Ochoa sparks massive review of LPGA Hall of Fame

By Randall MellNovember 8, 2016, 11:02 pm

The LPGA’s Hall of Fame is the toughest to gain entry into in all of mainstream sports.

Just ask Lorena Ochoa.

Ochoa is still aglow with this fall’s news that she will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame next year, but her eligibility for the LPGA Hall of Fame remains in limbo as she prepares to host her annual tour event in Mexico City this week.

Ochoa will be honored Tuesday evening by World Golf Hall of Fame executives in a news conference at the tournament.

Whether Ochoa will one day enjoy the same honor as an LPGA Hall of Fame inductee is in the hands of a new 10-member group charged with a massive review of the LPGA Hall of Fame’s criteria and procedures, including the 10-year membership requirement, which is all that’s keeping Ochoa out of the LPGA Hall of Fame.

The group is also evaluating whether the LPGA Hall of Fame veterans committee should remain part of the process, which is Ochoa’s best hope for induction under the current points-based structure.

While Ochoa easily surpassed the demanding 27-point requirement for LPGA Hall of Fame eligibility before retiring early in 2010, she didn’t meet the 10-year membership requirement.

Ochoa amassed 37 Hall of Fame points in a career that included 27 LPGA titles, two of them majors, four consecutive Rolex Player of the Year Awards and four consecutive Vare Trophies for low scoring average. An LPGA victory is worth one Hall of Fame point, a major is worth two points, with the Player of the Year Award and Vare Trophy each worth a single point.

Ochoa retired to start a family having played seven full seasons.

The new 10-member LPGA Hall of Fame review group was formed this past spring with LPGA Hall of Famer Beth Daniel named as chair person. LPGA Hall of Famers Sandra Haynie, Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak are also on the review group, as is former LPGA player Leta Lindley, LPGA chief of tour operations Heather Daly Donofrio, LPGA president Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, former USGA executive director David Fay, Symetra Tour official Mike Waldron and LPGA senior director of tour media and operations Kelly Schultz.

The LPGA Hall of Fame veterans committee had the authority to consider exceptions, players who did not meet all the Hall of Fame requirements. Ochoa became eligible for veterans committee consideration this year, but there was no veterans committee in place to consider her. The veterans committee hasn’t been assembled in nine years. It dissolved over time with inactivity. That’s how Ochoa found herself in limbo.

If the veterans committee is reconstituted under existing rules, it could nominate Ochoa for induction and then forward her name to the LPGA membership for a vote. Ochoa would require 75 percent of the membership’s approval to be inducted via the veterans category.

“That would be great,” Ochoa told GolfChannel.com. “Hopefully, there will be something about that soon.”

Ochoa, 35, could qualify if the review group drops the 10-year membership requirement.

The review group’s focus, however, is still in its initial stages, still broader in scope than consideration of any one player.

“It has been a long time since any changes have been made to the LPGA Hall of Fame,” Daniel said. “The last time they made changes, the committee worked on them for seven years. It’s tough. There’s a lot to do, and we get a lot of opinions when we have our conference calls, but hopefully it won’t take seven years.”

The LPGA’s Hall of Fame criteria was last altered in 1999, when the tour created its current points system. To qualify for induction before that, a player needed 30 LPGA victories with two major championships, or 35 with one major, or 40 with no majors.

Ochoa’s state of limbo raised new questions about the LPGA Hall of Fame criteria.

“It’s always good to be reviewing what we’re doing,” Daniel said. “It’s good to have discussions, and Lorena is a glaring example of why.”

While even the LPGA Hall of Fame’s 27-point system is up for review today, there appears to be strong consensus to keep qualification point based.

“We are still in the process of reviewing the entry criteria, but I do feel the committee is very committed to returning to the current point structure,” Daly-Donofrio said. “The committee likes the lack of subjectivity in that. It’s the same for every player. They all know what the Hall of Fame requirements are when they join the tour.”

Don’t expect the LPGA Hall of Fame to flat out merge with the World Golf Hall of Fame now that the World Golf Hall of Fame has a female competitor category. There’s strong consensus the LPGA should continue to have its own separate Hall of Fame.

Three of the biggest issues for review group members say are:

1. Whether they tweak the point structure in any way.

2. Whether they keep the 10-year membership requirement, shorten it or abandon it.

3. Whether they retain or abandon the veterans committee.

There are strong feelings about retaining the 10-year membership requirement. Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb are both on record favoring the service requirement.

“It’s unfortunate Lorena stopped playing,” Daniel said. “She knew she needed 10 years, but she stopped playing anyway. I see both sides of this. Lorena definitely stood out in her generation, and yet she’s not in the LPGA Hall of Fame. There are players who feel 10 years is too much, but the LPGA founders are basically the ones who put in the 10-year service requirement. They knew how important it was for players to serve, to contribute, to keep the tour going.

“The membership requirement is for discussion right now.”

So is the value of the veterans committee, which allows exceptions to the rules.

With the World Golf Hall of Fame creating a female ballot, there is a question over whether exceptions to the LPGA Hall of Fame rules are still required. If a player who doesn’t meet the higher LPGA Hall of Fame standard is selected to the World Golf Hall of Fame, is that good enough? Is a veterans committee still necessary?

“That’s definitely something we are looking at,” Daniel said.

Ochoa’s story, her early retirement, has forced the LPGA to evaluate success and service, and what constitutes real greatness in their ranks. It has also forced the tour to evaluate what the World Golf Hall of Fame’s expanded recognition of women means to the LPGA Hall of Fame.

“How do they complement one another? That’s something we’re looking at,” Daly-Donofrio said.

It’s something that may open or close doors for more LPGA stars, depending on how you look at where Ochoa’s place ends up being in these two Hall of Fames.

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.