Thompson's win has future of LPGA looking bright

By Randall MellOctober 13, 2013, 4:31 pm

The women’s game feels as young as it ever has.

With Lexi Thompson bursting back into the winner’s circle Sunday, youth is staking yet a larger claim on the game.

Thompson won the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia in a four-shot runaway at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club. At 18, she now has a pair of LPGA titles on her resume.

That’s two LPGA wins by teenagers in two months.

Lydia Ko, 16, successfully defended her title at the CN Canadian Women’s Open in August. In between those teen wins, Ko and Thompson made hard runs at becoming the youngest winners of a major championship. Ko finished second at the Evian Championship in France last month, Thompson finished third.


Photos: Thompson wins Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia


The dynamic teen duo isn’t alone making headlines this season. England’s Charley Hull, 17, stole the show at the Solheim Cup two months ago, making a name for herself while helping the Europeans win the event for the first time on American soil.

Earlier this year, Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn won a Ladies European Tour title at 17 and then nearly won an LPGA event, finishing second at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

With Ko revealing last week that she is turning pro and petitioning the LPGA for membership, the future of the women’s game is front and center as the 2013 season winds toward its close.

For Thompson, Sunday’s victory was a reaffirmation of the promise she showed qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open when she was 12 and then winning the LPGA’s Navistar Classic when she was 16.

“Words can’t even describe the feeling I have right now,” Thompson told reporters after winning Sunday. “It’s sort of like a rerun from Navistar.”

Thompson made news around the world when she won Navistar Classic in 2011, becoming the youngest winner of an LPGA event at the time. Ko would come along a year later to set a new mark with her first title in Canada.

There was some frustration for Thompson trying to get that second LPGA title, but it only made Sunday’s triumph more satisfying.

“It took longer than I thought,” Thompson said. “But it’s the top players in the world, so it’s not easy. Every tournament you have to shoot super low, and you have to have your A-game. That’s what I had this week.”

Forty-three LPGA events passed before Thompson claimed her second title, but the time didn’t pass without steady progress. Thompson, who made the American Solheim Cup team, has built a reputation as one of the best ball-strikers on tour. She moved to No. 21 in the Rolex women’s world rankings entering the Sime Darby and will jump to No. 14 in the world in Monday’s release of the newest rankings, catapulting over Americans Angela Stanford and Lizette Salas. It will make Thompson the fourth-highest ranked American in the world, behind No. 3 Stacy Lewis and just behind No. 11 Paula Creamer and No. 12 Cristie Kerr.

At times, it seemed as if putting was all that was holding Thompson back from breaking through for another victory.

Coming into the Sime Darby, Thompson was second on tour in driving distance (270.3), trailing only Nicole Smith (274.8). Thompson was ninth in greens in regulation, but just 58th in putts per GIR. Actually, though, her putting has been coming around the last two months. Thompson was 124th in putts per GIR a year ago.

“I’ve worked so hard this whole last year, improving on my short game in particular, and just to have it pay off means so much to me,” Thompson said.

Late this summer, before the Evian Championship, Thompson set up a long session at Trump National Doral in South Florida with her instructor, Jim McLean.

“I told her, `Just bring your putter,’” McLean said Sunday in a telephone interview. “It was a 2 1/2-hour session, and we made some big changes.”

Thompson had been tinkering for some time with changes to her putting stroke, trying to improve it. She tried left-hand low. She tried moving her eyes more over the line, a change from what she was accustomed to as a youth, when she set up with the ball outside the target line and her eyes. She decided to stick with a conventional grip.

“The last few events have actually been a lot better with my putting,” Thompson said. “I went back to my old style of putting and just went to how I was putting when I was really little, hitting them a little firmer and staying a little farther away [from the ball]. So, I’m really confident with my putter. Mainly, that’s what putting is all about, just getting over the putter and saying you’re going to make it.”

McLean said they made changes to Thompson’s arms, shoulders and head positions over the ball.

“They were big changes,” McLean said. “She had her eyes over the ball, and it just wasn’t working. I told her just because you keep hearing you have to have your eyes over the ball doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. Brad Faxon and Ben Crenshaw have their eyes inside the line.”

Thompson is scheduled to play in this week’s LPGA KEB HanaBank Championship in South Korea. The way she is putting, she will be among the favorites to win again. If she does that, she will crack the top 10 in the Rolex world rankings for the first time. With Ko at No. 5, that would put a pair of teenagers among the top 10. It would keep the women’s game feeling as young as it ever has.

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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.