Will Park retire after Rio?

By Rex HoggardAugust 17, 2016, 7:42 pm

RIO DE JANEIRO – Going out on top is no easy thing, particularly for an athlete whose life since she was 10 years old has been defined by an uncanny ability to filter out distractions and doubt.

But if Inbee Park sounded as if she had little interest in the latter on Wednesday at the Olympic Golf Course, there was no escaping the former.

Park arrived in Rio following two months on the disabled list nursing an ailing left thumb and has grown weary of answering questions about the injury.

“I don’t want to speak about my thumb,” she said. “The injury is not going to be a problem this week.”

If her first-round 66 was any indication the South Korean’s insistence that all was well with her thumb was more than just a mind game to keep her focused on the task at hand.

Park hit 13 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation on Day 1 of the women’s competition to move to within one stroke of the first-round lead, and her round could have been even better.

The 28-year-old missed six putts for birdie inside 10 feet and failed to birdie any of the Olympic course’s closing three holes, which are widely considered the key to scoring on the Gil Hanse-designed layout.

VIDEO: Park (66) highlights from Round 1 of the Rio Olympics

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“The one thing that I'm really happy about is that I had that many opportunities out there today,” said Park, who trails front-runner Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand by one shot. “I always like to deal with missed opportunities more than not even having an opportunity.”

Simply put, Park did what Park does best – avoid trouble and unforced errors. Not bad for a player who hasn’t played an LPGA event since June’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and missed the cut two week’s ago at a relatively weak-field Korean LPGA tournament.

“That girl's good,” said America’s Gerina Piller, who was paired with Park on Day 1. “She makes everything she looks at. I'm going to have to go ask her for a putting lesson after that. She's kind of plain vanilla, she gets it done.”

That’s the story of Park’s career – unabashed brilliance in an unassuming cover. What she may lack in Q rating has always been secondary to an incomparable competitive moxie, winning 17 times on the LPGA, seven major championships and this year becoming the youngest LPGA player to ever qualify for the Hall of Fame.

For Park, substance has always trumped style.

Which is why this week’s Olympics are such a curious case for Park, who has hinted in recent months that she could be much closer to the end of her career than one might think.

Asked this week if she has a timeframe for when she may step down from competitive golf, Park continued to be vague.

“I'd like to have a family soon and that's probably my priority maybe the next couple years,” she said. “I really don't know what's going to happen. If I have a baby or after I have a family, whether I'm going to come back or not come back. I'm just in between how to plan the rest of my career.”

There’s no need for a translation: Retirement is coming for Park; the only question is when the world’s fifth-ranked player will make her break for the golden years.

Some this week have suggested the Olympics could be Park’s swan song – although she said on Tuesday that she hopes to be able to play next month’s Evian Championship in France if her ailing left thumb permits.

Although she has struggled this year largely because of injury, in 2015 Park won five times, including two majors. That doesn’t exactly sound like a player on the verge of an early exit, but in the context of her career it’s conceivable that she’s pegged the Olympics as the perfect departure point.

For a player who has accomplished nearly everything in professional golf – in fact, the only missing piece to the resume would be winning the Evian, which she won before it was decreed a major – a medal, particularly of the gold variety, would be the perfect bookend for the trophy case.

Although Park, like the vast majority of golfers both male and female who traveled to Rio for golf’s return to the Olympics, danced around comparisons between winning a major vs. a medal, back home in South Korea a trip to the podium on Saturday would eclipse everything she has accomplished.

“The Olympic Games will be bigger [than a major] in Korea probably,” Park said. “A lot of golf fans are interested in golf and I think the Olympics is all the people who enjoy sports, and even people who don’t enjoy sports, I think they get to watch and cheer. So I think it is quite big.”

On Wednesday the competitor in Park didn’t feel inclined to address either her injury or her future plans in the game, but she left little doubt where a victory this week would rank on her Hall of Fame resume.

“This could be the highlight of my career,” she said.

Whether it would also be a magical swan song remains to be seen.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.