Where Are the US Players
That was just 10 years ago. Today, Woods tops the money chart with $9,941,563 ' oh, hes done that while playing just 15 times on TOUR. If Lehman won $1,780,159 this year, he would scarcely raise an eyebrow. That figure wouldnt even make the TOUR Championship ' which, incidentally is played this week to close out the season. Lehman would be down in 36th place on the list if he had won that much moolah. As it is, Lehman wasnt far off that figure, but this time he is No. 42 with $1,692,081. That, in case youre wondering, would have been the third-most money 10 years ago.
But theres another major difference in 1996 and 2006. In 1996, the top 10 golfers were all from the U.S. Notice anything different about the TOUR Championship year?
Youre right ' six of the top nine cash boys were born outside the U.S. Tiger is tops and Jim Furyk is second. But then comes a world atlas of players: No. 3, Vijay Singh, Fiji; No. 4, Phil Mickelson; No. 5, Geoff Ogilvy, Australia; No. 6, Adam Scott, Australia; No. 7, Trevor Immelman, South Africa; No. 8, Stuart Appleby, Australia; and No. 9, Luke Donald, England.
Note that Australia has as many in the top nine as does the U.S. And not one is named Greg Norman. Australia has nearly lost its tour due to a widespread lack of sponsorship ' a total of eight events remain spread over four months. But that country is very well represented on the U.S. tour with those three plus a fourth player, Rod Pampling, preparing to tee it up at the TOUR Championship.
Golf, it firmly appears, has gone global. The U.S. has the No. 1 tour solely because it pays the most money in purses and sponsorships. But the U.S. no longer has a lock on the best players. You have to look at the globe if youre wondering where the majority of the great players play their golf.
The reason? Its either because, No. 1, the U.S. programs are no longer turning out dominating players; or, No. 2, because golf in the rest of the world has gotten decidedly better. For the sake of my country, Ive got to hope the answer is No. 2.
Lets face it (and I certainly have) ' our pros have been caught and passed by Europe. Oh, we probably still can brag about our country versus an individual country ' England by itself might not be as good, Scotland, Sweden. But they shouldnt be ' you cant expect a country with the population of, say, South Africa, to be as adept as a country the size of the U.S. But believe me, South Africa is not far behind. And neither is Australia.
But the balance of excellence has decidedly shifted. As late as last season, seven of the top 10 on the American tour were Americans ' the exceptions were Singh, Retief Goosen and Sergio Garcia. Garcia and Goosen, incidentally, have slipped way down, Garcia to 49th and Goosen to 25th. If they were still as dominate as they were last year ' can you believe the PGA TOUR could possibly have nine out of 10 who were foreign-born?
Some say the American slide is caused by the college programs which arrange their players in teams instead of the participants competing as individuals. As long as the team wins, the golfer has done his job. The boys can rally around the universitys banner and celebrate, regardless if the individual finished first or 40th in the competition.
The problem with this reasoning, though, is that colleges have used this method for determining a victor 100 years now. So it strains the logic to believe that this is relevant today, but it wasnt 10 years ago. There is no doubt the American colleges no longer turn out the dominate pros ' witness the dearth of U.S. players under 30 years of age who are in the top 30 in the world rankings. No longer do alumni of Houston, Wake Forest, Oklahoma State, Southern Cal, Texas or UCLA dominate the PGA TOUR.
Australia has a very advanced upper-level golf program, academies for kids in their mid- to late teens to go to polish their golf skills. So does Sweden. Both, incidentally, are open to middle-class youth as well as the wealthy kids.
The U.S. doesnt have a well-developed program for the under-privileged children. Many, many courses are private, and very few have junior programs for those kids whose parents arent members. And the simple fact is, you have to be a person of means to belong to these country clubs.
The UK has an overwhelming number of courses that are well within the financial scope of the common man. So does Australia.
South Korea has made huge advances in womens golf, churning out an assembly line of young pros. The Korean men, however, have compulsory military duty which prevents them from becoming adept at the sport. All across the globe, however, people are turning on more and more to golf.
So perhaps its not the rankings itself which is passing by the Americans. Perhaps it is the rest of the world which is catching up. Lets face it ' these guys are just flat-out good.
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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.”