Thompson only American in women's top 10

By Randall MellOctober 12, 2016, 8:08 pm

It’s such an odd year for American women in golf.

Lexi Thompson will tee it up as the defending champion at this week’s KEB Hana Bank Championship leading a slumping American contingent.

It’s an odd year because these slumping Americans were crowned “the best golfing nation” this summer when they won the International Crown biennial team event. They also saw one of their own, Brittany Lang, win the greatest prize in women’s golf, the U.S. Women’s Open.

That doesn’t sound like a “slumping” American effort, yet the Americans are en route to their worst overall showing in the LPGA’s 67 seasons.

At No. 5 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, Thompson won’t only be the highest ranked American in this week’s field. She will be the only American left among the top 10 in the world. Former world No. 1 Stacy Lewis saw her run of 264 consecutive weeks among the top 10 end when she dropped to No. 11 this week.

Thompson and Lang are the only American winners of LPGA events this year.

Since the LPGA was formed in 1950, Americans have never failed to win fewer than four events in a season.

Here’s another troubling dimension to the American contingent. Thompson’s the only American under 30 years old among the top 25 in the Rolex world rankings. In a women’s game that’s getting so much younger, the best American women are starting to get older.

The average age of the top 10 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings is 22.6 years old.

There isn’t a player 30 or older in the top 10 anymore. Inbee Park is the oldest in that mix at 28.

Thompson is 21.

Lewis, Lang, Gerina Piller and Cristie Kerr are the only other Americans among the top 25 in the world, and they’re all in their 30s. No, they aren’t too old to lead an American resurgence, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of young Americans on the rise joining them.

Where’s that next wave of Americans going to come from?

Jessica Korda is a four-time LPGA winner at just 23. She’s streaky good and joins Austin Ernst, 24, as the only Americans beside Thompson with victories who are under 25. Korda is No. 29 in the world, Ernst No. 76. Alison Lee, a second-year pro, is a bright prospect. She’s coming back from a shoulder injury that slowed her the first half of this year. She’s just 21 and American fans are hopeful she could join Thompson as a regular American contender.

What’s happening to the American effort? It’s a complex question with no apparent single answer, but there’s no doubt the LPGA’s global expansion raised the bar for American women and they’ve struggled to respond.

Americans won 24 LPGA events in 1997, the year before Se Ri Pak broke through to make her first two LPGA titles major championships. It’s no coincidence the American victory totals have never reached the level they were before Pak’s arrival. Americans won 17 times in ’98, Pak’s rookie year. They won 15 times in ’99. They’ve never won more than that in a single year since.

Pak wasn’t the first foreign player to make an impact on the LPGA. Sweden’s Annika Sorenstam and Australia’s Karrie Webb were already taking over the tour when Pak came along.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan, who’s in South Korea this week to help honor Pak’s farewell appearance before retirement, credits Pak for sparking more than a fire in Korean golf. He credits her with making it the global game it is today.

“I've read a lot that Se Ri created a real explosion in Korean golf, but I really think that's too narrow,” Whan said. “I think what Se Ri did is really wake up all of Asia to this opportunity and created a tour for us that we probably couldn't have envisioned in 1997.”

With South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and now China delivering world-class players, the LPGA has never been deeper with talent. Players of Asian descent swept the Olympic medals this summer, with South Korea’s Inbee Park taking gold, New Zealand’s Korean-born Lydia Ko taking silver and China’s Shanshan Feng taking bronze.

Players from nine different countries have won LPGA events this year, with five different countries claiming this year’s majors and players from five different countries occupying the top five spots in this week’s Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

“In the era that Se Ri created, women's golf is global,” Whan said. “Players come from all over the world. We play all over the world. We're televised all over the world, and, most importantly, little girls all over the world grew up watching and saying, `I want to do that, too.”

The global explosion of women’s golf explains a lot of the American challenges, but not all of them. The men’s game is global, too, but five of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking are Americans.

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Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

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“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

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On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

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Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.

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Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1