Hope and Heritage

By Rex HoggardApril 14, 2010, 11:40 pm
2007 Verizon HeritageHILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – It’s less than three hours as the crow flies from Augusta National to Harbour Town Golf Links, but as Stewart Cink decompressed on Wednesday in the warm Lowcountry sun the two poles in the golf universe might as well be Venus and Mars.

“It's always one of my favorites, if not my very favorite tournament of the year,” Stewart Cink said. “It's like the anti-Augusta – flat, everything is very small and closed in, whereas Augusta is so large and rolling hills. Everything here is the opposite. When you come here the intensity seems to melt away.”

Augusta National has Magnolia Lane. Harbour Town has Lighthouse Road. One gives you goose bumps, the other is a cure for road rage. Augusta National has pimento cheese sandwiches. Harbour Town has shrimp and cheese grits. One is nasty, the other is shrimp and cheese grits. Augusta National has green jackets. Harbour Town has tartan. One is every kid’s dream, the other is every fashion guru’s worst nightmare.

You get the idea. For 42 years the Heritage has scratched an itch and filled a niche like no other stop on the Tour circus. Simply put, it’s a reason to go to work. A boutique stop on an idyllic slice of Lowcountry coast played on a quirky course that defies the Tour norm. All of which makes the next sentence difficult to pen. The Heritage’s days may be numbered.

Late last year Verizon, the title sponsor since 2006 when Verizon Business purchased MCI, pulled the corporate plug after this week’s cocktail party, and despite the best efforts of tournament director Steve Wilmot, a cozy home and a unique slot on the schedule, no one in corporate America has come buying.

“We have a unique product and a special event, a lot of things on our side but it’s a difficult economy,” Wilmot said.

Last month Wilmot said he’d pieced together enough zeroes, between $7 million and $8 million, to assure the tournament’s existence through 2011 but the Tour seems lukewarm to stopgap measures. Even the South Carolina legislature got into the act, earmarking a $10 million loan to keep the event going through next year.

“It’s there, but we don’t want to use it,” said Wilmot, torn between a tournament he loves and the complexities of a political process that hasn’t been very kind to tournament golf in recent years.

There is no deadline for a new sponsor. Wilmot points out that officials at Torrey Pines received a last-minute reprieve from Farmers Insurance this year a week before the event, but he plans to meet with the Tour after this week to discuss his options.

Although Rick George, the Tour’s executive vice president and chief of operations, stood by Wilmot earlier this week to meet with the press and pledged the full weight of the circuit’s selling machine to run down a new title, the word around Harbour Town is that without a long-term corporate deal Heritage’s April home is too attractive to settle for a patchwork solution.

Simply put, find a sponsor or find yourself the Champions Tour’s newest stop. As difficult as it may be to see a storm approaching on a sun-splashed spring day Wilmot & Co. know rough waters are coming. The Buick Open was played for the last time last year. The Milwaukee stop became a footnote in 2009. Seems the modern Tour has little use for charm when cash is king.

“You don’t get a smile at every event,” said Boo Weekley, the circuit’s quintessential son of the south and a two-time winner at Harbour Town. “This week and next week in New Orleans . . . they were put together. You’ve got the camaraderie of the south. To me it’s about playing the game. It’s not about how much money you can make.”

Bless his deep-fried heart, but it is likely Weekley is in the minority in this respect. Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has been clear on this, there will be no retreat in purses. Not on his watch. All of which means the cruel combination of a bear economy and a Draconian business model could cost the circuit one of the most-looked-forward-to stops of the year.

It is a concerning testament to today’s Tour that an event with 42 years of tradition, a list of winners that was plucked straight from the World Golf Hall of Fame, a golf course that rewards precision over power and one of the most compelling television snapshots this side of Pebble Beach’s 18th hole seems in need of a standing “10” count.

As Yankee great Yogi Berra once mused, it’s getting late early for the Heritage, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile what is best for the circuit’s bottom line with what is best for the Tour.

“To me it kind of stinks the Tour won’t help them out,” Weekley said. “How come they can’t come in and say, we’re gonna help you do this?”

Good question. Now, please pass the shrimp and cheese grits.

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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.