LPGA Q-School change bodes well for college teams

By Ryan LavnerNovember 1, 2016, 12:06 am

ATLANTA – For two women’s coaches, at least, there is a sense of foreboding at this week’s East Lake Cup. It could be the final college event for the past two NCAA players of the year.

Both UCLA senior Bronte Law and Duke junior Leona Maguire qualified for the final stage of LPGA Q-School, set for Nov. 30-Dec. 4 in Daytona Beach, Fla. The top 20 finishers in the five-round event earn full status on the LPGA next season, and considering their talent and current form, there’s a good chance that both stars will retire their team uniforms come December.

It makes for a bittersweet end to the fall, as a professional problem once again threatens to undermine this college golf season.

Fortunately, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan now has a plan in the works that bodes well for the college game.

Whan said last week that the tour will soon eliminate the traditional Q-School route. Instead, much like the model the PGA Tour established in 2013 with the Web.com pipeline, the Symetra Tour will be the only pathway for players to compete on the LPGA.

Beginning as early as next fall (but most likely in 2018), the LPGA will hold a three-event qualifying series that will award Symetra Tour cards. Currently, the top college players who earn LPGA cards are leaving college at the halfway point of the season to ensure that they have the best opportunity to retain their card with a full season in the pros.

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With this new system, players likely would defer turning pro until after the NCAAs in May, missing about a third of the Symetra season, which begins in earnest in April. They would then have all summer to either (A) finish in the top 10 on the money list to earn an LPGA card, or (B) play well enough to compete in the new qualifying series, which will include players who finished outside the top 100 in LPGA earnings. Former Alabama star Emma Talley just showed it’s a viable option, finishing 26th on the money list despite starting her pro career after NCAAs.

“I think the qualifying series is a much better answer for a college student,” Whan said.

The current Q-School system has long been problematic for women’s coaches, who have watched their most talented players bolt for the pros midway through the season, leaving the lineup in flux.

The potential losses this year would significantly alter the women’s landscape. Among those currently entered in final stage are Maguire and Law – the past two Annika Award winners, and the Nos. 1 and 2-ranked amateurs in the world, respectively – as well as South Carolina senior Katelyn Dambaugh (the Annika Award runner-up a year ago) and USC seniors Karen Chung and Tiffany Chan.

“Players are saying, ‘This is potentially my last shot at a straight ticket to the tour,’” UCLA coach Carrie Forsyth said, “so it drew out a lot of people.”

Forsyth has been hit particularly hard in recent years, losing Stephanie Kono and Alison Lee to early departures.

Lee’s exit was made easier by the fact that she earned medalist honors that year at Q-School.

“The writing was on the wall,” Forsyth said. “She was ready.”

“But this one will be a little harder for me,” she said of Law. “We’ve had Bronte for more than three years. We know what she brings. It’s more than her score. She’s a great leader, a really excellent model. That’s going to be tough.”

But Law attempting Q-School wasn’t a surprise; in fact, after hearing that changes to Q-School were imminent, she approached Forsyth last fall to explain that she would go this route.

“At the start, it did make things sensitive and it was difficult,” Law said. “But Coach said to me, ‘You’re ready. I’m not going to hold you back from that.’

“They’re looking out for my future, too. They know that’s where I want to be. They’ve prepared me for the next step, and now they’re just letting me go to the next part of my life.”

Said Forsyth: “Obviously it has an impact on us short term, in the negative, for this year’s team. But long term, it’s always beneficial to have players out on tour. It speaks a lot about the program that players can come in here and get better.”

And besides, it’s hard to blame Law and Maguire for looking ahead under the current system.

Law, 21, is scheduled to graduate this spring, and her stock likely won’t get any higher, coming off a banner year in which she earned player of the year honors, posted a 5-0 record at the Curtis Cup, competed in three LPGA majors and won the European Ladies Amateur Championship.

“Honestly, I’m in the best scenario,” Law said. “I have the opportunity to go onto the LPGA, but if not I get to spend the year with my teammates and friends and finish off what should be a very good year.”

The 21-year-old Maguire, meanwhile, was the 2015 Annika Award winner, the low amateur at this year’s Women’s British Open and a contender through three rounds at the Olympics.

“If I get my LPGA card, that’d be great,” Maguire said. “If I don’t, I’m not losing anything – I’m coming back to a great team and a great program. It’s a win-win either way.”

This is the first time in his 33-year career that Duke coach Dan Brooks has had a player test the pro ranks midway through a season.

“I’m doing it on a trial basis, to see how I like it,” he said, “and I don’t like it very much.”

Brooks’ beef is with the current system, how it puts the player in an uncomfortable position of having to leave behind their teammates to follow their dreams.

“Even having the option to do this during the fall has always been a problem,” he said, “and it finally caught up to us.”

And so for now, Brooks and Forsyth are competing with the capable squad they have, but wary of what the offseason will bring.

“This is going to be one of those really strange years where if you’re fortunate and you don’t have any kids at Q-School, you can develop chemistry and gain some momentum,” Forsyth said. “When you’re a team like us, you’re going to have to reset and start again and build on what we have and try to pull up the players who aren’t in the lineup right now. It’s an unfortunate situation.”

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."