year, and just trying to take it step by step.”

Park and Lewis both elevated their games last year. Park won the LPGA money title and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. Lewis was the Rolex Player of the Year.

When Park took the No. 1 ranking from Lewis three weeks ago, it caught the game by surprise because it came in an off week without either player competing. It felt like a back-door entry to No. 1. With the rankings based on a two-year rolling window, Park’s divisor changed, giving her a boost in average world ranking points used to determine No. 1. Park’s victory in Texas on Sunday erased any doubts she deserved to be there.

Nobody should be surprised, though, if Park and Lewis keep taking turns at the top.

With the world rankings so close, there is added pressure on Park and Lewis to keep pace with each other.

“I found myself after Hawaii being disappointed with a ninth-place finish, when anyone's usually happy with a top 10, so I needed to kind of take some perspective back,” Lewis said. “I've won twice this year ... it's been really good, and I just need to not put so much pressure on myself and just realize I'm doing a lot of good things.”

Park and Lewis show there are as many ways to groom a world-class game as there are personalities.

Born in South Korea, Park moved to the United States when she was 12 and began playing junior golf in the Orlando, Fla., area. She won nine American Junior Golf Association events and claimed the U.S. Girls’ Junior when she was 14.

Park was in a hurry to play the LPGA and tried to do so at 17. The LPGA, however, denied her petition for a waiver of its rule requiring members be at least 18. So, instead of heading to LPGA Q-School, Park enrolled at UNLV. She attended classes for just two days before bolting to play the Futures Tour, the LPGA’s developmental circuit, now called the Symetra Tour. Park turned 18 that summer on the Futures Tour and earned her LPGA card by finishing third on the money list.

Lewis, whose battle with scoliosis challenged her development, wasn’t in such a hurry to become a pro. She wasn’t an AJGA regular in the national events. She redshirted her freshman year at the University of Arkansas while recovering from spinal surgery. She spent five years at Arkansas honing her game as a national champion and decorated collegiate amateur before turning pro and winning her tour card in her first trip to LPGA Q-School. Lewis’ first LPGA event as a pro was the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open at Hazeltine. She was the 54-hole leader, but Park passed her in the final round to win her first LPGA title.

Their paths crossed early with the promise of continuing to cross often in the LPGA’s near future.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

Getty Images

DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

Getty Images

Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.