Feel the Pressure

By Mercer BaggsJune 26, 2005, 4:00 pm
2005 U.S. WomenWhen the LPGA Tour says, These Girls Rock! they really mean it. The message itself is subjective. But what really jumps out is the subject of the message.
In the end, it wasnt a girl who won this week, but a young woman. Still, it was girls, not women, who dominated the landscape of the 60th U.S. Womens Open.
Annika Sorenstam
Annika Sorenstam could feel the pressure in her bid to win the third leg of the Grand Slam.
There were 18 teenagers in the field at Cherry Hills. By comparison, there were none at Pinehurst for the men's Open. Such a discrepancy can only lead to one question: Why do kids, or young adults, fare so very well in womens professional golf as opposed to mens professional golf?
That one question can produce a variety of answers. It could be biological ' that girls physically develop faster than boys. It could be that the depth of talent in the mens game is far greater than it is on the womens side.
Maybe its a bit of both. Maybe its something altogether different. Whatever the reason, or reasons, Im probably not qualified to debate the social and professional well-beings between boys and girls.
But there is one thing I do know. One thing that was as much a storyline this week as was the teeny-bopper explosion. That one thing would be: pressure.
We all know pressure. Weve all experienced it on some level, to some degree.
I feel it just writing this, trying to make a self-imposed deadline. The mind starts to shut down a little, the muscles tighten, the words dont flow as freely.
Pressure is a parasite. It needs us to exist. It is entirely self-induced. We determine how long it lives and on how much of us it feeds.
Others can try and apply pressure to us, but it only attaches if we allow it to do so. If you dont care, it doesnt matter; hence no pressure.
But when you do care, you cant avoid it. Theres no way to deny it. When you want something so badly, you feel the pressure. It just means so much to you.
No one wanted to win this week more than Annika Sorenstam. And because of that, she dealt with the most pressure.
She just wanted it so damn much.
If golf was won week-to-week on ability alone, Sorenstam would never, ever lose an LPGA event. But there are other factors; and none of those factors factor more heavily in a major championship than pressure.
You think youre ready for it? 1973 U.S. Open champion Johnny Miller rhetorically questioned during the telecast. The Sunday of the U.S. Open is unlike any other (round). Its the ultimate gut-check.
And ' pardon the visual, but those figurative insides were strewn across the first few holes this Sunday.
Eight players led or were within two strokes of the lead to start the final round. Only two of them parred (Morgan Pressel and Angela Stanford) the opening hole. Karen Stupples, Birdie Kim and Young Jo bogeyed the first. Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer and Young Kim made double bogey.
Sorenstam started bogey-bogey, and in a dire effort to save her Slam, she just kept making more and more. The dream died in 296 strokes; 77 of which came on Sunday.
Lorena Ochoa entered the final round on the same number as Sorenstam (five back at 6 over), but was in a dissimilar situation.
After a stagnate start, Ochoa played the back nine nearly stress free. Nearly.
Well off the pace and without the burden of pressure, Ochoa birdied four holes from 10-16. That brought her to 3 over, and within one of the lead at the time. That also brought her a terrible amount of tension.
A birdie might have won her the tournament; so, too, just a par. But with all that pressure having jumped her all at once on the tee box, she took a divot the size of Guadalajara with her 3-wood and popped her tee shot into the lake.
I hate to use the word choke, Miller said soon thereafter. But thats what that was.
Ochoa made an ocho. It was just too much.
The pressure was too much for most everyone, not just Lorena and Annika.
Natalie Gulbis had a chance to post the clubhouse number at 5 over, but bogeyed the last. Brittany Lang, a 19-year-old amateur, had a chance to post 4 over, but did the same. The pressure of closing out a major championship ' and a very difficult finishing hole ' got the best of them.
Pressure reduced Michelle Wie from amateur superstar to a 15-year-old who couldnt make a 3-foot putt. The 54-hole co-leader turned in 42 and finished with an 82.
It got the better of Wie on Sunday. But not her playing companion.
No way should Birdie Kim have been able to handle this situation. She made three cuts in 20 starts in her rookie season in 2004. She had only one top-10 in 13 starts this year leading up to the Open.
Her name, which she recently changed from Ju-Yun Kim, was her only distinguishing feature.
Until now. Now, because of how very well she handled the pressure, she is more than just a girl ' young woman ' with a peculiar name. Shes forever a U.S. Open champion.
Pressel was the only other player to handle the pressure equally as admirably as Kim.
It looked like it was going to get the better of her, too. The tempestuous ' and ber-confident ' 17-year-old appeared ready to implode after bogeys on 4, 5 and 6 (she slapped her putter so hard after a poor shot at the fifth, it almost recoiled into her face).
But somehow she composed herself and made only two more bogeys the rest of the round.
She didnt win, but Pressel, the Annika Sorenstam of junior golf, handled the self-examination ' and the pressure ' better than did everyone else not named Birdie Kim. And that includes Michelle Wie. That will only give ammunition to those who feel Wie must first learn how to win before she wins.
But weve already touched on two topics; well save that one for another time.
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
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    Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum

    By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 2:24 am

    SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.

    Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.

    ''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.

    Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.

    ''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''

    Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

    Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.

    Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

    Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

    Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.

    He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.

    ''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''

    Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.

    ''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''

    Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.

    Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.

    But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.

    ''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''

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    LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1

    By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 1:53 am

    LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.

    Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

    Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.

    Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.

    ''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''

    That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.

    ''Too many,'' Park said.

    The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.

    ''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''

    The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.

    Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.

    Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

    Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.

    Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.

    ''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''

    Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.

    She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.

    ''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''

    ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.

    Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.

    Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.

    The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.

    Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.

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    Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero

    By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 12:32 am

    Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

    While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."

    The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.

    "I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."

    Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.

    With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.

    "Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."

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    Three years later, PXG launches new iron

    By Golf Channel DigitalApril 19, 2018, 11:22 pm

    Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.

    “Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”

    PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.

    The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.

    Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit www.pxg.com.