Teen dreams, Olympic drama at U.S. Women's Open

By Randall MellJuly 5, 2016, 11:29 am

SAN MARTIN, Calif. – Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko relishes the return of the U.S. Women’s Open to California for the first time in more than three decades.

Ko has already won twice in California this year, including the year’s first major championship.

Six of Ko’s 13 LPGA titles have come on the West Coast of the United States and Canada. She likes the mountainous topography of the region.

“It reminds me of New Zealand,” the Kiwi Ko said. “When you go to places that aren’t home but feel a lot like home, it makes a difference.”

World No. 2 Brooke Henderson is just as pleased to be teeing it up at CordeValle Golf Club just south of San Jose this week with all three of her LPGA titles coming on the West Coast over the last 10 months. The Canadian claimed her first major last month at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship outside Seattle.

“Getting the major championship win in Washington, knowing that I can win a major championship, was definitely a huge momentum changer,” Henderson said. “And then coming off a win in Portland, I think it really is going to give me a lot of confidence.”

Can these young stars keep the teenage sweep of majors going this season?

Will the 19-year-old Ko and 18-year-old Henderson be able to repeat the theatrics they created in their epic duel at Sahalee in June? They put a jolt of new excitement in the women’s game with their dramatic finishes at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

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

What about Ariya Jutanugarn, who fell just short of joining Ko and Henderson in that playoff? The 20-year-old Thai is bidding to win a tour-best fourth LPGA title this season and her first major.

The U.S. Women’s Open is stacked with storylines beyond this youthful trio as Olympic qualifying will conclude with the final putt’s drop on Sunday. The Olympic golf dream seems to be a much larger ambition among the women than the men with South Africa’s Lee Anne Pace so far the only woman to withdraw her name from Olympic consideration, because of the Zika virus. Several of the top names in men’s golf, including Jason Day and Rory McIlroy, have already done so.

“The Olympics has been my No. 1 goal,” said Lexi Thompson, the highest ranked American in the world at No. 4. “Winning the Olympics would be better than a major.”

The competition to make it to Rio de Janeiro is most intense within the South Korean ranks with the battle so bunched that a dozen women are still within reach of claiming one of the four spots available to that country.

“A gold medal would be bigger than winning a major because it’s the first time for us in the Olympics,” Sei Young Kim said of the intense interest back in South Korea. “The Olympics is the reason I came over to play the LPGA.”

The Koreans don’t have a monopoly on Olympic qualifying drama.

Hall of Famer Karrie Webb’s Olympic dream hangs in the balance as she sits outside the qualifying criteria and needs a big finish this week to claim a spot on the Australian team. Webb has fallen to No. 59 in the world rankings and needs to pass No. 39 Sun-Hyun Oh to secure a spot on the Aussie team in Rio. Oh is also in this week’s field.

And what about the United States?

It’s been a tough haul so far in 2016 for the Americans, who are on pace for a historically awful year. Through the first 19 LPGA events this year, Thompson is the lone player from the United States to win an event. In the 67-year history of the LPGA, the Americans have never gone more than 17 consecutive events without winning. If they fail to win the U.S. Women’s Open this week, it will mark 16 straight the Americans have failed to win this year.

The Americans have never failed to win at least four LPGA titles in a season, but the South Koreans have to be the favored nation this week. The South Koreans are putting their stamp on the U.S. Women’s Open. They’re looking to win the championship for the fifth time in the last six years.

In Gee Chun defeated fellow South Korean Amy Yang in last year’s U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster Country Club outside Philadelphia.

If the Olympics were staged today, Thompson and Stacy Lewis would be the only American women playing.

According to Olympic rules, a country is allowed a maximum of four qualifiers, provided all four are among the top 15 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. Only Thompson at No. 4 and Lewis at No. 8 were among the top 15 in Monday’s release of the newest rankings.

How much have American women slipped since Olympic qualifying began two years ago? There were eight Americans among the top 15 in the Rolex rankings when Olympic qualifying began on July 14, 2014. Lewis, Thompson, Michelle Wie, Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Angela Stanford, Lizette Salas and Jessica Korda were part of that group, that first week.

Gerina Piller’s hovering on the Olympic bubble this week at No. 16 with Kerr at No. 21, Korda No. 24, Lincicome No. 25 and Morgan Pressel No. 28. 

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.