Long Odds for Short Hitters at Augusta National

By Associated PressApril 4, 2007, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods doesn't own the lowest score on the back nine at Augusta National, nor the most memorable. But that 30 he posted in the first round in 1997 sent him to a record-setting victory at the Masters that ultimately changed many things.
Starting with the golf course.
'There were two par 5s, and I could handle those,' Woods recalled. 'No. 17 was short at the time. No. 11 was short at the time. No. 14 was short at the time, only a 3-wood and a sand wedge.'
Vijay Singh
Vijay Singh, the 2000 Masters champion, is always a factor with his length. (WireImage)
With each hole description, his smile grew wider until he was in full laughter.
There is nothing short about Augusta National now except the distance between the practice green and the first tee. The course has been stretched more than a quarter-mile since Woods' first victory, and each change seems to reduce the number of realistic contenders.
That explains why Woods and Phil Mickelson have won five of the last six Masters and are the heavy favorites when the 71st edition of this tournament begins Thursday.
And maybe that's why some of the shorter hitters wonder if they're only here to smell the flowers.
The annual assumption is that only a dozen or guys can think about a green jacket, a familiar list of power players that range from Ernie Els to Vijay Singh, from Henrik Stenson to Geoff Ogilvy.
'It angers me a little bit when I hear that,' Fred Funk said Wednesday. 'But it's true. When I come here ... what's the name of that movie, 'One in a Million'? OK, so I have a chance. But a medium to short hitter has to have a ridiculous short game to contend.'
Woods and Mickelson probably have never had a conversation in the champions locker room like the one that took place early this week downstairs where the regulars hang out.
Paul Goydos hasn't been to the Masters in 11 years, and he was asking Scott Verplank what club he hit into a certain hole. Verplank never gave him a chance to say which hole, probably because it didn't matter.
'Wood,' he replied.
Verplank qualified for this Masters by finishing among the top 16 a year ago. And he was quick to point out that Tim Clark was the runner-up to Mickelson, and Chris DiMarco gave Woods all he could handle the year before that.
'It can be done,' Verplank said. 'But it does put a handful of guys at a much greater advantage, and those guys all hit the ball farther than I do. I was playing a practice round with Davis Love III, and he's launching it 300 yards to the top of the hill on the first hole. I'm just hoping I can see the green.'
Steve Stricker was in weekend contention in 2001, the year Woods won his fourth straight major. That also was the last year before club officials began super-sizing the golf course, and Stricker found himself in foreign territory when he returned for practice rounds this year.
'I was taken back -- literally,' he said. 'Where I used to be hitting from in the fairway, well, it wasn't exactly closer.'
About the only thing the little guys can hope for is good weather.
Rain loomed in the gray skies Wednesday morning, the final day of practice, but the clouds soon scattered and gave way to blue skies and what might be a warm week. That would make the fairways firm and fast (the greens always seem to be that way) and allow these guys a little more distance off the tee, a club or two shorter into the greens.
Sure, a 7-iron for Luke Donald might be a wedge for Sergio Garcia, but it beats the difference between a 4-iron and a 7-iron.
Jim Furyk remembers when the Masters had a varied collection of winners -- the power of Seve Ballesteros and Fred Couples, but also the control of Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer, and the putting of Ben Crenshaw and Mark O'Meara.
'With the addition of all of the length in the past few years, I think it's refocused on power, and probably favors the long hitters a bit more,' Furyk said. 'There's always a chance for a good player that's not long to win a golf tournament. For a guy like me, I'm obviously rooting for firm, fast conditions.'
Resignation comes from seeing Woods and Mickelson, imposing off the tee and in their green jackets.
Inspiration comes from Mike Weir, who won in 2003 on a fairly brittle course after the first big batch of changes.
But there is a noticeable change in the optimism of those not blessed with power, certainly different than their hopes when they go to the U.S. Open, British Open or PGA Championship, depending on the course.
'I'm much more optimistic at the other ones,' Jeff Sluman said. 'I'm not waving the white flag or anything, but with all the changes it's very difficult for my type of game.'
Not everyone feels that way.
Along with adding yardage, Augusta National has tried to restore accuracy by adding trees right of the 11th fairway and between the 15th and 17th fairways, and various hole locations demand the tee shot be placed on the proper side of the fairway. So it's not like someone can stand on the tee box and swing from the heels.
'The harder it is, the more guys have a chance,' David Toms said. 'The more the Masters resembles a U.S. Open, the more guys are brought back into the tournament.'
The course measured a mere 6,925 yards in 1996, the last time Goydos played. He already found one advantage when he played the new Augusta National -- he didn't have to worry about the bunker on No. 1 because he couldn't reach it.
Plus, he figures there is more to golf than power, even at the Masters.
'If they decide driving accuracy is the most important part of the game, the money list at the year of the year would have Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els,' Goydos said. 'All they do is play the game that is presented to them. Did anyone watch the British Open last year? How many fairways did Tiger miss? None?
'These guys are long,' Goydos said. 'But these guys win because they're champions. They win everywhere.'
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    Lincicome grouped with two rookies in Barbasol

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 17, 2018, 9:54 pm

    Brittany Lincicome will tee it up with a pair of rookies when she makes her first start in a PGA Tour event Thursday at the Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

    Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, is scheduled to go off the 10th tee at 9:59 a.m. ET in the first round with Sam Ryder, 28, and Conrad Shindler, 29. They’re off the first tee Friday at 2:59 p.m. ET

    Lincicome will become just the sixth woman to play in a PGA Tour event, joining Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie.

    “The first three or four holes, I’ll be a nervous wreck, for sure,” Linicome said.



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    Lincicome thrilled by reception from male pros

    By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 8:31 pm

    Brittany Lincicome wondered how PGA Tour pros would greet her when she arrived to play the Barbasol Championship this week.

    She wondered if there would be resentment.

    She also wondered how fans at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky., would receive her, and if a social media mob would take up pitchforks.

    “I can’t stop smiling,” Lincicome said Tuesday after her first practice round upon arriving. “Everyone has been coming up to me and wishing me luck. That means a lot.”

    PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, husband of LPGA pro Gerina Piller, welcomed her immediately.

    Other pros sought her out on the practice putting green.

    She said she was also welcomed joining pros at a table in player dining.

    Fans have been stopping her for autographs.

    “It has been an awesome reception,” said Dewald Gouws, her husband, a former long-drive competitor. “I think it’s put her much more at ease, seeing the reception she is getting. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”

    Lincicome, 32, wasn’t sure if she would be playing a practice round alone Tuesday morning, but when she made her way to the first tee, Domenico Geminiani was there, just about to go off.

    He waved Lincicome over.

    “He said, `Hey, Brittany, do you want to join me?’” Gouws said. “Come to find out, Dom’s a pretty cool guy.”

    Geminiani made it into the field as a Monday qualifier.

    “The two of us were both trying to figure things out together,” Lincicome said.

    Keene Trace will play to 7,328 yards on the scorecard. That’s more than 800 yards longer than Highland Meadows, where Lincicome finished second at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic last weekend. Keene Trace was playing even longer than its listed yardage Tuesday, with recent rains softening it.

    Nicknamed “Bam Bam,” Lincicome is one of the longest hitters in the women’s game. Her 269.5 yard average drive is 10th in the LPGA ranks. It would likely be dead last on the PGA Tour, where Brian Stuard (278.2) is the last player on the stats list at No. 201.

    “I think if I keep it in the fairway, I’ll be all right,” Lincicome said.

    Lincicome is an eight-time LPGA winner, with two major championships among those titles. She is just the sixth woman to compete in a PGA Tour event, the first in a decade, since Michelle Wie played the Reno-Tahoe Open, the last of her eight starts against the men.

    Lincicome will join Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Wie in the elite ranks.

    Zaharias, by the way, is the only woman to make a 36-hole cut in PGA Tour history, making it at the 1945 L.A. Open before missing a 54-hole cut on the weekend.

    What are Lincicome’s expectations?

    She would love to make the cut, but . . .

    “Just going to roll with it and see what happens,” she said. “This is once in a lifetime, probably a one-and-done opportunity. I’m just going to enjoy it.”

    Lincicome grew up playing for the boys’ golf team at Seminole High on the west coast of Florida. She won a couple city championships.

    “I always thought it would be cool to compete against the guys on the PGA Tour,” Lincicome said. “I tend to play more with the guys than women at home. I never would have gone out and told my agent, `Let’s go try to play in a PGA Tour event,’ but when Tom Murray called with this opportunity, I was really blown away and excited by it. I never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.”

    Tom Murray, the president of Perio, the parent company of Barbasol and Pure Silk, invited Lincicome to accept one of the tournament’s sponsor exemptions. Lincicome represents Pure Silk.

    Lincicome said her desire to play a PGA Tour event is all about satisfying her curiosity, wanting to know how she would stack up at this level. She also wants to see if the experience can help take her to the next level in the women’s game.

    As a girl growing up, she played Little League with the boys, instead of softball with the girls. She said playing the boys in golf at Seminole High helped her get where she is today.

    “The guys were better, and it pushed me to want to be better,” Lincicome said. “I think playing with the guys [on the PGA Tour], I will learn something to take to LPGA events, and it will help my game, for sure.”

    Lincicome has been pleased that her fellow LPGA pros are so supportive. LPGA winner Kris Tamulis is flying into Kentucky as moral support. Other LPGA pros may also be coming in to support her.

    The warm fan reception Lincicome is already getting at Keene Trace matters, too.

    “She’s already picked up some new fans this week, and hopefully she will pick up some more,” Gouws said. “I don’t think she’s putting too much expectation on herself. I think she really does just want to have fun.”

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    Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

    By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

    There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

    Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

    She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

    It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

    Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

    "It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

    Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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    Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

    By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

    Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

    “I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

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    Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

    “It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

    The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

    “All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”