Monday Scramble: Good 'bye' for others

By Will GraySeptember 11, 2017, 4:00 pm

The PGA Tour takes the week off, the Presidents Cup rosters are finalized, the Walker Cup takes center stage and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

Halftime is officially over.

The lightest week on the golf calendar has come and gone, as both the PGA Tour and Web.com Tour Finals sat idle last week. But both circuits will soon return to full force to begin a three-week sprint through the end of the season.

For the game's biggest names, the Tour Championship sits just one week away with the Presidents Cup after that. The BMW Championship is a last chance for some to qualify for East Lake, while others like Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas will look to rekindle their postseason momentum to retain their coveted positions within the top five in the points race.

Meanwhile, the race for status renews in Boise as a mix of Web.com and PGA Tour pros vie for the handful of cards still up for grabs for next season, with stops still to come in Ohio and Florida.

The calendar reads September, and football is in full force. But there's still plenty to play for on the course.


1. What was old is new again.

Thanks in large part to a T-6 finish at TPC Boston, Phil Mickelson snagged one of the last two spots on the U.S. Presidents Cup team thanks to a pick from captain Steve Stricker.

Mickelson's inclusion on the roster at Liberty National was never really in doubt, especially when other bubble contenders like Brian Harman and Gary Woodland failed to mount a late charge. But it serves as another impressive mark of consistency for Mickelson, who hasn't won in more than four years but still hasn't missed a team competition since 1993.

Consider this for perspective: Mickelson has played in either the Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup every year of 22-year-old Jon Rahm's lifetime.

2. Expect a strong showing later this month from Charley Hoffman, the second recipient of a pick from Stricker who will make his team debut at age 40.

Hoffman has had a remarkably consistent season, but it didn't include a victory and he was edged out by the thinnest of margins by Kevin Chappell for the final spot. Leaving him off the team when it essentially came down to a single shot over a two-year window would have been borderline cruel.

Hoffman has had a knack for stepping up in big events this year, and now he'll have a chance to do so once again - this time donning the red, white and blue.

3. International captain Nick Price's selection of Emiliano Grillo seemed a likely choice, while he has opted to offer Anirban Lahiri a shot at redemption.

Lahiri was nearly inconsolable after missing a short putt on the last hole of his singles match against Chris Kirk at the 2015 Presidents Cup that proved pivotal in the narrow American win. It capped an 0-3 week for the Indian, and he hasn't cracked the top 15 since his runner-up at the Memorial in June.

But largely devoid of other viable options near the bubble, Price went with a veteran who has some playing experience in the U.S. - and who will be eager to make up for previous shortcomings.



4. After authoring another impressive performance, Lexi Thompson took a big stride toward the No. 1 ranking.

Thompson went wire-to-wire at the inaugural Indy Women in Tech Championship, finishing four shots clear of Lydia Ko after making 23 birdies across the 54-hole event. It's her second win of the season, ninth of her career and lifts the 22-year-old back to a career-best No. 2 in the world.

Thompson's 2017 campaign will likely be remembered for the controversy that surrounded her playoff loss at the ANA Inspiration in April. But to her credit, she was able to move on from a bitter defeat and has now continued to assert her position as the best American in the women's game.

5. Ko's runner-up finish was a rare bright spot in an otherwise dismal season.

The former world No. 1 has dropped all the way down to eighth in the world rankings, and this was just her second top-5 finish of 2017. Ko made headlines in the offseason when she changed basically every aspect of her game, from clubs to caddie to instructor.

It's been an uphill battle ever since, but her performance in the Hoosier State shows that all is not yet lost for a player who still can't legally buy a beer in the U.S. for another six months.



6. It might be time to start paying attention to what Matthew Fitzpatrick has been able to achieve early in his European Tour career.

The Englishman won the U.S. Amateur back in 2013, and he has played plenty of professional golf in the U.S. But he seems to play his best on the other side of the Atlantic, including Sunday when he topped Scott Hend in a playoff to win the Omega European Masters in Switzerland.

It's Fitzpatrick's fourth career win in Europe at the ripe old age of 23, a sure sign that he is able to capitalize on more than his fair share of chances once he gets within arm's length of the lead. Fitzpatrick showed his age at last year's Ryder Cup, and he has struggled for much of this season.

But with yet another trophy on his mantle, he has again reminded folks that he packs plenty of potential - and should continue to do so for years to come.



7. The Walker Cup is back on American soil.

Collin Morikawa and Norman Xiong's 8-and-7 victory in the tournament's opening match was an indicator of what was to come, as the U.S. team took an 8-4 lead after the first day and won back the trophy in a 19-7 rout.

The Americans were heavy favorites on paper, and they played like it from start to finish. Three players finished the week a perfect 4-0: Morikawa, U.S. Amateur runner-up Doug Ghim and Maverick McNealy, who found a fitting way to cap a standout amateur career before embarking on his pro debut next month.

8. While the Americans left with the trophy, the big winner at the Walker Cup was Los Angeles Country Club.

The North Course shined under a rare spotlight, showcased in pristine conditions and offering players a stern but interesting test. It left many in the golf world salivating for the 2023 U.S. Open, when the course will host a major for the first time and should make a much more well-received debut than either Chambers Bay or Erin Hills.

9. The Walker Cup continues to boast one of the most underrated venue rotations of any event in golf, pro or amateur.

Two years from now the scene will shift to Royal Liverpool, while 2021 will mark a return to the U.S. at storied Seminole Golf Club. Then in 2025, it heads to Cypress Point.

Tough to beat that lineup.

 

 


I mean ... we've all thought about doing it. Kudos to this guy for having the dedication to follow through, and hopefully he can re-stock his bag at a discount rack sometime soon.

This week's award winners ... 


Mult-Sport Fan: Tiger Woods. The 14-time major champ hasn't been seen on the course in more than seven months, but he made another public appearance this weekend to take in some tennis at the U.S. Open alongside his kids in New York. And, of course, he did so while sporting some gear for "his" Raiders.

Troll Game on Point: Patrick Reed, who broke out some Notre Dame gear just in time for the Fighting Irish to play a football game against Georgia, where Reed's college career was both brief and controversial. Reed did use the occasion to share that he and his wife, Justine, are expecting a second child:

Target Golf: The 15th hole at LACC, which played to a devilish 78 yards during the first day of the Walker Cup. With par-3s trending these days to 250 yards and beyond, it was refreshing to see that a hole could be well under 100 yards and still pose a challenge.

Impressive Debut: The Japan Airlines Championship, which marked the first trip to Japan by the PGA Tour Champions and seemed to be well-received by all players involved, including champion Colin Montgomerie. Look for a similar response when the PGA Tour branches out to South Korea with a new event next month.

Making the Most of It: Ken Duke, one of several pros who battled the elements of Hurricane Irma in Florida. But I don't think any of Duke's peers would be able to match the catch his daughter reeled in between rain bands:

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: None! One of the few benefits of a bye week. Rest assured, plenty of misguided selections on tap this week at Conway Farms.

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.