Cal's dominant run comes to an end

By Ryan LavnerMay 26, 2014, 6:22 pm

HUTCHINSON, Kan. – When Cal won the 2004 NCAA Championship, Steve Desimone was told by one of his coaching peers that once he won a national title, there was no such thing as pressure ever again.

Ten years later, well, Desimone wasn’t so sure.

“Right now,” he said, “I think he was full of crap.”

Cal’s head coach was standing on the tee Monday at the par-3 15th at Prairie Dunes, offering advice on which club to pull. The Golden Bears were playing in the morning wave (teams 16-30) here and trying to post a number during the third and final round of stroke-play qualifying. Sure, they’d have to wait 10 hours to learn their fate, but a low round might have been enough to send the Golden Bears into the NCAA match-play bracket.

Though Desimone might have a national title under his belt, the rest of his five-man roster does not. And for those guys there is pressure. Lots of it.    

Brandon Hagy came home in 39. So did fellow senior Michael Weaver. Even Joel Stalter, who shot 67, missed a short par putt on 16.

At the end of the day, Cal had posted a 2-over 282 for a three-round score of 10-over 850. With the first wave complete, the Golden Bears were in a tie for 17th. The low eight teams advance to match play. Their remarkable five-year run was over.

“Disappointed would be an understatement,” Desimone would say later. “Devastated is a little more like it.”

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Hagy took it the hardest, at least initially. Despite struggling with his game, he had somehow pushed it to 1 under for the day when he arrived at the par-5 17th.

One of the longest hitters in college golf, Hagy hooked his tee shot into the junk left. They never found it. His provisional was in trouble too, deep in the waist-high rough, and it took him two shots just to extricate himself. His ensuing triple-bogey 8 – on a hole he easily could have reached in two – sent Cal tumbling down the leaderboard.

When Hagy walked dejectedly off the 18th green, he was cut off by his father, Richard. Dad grabbed his son’s hand, and he guided him to the scoring building with his left arm draped around his shoulder.

“It was a grind all day,” Hagy said afterward, “and to have a poor swing at the end was frustrating.”

Because of the shotgun start, the rest of Hagy’s teammates eventually made their way to the clubhouse within the next 20 minutes. They looked defeated, too. Desimone summoned his guys and called a team meeting, right there on the clubhouse veranda.

This, after all, was the No. 4 team in the country, a group just 12 months removed from arguably the best year in college golf history. At the start of the season they had four returnees from that 11-win team, but in December Michael Kim, the 2013 National Player of the Year, bolted for the pro ranks.

Many assumed Cal’s run of dominance was over, that it wasn’t deep enough to contend for a national title, but it managed to win three more times in the spring. The Golden Bears began to show signs of weakness in April, however, finishing third at both the Western Intercollegiate and Pac-12 Championship. At the Sugar Grove regional, Cal was fortunate just to finish inside the top 5.

Here, a second-round 289 left the Golden Bears in the first wave, just five shots off the pace for the all-important eighth spot, but it proved a hole from which they couldn’t recover.

Said Desimone, “It certainly had the potential for a better ending.”

Instead, it marks the end of one of the best runs in college golf history. In the past three years, Cal captured the first two Pac-12 titles in school history, won 24 of its 40 tournaments and finished outside the top 5 only twice.

“I always dreamed of playing on a top-10 team,” Stalter said, “and last year we had the best of all-time. I don’t know how it gets better.”

Desimone knew immediately that this group had immense potential. The first time Max Homa, Hagy and Weaver ever hit balls together at Metropolitan Golf Links, Desimone turned to associate head coach Walter Chun and marveled, “Those guys are going to take us to the NCAA Championship!”

Chun reminded the group of that exchange during their team meeting on the veranda. “I never saw it,” Chun told the team, “but Des predicted it.”

That’s awfully difficult to remember now, when a difficult finish meant the dream of a championship was  gone. Perspective arrives only in time.

Because now the 65-year-old coach had tears in his eyes, knowing this was the end for not just his four seniors but also for one of the most memorable runs of his long career.

“It hurts when they hurt,” he said, “just like a parent.”

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.''