FUTURES Look Bright as Tour Gets Underway
Last year, unknown rookie teen Song-Hee Kim of Korea won five times and moved on to the 2007 LPGA Tour after a brief stint on the Duramed FUTURES Tour. South Carolinian Kristy McPherson, on the other hand, spent four years before winning twice last season and joining the top five players on the 2006 money list to 'graduate' to the LPGA Tour.
With 88 rookies joining the Duramed FUTURES Tour this year, more 'unknown' talent is certain to emerge over the next 19 tournaments. But those rookies will first have to get past some wily and determined veterans ready to prove a few things to themselves and join their pals at the next level.
'I have experience now and I know I can win,' said returning third-year tour member Ashley Prange of Noblesville, Ind., who won twice in 2006 and finished seventh on the tour's money list. 'I've improved my golf swing so much since LPGA Q-school last fall. And while I know I should be out there with the other girls on the LPGA Tour this year, I'm looking forward to this season.'
Prange, along with returning players Salimah Mussani of Burlington, Ontario, Ha-Na Chae of Seoul, Korea and Ji Min Jeong of Kyungki, Korea, all were winners in 2006. But each came up short of the top five positions on the money list and none were able to secure exempt status at the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament. Jeong, who is not in the Lakeland tournament field, won twice in 2006 and figures to be a top contender this year alongside Prange.
Allison Fouch also will be a returning player with an obvious mission. The fourth-year player from Grand Rapids, Mich., posted seven top-10 finishes in 2006, including two runner-up finishes. One of those second-place finishes came in Lakeland last year. Fouch hopes to find the same comfort zone at Cleveland Heights Golf Course that had her pressuring eventual champion Meaghan Francella right up to the last putt.
Ditto for third-year player Brandi Jackson of Greenville, S.C., who recorded six top-10 finishes in 2006, that included one tie for second and four top-5 finishes. But instead of finally delivering her winner's speech, the former LPGA Tour member was forced to settle for 11th on the season money list. Worse yet, she left LPGA Q-school without a card in hand for 2007.
'My first goal this season is to have a better start than I had last year,' said Jackson, who played collegiately at Furman University. 'I need to win a tournament out here and not just finish second and third. That would be a huge confidence booster.'
To knock the winter rust off her game, Jackson played in several Florida-based Women's Hooter's Tour events during the winter months. She wasn't surprised to bump into Fouch and numerous other members of the Duramed FUTURES Tour who also were getting a jump on the competitive season in the smaller mini-tour events. Returning player Jenny Gleason won three tournaments -- with an 11-shot victory over LPGA star Paula Creamer in her third -- while Jackson also won three times, notching wins in the last two Hooter's Tour events.
'The fields were small, but it was fairly competitive,' said Jackson. 'The idea was to get some early playing time and to be ready when I tee it up this week at the first event.'
Like Fouch, two other members of the 2007 Duramed FUTURES Tour have finished in the dreaded sixth spot on the Tour's money list just out of the automatic fully exempt LPGA Tour cards awarded to the five players. Gleason had that distinction in 2005, and went on to earn non-exempt LPGA Tour status in 2006 and 2007. Emily Bastel of Upper Sandusky, Ohio, finished sixth on the 2004 money list. Bastel went on to earn full LPGA Tour status at LPGA Q-school and played the last two seasons on the LPGA Tour. But Bastel will rejoin the Duramed FUTURES Tour this year in an attempt to regain her full LPGA status.
While she admits she will play some LPGA Tour events this year, Gleason plans to spend 'the majority of the year on the [Duramed] FUTURES Tour.' And with the early success she has had this winter on the Florida mini-tours, Gleason believes she is better prepared to kick off the season this week in Lakeland.
'I've never played well in March and April and it seems like it's always taken me a while to get going,' said Gleason, of Clearwater, Fla. 'But I'm playing a new set of irons, working with a new trainer, now have a swing coach in Florida who can help me when I can't see my coach in North Carolina, and I've improved my wedges. Am I a better player than I was 365 days ago? You bet!'
Gleason admits that it would be easy to wallow in her misfortune of 2005. In addition to not cracking the top five on the Duramed FUTURES Tour, she missed getting her full LPGA Tour card by one shot. And even in 2006, as a non-exempt LPGA Tour member, she got into a dozen LPGA tournaments and missed five cuts by one stroke.
'I learned a whole bunch on the LPGA Tour and I also realized that this Tour taught me a lot of little things that I needed to know,' she said. 'But other than Annika [Sorenstam] and Lorena [Ochoa], I don't think there's anyone who is too good to play the [Duramed] FUTURES Tour.'
This year's rookie class will no doubt begin asserting itself this week alongside the more experienced returning players. One of the top contending rookies likely will be Amanda McCurdy, a member of the winning 2006 U.S. Curtis Cup team.
'I'm nervous and I've been having some bad dreams, but I also know that I'm starting a new chapter in my golf life and I'm very excited about it,' said McCurdy of Fayetteville, Ark., who played collegiately for the Razorbacks. 'I'm still a pup out here and I'm learning, but at least I'm getting to start off the season at a course where I've played.'
Like McCurdy, rookie Noon Huachai of Bangkok, Thailand, also last played Cleveland Heights at the Tour's Qualifying Tournament last November. A high school senior in nearby Orlando, Fla., Huachai will be one of two 17-year-old professionals on the tour's 2007 roster.
'This is the best time of my life to try to compete,' she said. 'My dad talked me into turning pro. He knows what's best for me and I trust him.'
And on Friday this week, 144 players will trust themselves when they take their first official swings on the 2007 Duramed FUTURES Tour. Come September, and 19 tournaments later, who will be holding up the five 2008 LPGA Tour cards?
Only time will tell.
Lincicome grouped with two rookies in Barbasol
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.
Lincicome thrilled by reception from male pros
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.”
Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown
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.
Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'
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.”
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.”