Lets Look Ahead Shall We
First the COULD:
We could start off the year at the Mercedes Championships with a Tiger Woods vs. Vijay Singh battle royale, a la Tiger and Ernie Els a few years back. Wouldnt that be special and wouldnt that get our minds racing towards Augusta in a hurry.
We could just as likely see Stuart Appleby win at Kapalua for the third straight year and kick-start another season where all the 'name players' are ready to win and win early.
Could we see Phil Mickelson get off to a similar start as he produced in 2005? Remember the quick victories and the buzz about a Big 4, which led to the showdown at Doral and the Ford Championship?
We could see Ernie Els return to health and form in short order, which would be great for the PGA Tour and fans of dominance by the superstars. Many seem to think that time off has not only healed Ernies knee but also his mind and the motivation could be stronger than ever. Well see.
It seems to be popular thinking that we could see the very best of Jim Furyk in 2006, which might just lead to a major or two and a handful of victories. The Nedbank Challenge was a mighty victory. On the range here at Sherwood Country Club, Furyk (who flew straight from South Africa) is as happy as can be about things and echoed the thoughts about a big 2006.
We could very well see Colin Montgomerie get that first victory in the States. His game is in fine form and suddely he's gone from the man fans love to jeer to the man fans love to cheer. Imagine that first victory coming at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Monty's major in New York?? C'mon, tell me I'm dreaming.
We could see Chris DiMarco land the big victory in 2006, though he admitted on the 'Sprint Pre-Game' on Wednesday that winning a major wasnt at the top of his goal list for the coming year. 'Ive got 12 tournaments before the first major and thats where my focus is,' DiMarco said. Interesting thought, but you can understand that at this point hed take any victory to get the ball rolling.
On the ladies' side, we could very well see Ai Miyazato walk away with more majors in 2006 than Annika Sorenstam. Shes that good. And to hear it from TGCs Japanese reporters and commentators ' shes a bigger star than Ichiro (Seattle Mariners) or Hideki (New York Yankees) in her country. Six wins on the Japan LPGA means she arrives with a winning background. Look out Annika -- and Paula, you, too.
Now the SHOULD:
We should see a better putting performance by Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia in 2006. These two guys are among the best sharpshooters the game has seen from the fairways. But putting the ball close to the hole in 2006 wont be good enough and it sure wasnt the case in 2005. If they can improve the putting numbers, you should see each man win a major in 2006.
We should see Tiger take it to an even greater level, which is scary. On the range this week he admitted to being tired from 'hitting a lot of golf balls in 2005.' I responded with, 'a lot of good ones.' He followed that quickly with, 'not enough.' And that tells me all I need to know. Woods has been grinding on a new swing that produced six wins and two majors in 2005. Eclipsing the six victories is certainly possible, the two majors will be tougher. But we should see improvement ' and we should see him make every cut.
We should see a better season from the Nationwide Tour graduates than we saw in 2005. The number of Nationwide Tour stars to keep their cards was down, but this years class of 21 has some star potential in the form of Troy Matteson, Camilo Villegas, Steven Bowditch and Jon Mills. Add Q-school grad Bill Haas, who played the 2005 season on the Nationwide Tour, to the mix and you have a chance to have some players not only keep their cards, but also collect some wins.
We should see even more progress from John Daly, whose career seems to be back on level footing. Daly has come a long way in the last few years. No longer just the crowd pleaser, hes once again a contender every time he tees it up. And wouldnt it be great if he was among the top 12 on the Ryder Cup points list come August?
We should see a tighter money list and a tighter race for Player of the Year on the LPGA. Creamer and Kerr and Gulbis and Kim and Miyazato will make it interesting. Annika won the money title this year by about a million dollars over Creamer. But keep in mind that instead of SHOULD we also COULD see Annika runaway again. She loves competition.
And finally the BETTER:
For this I have just one and Im hoping you can help me with the rest. Wed BETTER see a more competitive Ryder Cup than we saw in 2004. The United States won the Presidents Cup with the great putt by DiMarco and some interesting pairings. Woods found company in the form of Furyk and DiMarco found a friend in Mickelson. Whether we see that again is up to captain Tom Lehman. Be assured that Ian Woosnams team will be stacked, loaded and ready to successfully defend.
Happy Holidays and thanks for allowing me a few words each week during the year. As always, your thoughts are welcome.
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann
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.”
Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.
He picked up his clubs three times.
That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.
This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.
Not that he was concerned, of course.
Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.
“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”
At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.
“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”
Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.
Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.
“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”
Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.
In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.
That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.
“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.
“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.
Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”
So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.
Despite results, Thomas loves links golf
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.
Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.
Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.
“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”
Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.
He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.
“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.
“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”