Motivated by gold medal, Park ready for '17 return

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2017, 7:39 pm

Inbee Park is doing more than quietly healing in her time away from the game.

She’s regenerating.

There is something rejuvenating about carrying around an Olympic gold medal for three months, because that’s exactly what Park did upon returning to South Korea last summer, where she received a hero’s welcome upon returning from Rio de Janeiro.

“The whole three months I was back home in Korea, and everywhere I went, everyone wanted to see it,” Park told “So, I’ve been carrying my gold medal wherever I go.”

When Park finally left her South Korean home late last year, she handed the prize to her father, who keeps it safe in a trophy room at his Korean company. She is in Las Vegas now, preparing to make her return to the LPGA, hopefully at the Honda LPGA Thailand in five weeks.

Still, Park is never far from her Olympic memory. She recently adopted a puppy she named “Rio.” He’s a Golden Retriever.

“Playing with Rio is a big schedule for me now,” Park said.

Park, 28, hasn’t hit a shot in competition since the Olympics. She spent almost a month after winning gold with her injured left thumb in a cast. She didn’t touch a club for nearly four months, until December, but she says that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Olympic memories are more than motivating for Park. They are restorative. While there was speculation in the player and media ranks last year that Park might consider retiring early, she says all her time away from the game after winning the medal has freshened her spirit.

“It definitely refreshed me, and my perspective on the game has slightly changed,” Park said. “You don't really appreciate what you have already. But when I was away, I was able to appreciate what I had, and have more passion for the game. So it was very useful time. Not just getting healthy, but changing the mindset was a good achievement.”

For all Park has achieved, winning seven major championships, including three in a row, and reigning at world No. 1 for 92 weeks, she said winning Olympic gold resonates the strongest.

“Out of all the tournaments I've won so far, the Olympic is definitely the one that lasts longest,” Park said. “Not just by me, but so many people still remember it like yesterday. I think that is really the difference. The thing I’m really most happy about is that so many people who weren't interested in golf or women's golf recognize me and the game of golf. More variety of fan base for sport is what I am really happy about. I really feel that is the power of the Olympics.”

Park struggled through so much pain last year, with an injury to the ligament of her left thumb shortening her season, but it only made the year more remarkable. First, she battled through the pain to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame in June, and then after a long layoff battled through more pain to win in Rio in August, when nobody expected her to win.

“Just astounding,” Hall of Famer and Golf Channel analyst Judy Rankin said Thursday. “I don’t know how she accomplished what she accomplished. You don’t think you can be surprised by somebody as good as she’s been, but that was really a surprise. I so commend her for going through a lot of external pressure and making that happen.”

Karen Stupples, the 2004 Women’s British Open champ and a Golf Channel analyst, was equally impressed.

“How she won the Olympics, I just don’t know how that happened,” Stupples said. “I think that it was meant to be.”

Park’s triumph, though, makes LPGA observers wonder what she has left to prove and how that will affect her ambition.

“I don’t know what this season holds, I think there are so many variables,” Stupples said. “How do you set goals when you’ve achieved everything that you can possibly achieve? You’re already in the Hall of Fame, you’ve won the gold medal, you’ve got the majors and in your mind the Grand Slam. Where does she go? I think that’s the biggest problem players that do what Inbee has done have moving forward.”

Park is focused on making the best return she can this season. She’s eager to compete again, and she isn’t sure what her long-term plans are.

“I really don’t know and don’t want to guarantee anything since my mind changes every day,” she said.

But . . .

“The 2020 Tokyo Olympics gold medal can be a good goal for the future,” she said.

There was so much focus on Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko and No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn going to the Olympics, but Park reminded us all just how dominant she can be.

Park is eager to see what she can do this year. She says she’s feeling better. She began hitting balls again in December and is now playing nine to 18 holes a day.

“I feel really good,” Park said. “I feel like I took really good rest, and rehab has been very successful. Most of the times, I play with no pain which is really good.”

As formidable as Park is when she’s healthy, her return promises to get the attention of world No. 1 Ko and No. 2 Jutanugarn. When Park’s putter is hot, she can demoralize a field in ways nobody else can in the women’s game today.

In her time away, Park has slid outside the top 10 in the world rankings, to No. 11. Does she still want to be No. 1?

“Who wouldn’t want to be?” Park said. “I wouldn't say it's my main goal, but it is definitely one of the goals I will go for. I am just happy that I am healthy enough to be back on the course and swinging. We will go one step at a time.”

Park is traditionally a slow starter, and she will have more of an off season to overcome this year, but she’s excited about returning.

“I'd like to come back in a really nice form,” she said. “Obviously, that's what I am aiming for. I may be bit rusty, but once the season starts and I go through a couple of tournaments, that shouldn't be a big problem. I think the key is to stay healthy and play in a good condition throughout the season.”

That could completely change this year’s narrative. 

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.