Randall's Rant: Time for LPGA courses to get tough

By Randall MellMarch 27, 2017, 11:51 pm

It’s time to see who can play tough on the women’s tour.

At least, that’s the hope with the year’s first major arriving this week at the ANA Inspiration at Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Here’s hoping the rough is up on the Dinah Shore course, that the greens are firm and fast and that conditions are grueling, because we’ve seen enough marshmallow setups to start the year.

I like birdie-fests almost as much as anyone else, but enough is enough. As a steady diet, it’s like being served candy and doughnuts for almost every entrée.

It’s time for a lean, mean course.

Three of the six LPGA events played this year were won with 72-hole tournament record scores.

Four of the six have been won at 20 under or better, five of them at 19 under or better.

The only exception so far this year was Ha Na Jang’s win at Royal Adelaide in the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. She won at 10 under.

The average winning score this year is 20 under par.

Yes, it’s fun to watch the women go low, but the courses look like they are set up way too easy.

Brittany Lincicome opened the year blitzing the Ocean Club on Paradise Island, winning the Pure Silk Bahamas with a tournament record score of 26 under par.

Amy Yang won the Honda LPGA Thailand with a tournament record 22 under at Siam Country Club’s Pattaya Old Course.

Mirim Lee just won the Kia Classic at a tournament record 20 under. Aviara Country Club doesn’t look that easy, but Lee was the fourth of six winners this year to post four consecutive rounds in the 60s.

Anna Nordqvist won the Bank of Hope Founders Cup at Wildfire Golf Club at 25 under. It’s time for some pain and suffering in the women’s game. It’s time for a real major championship test, a setup that wipes the smiles off players’ faces, that forces the best to dig deep for their most clever shotmaking.

It’s time to separate the wheat from the chaff.

It’s time to test every element of a player’s game, including temperament, resolve and resilience, all the good stuff that measures major champions.

Because, here’s the thing, even the LPGA majors looked way too easy in the second half of last year.

In Gee Chun won the Evian Championship last September with the best 72-hole score ever recorded in a men’s or women’s major. She won at 21 under. This isn’t to take away from Chun’s brilliance. She proved herself major tough winning a U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster Country Club two seasons ago. She probably would have won playing Evian through a jungle.

Ariya Jutanugarn won the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Woburn last August at 16 under, on a major championship test that measured just 6,300 yards. Again, Jutanugarn probably would have won anywhere, given she was playing the best golf in the women’s game heading to England.

But the generosity of setups are becoming an issue.

Every course except one on the LPGA schedule so far this year featured scorecard yardages of 6,600 yards or better, and the one exception (Kia) was 6,593 yards, but rarely do they seem to be set up that long, according to Golf Channel staff who are there week to week.

“I do see a trend in how the LPGA are setting up courses, even from when I played, which wasn’t that long ago,” said Golf Channel analyst Karen Stupples, the 2004 Women’s British Open champ. “I've played on the same courses, and I played them longer when I played three, four years ago. So, they’re setting the courses up shorter. It’s very rare now that you have a golf course that requires much more than a wedge into a par 4. It’s very easy to be aggressive and go for a flag if you’ve got a wedge in your hand. It would be nice to see, every once in a while, a bit more of challenge.”

Amen.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.