LPGA card provides inside track to Olympics

By Randall MellDecember 2, 2015, 11:56 pm

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Gaby Lopez’s dream radiates beyond the LPGA at Q-School this week.

If she wins an LPGA card, Lopez can move into the fast lane in her bid to represent her beloved Mexico at the Olympics next summer. That’s because LPGA membership is more than a fast pass for so many international golfers looking to represent their countries in Rio de Janeiro next August. It’s a hyper-speed pass to the Olympics. That’s because Rolex Women’s World Ranking points are used as the qualification standard for Olympic women’s golf, and the LPGA offers so many more world-ranking points than any other tour in the women’s game, disproportionately more than the PGA Tour offers over other tours in the men’s game.

Just ask Israel’s Laetitia Beck how well the LPGA’s fast pass works.

Beck didn’t have a single Rolex world rankings point starting her LPGA rookie season earlier this year. She seemed a long shot to make the Olympics. And yet, 10 months after making her first LPGA start, Beck is in prime position to make it to Rio de Janeiro. If the Olympic women’s field were decided today, Beck would qualify.

Beck soared inside the Olympic qualifying standard this year despite a ho-hum LPGA rookie season that saw her record one top-20 finish while placing 111th on the LPGA money list. She’s back at Q-School this week looking to keep her Olympic dream alive.

“What I’m doing now, it’s about representing my country and being able to fly our flag next to my name wherever I go,” Beck told GolfChannel.com. “Being the first player from Israel to play the LPGA tour put our flag on a big stage. Obviously, the Olympics are an even bigger stage. It’s a greater opportunity to put Israel on golf’s map. For me, it’s exciting.”

Beck is a perfect example of how the LPGA has become the Autobahn highway to the Olympics.

The average LPGA event offers about four times more world-ranking points than the average Ladies European Tour event and about three times as many world-ranking points as the average Japan or Korean LPGA event. The average PGA Tour event doesn’t offer anything close to that differential with the average European Tour event.

Lopez is an amateur, but her Olympic dream led her to the final stage of LPGA Q-School this week with an eye on turning pro a year earlier than she expected. She’s a senior at the University of Arkansas who finished runner-up at the NCAA Women’s Championship last spring.

“My ultimate goal is to play in the Olympics for Mexico,” Lopez said after making a strong start Wednesday at Q-School, posting a 4-under-par 68 to move into a tie for fifth, three shots off the lead. “I know the best path to the Olympics is through the LPGA, to get Rolex ranking points.”

Lopez said she will turn pro at week’s end if she earns LPGA membership. If she falls short and earns only Symetra Tour membership, she may return to the University of Arkansas.

“I haven’t made that decision yet,” Lopez said. “My coach and my family and I will make a smart decision with our minds and our hearts. I know I have the support of the University of Arkansas and coach Shawna [Estes-Taylor]. She has been a huge part of my development.”

How realistic is Lopez’s bid to make the Olympics?

She’s already on the cusp of qualifying.

The top 60 players on the International Golf Federation’s Olympic women’s rankings as of July 11 will qualify. Those rankings are based on the Rolex Women’s World Rankings but adjusted based on eligibility.

Only two players per country are eligible for the golf competition at the Olympics. However, if players are ranked among the top 15 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, the top four from a country can qualify. That’s how Beck can be as low as No. 347 in the Rolex rankings but No. 54 in the IGF Olympic rankings. A lot of players who are ranked ahead of her in the Rolex rankings aren’t eligible.

Brazil’s Victoria Lovelady currently holds the 60th and final Olympic spot into the women’s field, but she’s guaranteed that spot because Brazil is the Olympic host country. So Colombia’s Lisa McCloskey actually holds the last qualifying spot in the IGF Olympic ranking. McCloskey is No. 59 in the IGF Olympic women’s ranking and No. 437 in the Rolex rankings. Lopez is No. 443 in the Rolex rankings.

Limiting the number of players per country who can qualify weakens the 60-player Olympic field, but it’s also pivotal in opening Olympic golf’s door to countries like Mexico, Israel and China.

“Not many people know about my sport in our country,” Beck said. “I hear people say, `What? Golf is an Olympic sport?’ If we are represented in the Olympics, so many more people will come to know the sport.”

Lopez carries the same vision for women’s golf in Mexico.

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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, GolfChannel.com 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.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

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.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”