Hometown Boy Leads MTS Classic

By Marty HenwoodJuly 10, 2003, 4:00 pm
Canadian Tour-LargeWINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Dean North of Winnipeg used the hometown edge to his advantage Thursday to take the lead after the opening round of the Canadian Tours MTS Classic.
 
With scoring conditions almost ideal at Pine Ridge GC, North opened with an 8-under 63, one shot off the course record, to lead Brett Bingham by one stroke. Americans Kyle Kovacs and Chris Wisler are at 6-under 65, while Michael Harris, Bryn Parry and Craig Taylor are three shots back.
 
On a day when the Pine Ridge record appeared ready to fall, North birdied No. 17 from 15 feet to get to 8-under and within one shot of the benchmark set by Wes Martin and later equalled by Mark Slawter during the final round of the 2001 Classic. But his tee shot on the final hole went right and found its way behind a tree, leaving North no choice but to loft it out and let the ball roll up to the edge of the green. He then chipped to within two feet before jarring the par putt.
 
Once I made that birdie on 17, I thought how great it would be to get my name added to the course record, admitted the 30-year-old, who spent two years teaching at Pine Ridge. Playing at home, I was a little nervous but I was able to keep my composure. Im not sure how Ill react to the crowds if they follow me (Friday), so well see. Ive tried to stay under the radar all week, but I guess I have thrown myself right into the bees nest.
 
With fellow Winnipeggers Rob McMillan, Todd Fanning and Canadian Golf Hall of Famer Dan Halldorson also in the starting field, North figured one of those three would be likeliest to be leading in his hometown. North didnt earn enough to keep his card following the 2001 season and didnt regain playing privileges until Fall Qualifying School last September. His best showing in 2003 is a T53rd at the Northern Ontario Open two weeks ago, but North figures there is no better place than Winnipeg to collect his biggest cheque of the year.
 
I played very well today -- my drives, my wedges, my putts were all working for me -- but there is still a long way to go. Today was almost a perfect day, but the teeth on this course seem to come out when the greens start rolling hard and fast. That may still be to come.
 
When a reporter asked him what would constitute a successful tournament this week, North was to the point.
 
I would deem it a success if I am standing over there holding a trophy Sunday, he said, motioning towards the 18th green.
 
Bingham has battled injuries for the past two seasons, causing him to miss several events. After winning Most Improved Canadian honors in 2000, it has been a couple of frustrating campaigns for the 28-year-old.
 
Its been brutal -- just when you think you are ready to get back into it, something else brings you down, said Bingham, who has been working on the mental approach to the game with fellow tour player and 1999 MTS Classic champion Neale Smith. Its been hard to get into any kind of rhythm, but in the past month and a half, Ive felt something good was going to happen. It looks like today it did.
 
During a 50-minute storm delay Thursday, Bingham went to the cozy confines of his Jeep and cranked up some heavy metal music waiting for play to resume. When the horn sounded to continue the opening round, he calmly rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt.
 
Kovacs almost added his name to a short-yet-distinguished list Thursday. Playing his final hole of the day, the 235-yard, par-3 ninth, the tour sophomore hit a 1-iron than rattled off the pin and rolled a foot from the cup. Since the course was opened way back in 1912, there have only been ten holes-in-one on No. 9, which features an uphill tee shot to a domed green. The first ace was recorded in 1948 and there wasnt another until 1990.
 
I hit that ball perfectly, and I was lucky enough to hit the pin, said Kovacs, who reeled off a string of four straight birdies midway through his round. Today I was fortunate to make a lot of long putts, and that last one was a gift. After hitting those four birdies in a row, I thought about going after (Jason) Bohns record (of eight straight), but that came to a screeching halt in a hurry.
 
Fan favorite McMillan carded a 68, while Halldorson came in with a 2-under 69. Playing as an amateur in 1996, McMillan thrilled Winnipeg when he became the last amateur to capture a Tour event, winning the Xerox Manitoba Open.
 
Its fun to be back here with all the support, said McMillan, who had a 16th place finish at last weeks Nationwide Tour CPGA Championship in suburban Toronto. Its really good to see Dean at the top of the leaderboard. Hes a great guy with a lot of talent, and that talent is starting to show. Ill come out tomorrow and focus on what I need to do. That is all I can control.
 
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    Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

    By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

    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.

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    Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

    By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

    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.”


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

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    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.”

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    Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

    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.


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “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.

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    Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

    By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

    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.


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “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.”