Frustration pays off for Lisa Maguire and Duke

By Ryan LavnerNovember 2, 2016, 11:23 pm

ATLANTA – Perhaps no one at the East Lake Cup needed a win worse than Lisa Maguire.  

The Duke junior – whose twin sister, Leona, is the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world – has been floundering for the past three years. When she arrived on campus, in August 2014, she and Blue Devils coach Dan Brooks embarked on a massive swing overhaul. Despite Maguire’s decorated junior résumé that included 16 amateur titles and a top-50 world ranking, Brooks knew his incoming freshman’s inside-out, power-sapping swing was in dire need of a rebuild.

“I was watching a game that August and September that isn’t going to be on the LPGA tour,” Brooks recalled Wednesday. “It’s not going there. It’s going to struggle on the Symetra Tour, maybe, and it’s going to fizzle out and she’s going to do something else. That’s what I’m watching.

“I could have squeezed a lot of good golf out of that in college, but she would have been at a dead end in four years.”

What followed was agonizing for both player and coach. While Leona earned NCAA player of the year honors in 2014-15, Lisa didn’t shoot in the 60s her entire freshman season, finishing no better than 40th in her last eight events. The low point came at the 2015 NCAA Championship, where she shot four consecutive rounds in the 80s and finished 83rd out of 84 players, at 51 over par.

“It’s been tough for me to watch her go through it,” Leona said, “but it’s been tougher for her to go through it herself. I try to be as supportive as I can and help her any way I can.”

Brooks tried everything to get Maguire back on track, watching old videos of her swing and consulting with professional coaches. Nothing worked. What looked perfect on the range immediately dissolved once she got onto the course, leading to only three appearances during her sophomore season (including two starts counting only as an individual).

“Your heart breaks,” Brooks said, “because you know what she puts in to have it not travel to the course and not work out. You know what you’re feeling, it’s three times as much for her.”

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This season hasn’t been much better, with a tie for 32nd representing her best result this fall. Maguire wasn’t even supposed to be in Duke’s lineup for this week’s East Lake Cup, a three-day, four-team match-play event, but junior Gurbani Singh became ill last week.

And so Brooks walked 14 holes with Maguire during Monday’s stroke-play qualifier (when she shot a team-worst 79), then all 18 during her semifinal match (a 2-up loss to UCLA) and again Wednesday against Washington’s Eun Won Park.

“I’m going to be on you like a gnat,” Brooks said, circling his finger around her face. But his unwavering commitment was necessary.

“It’s been looking so good on the driving range for a long time,” he said, “but it just hasn’t been traveling. She’s a shot-maker. She plays shots, but those players don’t think about their swing. She’s had to shift her mind into playing golf swing in order to hit it 25 yards longer and straighter.

“It’s a good swing change, but it’s not her natural way to think on a golf course. When it comes down to tight matches, it’s really hard to keep yourself out of your normal way of thinking. That’s why I stayed with her – to make sure she played golf swing the whole round, so she could hit it much farther and straighter.”

Interestingly, that’s the opposite of what most elite players say – that they don’t want to play golf swing; that they want to forget about their mechanics and just play golf.

“It’s definitely not easy,” she said. “It’s a little more work on the golf course than for some people. I have to focus on what I need to do – swing golf rather than just shot golf. It’s very easy to switch off and focus on playing the shots, but I’m not at that point right now. A better process will lead to better shots.”

Wednesday’s match against Park was ugly at times – including the usual match-play concessions, she was 9 over par – but Maguire summoned the clutch shots when she needed to, rolling in a 8-foot par putt on 16 and then two-putting from 60 feet on 18 to hold on for the 1-up victory. Duke won the team match, 3-1-1, over the defending NCAA champions.

“It’s still very much a work in progress,” said Maguire, 21. “I’ve worked very hard the last two years to try and master it. It’s obviously not quite there, but I feel like I’ve seen a lot of progress.”

Said Brooks: “This is a big step in the right direction.”

When she rolled in the 3-footer to win, Maguire calmly tucked the ball into her pocket and shook hands with Park. Then the emotion poured out. Normally timid and reserved, she leaped into the arms of teammate Virginia Elena Carta. The smile on Brooks’ face was unmistakable.

“That’s the most I’ve ever involved myself with a player’s game in 32 years, this tournament,” he said.

It’s too early to tell, of course, but this encouraging result might help revive Maguire’s career after three years of frustration.

“I know if I can get through this swing change, I’ll be a better player than I was as a junior,” she said. “It’s just focusing on the future and what the possibilities could be when I do get it right.”

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.

Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''