Notes British Open Solheim Cup US Drought
Gone are the days when tour pros from around the world had to travel to Britain the weekend before the Open and walk the fairways alongside players who had dreams, but not pedigree.
Now, there are 25 ways for a tour pro to get into the British Open without leaving home.
That includes four exemptions for top finishers at the Mizuno Open in Japan, two from a special money list in Japan, two from a special money list on the PGA Tour, and the highest finisher not already eligible at three PGA Tour events leading up to the British Open. Spots also are given to the Japan Open and Canadian Open champions.
When the dust settles, only about 56 spots are awarded to those who compete in 36-hole qualifiers -- 44 of those going to 'International Final Qualifying' held in Africa, Australia, Asia, Europe and the United States.
'We feel we have a good balance, in particular a good international balance,' R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. 'Our exemption criteria covers overseas tours that the U.S. Open doesn't. We believe we're reaching out to the players.'
The U.S. Open now has overseas qualifying in Japan (three spots available) and Europe (eight spots). Michael Campbell came out of the European qualifier before winning last year at Pinehurst No. 2, and he might not have come to America to try for a spot in the field.
USGA executive director David Fay considered adding more spots overseas, but didn't want the U.S. Open to become a closed shop.
'You run up against numbers,' Fay said last week at Newport Country Club. 'They (British Open) get 2,100 or 2,200 entries. We're pushing 9,000 entries. We want to retain the openness of the Open. We have more than half the field come through qualifying.'
Almost half, anyway. The U.S. Open field included 76 players who had to qualify, including 26 who went through 18-hole local qualifying and 36-hole sectional qualifying. That amounts to 49 percent of its field.
The British Open will end up with only 56 players from 36-hole qualifiers, or 36 percent of the field.
'We think we run the most democratic golf tournament in the world,' Fay said. 'If you have the ability, you can give it a shot.'
There's room for only a dozen of those dreamers next week at local final qualifying in England, although Dawson is comfortable with how the British Open establishes its field. It's the oldest championship in golf, one known worldwide simply as 'The Open.'
'We think there are a lot of very good golfers in far-flung parts of the world,' Dawson said. 'They may not be known because they don't play in the States, but we like the Open to be an international event.'
When the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks caused the Ryder Cup to be postponed and moved to even-numbered years, the Solheim Cup felt its best option was to move away from the men's event to odd-numbered years.
Now there's another scheduling conflict.
The Solheim Cup already has been set for Sept. 14-16 in Sweden, typically a slow part of the golf season.
But then the PGA Tour revamped and tightened its schedule around the new FedEx Cup, which will end Sept. 14-16 with the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta.
Should the LPGA Tour consider moving the matches back a week? Not this time.
'We did look at it,' said Chris Higgs, chief operations officer for the LPGA Tour. 'The good and bad thing about the Swedes is they are so well prepared. As soon as it was announced in 2003, they were asking us to confirm dates.'
Higgs said too many plans were in place for Sept. 14-16 for the Solheim Cup to change the dates now. He noted that because of the time difference, the Solheim Cup will be over before the final round of the Tour Championship begins.
Still, one of the tournaments will lose coverage it might have otherwise had.
Higgs said the Solheim Cup likely will move in 2009, when it is played at Rich Harvest Farm outside Chicago. One date the LPGA Tour is considering is the week after the PGA Championship, which is the week before the FedEx Cup playoff system begins.
The LPGA Tour is perhaps the most global circuit in golf, a point proven in the majors.
Annika Sorenstam's playoff victory Monday in the U.S. Women's Open made it eight consecutive majors won by international players, extending the longest U.S. drought in history. The last American winner was Meg Mallon at the 2004 U.S. Women's Open.
And there's no evidence the streak will end anytime soon.
Americans have won only four of the last 25 majors, a short list that includes the 43-year-old Mallon, 46-year-old Juli Inkster and Hilary Lunke, who hasn't had a top 20 on the LPGA Tour since winning the '03 U.S. Women's Open.
The best hope appears to be Michelle Wie, a senior-to-be in high school who has finished in the top five at five of the last six majors.
Sahalee Country Club had the 2010 PGA Championship taken away from it when PGA of America officials wanted to lock up Whistling Straits in a long-term deal. And while PGA officials promised Sahalee another 'championship,' the Seattle club appears to be going in another direction.
USGA executive director David Fay confirmed that Sahalee is interested in hosting a U.S. Senior Open. The first opening on the schedule for a U.S. Senior Open would be 2010, which might be a more than a little coincidental.
Not only did Fay say that he likes the Pacific Northwest, 'there's a well-known player with roots in Seattle who is getting to the age he might be able to play.'
Fred Couples would be eligible for his first Senior Open in 2010.
Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie are the only players to finish in the top 10 at all three LPGA Tour majors this year. ... Watching the final group inside the ropes in the final round of the Women's Open was Sandra Gal, a 21-year-old German who attends Florida. She missed the cut in her first Women's Open, then stuck around to watch how the leaders went about their business. ... USGA executive director David Fay says he has suggested that the British Open use Oakland Hills for its U.S. qualifier next year. ... The top three players for LPGA Tour player of the year are separated by nine points -- Lorena Ochoa (148), Sorenstam (140) and Karrie Webb (139).
STAT OF THE WEEK
Annika Sorenstam made only three bogeys on the back nine during five rounds of the U.S. Women's Open.
'I'm seeing a different part of the golf course again, and this part is a lot prettier.' -- Annika Sorenstam, on hitting more fairways.
Garcia leads as Valderrama Masters extends to Monday
Weather continues to be the enemy at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where Sergio Garcia remains in front as the tournament heads for a Monday finish.
European Tour officials had already ceded the fact that 72 holes would not be completed this week in Spain, but players were not even able to finish 54 holes before another set of thunderstorms rolled in Sunday afternoon to once again halt play. Garcia remains in front at 10 under, having played seven holes of the third round in even par, while Lee Westwood is alone in second at 7 under.
Officials had previously stated an intention to play at least 54 holes, even if that meant extending the tournament to Monday, given that this is the final chance for many players to earn Race to Dubai points in an effort to secure European Tour cards for 2019. Next week's WGC-HSBC Champions will be the final event of the regular season, followed by a three-event final series.
Garcia, who won the tournament last year, started the third round with a four-shot lead over Ashley Chesters. He balanced one birdie with one bogey and remains in position for his first worldwide victory since the Asian Tour's Singapore Open in January.
Westwood, who has his son Sam on the bag this week, made the biggest charge up the leaderboard with four birdies over his first eight holes. He'll have 10 holes to go when play resumes at 9:10 a.m. local time Monday as he looks to win for the first time since the 2015 Indonesian Masters.
Shane Lowry and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are tied for third at 6 under, four shots behind Garcia with 10 holes to play, while Chesters made two double bogeys over his first four holes to drop into a tie for sixth.
Austin wins Champions tour's playoff opener
RICHMOND, Va. -- Woody Austin knew Bernhard Langer was lurking throughout the final nine holes, and he did just enough to hold him off.
Austin shot a 3-under 69 for a one-stroke victory Sunday in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.
Langer, the defending tournament champion and series points leader, made the turn one shot off the lead, but eight straight pars kept him from ever gaining a share of the lead. Austin's birdie from 6 feet on the closing hole allowed him to hang on for the victory.
''It seemed like he couldn't quite get it over the hump,'' Austin said about Langer, who also birdied No. 18. ''I'm not going to feel bad for the guy. The guy's kind of had things go his way for the last 12 years. Now he sees what it's like to have it happen.''
The 54-year-old Austin finished with an 11-under total for three rounds at The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course. He won his fourth senior title and first since 2016, and said windy and cool conditions that made scoring difficult played to his advantage.
''I was happy to see it. I really enjoy a difficult test,'' he said. ''... I enjoy even par meaning something. That's my game.''
Langer closed with a 70. The winner last week in North Carolina, the 61-year-old German star made consecutive birdies to finish the front nine, but had several birdie putts slide by on the back.
''I made a couple important ones and then I missed a couple important ones, especially the one on 16,'' Langer said. ''I hit three really good shots and had about a 6-footer, something like that, and I just didn't hit it hard enough. It broke away.''
Austin dropped a stroke behind Jay Haas and Stephen Ames with a bogey on the par-3 14th. He got that back with a birdie from about 5 feet on the par-4 15th and then got some good fortune on the final hole when his firmly struck chip hit the flag and stopped about 6 feet away.
''I always say usually the person that wins gets a break on Sunday,'' he said. ''That was my break.''
The 64-year-old Haas, the second-round leader after a 65, had a 74 to tie for third with Fran Quinn (69) and Kent Jones (70) at 9 under. Haas was bidding to become the oldest winner in the history of the tour for players 50 and older.
''Disappointed, for sure,'' Haas said. ''Not going to get many more opportunities like this, but it gives me hope, too, that I can still do it.''
The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 move on to the Invesco QQQ Championship next week in Thousand Oaks, California, and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.
After Further Review: American success stories
Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.
On the global nature of Koepka's rise to No. 1 ...
Brooks Koepka is an American superstar, and a two-time winner of his national open. But his rise to world No. 1 in, of all places, South Korea, emphasizes the circuitous, global path he took to the top.
After winning the CJ Cup by four shots, Koepka was quick to remind reporters that he made his first-ever start as a pro in Switzerland back in 2012. He cracked the top 500 for the first time with a win in Spain, and he broke into the top 100 after a good week in the Netherlands.
Koepka languished on the developmental Challenge Tour for a year before earning a promotion to the European Tour, and he didn’t make a splash in the States until contending at the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.
It’s a testament to Koepka’s adaptability and raw talent that he can handle the heights of Crans-Montana as well as the slopes of Shinnecock Hills or rough of Nine Bridges. And as the scene shifts to China next week, it highlights the global nature of today’s game – and the fact that the best in the world can rise to the occasion on any continent. - Will Gray
On the resurgence of American women ...
American women are on a nice roll again. Danielle Kang’s victory Sunday at the Buick LPGA Shanghai was the third by an American over the last five events. Plus, Annie Park and Marina Alex, emerging American talents looking for their second victories this season, tied for second. So did American Brittany Altomare. Two years ago, Americans won just twice, their fewest victories in a single season in LPGA history. Overall, women from the United States have won seven times this season.
The Americans are making their move with Stacy Lewis on maternity leave and with Lexi Thompson, the highest ranked American in the world, still looking for her first victory this year. Yes, the South Koreans have won nine times this season, but with four LPGA events remaining in 2018 the Americans actually have a chance to be the winningest nation in women’s golf this year. With all the grief they’ve received the last few years, that would be a significant feat. - Randall Mell
In Buick win, Kang overcame demons of mind and spirit
Danielle Kang beat three of the most formidable foes in golf Sunday to win the Buick LPGA Shanghai.
Kang overcame these demons of mind and spirit to win for the second time on tour, backing up her KPMG Women’s PGA Championship victory last year.
“I’ve been going through a lot mentally,” Kang said.
Kang birdied four of the last eight holes to close with a 3-under-par 69, coming from one shot back in the final round to win. At 13-under 275, she finished two shots ahead of a pack of seven players, including world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and former world No. 1 Lydia Ko (66).
It hasn’t been easy for Kang trying to build on her major championship breakthrough last year. She started the fall Asian swing having missed three cuts in a row, five in her last six starts.
“I had to go through swing changes,” Kang said. “I had the swing yips, the putting yips, everything possibly you could think of.
“I was able to get over a lot of anxiety I was feeling when I was trying to hit a golf ball. This week I just kept trusting my golf game.”
Through her swoon, Kang said she was struggling to get the club back, that she was getting mentally stuck to where she could not begin her takeaway. She sought out Butch Harmon, back at her Las Vegas home, for help. She said tying for third at the KEB Hana Bank Championship last week felt like a victory, though she was still battling her demons there.
“Anxiety over tee balls,” Kang said. “People might wonder what I'm doing. I actually can't pull the trigger. It has nothing to do with the result. Having to get over that last week was incredible for me. Even on the first round, one shot took me, I think, four minutes.”
Kang, who turned 26 on Saturday, broke through to win last year under swing coach David Leadbetter, but she began working with Harmon while struggling in the second half this year.
“I was actually very frustrated, even yesterday,” Kang said. “Things just weren't going my way. The biggest thing that Butch tells me is to stay out of my own way. I just couldn't do that. If I had a short putt, I just kept doubting myself. I couldn't putt freely.”
Kang said her anger and frustration built up again on the front nine Sunday. She made the turn at 1 over for the round. She said her caddie, Oliver Brett, helped her exorcise some anger. After the ninth hole, he pulled her aside.
This is how Kang remembered the conversation:
Brett: “Whatever you need to do to let your anger out and restart and refresh, you need to do that now.”
Kang: “Cameras are everywhere. I just want to hit the bag really hard.”
Brett: “Here's a wedge. Just smash it.”
“Honestly, I thank him for that,” Kang said. “He told me there are a lot birdies out there. I regrouped, and we pretended we started the round brand new on the 10th hole. Then things changed and momentum started going my way. I started hitting it closer and felt better over the putts.”
Kang said the victory was all about finding a better place mentally.
“I'm just so happy to be where I'm at today,” Kang said. “I'm just happy that I won.
“More so than anything, I'm finally at a place where I'm peaceful and happy with my game, with my life . . . . I hope I win more. I did the best I can. I'm going to keep working hard and keep giving myself chances and keep putting myself in contention. I'll win more. I'll play better.”