Duke Falls to the Number One Spot
People ask me all the time why I didn't stick with my first career move, professional golf. I usually tell them that it's because I found something that I could do better, but, in all honesty, I pretty much knew I didn't have that special something. What is that special something? I'm not talking about desire. That's a given. I'm talking about gifts from God. You know, like distance and incredible touch.
When did I know that I didn't have these things? In reality, I found out my senior year at Duke when I was grouped with Arizona's Annika Sorenstam in the second round of the 1991 NCAA Women's Championship. I was actually a co-leader of the tournament after the first day, but after a few holes of golf with Annika in round two, I began to fold like a cheap lawn chair. She was intimidating to say the least - as a freshman!
Annika hit it an average of 20 yards past me off the tee for starters and she never missed a green. She took a 7 iron to my 5 iron and that made all the difference on the par 3's. She made the game look easier than I had ever seen it played at my level. It was certainly a blow to my confidence and I was convinced that she was a sign of the times when it came to up and coming talent on the collegiate scene.
I was right. These days, NCAA product is powerful, especially at my alma mater, Duke University. From my freshman year until now, I've seen that program go from respectable to phenomenal and it's mostly in part to Head Coach Dan Brooks' excellent recruiting skills. Since my exit in 1991, names like Jenny Chuasiriporn (runner-up at the 1998 U.S. Women's Open as an amateur) and Beth Bauer have come and gone. These days, the team is sporting names like Candy Hanneman, Virada Nirapathpongporn and Leigh Anne Hardin.
These three players, along with a strong supporting cast took, the Lady Blue Devils from a number 2 preseason ranking to the top spot heading into the spring. Four team victories in the fall will do that. Nirapathpongporn and Hardin are freshmen and already have a win in the college ranks. They, like Annika, are learning what it's like to taste success early in their respective careers.
In 1999, while Chuasiriporn, Bauer and Hanneman were all on the team together, Duke won their first ever NCAA golf title. The only negative about it is that their victory has an asterisk beside it in the history books. The final round was cancelled with only a few holes to go because of torrential downpours. This year, they hope to win the title the good old-fashioned way and re-establish themselves as the best that the nation has to offer. I wish them luck and we all know success is when opportunity meets preparedness. They can do it.
Along with Duke, there are several teams to keep an eye on heading into the spring. Who knows, maybe your school is in the race. Be sure to check out the rankings and follow your favorite team. The next LPGA superstar could be waiting in the wings.
Twice winner Kizzire on missing U.S. Open: 'Fuel to my fire'
CROMWELL, Conn. – Based on recent form, there likely wasn’t a more decorated player watching last week’s U.S. Open from home than Patton Kizzire.
Kizzire is in the midst of a breakthrough season that has already included two wins: a maiden victory at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in November, and a marathon playoff triumph over James Hahn at the Sony Open in January. While those titles got him into the Masters and the PGA Championship, they didn’t mean an exemption to Shinnecock Hills.
Kizzire got as high as 51st in the world rankings after his win in Honolulu, but his game started to turn shortly thereafter. A T-12 finish at the WGC-Mexico Championship is his lone top-25 finish in 12 starts since his Sony victory, and he missed four straight cuts from the Masters to The Players Championship.
The U.S. Open grants exemptions to the top 60 in the world at two different cutoff points close to the tournament. But in the midst of a cold streak, Kizzire was 63rd and 65th at each of those deadlines. He attempted to earn a spot at sectional qualifying in Columbus, only to find that his score of 5 under was one shot too many.
“I guess just adding a little fuel to my fire, adding insult to injury,” Kizzire said. “Just to have narrowly missed several different ways of qualification was disappointing. But I just tried to spin it as a positive. I got two weeks off, and I did watch those guys struggle a little bit. I wasn’t struggling at home, we’ll just say that.”
Kizzire hopes to put the disappointment behind him this week at the Travelers Championship, where he finished T-53 a year ago. And while his pair of trophies didn’t get him a tee time last week – or guarantee him a berth in The Open next month – they put him in prime position to make the season-ending Tour Championship, which would mean spots in the first three majors of 2019.
The combination of two recent wins and a ranking outside the top 60 isn’t one that comes up often on Tour, but Kizzire maintains a balanced perspective as he looks to get back to playing the kind of golf that will ensure he doesn’t miss any more majors in the near future.
“If I would have played better in between the U.S. Open and my last win, I would have gotten in. So my play was the reason I wasn’t in,” Kizzire said. “You certainly could look at it and say, ‘This guy’s got two wins, he should be in.’ But I’m not making too much of it.”
Masters, Players and U.S. Open champs grouped at Travelers
CROMWELL, Conn. – Fresh off a second straight U.S. Open victory, Brooks Koepka is getting right back to work at the Travelers Championship.
Koepka has stood by his commitment to tee it up at TPC River Highlands, becoming the first U.S. Open champ to play the following week on the PGA Tour since Justin Rose played the Travelers after his 2013 win at Merion. Koepka will play the first two rounds alongside Masters champ Patrick Reed and Webb Simpson, who captured The Players Championship last month.
Here’s a look at some of the other marquee, early-round groupings for a star-studded field outside Hartford (all times ET):
7:50 a.m. Thursday, 12:50 p.m. Friday: Jason Day, Xander Schauffele, Daniel Berger
Day is making his second straight Travelers appearance, having missed the cut both last year in Cromwell and last week at Shinnecock Hills. He’ll be joined by reigning Rookie of the Year Schauffele and Berger, who took home ROY honors in 2015 and last year was on the losing end of Jordan Spieth’s playoff dramatics at this event.
8 a.m. Thursday, 1 p.m. Friday: Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson
Koepka is making his third tournament appearance overall, but his first since a T-9 finish in 2016, before he had either of his two U.S. Open trophies. Reed has become a regular at this event and enters off a fourth-place showing on Long Island, while Simpson cruised to victory last month at TPC Sawgrass and tied for 10th last week.
12:50 p.m. Thursday, 7:50 a.m. Friday: Jordan Spieth, Marc Leishman, Russell Knox
This was the tournament that turned things around last year for Spieth, who took home the title in his debut thanks to one of the most dramatic shots of the year in a playoff against Berger. He’ll start his title defense alongside a pair of past champs, as Leishman won here for his first Tour title back in 2012 and Knox was a winner two years ago when the tournament was played in August.
1 p.m. Thursday, 8 a.m. Friday: Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas
This group should get plenty of attention in the early rounds, with Thomas entering as the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 2 and joined a pair of players who will launch drives all across TPC River Highlands. Watson has feasted on this layout, winning in both 2010 and 2015 among five top-10 finishes, while McIlroy tied for 17th last year in his tournament debut but missed the cut last week at Shinnecock.
Travelers Championship: Tee times, TV schedule, stats
There will be plenty of star power this week in Hartford as the PGA Tour moves north for the Travelers Championship. Here is the key info for this week's event.
How to watch:
Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3:30-6:30PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3:30-6:30PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.
Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.
Purse: $7 million
Course: TPC River Highlands (par 70, 6,841 yards)
Defending champion: Jordan Spieth. Defeated Daniel Berger with a birdie on the first playoff hole.
Notables in the field
• Missed last two cuts (the Memorial, U.S. Open) entering this week
• 188th on PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting (4th in strokes gained: tee to green)
• Only player to win Travelers Championship back-to-back: Phil Mickelson (2001-02)
• Making third career start in Travelers Championship (last start: T-9 in 2016)
• First player to play Travelers week after U.S. Open win since 2013 (Justin Rose)
• First player to win U.S. Open back-to-back since 1988-89 (Curtis Strange)
• Fifth career start in this event (MC, T-3, MC last three years)
• Second on PGA Tour this season in strokes gained: tee to green (+1.49)
• Second career start in Travelers Championship (T-17 last year)
• Missed cut last week at U.S. Open (shot 80 in opening round)
• Fourth career start in Travelers Championship (best finish: T-18 in 2014)
• Leads PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting this season
• Earned second-most world ranking points of any player in 2018
• Finished fourth at U.S. Open last week (three shots behind Koepka)
Day 'disappointed' in USGA's handling of course, Phil
CROMWELL, Conn. – Jason Day had the weekend off following a missed cut at the U.S. Open, but that didn’t prevent the Aussie from keeping an eye on all the drama that unfolded at Shinnecock Hills.
The former world No. 1 found it “disappointing,” – with “it” being both the deterioration of a major championship setup and the fallout from Phil Mickelson’s putter slap during the third round.
Day is hoping to bounce back from an early exit at this week’s Travelers Championship, but before turning his attention to TPC River Highlands he shared that the brunt of his disappointment stemmed from the USGA’s inability to keep Shinnecock playable during the third round and their subsequent decision to water it down for the tournament’s conclusion.
“It’s more the course, about how they set it up. Because Saturday was a total, it was like two different golf courses, practically, on the greens Saturday versus Sunday,” Day said. “I just wish they would leave it alone and just let it go. Not saying to let the greens go and let them dry out and make it unfair, I’m just saying plan accordingly and hopefully whatever the score finishes, it finishes, whether it’s under par or over par.”
But Day’s frustration also tied back to Mickelson’s head-turning decision to hit a moving ball on the 13th green during the third round, and the USGA’s subsequent ruling that the actions merited a two-shot penalty but not a disqualification.
“It’s obviously disappointing to see what Phil did,” he said. “I think a lot of people have mixed reviews about what he did.”
USGA officials explained over the weekend that Mickelson’s actions explicitly fell under Rule 14-5, which called for a two-shot addition and turned his score of 8 into a 10, rather than Rule 1-2 or Rule 33-7 that could have resulted in disqualification for a “serious breach” of the rules.
Day felt it was unfortunate that all of Saturday’s drama deflected attention from a world-class performance from Brooks Koepka en route to a successful title defense, but when it comes to the handling of the Mickelson controversy he believes the USGA could have made good use of a mulligan.
“It’s just unfortunate that it happened at the USGA’s tournament, where they enforce the rules, like the R&A. And I think they may have, they probably should have enforced a different outcome for Phil,” Day said. “But it is what it is. It’s done. It’s just disappointing that that is overshadowing the winner of the whole week. I think if they had it back again, they may have chosen a different outcome.”