Notes: Job security a 'big deal'; Horses for courses

By Doug FergusonMarch 13, 2013, 12:30 am

PALM HARBOR, Fla. - Scott Brown feels as if he grew up at Augusta National.

He stayed with his grandfather, whose house was about a half-mile away from one of the main gates to the home of The Masters. They had season badges, and Brown for years camped out behind the 16th green. He missed out on the U-turn chip by Tiger Woods that hung on the lip for a second and dropped in 2005.

''That was the first year I didn't go,'' he said. ''I was old enough to realize those galleries were so big that I couldn't see anything.''

Then again, that was the first year Brown was invited to play Augusta National, one week before the 2005 Masters.

So if anyone had reason to be disappointed that not every PGA Tour victory comes with an invitation to the Masters, it would be the 29-year-old Brown.

But he's not.

''It doesn't bother me,'' Brown said Tuesday. ''If I play well, that gets me in what I want to get in. It's a freedom thing for me. Job security is a big deal.''

Brown was hoping to get into a playoff Sunday in the Puerto Rico Open when he was one shot behind Fabian Gomez playing the par-5 18th, with Gomez in the fairway. What happened next is still hard for him to believe. Gomez hit into an awkward spot in the bunker, flew over the green into another bunker and made bogey. Brown laced a 3-iron to just short of the green, chipped up to 4 feet and made the birdie putt to win.

Augusta National doesn't give invitations to winners of Tour events held the same week as a major or World Golf Championship.

Playing in the Masters is still his dream. His job is reality.

Brown was 148th on the money list a year ago in his first season on Tour. With a short season, he figured he would be playing on the Web.com Tour this year, except that he already was in Chile for a Web.com event and Puerto Rico was on the way home.

Even playing the final hole, he felt he had nothing to lose. Second place wouldn't offer enough FedEx Cup points to qualify for the playoffs.

Now, his year has taken a dramatic change.

He is playing this week at the Tampa Bay Championship, next week at Bay Hill and the week after the Masters at Hilton Head. He's also in The Players Championship in May and makes his major debut - unless he qualifies for the U.S. Open - at the PGA Championship in August.

''It's a relief more than anything, knowing you can win out here,'' Brown said.


HORSES FOR COURSES: With his two-shot win at the Cadillac Championship, Tiger Woods now has won 40 times - or 53 percent of his PGA Tour wins - on seven courses.

Exactly what that means is a matter of interpretation.

One might suggest Woods only plays well on the golf courses he likes, which would not make him different from many other players. Phil Mickelson has won 19 of his 41 titles on the West Coast Swing. Mark O'Meara won nearly one-third of his titles at Pebble Beach.

Then again, Woods has won 27 percent of all his PGA Tour events, meaning he wins at an absurd rate, and he wins anywhere when he's playing well.

While he is a five-time winner at Muirfield Village, Woods once went five straight times without winning the Memorial. He won for the fourth time at Doral on Sunday, but he had not been in serious contention the last four times he played. Woods also is a four-time winner at Augusta National. He has not won his last seven tries.


ZACH GOES GLOBAL: Zach Johnson will lose a distinction in May when he plays the Ballantine's Championship in South Korea. Johnson in the only American from the top 50 in the world ranking who has not played anywhere overseas except the British Open over the last two years.

And he was aware of that.

''I haven't gone overseas that much,'' Johnson said. ''It fits in my schedule. It's a good opportunity and I want to do more of it. I don't want to be labeled as the guy who won't leave the country. For one, it's inaccurate.''

Johnson has had plenty of chances, especially after his 2007 win at the Masters. His son was 3 months old when he won his first major, and he had another son in the summer of 2010 and a third child last November. The time to travel was at the end of the year when he was tired and wanted to be with his family.

''It's never really meshed with my schedule,'' he said. ''I'm taking Charlotte (Quail Hollow) off for the first time, so I'll go to Korea.''

Johnson said the one European Tour event he has always wanted to play is the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

''But it's the same week as Colonial, and I can't not play there,'' he said. Johnson is defending this year at Colonial, a tournament he has won twice.


AUSSIE MASTERS: The Australian Masters typically is played on the sand belt courses of Melbourne, perhaps the finest stretch of golf courses in any city in the world. It gets even better this year by celebrating its 35th anniversary by going to the composite course at Royal Melbourne for the first time.

Royal Melbourne has hosted the Presidents Cup twice, and it formerly had the Heineken Classic, where Ernie Els won.

The Australian Masters most recently has been held at Kingston Heath and Victoria.

IMG is running the tournament, and said it was committed to bring at least three of the top 25 players in the world.


PADRAIG'S SPECS: Padraig Harrington has been wearing glasses for the last month, and now he's wearing them on the golf course. The most peculiar part of this look is that the three-time major champion technically doesn't even need glasses.

''I've got 20/20 vision without glasses,'' he said. ''But I have struggled for a number of years with reading the greens. What I see and what it is are not the same thing.''

Harrington's eyes are too dry to wear contact lenses, so he's opted for eye glasses. He was on his fifth pair at Doral, and he's getting closer to the right frame.

The trouble for Harrington is that he grew up with a slight right-to-left bias with how he reads. After a number of laser surgeries, his bias is now left-to-right.

''I'll wear them all the time to relax my eyes,'' Harrington said. ''Your eyes change as you get older, and certainly mine have. This is better to read the greens. Because if you can't read the greens, it leads to indecision. And indecision leads to bad putting.''


DIVOTS: The women's world ranking, which began in 2006, now has added players from the Ladies European Tour Access Series and the China LPGA Tour into its list. The addition will create more opportunities for golfers around the world to qualify for the Olympics in 2016. ... James Dodson was won the USGA's Herbert Warren Wind Book Award for ''American Triumvirate: Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and the Modern Age of Golf.'' Dodson also won the award in 2004 for a book on Hogan. ... Brian Gay is the only player to compete in every Tampa Bay Championship since the tournament began in 2000. His best finish is a tie for fourth in 2007.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Lee Westwood dropped out of the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since October 2009.

INFLATED STAT OF THE WEEK: Steve Stricker has made $1.82 million in three tournaments this year. Arnold Palmer made $1,861,857 in 734 career tournaments.


FINAL WORD: ''When a course is short, they end up having tricky pin positions. This is what we'll all be worried about at Merion. We prefer a big, solid golf course made easier rather than a short golf course made trickier.'' - Padraig Harrington.

 

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Arizona grabs last spot with eagle putt, playoff win

By Ryan LavnerMay 22, 2018, 3:18 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – With her team freefalling in the standings, Arizona coach Laura Ianello was down to her last stroke.

The Wildcats began the final round of the NCAA Championship in third place, but they were 19 over par for the day, and outside the top-8 cut line, with only one player left on the course.

Bianca Pagdaganan had transferred from Gonzaga to compete for NCAA titles, and on the 17th hole Ianello told her that she needed to play “the best two holes of your life” to keep the dream alive.

She made par on 17, then hit a 185-yard 6-iron out of a divot to 30 feet. Not knowing where she stood on the final green, Pagdaganan felt an eerie calm over the ball. Sure enough, she buried the eagle putt, setting off a raucous celebration and sending the Wildcats into a play-five, count-four team playoff with Baylor at 33 over par.

Their match-play spot wasn’t yet secure, but Ianello still broke down in tears.


NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring


“Bianca is such an inspiration for all of us,” she said. “She’s the kind of kid that you want to root for, to have good things happen to.”

Arizona prevailed on the second playoff hole. As the 8 seed, the Wildcats will play top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals Tuesday at Karsten Creek.

Though the finish had plenty of drama, no teams played their way into the coveted top 8 on the final day of stroke-play qualifying.

Baylor came closest. The Bears barely advanced past regionals after a mysterious stomach virus affected several players and coaches. They competed in the final round with just four healthy players.

On Monday, Gurleen Kaur put Baylor in position to advance, shooting 68, but the Bears lost by three strokes on the second extra hole.

Arkansas finished one shot shy of the team playoff. The second-ranked Razorbacks, who entered NCAAs as one of the pre-tournament favorites, having won seven times, including their first SEC title, couldn’t overcome a 308-300 start and finished 10th. Player of the Year favorite Maria Fassi finished her week at 19 over par and counted only two rounds toward the team total.

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Kupcho gets redemption with NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 22, 2018, 2:54 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Driving from Chicago to Denver the night of the 2017 NCAA Women’s Championship, Mike Kupcho was worried about what the next two days might bring.

A few hours earlier, he’d watched his 20-year-old daughter, Jennifer, take a two-shot lead into the 71st hole at Rich Harvest Farms. With just 127 yards left for her approach, she hit her pitching wedge the one place she couldn’t afford to miss – short, in the pond – and then compounded the error with a three-putt. The triple bogey dropped her one shot behind Arizona State’s Monica Vaughn.

Kupcho conducted a series of teary interviews afterward, but she had no time to dwell on the heartbreaking finish. She hopped on a plane back home and competed in a 36-hole U.S. Open qualifier two days later.

“We were worried about how she’d react – I didn’t know what to expect,” Mike said. “I would have been a wreck.”

But Jennifer fired a 66 in the opening round, then a 72 in the afternoon to earn medalist honors.


NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring


“Well,” Mike said, “I guess she’s over it.”

Kupcho made it official Monday at Karsten Creek, claiming the NCAA title that should have been hers last May.

The Wake Forest junior won by two shots – the same margin she blew a year ago – for her fourth victory of the season, vaulting her into contention for the Annika Award.

“It’s just exciting to get here after everything I’ve been through,” she said.

Entering the final round in a share of the lead, Kupcho birdied the first but played Nos. 5-7 in 4 over par. It seemed like another collapse was brewing.

“I told her she’s going to have to face some adversity at some point,” said Wake Forest assistant Ryan Potter, who walked alongside her Monday. “There was a lot of golf to play, especially on a course like this.”

A birdie on 11 sent her on her way. She added a birdie on the drivable 12th, dropped another one on the par-5 14th and then canned a 60-footer for birdie on 16.

And so there she was again, two shots clear with two holes to go, when she stepped to the tee on the 17th. She piped a drive down the center, then flushed her approach directly over the flag, leading to a stress-free par. On 18, with water all the way down the left side, she nuked her second shot into the middle of the green for a two-putt birdie.

If there were any lingering questions about whether Kupcho could close, she answered them emphatically Monday. She carded five back-nine birdies for a two-shot victory over Stanford’s Andrea Lee (66) and Arizona’s Bianca Pagdaganan (72).

“Redemption,” Potter said. “She knew she could do it. It was just a matter of holding the trophy.”

After last year’s devastating finish, Potter tacked a photo on his closet wall of a victorious Arizona State team posing with the NCAA trophy. Each day was a reminder of how close they’d come.

“That sticks with you,” he said.

There were areas of Kupcho's game to shore up – namely chipping and bunker play – and she worked tirelessly to turn them into strengths. She built momentum throughout the season, culminating with a dominant regional performance in which she tied a school record by shooting 15 under, holed the winning putt to send her teammates to the NCAA Championship and became just the second player in history to win a regional in consecutive years.

“She’s interesting,” Potter said, “because the bigger the tournament, the bigger the stage, the better she plays.”

Indeed, Kupcho became the first player in a decade to finish in the top 6 in three consecutive NCAAs.

Here at Karsten Creek, she tied a women’s course record with a 7-under 65 in the opening round. And even though she backed up on Day 2, she played the last two rounds in 3 under to claim the title.

The one she kicked away a year ago.

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Kupcho wins NCAA title; final eight teams set

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 1:55 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – On one of the more nerve-racking days of the college golf season two important honors were up for grabs at Karsten Creek – the individual title, and the top eight teams attempting to qualify for match play.

Here’s the lowdown of what happened Monday at the women’s NCAA Championship:

Individual leaderboard (total scores): Jennifer Kupcho, Wake Forest (-8); Andrea Lee, Stanford (-6); Bianca Pagdanganan, Arizona (-6); Cheyenne Knight, Alabama (-5); Morgane Metraux, Florida State (-4); Jaclyn Lee, Ohio State (-3).

Team leaderboard: UCLA (+9), Alabama (+9), USC (+16), Northwestern (+21), Stanford (+28), Duke (+30), Kent State (+32), Arizona (+33).

What it means: Let’s start with the individual race. Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho was absolutely devastated a year ago when she made triple bogey on the 17th hole of the final round and lost the individual title by a shot. She was bound not to let that happen again and this year she made five birdies on the last eight holes to shoot 71 and win by two shots. Kupcho is the first player with three consecutive top-six finishes at the NCAA Championship since Duke’s Amanda Blumenherst (2007-09).

The team race took an unexpected turn at the end of the day when Arizona junior Bianca Pangdaganan made eagle on the last hole to vault the Wildcats into an eighth-place tie, meaning they would enter a playoff with Baylor for the final spot in the match play portion of the championship.

The Wildcats got a reprieve because they played terribly for most of the day and dropped from third place to 10th at one point. In the playoff, Arizona ultimately defeated Baylor in an anticlimactic finish.

Best of the rest: Stanford played horribly the first round. So bad that it almost seemed like the Cardinal shot itself out of the championship. But they played steady over the next three days and ended with the fifth seed. This is the fourth year in a row that Stanford has advanced to match play.

Round of the day: USC shot a 5-under total on Monday, the best round of the day by six shots. They landed as the third seed and will play Duke in the quarterfinals.

Stanford sophomore Andrea Lee shot a 7-under 65, the best score of the day by three shots. Lee made seven birdies and no bogeys and vaulted up the leaderboard 11 spots to end in a tie for sixth place.

Biggest disappointment: Arkansas, the second-ranked team in the country, missed qualifying for match play by one shot. The Razorbacks shot a 20-over 308 in Round 1 and played only slightly better with a 300 in the second round. Consecutive 1-over-par 289 scores were a good try, but results in a huge miss for a team expected to contend for the team title.

Here are Tuesday morning's quarterfinal matchups:

Cut and not so dry: Shinnecock back with a new look

By Bradley S. KleinMay 21, 2018, 9:22 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – The last time the USGA was here at Shinnecock Hills, it nearly had a train wreck on its hands. The last day of the 2004 U.S. Open was so dry and the turf so firm that play was stopped in the morning just to get some water on the greens.

The lessons learned from that debacle are now on display three weeks before Shinnecock gets another U.S. Open. And this time, the USGA is prepared with all sorts of high-tech devices – firmness meters, moisture monitors, drone technology to measure turf temperatures - to make sure the playing surfaces remain healthy.

Players, meanwhile, will face a golf course that is 548 yards longer than a dozen years ago, topping out now at 7,445 yards for the par-70 layout. Ten new tees have assured that the course will keep up with technology and distance. They’ll also require players to contend with the bunkering and fairway contours that designer William Flynn built when he renovated Shinnecock Hills in 1930.

And those greens will not only have more consistent turf cover, they’ll also be a lot larger – like 30 percent bigger. What were mere circles averaging 5,500 square feet are now about 7,200 square feet. That will mean more hole locations, more variety to the setup, and more rollouts into surrounding low-mow areas. Slight misses that ended up in nearby rough will now be down in hollows many more yards away.



The course now has an open, windswept look to it – what longtime green chairman Charles Stevenson calls “a maritime grassland.” You don’t get to be green chairman of a prominent club for 37 years without learning how to deal with politics, and he’s been a master while implementing a long-term plan to bring the course back to its original scale and angles. In some cases that required moving tees back to recapture the threat posed by cross-bunkers and steep falloffs. Two of the bigger extensions come on the layout’s two par-5s, which got longer by an average of 60 yards. The downwind, downhill par-4 14th hole got stretched 73 yards and now plays 519.

“We want players to hit driver,” says USGA executive director Mike Davis.

The also want to place an emphasis upon strategy and position, which is why, after the club had expanded its fairways the last few years, the USGA decided last September to bring them back in somewhat.

The decision followed analysis of the driving statistics from the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where wide fairways proved very hospitable to play. Players who made the cut averaged hitting 77 percent of fairways and driving it 308 yards off the tee. There was little fear of the rough there. “We didn’t get the wind and the dry conditions we anticipated,” says Davis.

Moving ahead to Shinnecock Hills, he and the setup staff wanted to balance the need for architectural variety with a traditional emphasis upon accuracy. So they narrowed the fairways at Shinnecock Hills last September by seven acres. They are still much wider than in the U.S. Opens played here in 1986, 1995 and 2004, when the average width of the landing areas was 26.6 yards. “Now they are 41.6 yards across on average,” said Davis. So they are much wider than in previous U.S. Opens and make better use of the existing contours and bring lateral bunkers into play.

This time around, with more consistent, healthier turf cover and greens that have plenty of nutrients and moisture, the USGA should be able to avoid the disastrous drying out of the putting surfaces that threatened that final day in 2004. The players will also face a golf course that is more consistent than ever with its intended width, design, variety and challenge. That should make for a more interesting golf course and, by turn, more interesting viewing.