The Leap

By Jason SobelJanuary 4, 2012, 5:42 pm

The question always comes up this time of year from fans inquiring about the Next Big Thing to hit the scene.

“Which golfers are going to step it up this year?”

The answer is always tricky, as it involves some amalgamation of big names reaching their potential, journeymen enjoying better performances and youngsters rapidly improving.

As such, I have devised this annual column called The Leap. Its premise is simple: I predict 10 players who will fare better this upcoming season, establishing themselves as part of a higher tier of competitor.

Last year – like all years – was hit and miss. Jason Day did indeed become a top-10 player, and it could be argued that Charl Schwartzel and Thorbjorn Olesen should have earned Rookie of the Year honors on their respective tours. Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for Paul Casey to claim a major championship, Fredrik Andersson-Hed to reach the top 10 in Europe and singular-named-sensation Siddikur to jump into the world’s top 100.

This year’s list is sure to have a few more hits and misses. We’ll find out which is which as the 2012 campaign unfolds starting this week. (Click here to view photo gallery)

Sergio Garcia

The Leap: Major champion

No, this section of the column wasn’t accidentally reprinted from a 1999 edition – but it could have been. Garcia seemed destined for many majors early in his career, but 13 years after his rally around Medinah, he’s still seeking that breakthrough win.

It’s finally coming this year. Always one of the game’s best players tee to green, Garcia’s putting has come around recently, as evidenced by his two late-season European Tour victories. More importantly, he’s now in the right frame of mind. No longer the petulant, scowling brat on the course, he appears to have found an inner peace and renewed confidence in himself and energy toward finding success.

Coming off a year in which he made the cut at all four majors and finished 12th or better in the final three, Garcia is primed to claim that elusive hardware. It’s been a long time coming.

Justin Rose

The Leap: Major championship contender

I know what you’re thinking: “This isn’t a leap. He’s already contended.”

True. Rose was T-4 at the Open Championship as a 17-year-old amateur in 1998, but he’s failed to match that mark in 30 subsequent major championship appearances as a professional. That all changes this year. Rose has matured into a player capable of finding his name high on a major leaderboard deep into a Sunday afternoon.

Can he win one? Absolutely. One of the best things about his game is that it’s suited for any of the majors. Will he win one? Maybe not this year, but he’ll be in serious contention for at least one or two of them.

Gary Woodland

The Leap: Top 10 in OWGR

“It” can’t be explained. Certain athletes have “it” – that special something that separates them from the pack. Woodland has “it.”

The former college hoopster exudes confidence on the course. Not cockiness, but the inner knowledge that he owns as much talent as anyone and can put it all together at any moment. Those moments will come early and often this year. Coming off a season in which he posted a half dozen top-10s and won the Transitions Championship, the longest hitter on Tour is on the verge of superstardom.

He enters the season as No. 52 in the world, but we’ve seen how fluid and flexible those numbers can be. With a few healthy results, any player can make a big move in a hurry. Woodland will be one of those players this season.

Nicolas Colsaerts

The Leap: Top 25 in OWGR

Coming off a breakthrough European Tour season in which he won the Volvo China Open, made a run at the Volvo World Match Play Championship and finished top 10 in three other non-Volvo events, Colsaerts is starting to establish himself as an elite talent.

With a sturdy build that recalls Martin Kaymer, this Belgium native averaged 303 yards per drive in 2011 and hit more than three-quarters of his greens in regulation. He’ll really benefit from the rich-get-richer philosophy in today’s game. As he moves up in the world ranking, he’ll get into more big-time events – which in turn offer more world ranking points and will help move him even higher.

Starting the year at 72nd in the world, expect a move of some 50 spots by year’s end. It wouldn’t be the biggest leap in OWGR history by any means, but it would vault Colsearts into the upper echelon of pros.

Kyle Stanley

The Leap: Top 10 on PGA Tour money list

Perhaps the biggest leap of last season was made by Webb Simpson, who went from outside No. 200 in the world to 10th at year’s end after winning twice and finishing second on the money list.

Simpson was 25 at the beginning of last year; Stanley will be 24. Simpson was entering his third season; Stanley is entering his second. Simpson had six previous top-10 results; Stanley has four. And perhaps most importantly in this whole Lincoln-had-a-secretary-named-Kennedy coincidence is the fact that Simpson had former pro Paul Tesori on the bag, while Stanley will counter with Brett Waldman, who is coming off a full year on the Nationwide circuit.

Last year, Stanley made the cut in 22 of 28 starts and earned more than $1.5 million. Those numbers are only going to get better this year, as he continues his ascension toward becoming one of the better week-in, week-out players on the PGA Tour.

Jason Dufner

The Leap: Ryder Cup team member

Most fans know him for the ignominious distinction of blowing the PGA Championship down the stretch and succumbing to Keegan Bradley in a playoff. While it’s true that was his biggest headline-maker, Dufner is more than a one-hit – or one-mishit – wonder.

A solid ball striker with nerves of Teflon, he’s past due to earn his maiden PGA Tour victory this year. Not only will it happen, but with continued consistent play and guaranteed starts in each of the majors and WGC events, expect him to earn enough points to be playing for Davis Love III at Medinah later this year.

Spencer Levin

The Leap: PGA Tour tournament winner

Highly acclaimed as a top-ranked amateur, it’s taken Levin more time than expected to reach stardom in the big leagues. He may be on the verge, though.

In 2011, he finished in the top 25 in 13 of his 31 starts on the PGA Tour, with six top-10s and a playoff loss at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. He’s a fiery competitor and the type of guy who won’t falter in the spotlight when he’s in title contention. And it may come sooner rather than later. The West Coast kid typically plays some of his best golf in that part of the country over the season’s first two months.

Jason Kokrak

The Leap: PGA Tour Rookie of the Year

The PGA Tour freshmen class of 2011 may never again be duplicated. It included six winners who combined for seven titles, including a pair of major champions in Charl Schwartzel and Keegan Bradley.

It would be foolish to expect anything close to that from the 2012 crop of rookies, but that doesn’t mean the group is without talent. Noh Seung-Yul, Ted Potter, Jr. and Harris English will be among the success stories, but no one will fare better than Kokrak. A two-time winner on the Nationwide Tour last year, he was also the driving distance leader at a whopping 318.6 yards per drive. That type of length will translate well on the big tour this season.

Caroline Hedwall

The Leap: Top 10 in Rolex Rankings

It’s tough to figure which of the following was more unbelievable during the 2011 season: That this 22-year-old Swede would break through with four victories on the Ladies European Tour in her rookie campaign? Or that such a fruitful performance chart vaulted her to only 37th on the year-end Rolex Rankings?

Whatever the case, Hedwall should only continue to find more prosperity this year, while that quartet of titles remains on her ledger. You don’t have to understand how the ranking works to realize that adding on to such totals will only heighten her profile. Expect more wins for the super sophomore – and enough strong results to boost her into the world’s top 10 by year’s end.

Branden Grace

The Leap: European Tour tournament winner

If there’s one stat which shows the true potential of this 23-year-old from South Africa, it’s his scoring average, which last season ranked ninth on the Euro circuit, behind only a bevy of household names.

Granted, that number came in limited action, but this year should be different. Grace finished T10 at Q-School to secure his playing privileges. With additional appearances should come additional opportunities to find success. He already owns a victory on the Sunshine Tour at a young age. He’s ready to take the next big step on a bigger tour this year.

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With baby on the way, Piller WDs from Zurich

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 2:45 pm

AVONDALE, La. – With wife Gerina set to give birth to their first child, Martin Piller figured he’d need to check his phone every few holes at the Zurich Classic.

He didn’t even make it that far.

Piller withdrew before the start of the first round Thursday.

Piller’s partner, Joel Dahmen, who only got into the field because of Piller’s status as the team’s A player, was allowed to remain in the event.

Piller was replaced in the field by Denny McCarthy. The new team of McCarthy-Dahmen will tee off at 2:36 p.m. ET.

The format change at the Zurich should make things easier for the new teammates. The first round is now best ball, not alternate shot.

The only event that Gerina, a three-time U.S. Solheim Cupper, has played this season was the Diamond Resorts Invitational in January. The couple’s baby was due May 3, and she said that she plans to take off the entire year.

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China's Jin (64) leads by one in Beijing

By Associated PressApril 26, 2018, 12:28 pm

BEIJING – Daxing Jin took a one-stroke lead at the China Open after shooting an 8-under 64 Thursday in the first round.

Jin's bogey-free round at the Topwin Golf and Country Club included six birdies and an eagle on the par-5 eighth. The 25-year-old Jin is playing in only his eighth European Tour event and has made the cut only once.

Matt Wallace (65) had an eagle-birdie finish to move into a tie for second with Nino Bertasio, who also produced a bogey-free round. Alexander Bjork and Scott Vincent (66) were a further stroke back.

Defending champion Alexander Levy, who won last week's Trophee Hassan II in Morocco, is in a large group five shots off the lead at 3 under.

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Putting prepared Park's path back to No. 1

By Randall MellApril 26, 2018, 12:13 am

Inbee Park brings more than her unshakably tranquil demeanor back to the top of the Rolex Women’s World Rankings this week.

She brings more than her Olympic gold medal and seven major championships to the Mediheal Championship on the outskirts of San Francisco.

She brings a jarring combination of gentleness and ruthlessness back to the top of the rankings.

Park may look as if she could play the role of Mother Teresa on some goodwill tour, but that isn’t what her opponents see when she’s wielding her Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball mallet.

She’s like Mother Teresa with Lizzy Borden’s axe.

When Park gets on one of her rolls with the putter, she scares the hell out of the rest of the tour.

At her best, Park is the most intimidating player in women’s golf today.

“Inbee makes more 20- and 30-footers on a regular basis than anyone I know,” seven-time major championship winner Karrie Webb said.

All those long putts Park can hole give her an aura more formidable than any power player in the women’s game.

“A good putter is more intimidating than someone who knocks it out there 280 yards,” Webb said “Even if Inbee misses a green, you know she can hole a putt from anywhere. It puts more pressure on your putter knowing you’re playing with someone who is probably going to make them all.”

Park, by the way, said Webb and Ai Miyazato were huge influences on her putting. She studied them when she was coming up on tour.

Webb, though, believes there’s something internal separating Park. It isn’t just Park’s ability to hole putts that makes her so intimidating. It’s the way she carries herself on the greens.

“She never gets ruffled,” Webb said. “She says she gets nervous, but you never see a change in her. If you’re going toe to toe with her, that’s what is intimidating. Even if you’re rolling in putts on top of her, it doesn’t seem to bother her. She’s definitely a player you have to try not to pay attention to when you’re paired with her, because you can get caught up in that.”

Full-field scores from the LPGA Mediheal Championship

Park has led the LPGA in putts per greens in regulation five of the last 10 years.

Brad Beecher has been on Park’s bag for more than a decade, back before she won her first major, the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open. He has witnessed the effect Park can have on players when she starts rolling in one long putt after another.

“You have those times when she’ll hole a couple long putts early, and you just know, it’s going to be one of those days,” Beecher said. “Players look at me like, `Does she ever miss?’ or `How am I going to beat this?’ You see players in awe of it sometimes.”

Park, 29, won in her second start of 2018, after taking seven months off with a back injury. In six starts this year, she has a victory, two ties for second-place and a tie for third. She ended Shanshan Feng’s 23-week run at No. 1 with a tie for second at the Hugel-JTBC LA Open last weekend.

What ought to disturb fellow tour pros is that Park believes her ball striking has been carrying her this year. She’s still waiting for her putter to heat up. She is frustrated with her flat stick, even though she ranks second in putts per greens in regulation this season.

“Inbee Park is one of the best putters ever,” said LPGA Hall of Famer Sandra Haynie, a 42-time LPGA winner. “She’s dangerous on the greens.”

Haynie said she would rank Park with Kathy Whitworth, Mickey Wright and Nancy Lopez as the best putters she ever saw.

Hall of Famer Joanne Carner says Park is the best putter she has seen since Lopez.

“I thought Nancy was a great putter,” Carner said. “Inbee is even better.”

Park uses a left-hand low grip, with a mostly shoulder move and quiet hands.

Lopez used a conventional grip, interlocking, with her right index finger down the shaft. She had a more handsy stroke than Park.

Like Lopez, Park prefers a mallet-style putter, and she doesn’t switch putters much. She is currently playing with an Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball putter. She won the gold medal with it two years ago. She used an Oddysey White Ice Sabertooth winged mallet when she won three majors in a row in 2013.

Lopez hit the LPGA as a rookie in 1978 with a Ray Cook M1 mallet putter and used it for 20 years. It’s in the World Golf Hall of Fame today.

“I watch Inbee, and I think, `Wow, that’s how I used to putt,’” Lopez said. “You can see she’s not mechanical at all. So many players today are mechanical. They forget if you just look at the hole and stroke it, you’re going to make more putts.”

Notably, Park has never had a putting coach, not really. Her husband and swing coach, Gi Hyeob Nam, will look at her stroke when she asks for help.

“When I’m putting, I’m concentrating on the read and mostly my speed,” Park said. “I don’t think mechanically about my stroke at all, unless I think there’s something wrong with it, and then I’ll have my husband take a look. But, really, I rely on my feel. I don’t think about my stroke when I’m out there playing.”

Hall of Famer Judy Rankin says Park’s remarkably consistent speed is a key to her putting.

“Inbee is definitely a feel putter, and her speed is so consistent, all the time,” Rankin said. “You have to assume she’s a great green reader.”

Beecher says Park’s ability to read greens is a gift. She doesn’t rely on him for that. She reads greens herself.

“I think what impresses me most is Inbee has a natural stroke,” Beecher said. “There’s nothing too technical. It’s more straight through and straight back, but I think the key element of the stroke is that she keeps the putter so close to the ground, all the time, on the takeaway and the follow-through. It helps with the roll and with consistency.”

Park said that’s one of her fundamentals.

“I keep it low, almost like I’m hitting the ground,” Park said. “When I don’t do that, I miss more putts.”

Beecher believes the real reason Park putts so well is that the putter brought her into the game. It’s how she got started, with her father, Gun Gyu Park, putting the club in her hands as a child. She loved putting on her own.

“That’s how she fell in love with the game,” Beecher said. “Getting started that way, it’s played a huge role in her career.”

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Teams announced for NCAA DI women's regionals

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 25, 2018, 10:50 pm

Seventy-two teams and an additional 24 individuals were announced Wednesday as being selected to compete in the NCAA Division I women's regionals, May 7-9.

Each of the four regional sites will consist of 18 teams and an extra six individual players, whose teams were not selected. The low six teams and low three individuals will advance to the NCAA Championship, May 18-23, hosted by Oklahoma State at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

The four regional sites include Don Veller Seminole Golf Course & Club in Tallahassee, Fla., hosted by Florida State; UT Golf Club in Austin, Texas, hosted by the University of Texas; University Ridge Golf Course in Madison, Wis., hosted by the University of Wisconsin; TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, Calif., hosted by Stanford University.

Arkansas, Duke, UCLA and Alabama are the top seeds in their respective regionals. Arizona State, the third seed in the Madison regional, is the women's defending champion. Here's a look at the regional breakdown, along with teams and players:

Austin Regional Madison Regional San Francisco Regional Tallahassee Regional
Arkansas Duke UCLA Alabama
Texas USC Stanford Furman
Michigan State Arizona State South Carolina Arizona
Florida Northwestern Kent State Washington
Auburn Illinois Oklahoma State Wake Forest
Oklahoma Purdue North Carolina Vanderbilt
Houston Iowa State Colorado Florida State
Miami (Fla.) Virginia Louisville Clemson
Baylor Wisconsin N.C. State Georgia
Texas A&M Campbell Mississippi Tennessee
BYU Ohio State Cal UNLV
East Carolina Notre Dame San Diego State Kennesaw State
Texas Tech Old Dominion Pepperdine Denver
Virginia Tech Oregon State Oregon Coastal Carolina
UTSA Idaho Long Beach State Missouri
Georgetown Murray State Grand Canyon Charleston
Houston Baptist North Dakota State Princeton Richmond
Missouri State IUPUI Farleigh Dickinson Albany
Brigitte Dunne (SMU) Connie Jaffrey (Kansas State) Alivia Brown (Washington State) Hee Ying Loy (E. Tennessee State)
Xiaolin Tian (Maryland) Pinyada Kuvanun (Toledo) Samantha Hutchinson (Cal-Davis) Claudia De Antonio (LSU)
Greta Bruner (TCU) Pun Chanachai (New Mexico State) Ingrid Gutierrez (New Mexico) Fernanda Lira (Central Arkansas)
Katrina Prendergast (Colorado State) Elsa Moberly (Eastern Kentucky) Abegail Arevalo (San Jose State) Emma Svensson (Central Arkansas)
Ellen Secor (Colorado State) Erin Harper (Indiana) Darian Zachek (New Mexico) Valentina Giraldo (Jacksonville State)
Faith Summers (SMU) Cara Basso (Penn State) Christine Danielsson (Cal-Davis) Kaeli Jones (UCF)