USA's Walker Cup roster up in the air at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2017, 11:45 pm

LOS ANGELES – So, here’s the question on everyone’s mind here at the U.S. Amateur: Who will represent the United States at the upcoming Walker Cup?

No, seriously.


The 10-man team is expected to be unveiled Sunday night, and there are even more questions than usual about how the USGA International Team Selection Committee will arrive at its decision.

Earlier this year, the USGA announced that it was breaking from tradition and releasing the names of all 10 Walker Cup members at the same time, following the conclusion of the Amateur.

For at least the past decade, the USGA has named part of the team well ahead of the biennial matches. The rationale was that the blue blazers wanted to assure the team’s stars that they had a spot on the team, lest they were enticed by parents or agents to turn pro early. But in some cases, there were unintended consequences: With the pressure off, a few players scaled back their summer schedules and came to the matches out of form.

The USGA said the decision to make one formal announcement was for team unity, to “avoid the perception of a Tier 1 and Tier 2 group.” That sounds swell in a press release, but this decision created an unsettling scenario for the best young Americans, who were forced to decide whether to test the pro ranks or travel all over the country (on their parents’ dimes) in an attempt to impress a committee it has never met.

And it’s not just the bubble boys who have no clue where they stand.

The stars are out of the loop, too.

“I don’t have any idea,” Maverick McNealy said. “I’m just going to wait with my phone on loud Sunday night.”

There is no public Walker Cup points list, no objectivity to the super-secret selection process. It’s a stark contrast to the increasingly popular Palmer Cup, a match-play event between top U.S. and European college players, in which the standings are released several times before the roster is finalized.

Even U.S. captain Spider Miller, who is not involved in the final roster decision, said Wednesday at Riviera: “If there were a points system for the Walker Cup, then I think that would make sense. But that’s not my decision to make.”

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If there’s one thing this amateur season has proved, however, it’s that the allure of the Walker Cup remains strong. There was some apprehension that recent changes to Tour Q-School would tempt more players to turn pro after the NCAAs in June – even in Walker Cup years – to chase the seven sponsor exemptions allowed for PGA Tour non-members. But that hasn’t panned out, at least not this year.  

Ultimately, only one player (USC’s Rico Hoey) who attended the 16-man practice session last winter opted to turn pro early, while a few contenders such as Sam Burns (LSU) and Sean Crocker (USC) postponed their pro debuts for a chance to wear the Team USA uniform.

The only problem? Now they aren’t sure if they’ll make the squad.

Burns won the Nicklaus Award as the top college player last season and tied for sixth at the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship (his 18-under total was the best by an amateur in Tour history). Crocker, meanwhile, played four events overseas this summer and missed the 36-hole cut at the Am.

“I don’t really know, to be honest with you,” Burns said. “Hopefully I’ve put together a strong enough résumé to make the team. But we’ll see.”

Despite the USGA reducing the mid-amateur requirement from two players to one, Miller has suggested that he expects two over-25 players to be on the team. One of those spots will go to Stewart Hagestad, the reigning Mid-Am winner who made the cut at the Masters. The other pick, if the committee indeed green-lights two mid-ams, is likely Scott Harvey, who was part of the losing U.S. team in 2015.

As for the other eight players?

The safe bets are NCAA champion Braden Thornberry and Hogan Award winner Maverick McNealy. Also in strong shape (one would assume) are Norman Xiong, the NCAA Freshman of the Year and recent Western Amateur winner; Cal star Collin Morikawa, who captured the Northeast Amateur; and Pacific Coast winner Doug Ghim, ranked seventh in the world.

The rest of the roster is anyone’s guess.

Burns should receive plenty of consideration. So should big-hitting Cameron Champ, who starred at the U.S. Open and followed it up with a victory at the Trans-Miss.

A few months ago, Illinois senior Dylan Meyer would have been a lock, but the fourth-ranked amateur in the world has struggled this summer. Former USGA champions Will Zalatoris, Scottie Scheffler and Brad Dalke are ALL on the USGA’s radar, too, along with Nick Hardy and a half-dozen other players. Oh, and one spot is reserved in case there’s an American U.S. Amateur winner.

All would make fine selections, of course.

But the how and why matters.

How will the selection committee arrive at that 10-man roster Sunday night?

Why was Player A valued differently over Player B?

“The committee is going to have some difficult choices to make,” Miller said.

And frustratingly, it’ll do so behind closed doors.

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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.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.