Yang lowest-ranked ever to reach U.S. Am final

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2014, 7:40 pm

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – The teetering-on-the-edge chip from the rock wall.

The what-were-you-thinking? 5-iron from the fairway bunker, over water, to set up a conceded eagle.

The cold-blooded wedge shot to 5 feet for a closeout birdie.

Forget the rankings – the No. 619 and No. 776 players in the world can put on quite a show, too.

With his thrilling 19-hole victory Saturday over Fred Wedel at Atlanta Athletic Club, San Diego State sophomore Gunn Yang became the lowest-ranked player ever to reach the U.S. Amateur final.

Not that rankings matter anymore.

The 20-year-old will face Canada’s Corey Conners, 22, in Sunday’s scheduled 36-hole final. By advancing to the championship match, both players have already secured spots in the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open.

In 2011, the USGA tweaked its qualification process to grant the top 50 players in the World Amateur Ranking an automatic exemption into the U.S. Amateur. It was trumpeted as a move that would improve the quality of the field, and indeed it has – since 2011, four of the six finalists have been ranked inside the top 50 worldwide. Last year was a battle between No. 2 Matt Fitzpatrick and No. 13 Oliver Goss.

That’s not the case this year.

Anything can happen in 18-hole match play, of course, and just about everything has over the past six days here at Atlanta Athletic Club. Of the eight quarterfinalists, none was ranked inside the top 35. Three were ranked outside the top 600.

“At this point, the ranking doesn’t really matter,” said Conners, who is No. 44. “There are so many good players.”

Virginia coach Bowen Sergeant has the unique perspective of playing the Am in both 2010 and ’12 – before and after the top-50 exemption rule. The biggest difference, he said, was how difficult it became to reach match play; the 36-hole stroke-play cut was four shots lower in 2012 than in ’10.

“If you’re good enough to get to this point,” he said, “then you’re good enough to have one more good day of golf.”

Said Wedel, a Pepperdine junior: “The rankings are just a number. A lot can change in a year.”

And, apparently, in a week.

Yang and Wedel may have been outside the top 600, but their shot-making during Saturday’s semifinal showdown was worthy of the top spot in the world order.

With the crowd swelling to about 500, only six of their 19 holes played were halved. They were a combined 6 under for their first seven holes. On No. 10, they traded conceded birdies after both players stuffed their approaches inside a foot.

All square on the par-3 17th, Wedel’s tee shot was held up in the wind, the ball landing short and right of the green and trickling back toward the water. Somehow, the ball stayed up on the rock wall, but he faced such an awkward stance that he worried about falling back into the pond. He played one of the most remarkable shots of the tournament, his chip with a turned-down sand wedge scooting over the grassy collar and nestling within 3 feet, but he shoved the putt to go 1 down heading to the last.

Both players found the fairway bunker on the par-5 18th. With a 1-up advantage and his opponent in a similar predicament, Yang inexplicably attempted to go for the green from 220 yards. His 5-iron shot came out too low and never had a chance, splashing into themiddle of the pond fronting the green.

“That was embarrassing,” he said afterward.

Why didn’t Yang lay up?

“It’s a tough shot for you or me, maybe,” said his local caddie, Richard Grice, “but (219) is not a lay-up distance. He plays aggressively. I’ve had to recalibrate my strategic thinking to his specific play.”

Even more aggressive was what came next. After watching his opponent seemingly sink his chances, and about 10 yards closer, Wedel smashed a 5-iron that cleared everything and landed about 10 feet from the cup to send the match to extras.

The momentum proved short-lived. After a big drive, Yang hit sand wedge from 114 yards – the same distance he had in regulation – to within 5 feet. The birdie gave him the victory in 19 holes.

“I lost the (18th), but the next hole I won it. So what?” Yang said, smiling.

Yang may be outside the top 750 in the world, but he is a raw product who is just now beginning to realize his awesome potential. Plagued by back issues since 2008, he finally went under the knife last May, when doctors felt his body had properly matured. Playing catch-up, he has competed in only four college events with San Diego State, and he’s been relegated to mostly local Southern California tournaments during the summer.

A sterling résumé or not, Yang finished birdie-birdie-birdie here to defeat world No. 1 Ollie Schniederjans in the Round of 16.  

“Who is that guy?” Schniederjans asked after the round.

Well, statistically speaking, he’s the 776th-ranked player in the world.

By now, though, we know better than that. 

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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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.''