Noh latest young gun to arrive on PGA Tour

By Ryan LavnerApril 28, 2014, 12:08 am

AVONDALE, La. – It’s never been harder to win on the PGA Tour, a belief reinforced Sunday as another talented yet unproven player stared down one of the game’s single-name stars.

Russell Henley clipped Rory McIlroy.

Matt Every undermined Adam Scott.

Steven Bowditch stiff-armed Matt Kuchar.

So this, it seems, was Keegan Bradley’s turn.

On a windy Sunday at TPC Louisiana, Seung-Yul Noh offered even more proof that tournament favorites are useful in barroom conversation, little else. The South Korean’s unflinching, unyielding play in the final round gave him a two-shot victory at the Zurich Classic – a tournament that, in recent years, has churned out as many maiden winners as bowls of jambalaya.

Zurich Classic: Articles, videos and photos

Seven of the past 10 winners here have been of the first-time variety, Noh the most heralded. At 22, he is the fourth under-25 winner this season – following Harris English, Patrick Reed and Henley – as the Tour transitions from an era of Tiger-led domination to one rife with young, hungry, talented kids with no scar tissue.

Noh’s old swing coach, Sean Foley, used to joke that his pupil’s nickname was "Soon You’ll Know" – as in, how good he is.

In 2010, Noh became the second-youngest winner on the European Tour when the then-18-year-old captured the Malaysian Open. That year he topped the Asian Tour money list, and the next fall he earned his PGA Tour card via Q-School.

After an auspicious 2012 debut, in which he finished inside the top 50 in earnings, Noh was sent back down to golf’s Triple-A to earn back his card, which he did, in the Tour’s Final Series.

Likewise, his 2014 form has been largely uninspiring, but his four days here reaffirmed why so many, for so long, have been gushing about his superstar potential. He led the field in proximity to the hole and was 11th in strokes gained-putting.

“People knew he was gonna be good,” said Scott Sajtinac, Noh’s caddie, “and to finally get a win under your belt will send him in the right direction.”

Already possessing one of the sweetest swings in the game, Noh matched that ball-striking prowess with a steady hand in the 30-mph winds Sunday at TPC Louisiana.

Two shots clear of Bradley at the start of the day, Noh had the chance to become the first player in 40 years to win a tournament while going bogey-free. That bid ended rather abruptly, when he pumped his tee shot way right on the first hole and made his first bogey of the week. By the third hole, Noh had regained the lead by himself, an advantage he never relinquished.

Indeed, nearly every time he stumbled, he soon regained his footing:

His bogey on 1 was followed by seven consecutive pars.

His short miss on 12 was negated by a follow-up birdie on 13.

Another missed tiddler on 15 was erased by a kick-in birdie on 16.

The Tour keeps such a statistic – bounce back – that measures how often a player is over par on a hole and then under par on the following hole. Essentially, it measures a player’s ability to withstand a few punches to the gut. Noh doesn’t have a gut – he’s generously listed at 165 pounds – but don’t let his slight frame fool you.

The leader in bounce back this season, the guy who rebounds better than any other player on Tour ... is Seung-Yul Noh, at 30.77 percent.

So, yes, add it all up, and it was good enough Sunday for a 1-under 71 and a two-shot victory over Andrew Svoboda (69) and Robert Streb (70). In the process, Noh also stared down Bradley, one of the game’s grittiest competitors, and beat the 2011 PGA champion by four strokes.

“He’s just steely,” Sajtinac said of Noh, with whom he has just begun working. “These young guys that are winning right now, they’re just rock-solid under the pump. It’s hard to do, being in control of everything.

“He was unflappable. He just stays the same. You look at the guys who are contending week-in, week-out on the PGA Tour, they’re unflappable.”

After tapping in for the win, Noh was bum-rushed on the final green by Y.E. Yang and Charlie Wi, both of whom were wielding Bud Light bottles. Noh didn’t fight the beer barrage, tilting back his head and basking in the suds.

Said Wi, who has known Noh for the past five years: “His game always has been very strong, solid. I thought his demeanor today was awesome. I would have been rattled and nervous, but he sure didn’t look that way.”

Because he wasn’t, or so he says. Since his “very disappointing” 2013 season, Noh insists that he’s mentally stronger, that he doesn’t get nervous. Not anymore.

“He’s wise beyond his years for a 22-year-old,” Sajtinac said. “It was hard out there. You had to mind your Ps and Qs, and he did it the whole way around essentially. The kid is gonna be good.”

Ask Keegan and Co. Noh is already there.

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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.