Mystery man of U.S. Am semifinals

By Ryan LavnerAugust 19, 2017, 3:09 am

LOS ANGELES – Three of the four U.S. Amateur semifinalists are standout college players and known commodities in the amateur golf community.

And then there’s Mark Lawrence Jr.

He’s No. 386 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He’s a dominant player in his home state of Virginia but a mystery to the rest of the country. This isn’t just his first U.S. Amateur appearance. It’s his first USGA appearance, period. He didn’t play the U.S. Junior. Or the now-defunct Public Links. Or the Four-Ball. Or the Open. Nothing.

Not even his fellow competitors knew anything about him.

“Before this tournament? No,” said his quarterfinal opponent, Dawson Armstrong.

But that all changed Friday, when Lawrence moved two steps away from the U.S. Amateur title with a 3-and-2 victory over Armstrong, one of the favorites entering the match-play portion at Riviera.

“He’s got a good golf game,” Armstrong said in the locker room afterward. “He’s in the semifinals for a reason.”

Lawrence, a rising junior at Virginia Tech, will face Doc Redman on Saturday, with a likely invitation to the 2018 Masters on the line.

“I’m maybe a little bit surprised,” Lawrence said, “but I’ve been really confident in my golf game. I thought if I could get myself in the right position, I could go pretty far.”

But this far?

Lawrence’s most significant victory to date was the Virginia State Amateur title, which he captured last month, 37 years after his father won. All of his other victories have been regional.


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“But he’s been a great player for a long, long time,” said Virginia Tech coach Jay Hardwick, “so it’s not a surprise to any of us in the state that have seen him play.”

For everyone else, though, this is the first time Lawrence has starred on a big stage.

He attempted to qualify for the U.S. Junior once, but he shot the third-lowest qualifying score in the country and was beat out for the lone spot. He didn’t tee it up in any U.S. Amateur qualifiers, either, because the event always conflicted with the first week of school.

“I haven’t played in a lot of big events,” he said. “It’s really expensive and you have to have a good rank to get in to begin with.”

Unlike many of his peers who travel the world playing in amateur events, Lawrence works full time in the summer at Kinloch Golf Club, about 10 minutes from his parents’ home in Richmond.

Valet attendant, range picker, shuttle driver – Lawrence does it all four days a week, in eight-hour shifts (from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.).

“He doesn’t really get the opportunity to travel much in the summer,” Hardwick said, “but that also makes him hungrier. It can be a catch-22, because if you don’t get to play a lot the pressure isn’t as easy to handle, but he’s always been strong when it comes to that. This plan works for him, and I admire him for that.”

Added Lawrence’s caddie and friend of 13 years, Chris Kapsak: “Mad respect for him. It’s a lot of money to do these types of tournaments, but he said he wanted to give it a try, and he took advantage of the one opportunity and did something like this.”

Lawrence began his college career at Auburn but transferred to Virginia Tech after one disappointing season to be closer to home. Working with assistant coach Brian Sharp, Lawrence overhauled his game, transitioning from a push-draw to a slight fade, a move that has produced more consistent, controlled shots.

Another change was his unique putting method, which combines a mid-length putter, an armbar, a ball position near his back foot and a claw grip. Yeah, there’s a lot going on.

“But it works for him,” Hardwick said. “Putting is the one thing that doesn’t have to be perfect looking. What’s perfect to me is when the ball goes in the hole.”

And it has all week.

Lawrence opened his U.S. Amateur with a 64 at Bel-Air. Even with a 3-over 73 in the second round of qualifying, he earned a high seed in match play.

Jumping out to quick leads each round, Lawrence knocked off 2015 U.S. Amateur runner-up Derek Bard, Tyler Strafaci and Shae Wools-Cobb. His opponent in the quarterfinals was Armstrong, the 2015 Western Amateur champion and one of the Walker Cup bubble boys.

But Lawrence caught a break when Armstrong came down with food poisoning Thursday and spent most of the night in the bathroom. Armstrong’s fever spiked in the afternoon, and he did well just to last until the 16th hole.

“Taking so many pills to stay physically stable, your touch and feel goes away,” Armstrong said afterward. “I tried to stay as mentally sharp as I could, but sooner or later, with those feelings happening, you’ve got to get lucky on a day like this, and I just didn’t have it today, sadly.”

And Lawrence played solidly after a shaky start, winning three holes in a row on the back nine to cruise to a convincing victory.

“With his distance, he’s able to hit softer shots when fuller shots are demanded for the shorter players,” Armstrong said. “He’s able to have more control of his game, and when his putter is rolling like it is this week, he can be pretty dangerous.”

Another stiff challenge awaits, against Redman, a sophomore at Clemson who two weeks ago reached the finals of the Western Amateur.

It’s another match in which Lawrence will be the underdog. Not that he’s paying attention.

“I was about 200 ranking spots behind the other seven guys in the quarterfinals,” he said, “but I still had the mindset that I could compete.

“The way golf is right now, everybody is really good. Everybody can win.”

And that includes No. 386.

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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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.''