Thorpes Year to Remember
He wasnt as successful in his career PGA Tour. He had to go through Monday qualifiers until the all-exempt tour came into effect in 1983, and he was a terrible qualifier. On those occasions when he actually got into a tournament, he usually did quite well. But it was an ordeal just battling his way past 100 guys to get into the starting lineup. And it was an ordeal just keeping the money when he did earn it ' many of his checks went straight through to the casinos or race tracks. I dont think I owed the whole check, said Thorpe, but I knew I had the money when I got there.
Jim Thorpe has had a dozen or so careers in his 53 years college football player, General Motors plant worker, golf hustler, mini-tour player, black-tour player, finally the PGA Tour, just to name a few. He made the big tour in 1978, even was co-medalist along with John Fought at the qualifying school.
In 1985, though, Thorpe was all aces when it came to his career with the PGA Tour. That year he was golden ' he won two tournaments (Milwaukee Open and the Seiko-Tucson Match Play Championship) and lost a third in a playoff (the Western Open).
The year had started on a discouraging note for Thorpe. The first part of the season, he had tendonitis in his left wrist. I told my wife if I make $50-60,000, enough to make the top 125, I was gonna pull up for the year, he says.
So when the month of August rolled around, Thorpe had almost won his $50,000. He would have to make four or five thousand in the Western Open the first weekend in August, and that would be it for 1985.
Thorpe didnt look like he was going to make it after a first-round 75. He went to see a doctor that evening and got a cortisone injection to ease the pain. But that was when his career suddenly took a turn from a one-way ticket home ' to the best year of his PGA Tour career.
Thorpe came back from the cortisone shot to blister the course for a 66, easily sufficient to survive the cut. And by the time Sunday morning rolled around, Thorpe had a six-shot lead on everyone except one amateur ' an Oklahoma State collegian named Scott Verplank.
It rained throughout the day Sunday ' Verplanks 21st birthday ' and Thorpe never could catch his younger opponent, who was the first amateur in 36 years to win a tournament. On the third playoff hole Verplank finally won. CBS television commentator Steve Melnyk said the pressure on Thorpe was much greater than Verplank.
As good a player as Scott is, Melnyk said after the win, nobody really expects an amateur to come out and beat the best players in the world. Plus, theres just so many things going through your mind when you finally get into a position (as Thorpe was) to win your first tour event.
Thorpe agreed. Im not trying to take anything away from him because hes a super player, he said, but there was no money on the line for Scott. It was a walk in the park for him.
Thorpe did win the first-place money of $90,000, but he was to get a nasty surprise when he went to Cherry Hills the next week for the PGA Championship. He thought the first-place money would qualify him, but he was mistaken. The PGA ruled that he was ineligible since he hadnt actually won the tournament (at the time one of the categories of eligibility was a win in the year prior to the tournament).
I understand there are rules, but the PGA of America had an exemption available, and I felt I had earned it as low pro at the Western, said Thorpe. Nonetheless, he was obligated to leave Denver and the PGA, but that just made him more determined for his next success.
That came the next month, at Milwaukee. This time, there wouldnt be anymore almosts. This time, Thorpe ended all speculation with a resounding win. The man he beat wasnt an amateur ' it was Jack Nicklaus.
Thorpe, with an Ace bandage strapped around his ailing left wrist, shot a 62 in the third round ' which included a 29 on the front nine. That was low enough to catch Nicklaus. Then he kept it up in the final round to defeat Nicklaus ' and everyone else in the field ' and win going away.
It was a little telling of Nicklaus the man that Nicklaus sidled up to Thorpe during the final round and gave a little encouragement.
I was really feeling the pressure the back nine, said Thorpe. Jack came over to me and said, Try and take it easy, Jim. It will all be over soon.
It helped relax me, and when we came up 18, he motioned for me to walk up to the green ahead of him. He wanted me to know that the cheers were all for me. I know he had to be disappointed in not winning, but he was thoughtful enough to think me. Ill never forget that.
Then it was on to Tucson the last week in October, and a victory over Jack Renner in the Match Play Championship. Thorpe remembers the struggle of playing through the field one-by-one. He won the Match Play again in 1986, making two of the three regular tour victories head-to-head battles.
He admitted it was due partially to his gamesmanship. Example? A 1985 match with Dan Pohl.
I had Herman Mitchell (Lee Trevinos longtime caddy) caddying for me, Thorpe said in a recent Golf Digest article. I was 3-up on Dan and giving him some lip. All of a sudden Dan reversed the gamesmanship and broke my concentration.
Next thing I knew, were dead even. On the 16th hole we both chipped to about two feet. He gave me the putt. I was about to do the same when Herman said, Jim, dont give him that.
So I just stood there. I could tell be Dans body language he was expecting me to tell him to pick it up. But I didnt give it to him, he missed it, and I ended up winning. Herman said, Man, thats your game, talkin and jivin, getting into peoples heads.
By the time 1985 was over with, Thorpe had made nearly $400,000 ' $54,000 for Milwaukee and $150,000 in Tucson to go with the 90k he won at the Western. That was good for fourth on the money list. But he also had something even more important ' a new attitude.
Hes not a nice guy on the golf course anymore, said his wife, Carol, at the end of 1985. I mean, hes congenial, but hes got the killer instinct in him that all the rest of the winners on tour have ' the intensity. He didnt have that before.
The Greater Milwaukee Open will be played again this week, but without Jim Thorpe - he has taken his game to the Senior Tour. But he will never forget what it was like to be on tour before 1985 ' and what it was like during three wonderful months in 85.
I talked to some people who think I should be pumped up or super happy about the year, but hell, I paid my dues, man, said Thorpe. I worked hard. Ive been on the road with no money. Ive been on the road with flat tires. You name it, and, you know, its happened to me.
So, when I won, it was a pleasant sight to see coming. But I really wasnt that surprised. All through the year I played on the tour, I played well enough to win. It was just that someone else played better.
But not at the end of 1985. For three months, Jim Thorpe was king of the golf world.
Jim Thorpe's Bio
Full Coverage of the 2002 Ford Senior Players Championship
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, Dominic 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.”
Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder
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.
“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.