Sorenstam Achieving All Her Goals
But winning the British Open on Sunday meant the world to Annika Sorenstam. And maybe it won't end with her.
Capturing the final major (and her second) of the season made the Swede only the sixth female golfer ever to accomplish a career Grand Slam. But those things weren't driving Sorenstam down the stretch at Royal Lytham. This win wasn't about proving something to others as much as proving something very important to herself.
Sorenstam put her game and her personality under the microscope by displaying both at the Colonial in May. Fifty-eight years had passed since a woman tested herself against men on the PGA Tour, and as long as Sorenstam lasted, it looked and felt like anybody who'd ever had an opinion on the subject found a way inside the gates.
The galleries on some holes were eight deep. The course crackled for two entire days. There were moments when the electricity rose to the level of Nicklaus making a final-day surge at the Masters.
But generating all that buzz came with costs -- short- and long-term.
As resolute and patient as Sorenstam was during the first round at Colonial was how overmatched and frayed she looked by the close of the second. She walked off the 18th green that day in tears, but that shouldn't have been anybody's lasting memory, either.
Sorenstam didn't agree to become one of the more interesting Rohrshach tests that sports has devised without getting something in return. And that was learning how to play golf under extreme duress. To remember how it felt to stand in the fairway under an open sky and feel like there wasn't enough oxygen to go around -- yet still find enough to draw the club back calmly and pull off the shot.
'Like I said, this is what it's all about: to have a chance to win a major championship where you've just got to perform,' Sorenstam said afterward. 'I'm nervous, but I love it at the same time. It's kind of a combination.'
Up until Sunday, the same could be said about her Colonial experiment: The results were mixed.
In June, Sorenstam played steely golf over the closing holes to win the LPGA Championship, delivering one clutch shot after another to force a sudden-death playoff against Grace Park and win on the first extra hole.
But at last month's U.S. Open, the opposite happened. With a chance to slam the door on the 18th hole, Sorenstam kicked a 4-wood into some trees, made bogey and finished out of a playoff.
A few days later, she withdrew after just six holes of the Canadian Women's Open, citing sickness and exhaustion. The only person who seemed surprised at the time was Sorenstam herself.
'I learned that I can't go 100 percent every single day,' she said. 'I have enjoyed pretty much everything since I decided to play Colonial. But I've been nonstop.'
Against that backdrop, the British looked tough enough. It already held the best field of the season and empty memories for Sorenstam -- a runner-up three times. This time, though, she didn't get the lead until the 65th hole and parred the last three to keep it.
'I was very nervous on the first tee, and I was very nervous on the last three holes. It's funny how the emotions works, but I hit some great shots when I needed to,' Sorenstam said.
'That's all the hard work. I mean, that's why I hit balls at night, that's why I hit so many putts, that's why I go to the gym, to be in this situation, and then to win. That's what motivates me and keeps me going,' she said. 'I love it.'
You don't know whether to feel happy for Sorenstam, because this moves her closer to the best women golfers of all time, or sad because no matter what she accomplishes, nothing will likely eclipse the memory of her two rounds playing men. Then again, blazing a trail isn't supposed to be easy.
Sorenstam has done her part to clear the path and shared in some of the rewards. She now has six majors and back-to-back seasons that would make Tiger Woods look as if he really was in a slump. More important, Sorenstam's willingness to temper her competitive nature with experience suggests she can get better.
She is 32, just two years younger than Mickey Wright was when she quit playing full-time. Wright was the greatest women's player ever -- even Hogan called her swing the best he'd ever seen -- but she was effectively off the LPGA Tour by 1969, no longer up to the burden of carrying the flag for an entire sport.
Since then, Nancy Lopez and a few others have taken it up. Now it's Sorenstam's turn. There will be a woman playing regularly on the PGA Tour someday, and while it won't be her, chances are good Sorenstam will have a good view of the moment from where she planted the flag.
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.”