The Numbers 6 and 26 - and Annika

By George WhiteJune 23, 2005, 4:00 pm
2005 U.S. WomenPatty Berg has 15. Kathy Whitworth has 88.
Those are the numbers. Annika Sorenstam is reaching for the record of 15 majors owned by Berg. And Whitworth owns 88 - the LPGA record for wins. Annika has come so far in her quest - but she still has miles to go.
Before this year, before she had won six times in eight tries, she didnt even think it was a possibility. Now it is possible, out there in the distance, but suddenly a distinct probability. But people, do you realize what it would be like to win six more majors, or 26 more titles?
Do you realize that in her entire career, Judy Rankin only won 26 times? And do you realize that in her entire career, Kathy Whitworth ' she of the 88 tour victories - only won six majors? Those are the numbers staring Sorenstam in the face as she prepares to play the U.S. Womens Open.
Of course, Rankin played 21 years. Whitworth played 32 years. Sorenstam has played 11. So ' it is an awesome task that Annika still has before her.
But, Annika is an awesome talent.
Lets take the comparisons out a bit further ' Annika is 34 years old now. That is the age of Whitworth when Kathy had her last big year ' seven wins in 1973. Mickey Wright, whom many consider historys greatest woman player, was also 34 when she had her last big year ' four wins in 1968. But Whitworth had been playing for 14 years by the time she had reached 34. And Wright, who had 82 victories by the time she quit, had been playing for 14 years by the time she reached 34.
Sorenstam? She has played three less years than Whitworth and Wright.
One interesting tidbit, though ' the incredible number of wins caused both Whitworth and Wright to suffer emotional near-breakdowns in their 30s. Wrights came almost exactly 50 years ago when an injured wrist just before the 1965 U.S. Womens Open forced her to withdraw the day before the championship began. She drove to her home in Dallas and couldnt stop crying.
I dont know if all the pressure made it necessary to get out of it, or if the physical things (she also had perennial foot problems) just plain happened, she told Rhonda Glenn in the book The Illustrated History of Womens Golf. I really dont know.
Wright interrupted her career to enroll in SMU, but she hated studying and the next year she was back in the pressure cooker. But the rigors of having to play so much (she played 33, 30 and 27 tournaments starting in 1962) had slowly built until she was through as a perrenial winner in 1969. She was only destined to won one more tournament.
Whitworth, likewise, was emotionally exhausted after the final tournament in 1973. My nerves were so bad I could hardly sign the score card, she told Liz Kahn in The LPGA: An Authorized Version. I was so exhausted and nervous I just scribbled my name. I remember it so well, and after the presentation I barely crawled back to my room, where I just died on the couch in exhaustion.
Sorenstam, though, appears to be still going strong at 34, and there really doesnt appear to be a limit to how long she can play. There are several reasons for that, of course ' she hasnt had to face the same kind of pressures Wright and Whitworth did. Both Wright and Whitworth were obligated to make speeches to every Rotary and Civitan club in the small towns in which the LPGA played. Both faced debilitating injuries ' Whitworth suffered extensively with her knees.
However, from another viewpoint - Wright and Whitworth both played at a time when often there were only 30 or 35 players in the field. Many times the smallcourses where they played would send the women out first, then follow them with members' tee times. Plus, many times, tournaments were no more than two rounds.
So, you see, it is impossible to say who definitively was the greatest. Sorenstam faces tougher fields, faces her own kind of pressures with a worldwide media, and plays against competition form around the globe. But - she plays only 18-20 times a year.
Who is the best? There is no way to ever tell conclusively, not even by comparing records. Comparing players from different eras is actually no comparison. All three are ' were ' exceptional athletes.
But one thing is certain ' Annika doesnt sit in the back of the class when you are discussing the greatest of the LPGA.
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    Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

    According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

    Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

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    Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

    Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

    And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

    Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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    Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

    The Monday morning headline will be …

    REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

    RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

    MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

    JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

    Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

    HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

    LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

    BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

    COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

    Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

    HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

    LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

    BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

    COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

    What will be the winning score?

    HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

    LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

    BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

    COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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    Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

    Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

    Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

    This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

    While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

    Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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    McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

    Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

    “It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

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    McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

    “Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

    He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.