Notes: One year later, Choi not a part of LPGA rivalries

By Doug FergusonNovember 20, 2013, 12:59 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Na Yeon Choi finished last year by winning the LPGA Titleholders and buying a new house at Isleworth outside Orlando. She was No. 2 on the money list with nearly $2 million. She was No. 2 in the world. She was the U.S. Women's Open champion.

One year later, Choi was missing from the conversation.

Inbee Park won three straight majors and last week clinched LPGA player of the year, the first South Korean to win that award. Suzann Pettersen has challenged Park and has a chance this week to win the LPGA money list. Stacy Lewis, who rose to No. 1 earlier in the year, has a slim lead in the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average.

As for Choi?

She gave up the lead on the back nine at St. Andrews and tied for second behind Stacy Lewis in the Women's British Open. She was runner-up in the HSBC Champions in Singapore. And those were the highlights. Choi has failed to win a tournament, has slipped to No. 6 in the world and is No. 9 on the money list.

Choi has won at least $1 million the last five years. She needs $80,000 at the Titleholders to keep that streak going.

''I think I put a lot of pressure on myself at the beginning of the season,'' Choi said Tuesday. ''I started the season No. 2 in the world, and I really, really want to be No. 1. But I think I got too much pressure, too much to think about - winning a tournament or about the results and lower scores.''

Choi's solution is to go back to being a rookie. That means working harder and not worrying about results. As a rookie, she had no fear.

''But right now, I'm kind of scared to play, too much thinking, too much worry about,'' she said. ''So I really want to go back to how I started golf, or when I came to the LPGA tour, that kind of demeanor.''


SPIETH TO SHERWOOD: Jordan Spieth's first round of the year was a pre-qualifier to get into the Monday qualifier at Torrey Pines. His last round will be at Sherwood Country Club, a last-minute alternate to the Christmas holiday bonus known as the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge hosted by Tiger Woods.

Spieth was selected as an alternate Tuesday to replace Brandt Snedeker, who is being extra cautious from a slight knee surgery from when he lost his balance on a Segway during a corporate outing in Shanghai.

The World Challenge is Dec. 5-8.

Spieth never needed that qualifier for the Farmers Insurance Open. He got in on a late sponsor's exemption, missed the cut, and then headed off to the Web.com Tour. His plans shifted to the PGA Tour in March, and the results were amazing – enough money to secure a card, a win at the John Deere Classic to instantly get his card, No. 7 in the FedEx Cup standings and a spot in the Presidents Cup.

Sherwood will be a bonus.


INKSTER TO THE BOOTH: Juli Inkster's closest friends in golf have always worried about whether she could ever retire. This might be a step.

Inkster is one of three additions to the Golf Channel's cast of on-air talent for the 2014 season. The others are Karen Stupples, already a strong voice of golf for the BBC, and Paige Mackenzie.

Inkster, the 53-year-old Hall of Famer, is not giving up on golf. She will work five events for Golf Channel, starting with the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic in May.

Stupples will work at just over a dozen tournaments as an analyst and on-course reporter. Mackenzie will be the co-host on ''Morning Drive'' and contribute to news programming while continuing to play.


 

RULES OF THE GAME: Annika Sorenstam is one of the few players who has gone through a USGA rules seminar and taken the test, and it would seem to raise a question. If golf is their livelihood, shouldn't all tour players go through the seminar to know the rules of the sport they play?

Steve Stricker might have had the best explanation.

''We're playing for a lot of money,'' he said.

There is golf, and there is tournament golf, and while they are played the same, it's different. Even the highest-rated rules officials who have scored 100 on the test have blown calls, such as Trey Holland at the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont involving Ernie Els.

There are 34 rules. There are more than 1,200 decisions. With so much at stake – either money or prestige – players would rather put a decision in the hands of the experts, whose word is final.

''We can always call one of the officials out of the woods,'' Stricker said.

''That's a week out of their life,'' Slugger White said when asked why more players don't go to a rules seminar. ''If you went to a rules school and you're coming down the stretch in a tournament, they'd call every time. They don't want to make a mistake.''

White is the PGA Tour's vice president of rules and competition. When he played the tour, he gave himself a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10 in his rules knowledge.


FIRST LADY: The PGA of America has selected Annika Sorenstam for its ''First Lady of Golf Award.''

The award began in 1998 and is given every other year to a woman who has made significant contributions to promoting golf. That goes beyond Sorenstam's 89 worldwide wins and 10 majors. Since retiring five years ago, she has developed a teaching academy, golf course design firm, financial-planning group, an apparel collection and a foundation geared toward teaching children a healthy lifestyle through fitness and nutrition. She also has a junior golf program.

Sorenstam, a mother of two, is the first international woman to win the award. She will be honored Jan. 22 in Orlando at the PGA Merchandise Show.

''I have been so fortunate through my life to have people who helped pave the way for me to work hard and exceed my goals on and off the course,'' Sorenstam said. ''I truly feel like I am living a dream and want to help the next generation do the same.''


SWANN'S WAY: Lynn Swann is the latest board director for the PGA of America.

Swann helped lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s, after playing on a national championship team at Southern California. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Swann, a member at Augusta National, joins the board Saturday at the PGA's annual meeting in San Diego. He will serve a three-year term.

''I came to the game late in life, but hope over the next three years to help the PGA bring golf to so many more people early in life,'' Swann said.


DIVOTS: Nick Price has added a tournament to his schedule, all because his son (Greg) took up golf eight months ago. They will play the PNC Father-Son Challenge for the first time on Dec. 12-15 at The Ritz-Carlton Club in Orlando. ''I just want him to enjoy it,'' Price said. ''If he enjoys it, he'll want to do it again.'' ... Charles Howell III, who had five top 10s a year ago, already has three in five tournaments this year. ... The Players Championship raised $7.1 million for local charities, beating last year's record $6.5 million.


STAT OF THE WEEK: The Official World Golf Ranking board has approved ranking points for the new PGA Tour China series next year. The winner of the China events will get six points, or the equivalent of 19th place at The Players Championship.


FINAL WORD: ''You're witnessing the best player on the planet at the minute, for sure. I don't think there's anybody to go up against him.'' – Ian Poulter on Henrik Stenson, who won three of his last seven events to claim the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai.

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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.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


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.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”