A tournament unlike any other in women's golf

By Randall MellApril 2, 2014, 9:41 pm

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – They don’t drape their champions in green jackets here.

They cloak them in white robes to keep them warm after their triumphant leaps into Poppie’s Pond.

The Kraft Nabisco Championship may not be the Masters, but the traditions and history built over time have created a familiarity that most parallels it in the women’s game.

Mission Hills Country Club may not be Augusta National, but like the iconic course Bobby Jones built in Georgia, the Dinah Shore Course is now built on more than soil. It’s built on a foundation of memories.

With snow-capped mountains as a majestic backdrop, every single player in this field of 111 will tee it up Thursday dreaming of making that victor’s leap into the water beside the 18th green. It’s a tradition Hall of Famer Amy Alcott started when she leaped into the pond after winning in ’88.

“You can’t even understate it,” Rolex world No. 3 Stacy Lewis said of the special history for women here. “For me, when I think of a major, I think of this event. I think of the tradition, the history.”

There’s more than a trophy and a big check for the winner here. There’s the palpable feeling of golf immortality that goes with them. Every player who reaches the 18th green here gets there via the Walk of Champions, a pathway where every winner is celebrated with a plaque. From the first winner, Jane Blalock in 1972, to the last, Inbee Park a year ago, they’re remembered on a wall on the walk.

The finish is a celebration of women’s golf.

“It’s the place everybody can’t wait to go to,” said Karen Stupples, winner of the ’04 Women’s British Open. “You play your practice rounds, and you want to make that jump. Everybody plays the practice rounds with a view toward Poppie’s Pond. It’s a really special place for the players.”

The plaques along the Walk of Champions speak volumes to the test the Dinah Shore Course offers. Mickey Wright, Kathy Whitworth, Pat Bradley, Nancy Lopez, Judy Rankin, Donna Caponi, Amy Alcott, Betsy King, Juli Inkster, Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb are among the Hall of Famers who have won here.


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“The tournament brings back so many memories,” Anna Nordqvist said. “Playing the 18th today in the pro-am, I remembered Karrie Webb’s shot [holing out for eagle in ‘06]. There have been so many good jumps in that pond. All the memories, I want to make my own memories there.”

Dinah Shore, a popular singer in the Big Band era of ‘40s and ‘50s who also became an actress, founded the event and was its host. The tournament started in 1972 as the Colgate-Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle. Shore hosted it until her death in ’94. Her name stayed on the event until 2000, and her presence still lingers here. A statue of her sits at the end of the Walk of Champions.

“The Dinah” is what tour veterans still call the championship today.

Kraft Nabisco is departing as the title sponsor after this year’s event. The company has been associated with the championship since 1982. While there is always some angst when a title sponsor leaves, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan has stated in strong terms that he intends to keep the event here. The LPGA takes control of it going forward.

“It definitely needs to stay here,” Webb said. “There's too much history and too much tradition here. If the LPGA lacks anything, in any other events, it's that.”

Rankin, who won this event in ’76, is confident the history and traditions will sell themselves.

“Corporately, there's this sense that everything will be OK, because it's such a magnificent product in women’s golf,” Rankin said. “It is the one product that people around the country who are fans of golf know. They know the golf course, they know the drill, and they know that it is prior to the Masters. It has a familiarity like Augusta does, where people know the holes that are coming up, and this, that and the other.”

Nordqvist has only played this event since 2010, but she says she knows the course “off the top of my head.” She knows the mysterious “Indio effect,” the force that pulls putts toward the city of Indio in the Coachella Valley.

There’s more to the traditions than what happens on the course. There’s the Champions Dinner on Monday night and equally meaningful casual dinners at favorite spots players return to every year.

Webb’s favorite stop is LG’s Steakhouse.

“I always take whoever I have in town, my caddie, my physio, my whole team,” Webb said. “We have a nice steak dinner and a nice bottle of wine.”

Inkster won here twice. She said she has come to treasure the event more with every passing year.

“This is probably my favorite tournament of the whole year,” Inkster said. “It's just a special week.”

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.