Needles And Pines
Weather delays, searing heat, trying course conditions and the built-in pressure of playing for womens golfs most important prize on its biggest stage has turned into a golfing war of attrition.
The weekend has arrived and relentless afternoon electricity in the local ether has prevented the championship from reaching its halfway mark. Almost everybody is on edge.
Annika Sorenstam, the defending champion, needed 42 strokes to complete the first nine holes of her second round. Karrie Webb, the No. 2 ranked female player in the world, had a 42 on the back nine Thursday. Suzann Pettersen, who won the McDonalds LPGA earlier this month, has carded a 43. So has Hall of Famer Juli Inkster.
Italys Silvia Cavalleri withdrew due to heat exhaustion Friday after nine holes that totaled 44. Michelle Wie sounded like the heat had gotten to her after an 11-over Thursday round, that included a back nine 44, when she said, Theres a fine line between 82 and 69.
Ji-Yai Shin from Korea said this: Im very, very nervous. Very nervous.
If Oakmont was Roger Clemens power pitching in his prime, Pine Needles is Greg Maddux painting the black part of the plate in his mid-30s. Lots of players trudging back to the dugout with their bats on their shoulders.
Fridays early leader in the clubhouse was Koreas In-Bee Park who has a cartoon bumblebee on her golf bag and says her first name in Korean means Queen of Virtue.
She followed an opening 69 with a Friday 73 and hasnt been stung yet by Pine Needles. Her close friend, Angela Park, another Korean teenager, was the first round leader and still in front when In-Bee Park finished her Friday round. Which meant, at least temporarily, the U.S. Womens Open was double-Parked.
Dodging lightning, managing emotions, conserving energy, maintaining focus and marshalling patience have all been part of the test so far. Not to mention the nutritional challenge of deciding when to nosh and when to abstain when you dont know if the officials are going to call you back on the golf course again.
I just eat when Im hungry, said In-Bee Park, who will turn 19 in July. Easy for her to say.
Its the U.S. Open, said Kelli Kuehne, older and wiser. Things never go as you think they will.
Just stay patient, said In-Bee Park. Also easy for the Queen of Virtue to say.
Kicked my bag, got mad, almost broke my toe, Kuehne said at one point. I dont think Ill be kicking my bag any more.
Alexis Thompson, the youngest player in the history of this event'she doesnt turn 13 until next February'plays like an adult but sounds like a pre-teen. When somebody asked her who won the ping-pong match between her and Vicky Hurst during one of the weather delays, she said she thought Hurst might have let her win.
But, Thompson quickly added, dont make that sound like Im a brat.
When the players got to Pine Needles Friday they found a set of greens that were rolling about 12 on the Stimpmeter. That was about three inches faster than Rd. 1s greens, which had been slowed by late Wednesday rains. Turns out the grounds staff had been mowing until 10:30 Thursday night. They resumed at 4:45 Friday morning.
If we dont get a few gripes during a championship, said Mike Davis, the USGAs estimable course set-up guy, were not quite sure we set the championship up right.
To their collective credit, the women havent been complaining this week so much as theyve been busy playing defense on the course and watching the Weather Channel in the locker room.
Davis is the architect of the conditions at the USGAs marquee events. Donald Ross was the original architect of Pine Needles. John Fought, a former U.S. Amateur champion, was the architect of a restoration at Pine Needles that significantly changed what the women faced here at the 2001 Open and what greeted them when they arrived on Monday.
What had played at approximately 6,250 yards to a par of 70 when Webb won here six years ago is now 6,644 on the card to a par of 71. Instead of rye grass roughs the players found Bermuda grass.
Bermuda rough, as we all know, is a more penal rough, Davis said, because the ball falls to the bottom; versus overseeded rye, the ball sits up a bit.
In theory, Davis said, this is supposed to be the hardest test the women will face all year every year. The goal is to take the worlds best players and test them as much as we can without having it be unfair test where well-executed shots arent rewarded.
So the course is sneaky-hard. The weather is more unpredictable than the last episode of The Sopranos. And the eventual outcome'both the who and the when'right now is anybodys best guess.
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Singh tops Maggert in playoff for first senior major
HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. - Vijay Singh birdied the second playoff hole to beat Jeff Maggert and win the Constellation Senior Players Championship on Sunday.
Singh knocked in a putt from about 2 feet after a nearly perfect approach on the 18th hole at Exmoor Country Club, giving an understated fist pump as the ball fell in. That gave him his first major title on the PGA Tour Champions to go with victories at the Masters and two PGA Championships.
Singh (67) and Maggert (68) finished at 20-under 268. Brandt Jobe (66) was two strokes behind, while Jerry Kelly (64) and defending champion Scott McCarron (71) finished at 17 under.
Maggert had chances to win in regulation and on the first playoff hole.
He bogeyed the par-4 16th to fall into a tie with Singh at 20 under and missed potential winning birdie putts at the end of regulation and on the first playoff hole.
His 15-footer on the 72nd hole rolled wide, forcing the playoff, and a downhill 12-footer on the same green went just past the edge.
The 55-year-old Singh made some neat par saves to get into the playoff.
His tee shot on 17 landed near the trees to the right of the fairway, and his approach on 18 wound up in a bunker. But the big Fijian blasted to within a few feet to match Maggert's par.
McCarron - tied with Maggert and Bart Bryant for the lead through three rounds - was trying to join Arnold Palmer and Bernhard Langer as the only back-to-back winners of this major. He came back from a six-shot deficit to win at Caves Valley near Baltimore last year and got off to a good start on Sunday.
He birdied the first two holes to reach 18 under. But bogeys on the par-4 seventh and ninth holes knocked him off the lead. His tee shot on No. 7 rolled into a hole at the base of a tree and forced him to take an unplayable lie.
Davies a fitting winner of inaugural USGA championship
Laura Davies confessed she did not sleep well on a five-shot lead Saturday night at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.
It’s all you needed to know about what this inaugural event meant to the women who were part of the history being made at Chicago Golf Club.
The week was more than a parade of memories the game’s greats created playing in the USGA’s long-awaited showcase for women ages 50 and beyond.
The week was more than nostalgic.
It was a chance to make another meaningful mark on the game.
In the end, Davies relished seeing the mark she made in her runaway, 10-shot victory. She could see it in the familiar etchings on the trophy she hoisted.
“I get my name on it first,” Davies said. “This championship will be played for many years, and there will only be one first winner. Obviously, quite a proud moment for me to win that.”
Really, all 120 players in the field made their marks at Chicago Golf Club. They were all pioneers of sorts this past week.
“It was very emotional seeing the USGA signs, because I've had such a long history, since my teens, playing in USGA championships,” said Amy Alcott, whose Hall of Fame career included the 1980 U.S. Women’s Open title. “I thought the week just came off beautifully. The USGA did a great job. It was just so classy how everything was done, this inaugural event, and how was it presented.”
Davies was thankful for what the USGA added to the women’s game, and she wasn’t alone. Gratefulness was the theme of the week.
The men have been competing in the U.S. Senior Open since 1980, and now the women have their equal opportunity to do the same.
“It was just great to be a part of the first,” three-time U.S. Women’s Open winner Hollis Stacy said. “The USGA did a great job of having it at such a great golf course. It's just been very memorable.”
Trish Johnson, who is English, like Davies, finished third, 12 shots back, but she left with a heart overflowing.
“Magnificent,” said Johnson, a three-time LPGA and 19-time LET winner. “Honestly, it's one of the best, most enjoyable weeks I've ever played in in any tournament anywhere.”
She played in the final group with Davies and runner-up Juli Inkster.
“Even this morning, just waiting to come out here, I thought, `God, not often do I actually think how lucky I am to do what I do,’” Johnson said.
At 54, Davies still plays the LPGA and LET regularly. She has now won 85 titles around the world, 20 of them LPGA titles, four of them majors, 45 of them LET titles.
With every swing this past week, she peeled back the years, turned back the clock, made fans and peers remember what she means to the women’s game.
This wasn’t the first time Davies made her mark in a USGA event. When she won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1987, she became just the second player from Europe to win the title, the first in 20 years. She opened a new door for internationals. The following year, Sweden’s Liselotte Neumann won the title.
“A lot of young Europeans and Asians decided that it wasn't just an American sport,” Davies said. “At that stage, it had been dominated, wholeheartedly, by all the names we all love, Lopez, Bradley, Daniel, Sheehan.”
Davies gave the rest of the world her name to love, her path to follow.
“It certainly made a lot of foreign girls think that they could take the Americans on,” Davies said.
In golf, it’s long been held that you can judge the stature of an event by the names on the trophy. Davies helps gives the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open the monumental start it deserved.
Suwannapura beats Lincicome in playoff for first win
SYLVANIA, Ohio - Thidapa Suwannapura won her first LPGA event on Sunday, closing with a 6-under 65 and birdieing the first playoff hole to defeat Brittany Lincicome at the Marathon Classic.
The 25-year-old Thai player is the sixth first-time winner on tour this year. Her previous best finish in 120 starts was seventh at the 2014 Kingsmill Championship.
Suwannapura picked up three strokes over her final two holes, making eagle on the par-5 17th and closing with a birdie on the par-5 18th at Highland Meadows to finish at 14-under 270.
In the playoff, Suwannapura converted a short birdie putt after Lincicome hit her second shot into a water hazard and scrambled for par.
Lincicome shot 67. She had a chance to win in regulation, but her birdie putt from about 10 feet did a nearly 360-degree turn around the edge of the cup and stayed out. Next up for the big-hitting Lincicome: a start against the men at the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship.
Third-round leader Brooke Henderson led by two shots after six holes, but struggled the rest of the way. Back-to-back bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes dropped her out of the lead. The 20-year-old Canadian finished with a 2-under 69, one shot out of the playoff.
Kim cruises to first win, final Open invite at Deere
Following the best week of his professional career, Michael Kim is both a winner on the PGA Tour and the 156th and final player to earn a tee time next week at The Open.
Kim entered the final round of the John Deere Classic with a five-shot lead, and the former Cal standout removed any lingering doubt about the tournament's outcome with birdies on each of his first three holes. He cruised from there, shooting a bogey-free 66 to finish the week at 27 under and win by eight shots over Francesco Molinari, Joel Dahmen, Sam Ryder and Bronson Burgoon.
It equals the tournament scoring record and ties for the largest margin of victory on Tour this season, matching Dustin Johnson's eight-shot romp at Kapalua in January and Molinari's margin two weeks ago at the Quicken Loans National.
"Just super thankful," Kim said. "It's been a tough first half of the year. But to be able to finish it out in style like this means a lot."
Kim, 25, received the Haskins Award as the nation's top collegiate player back in 2013, but his ascent to the professional ranks has been slow. He had only one top-10 finish in 83 starts on Tour entering the week, tying for third at the Safeway Open in October 2016, and had missed the cut each of the last three weeks.
But the pieces all came together at TPC Deere Run, where Kim opened with 63 and held a three-shot lead after 36 holes. His advantage was trimmed to a single shot during a rain-delayed third round, but Kim returned to the course late Saturday and closed with four straight birdies on Nos. 15-18 to build a five-shot cushion and inch closer to his maiden victory.
As the top finisher among the top five not otherwise exempt, Kim earned the final spot at Carnoustie as part of the Open Qualifying Series. It will be his first major championship appearance since earning low amateur honors with a T-17 finish at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, and he is also now exempt for the PGA Championship and next year's Masters.
The last player to earn the final Open spot at the Deere and make the cut the following week was Brian Harman, who captured his first career win at TPC Deere Run in 2014 and went on to tie for 26th at Royal Liverpool.