Lighten up: Too tough is bad for NCAA women's optics

By Ryan LavnerMay 25, 2017, 2:16 pm

SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – When the thrill of victory finally wore off Wednesday night, Arizona State coach Missy Farr-Kaye was so exhausted that it appeared as though she might fall asleep right there on the dais, the NCAA team trophy positioned in front of her.

“This is a grueling championship now with the format,” she said.

And there’s no disputing that.

With the days long and the nights short, the Sun Devils’ demanding week included three 4 a.m. wakeup calls, 36,000 steps a day and 108 holes – actually 18 fewer than it should have been, after the second round was canceled because of inclement weather. Making this year’s task even more arduous was the venue, Rich Harvest Farms, a brawny, penal and quirky course that for the second time in three years tested the boundaries of what’s fair in the NCAA Women’s Championship.

This is the third time that the women’s and men’s championships are being played on the same venue, an opportunity to showcase both events on television. The doubleheader began inauspiciously. In 2015, at Concession Golf Club in Florida, players and coaches were incensed by what they thought was an unfair setup. The course’s slick, undulating greens became unplayable for many of the game’s brightest stars, and the 72-hole stroke-play portion was a disaster – 62 over par was good enough to advance to match play, and only three individuals finished under par.

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The NCAA put Janet Lindsay, a 20-year veteran on the LPGA rules staff, in charge of the championship’s course setup, and she and the committee hit a home run last year at Eugene Country Club, which many coaches said was one of the fairest tests they’d played for nationals. The cutoff for match play: 14 over par.

No doubt, the weather last week at Rich Harvest Farms was dreadful. During the first round, players slogged through sideways rain, howling wind and 35-degree wind chills. Somehow, two players shot even par – “We shook our heads and said, ‘We can’t believe how good that is,’” Lindsay said – but many of the top teams in the country fired their worst scores of the season to blow out of contention after one round. The conditions Sunday weren’t much better, as the field scoring average hovered around 78, and through two rounds players recorded 316 double bogeys and 65 triples or worse on the wet course.

By the end of stroke play, the cut line fell at 55 over – seven strokes lower than Concession, but with one fewer round – and for the first time since 2009, there was an over-par medalist. Only one school, Alabama, shot a sub-par team round (1 under); had there been 72 holes, it’s likely a team would have been triple-digits over par.

In a tweet that has since been deleted, the 2016 NCAA champion Washington women’s golf team, which did not qualify for nationals, posted this: “1, yes, 1 subpar round from 24 of the VERY best teams in the nation over 3 days #NCAAGolf #really? Congrats to survivors.”

Of course, it wasn’t all chaos: The top four players in college golf all finished among the top 10 individually, with Player of the Year favorites Leona Maguire (Duke) and Jennifer Kupcho (Wake Forest) sharing second place. But other scores were alarmingly high.

“It bothers me because I know how good the golf is out here,” Duke coach Dan Brooks said. “Leona is a different character” – she’s the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world – “but it shouldn’t be that the only ones who are able to shoot 74 are your very cream. There should be a few more. This is a little bit of survival out here.”

Tournament officials immediately pointed to the weather – again, it was a significant factor – and how they tried to adapt each day to the changing conditions.

“But the golf course alone would have put us all the way to the red line,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “We were pushed past because of the weather.”

The coaches’ main concern is the perception of women’s college golf if the public sees players who are unable to hold greens or clear hazards or break 80. As one coach said, “We don’t have the best rep, anyway.”

“I don’t think it needs to be scoreable,” Walker said, “but it always needs to be fair. That’s what we have to keep an eye on.

“We have 120-plus players in the field. How many of those players will go on to become LPGA stars? Maybe eight to 10? And if you look, the majority of those kids are in the top 10 – for a reason, because they can handle it.

“But we’re not at the LPGA level. We’re not the U.S. Open. We’re at a college golf event, and we have to create a situation where it tests the world-class players but we also don’t lose the general population of women’s college golf.”

To its credit, the NCAA understands this dilemma.

“Of course we’re concerned,” Lindsay said, “because I don’t think those scores were a fair reflection of the talent in college golf. We’re the ones that made them go out and play in those conditions on a challenging golf course, and I think they held up very well.”

Unfortunately, it won’t get any easier in the future, with Oklahoma State’s Karsten Creek (2018) and Arkansas’ Blessings Golf Club (2019) on the schedule.

Rich Harvest Farms built a few new tees for the women’s championship, and the upcoming venues likely will have to do the same. Last year, during a three-round NCAA men’s regional at Karsten Creek, the fifth-place team shot 46 over par, while Blessings, with a rating of 79.1 and a slope of 153, is one of the most difficult courses in the country. When the women’s SEC Championship was last held there, in 2012, the winning score was 52 over par.

“If these girls want to play professional, they have to play difficult golf courses,” Florida State coach Amy Bond said. “But I’d like to see it where it’s truly scoreable for all of the girls, because there are some wonderful players who really deserve to be highlighted.”

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Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

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Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.