Blasting into the week ahead, from Jinx-ville to the start of a “long” LPGA run and more ...
St. Jude Classic
If you’re a superstitious caddie, you deliberately pull some wrong clubs this week.
Or give some bad yardages.
Or maybe stick a 15th club in the bag.
Anything to make sure your player doesn’t win.
For players wanting to hone their games to peak at next week’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the St. Jude Classic should come with a warning: “Don’t win this week, fellas.” Nobody’s ever won the PGA Tour stop played the week before the U.S. Open and then gone on to win the U.S. Open. The Masters, the British Open and the PGA have all been won by winners the previous week.
Of course, any serious competitor relishes a chance to break the jinx, if there is one. And there are some ultra serious competitors in Memphis. Eight of the top 17 players in the world ranking are scheduled to tee it up at TPC Southwind in Memphis.
No. 3 Lee Westwood, No. 6 Ian Poulter and No. 10 Rory McIlroy lead a field that also includes No. 14 Padraig Harrington. Local favorite John Daly should also help fuel interest and sell tickets.
Bunker shot: The quality of this week’s field can’t hurt St. Jude’s Classic officials as they try to lure a new title sponsor. The 53-year-old tournament won’t continue without one. The event carries on with Smith & Nephew as a presenting sponsor and a syndicate of local sponsors coming together, but the future’s uncertain without a title sponsor to pony up the $6 million or so needed annually. Good news might be coming before the event even begins, but this week’s still a perfect example why the Tour needs that new “designated tournament” plan, or at least some proposal like it to help smaller events attract bigger stars. The field’s not an issue in Memphis this week, but some assurance that future fields will be equally strong won’t hurt tournaments like St. Jude’s in attracting or keeping their title sponsors.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Robert Allenby. Contender – Brian Gay. Darkhorse – Jason Dufner.
- Course: TPC Southwind, Memphis, Tenn. Par 70, 7,239 yards (designed by Ron Prichard and opened in 1987).
- Purse: $5.6 million (winner’s share, $1,008,000).
- TV times: Thursday-Friday, Golf Channel, 3-6 p.m., replay 8:30-11:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, CBS, 3-6 p.m.
- Last time: Brian Gay won wire to wire with rounds of 64, 66, 66 and 66.
LPGA State Farm Classic
Entering the sixth month of the year, the LPGA has played seven official events.
With the spotty schedule to date, tour pros will finally get a chance to build some momentum this summer.
The LPGA State Farm Classic marks the first of five consecutive weeks of tournaments, the longest run of the season. In fact, there are events seven of the next eight weeks with three of them major championships (LPGA, U.S. Women’s Open, Ricoh Women’s British Open). A player who gets hot right now can lock down Rolex Player of the Year honors by the start of August.
Bunker shot: If the Americans are going to break their winless streak in official LPGA events this season (0-7), this is the time. This run of five consecutive weeks of LPGA events all come in the United States. Of course, it also looks like a good opportunity for the Far East to build on their 7-0 mark. Asians are defending champs in four of these next five events with a European the defending champ in the other.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Cristie Kerr. Contender – Jiyai Shin. Darkhorse – Shanshan Feng.
- Course: Panther Creek Country Club, Springfield, Ill. Par 72, 6,746 yards (designed by Hale Irwin and opened in 1992).
- Purse: $1.7 million (winner’s share, $255,000).
- TV times: Golf Channel, Thursday-Friday, 6:30-8:30 p.m., replay midnight-2 a.m.; Saturday, 6:30-9:30 p.m., replay midnight-2 a.m.; Sunday, 7-9:30 p.m., replay midnight-2 a.m.
- Last time: In-Kung Kim defeated Se Ri Pak by a shot.
Estoril Open de Portugal
Not a single player in the top 80 in the world is scheduled to play.
Count Chris Wood at No. 81 as the highest ranked player in the field.
Bunker shot: Darren Clarke, 42, has fallen away from his top form, but at No. 24 on the European Ryder Cup Points list he’ll be looking to move up and give himself a shot at making the team for the sixth time after missing the matches in ’08. Clarke was disheartened when he wasn’t made a captain’s pick last time around despite winning twice that season. He would rather not rely on a captain’s favor this year. Europe was 4-1 when Clarke played. He is looking for his 13th European Tour victory.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Darren Clarke. Contender – Marcus Fraser. Darkhorse – Robert Rock.
The United States will be seeking its seventh consecutive victory against Great Britain/Ireland in this biennial team event.
American Alexis Thompson was a year old the last time the Americans lost. That was 1996, when current LPGA standout Karen Stupples led GB&I to victory in Ireland. The Americans lead the overall series 26-6-3.
The future of American golf will be on display in Massachusetts beginning Friday. Thompson, the ’08 U.S. Girls’ Junior champ, was 12 when she became the youngest player to qualify for a U.S. Women’s Open. Kimberly Kim was 14 when she became the youngest winner of the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Jennifer Song, won both the U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links championships last year.
Noreen Mohler, of Bethlehem, Pa., is the American captain and member of the winning USA team in 1978. Ireland’s Mary McKenna, who played in nine Curtis Cups, leads the GB&I team for a second straight event.
Bunker shot: Song, 20, will turn pro after the Curtis Cup, but there’s more focus on Thompson making make her final amateur appearance because of her age. Thompson, 15, is scheduled to make her pro debut next week, playing the LPGA Shoprite Classic on a sponsor’s exemption. LPGA pros will be watching more than Thompson’s game next week. They’ll be watching to see how she handles the rigors and disappointments of professional golf and what it does to a player emotionally. To be sure, her junior career has been riddled with fewer disappointments than most juniors experience and she’ll enjoy the rewards of that terrific career in her first and last Curtis Cup. After that, golf will get to see what this young phenom is like as a money player. More than one observer believes she’s the future of American women’s golf.
Mell’s pick: USA 13-7.
- Course: Essex County Club, Manchester, Mass. Par 70, 6,247 yards (Built in 1893 as a nine-hole course, redesigned and expanded by Donald Ross after his arrival as club professional in 1910).
- TV times: Golf Channel, Friday-Saturday, 11-1 p.m.; Sunday, 2-4 p.m.
- Last time: Stacy Lewis went 5-0 to lead the Americans to a 13-7 victory at the Old Course in St. Andrews.