America, get to know Thorbjørn Olesen (the underground McIlroy)

By Rex HoggardMarch 5, 2013, 8:37 pm

DORAL, Fla. – The relaxed 23-year-old with the infectious smile slumps back into a plush leather chair in the Dove Mountain clubhouse and considers his wholesale transition to Nike Golf gear this season.

“There are just some things you learn when you play tournament golf,” he reasoned. “It takes a little time.”

That is where the comparisons between Thorbjørn Olesen and Rory McIlroy end. Although they both transitioned to the Swoosh this season, the Dane’s jump has been much smoother and, by comparison, much less documented and dissected than McIlroy’s.

And that’s fine with Olesen.

“It must have been unbelievable for him,” Olesen said when asked about his Nike stablemate’s start with the company earlier this season in Abu Dhabi. “I have no idea how he felt, but it could not have been an easy week for him.”

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For the record, while McIlroy was missing the cut following rounds of 75 in Abu Dhabi, Olesen quietly finished tied for second place with world No. 5 Justin Rose.

At Dove Mountain, while the world No. 1 was enduring a Round 1 loss, Olesen beat Jamie Donaldson, the man who edged him in Abu Dhabi, and dropped a tough second-round match to Tim Clark despite a persistent groin injury he’d been battling since ... wait for it, falling off a camel earlier this year in Dubai.

American galleries will get their first real look at Olesen at this week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship, just his third career start in the Lower 48, and a word of caution seems necessary – don’t let the sinewy, stoic exterior fool you.

Olesen (pronounced OO-les-en) is a collection of contradictions. Although his swing is effortless and efficient, he is not a product of a golf academy. Truth is, growing up in Fursø, Denmark, a suburb of Copenhagen, Olesen spent the better part of his youth on a soccer pitch.

It wasn’t until he turned 15 and earned a spot on the national team that he began to focus on golf. Three years later he turned pro, a dramatic break from the norm with a singular intent – improvement.

“I felt like I learned more when I played pro tournaments than I did when I played amateur events,” he said. “I just decided to turn pro and learn how to play the game that way.”

And Olesen has continued to impress those around him ever since.

“He is a guy with a very good golf swing, very athletic, hits the ball a long way, like most kids these days,” said Clark when asked about Olesen at the Match Play. “He seemed to have a very good short game. He made a lot of good up-and-downs today, and then when the match got tight at the end, he hit a lot of good shots, too. He looks like a very good player.”

By 2011 Olesen had earned his European Tour card; by 2012 he’d already secured his first title on that circuit (Sicilian Open) and last July he jumped another rung on the ladder to success with opening rounds of 69-66 at the British Open that set up a Saturday two-ball with Tiger Woods.

That he matched Woods nearly shot for shot – he carded a 71 to Woods’ 70 – on his way to a tie for ninth at Royal Lytham was worth almost as much as the Sicilian victory in emotional capital and confidence.

“It’s good to get that experience so early,” he said. “After that I could go into every tournament and actually believe I could win the tournament. That belief is very important to me. You want to get that feeling back.”

At his current pace, more run-ins with Woods, or maybe next time it will be McIlroy, seem likely.

He’s already secured his first start at Augusta National later this spring and if he can maintain his place inside the top 50 in the world golf ranking (he’s currently 41st) through this week, he will earn a spot at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

It is all part of a slow, steady and uber-serious progression that is sometimes masked by the inviting smile and flat-billed baseball hat.

“I think he feels like he’s meant for it. It’s not new because it is where he is supposed to be. He’s seems totally relaxed about it,” said Rocky Hambric, Olesen’s manager with Hambric Sports. “He never seems to be intimidated.”

Nor does he seem to take himself too seriously, which would explain his unique first name. Those who grew up with Olesen in Fursø knew him as Jacob, but in 2008 when he joined the play-for-pay ranks he switched to Thorbjørn, his middle name, because, “Jacob was a common name in Denmark and I just found Thorbjørn a little more special,” he said.

And while Thorbjørn (pronounced TOR-be-yorn) may be a tad daunting for American audiences, he seems to have fit in nicely here at the WGC-United Nations. It’s all part of a climb that even at his young age Olesen understands will eventually bring him to the U.S. full time.

“I want to try and be a worldwide player,” he said. “You have to learn to play well in America. That is where the biggest tournaments are.”

Until then he’s content being the other 23-year-old, the other freshman member of the Nike Golf staff, even the other Dane (he counts Thomas Bjorn as one of idols).

Just don’t expect that kind of anonymity to last for long.

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.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

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.”

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

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.''