Storytime: U.S. Women's Open finale full of plot lines

By Randall MellJuly 16, 2017, 12:29 am

BEDMINSTER, N.J. – Cristie Kerr really wanted to get the President of the United States’ attention Saturday at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Coming off the 15th green, she stopped and turned toward President Donald Trump’s private box. She thrust her hand in the air and began waving and waving.

Alas, the president was preoccupied in a conversation.

It doesn’t matter, because Kerr has a grand plan that promises to get Trump and everyone else’s attention if she can pull it off Sunday at Trump National.

Kerr is going to try to orchestrate a monumental upset.

She is going to try to overtake the real superpowers in women’s golf - Asia’s best - and win her second U.S. Women’s Open 10 years after she won her first.

And then, who knows, perhaps watch the president himself hand her the Harton S. Semple Trophy, if he’s around for another day.

It would be an extraordinary ending to what is already an extraordinary U.S. Women’s Open.

In the middle of Saturday’s round, players and fans alike watched a fighter jet and Coast Guard helicopter appear to try to force a plane violating  “Temporary Flight Restrictions” over Trump National out of the air space over the club.

“They chased them right out,” Kerr said. “Kind of cool to see.”

The White House Pool Report later explained that the helicopter and jet were merely confirming the plane’s tail number, which was from a plane approved for Fox-TV use.

Outside the gates, this event is being protested by UltraViolet and other activist groups who believe the USGA and LPGA should not be aligned with Trump. A motorcade of protesters circled the course Friday with anti-Trump posters attached to their vehicles.

Players and fans have been sheltered from all of that.

Winning Sunday will be no easy task for Kerr with China’s Shanshan Feng playing so formidably, and with so many South Koreans poised right behind Feng.

Feng shot a 1-under-par 71 Saturday, finishing off a round of 17 consecutive pars with a birdie at the last. At 9-under 207, Feng is bidding to become the first player in 40 years to win this championship wire-to-wire. It hasn’t been done since Hollis Stacy won at Hazeltine in 1977.

U.S. Women’s Open: Articles, photos and videos

If all goes as Feng plans, she might become the first player to win the U.S. Women’s Open in a spotted-cow print ensemble. She played in spotted-cow print shorts and sleeves on Friday and fans loved it.

“So many people ask for them,” Feng said. “Maybe I’ll wear them tomorrow.”

Feng may lead, but she will be challenged with six South Koreans lined up right behind her. The Koreans practically own the U.S. Women’s Open. They have won six of the last nine, four of the last six.

Amy Yang (70) and 17-year-old amateur Hye-Jin Choi (70) are one shot back. Choi is trying to become just the second amateur to win the U.S. Women’s Open. France’s Catherine LaCoste was the first to win it 50 years ago.

Sung Hyun Park (67) is th reeback.

Rolex world No. 1 So Yeon Ryu (71), Jeongeun6 Lee (73) and Mirim Lee (67) are four back.

And then there is Kerr (70), the lone American among the top 13 players on the board.

Kerr is five shots back.

At 39, Kerr is 12 years older than any of those players lined up in front of her. She’s also battling back spasms, which became so sharp she almost pulled out of this championship during the first round and again in the second round.

“There was a point on Thursday when she turned to me and said `I don’t know how much more I can go,’” said Erik Stevens, Kerr’s husband.

Stevens wondered aloud if it was time to pack it in on Friday.

“She said, `No, I’m going to muscle my way through,’” Stevens said.

Kerr is playing on anti-inflammatories and a medicinal steroid.

“She's tough,” said Brady Stockton, Kerr’s caddie. “It's been like a muscle spasm. So, even though it hurts really badly, and it sounds horrible and she's moaning and groaning, it's a muscle spasm. There is no damage she can do, as far as we've decided.”

Kerr has been getting massages from an LPGA physiotherapist during rounds.

“Pure insanity,” Kerr said. “Another tournament in the world, you would think about just going home but not this one. So, I had to try to just stick it through.”

Kerr, by the way, did get President Trump’s attention coming off the 18th green Saturday after her round. He shot her a thumbs up, and then he sent an invitation to join him in his private box.

This has been a U.S. Women’s Open week like no other, with Trump’s attendance creating so much attention with his arrival on Friday. While more protests are planned Sunday, Trump appears to be relishing his visit, with fans continuing to wildly welcome his presence.

How unusual is this U.S. Women’s Open?

Kerr, her husband Erik and her caddie, Brady Stockton, were all frisked before they entered Trump’s private box. Secret Service agents in bullet-proof vests with assault rifles were stationed close by.

Lexi Thompson and Suzann Pettersen also accepted invitations to speak to Trump after their rounds.

Before heading off to see the president, Kerr was asked what they might talk about.

“I don’t know,” Kerr said. “I’m not going to talk politics. I can tell you that.”

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''