After three wins in a row, Jutanugarn eyes a major

By Randall MellMay 30, 2016, 2:23 am

Ariya Jutanugarn is radiating with confidence she seemed to have completely lost just a year ago.

With her victory Sunday at the Volvik Championship, Jutanugarn made history, becoming the first player to make her first three LPGA titles consecutive victories.

Jutanugarn, 20, blew away the field on the back nine at Travis Pointe Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich., to win in a five-shot rout.

“Ariya is very difficult to describe,” said Christina Kim, who finished second. “There really hasn't been a player like her, honestly, in my generation. The way that she just powers the ball, it's remarkable. She's got such imagination around the golf course and incredible touch. It’s really, really cool to see how far she's come.”

Jutanugarn is the first player to win three LPGA titles in a row since Inbee Park did so in 2013.

“She’s going to be unstoppable,” Kim said.

At this time a year ago, Jutanugarn was mired in a rookie slump that would see her miss 10 consecutive cuts. With Sunday’s victory, she climbed to No. 10 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Just a little more than a month ago, Jutanugarn was two shots ahead with three holes to go at the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship. She blew the lead, bogeying all three holes to lose to Lydia Ko. The championship ended with Jutanugarn snap-hooking her final drive into the water.

Now Jutanugarn’s aiming to make her fourth consecutive victory a major.

After taking this next week off, Jutanugarn will head to Seattle to tee it up at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Sahalee.

“I badly want to win my first major,” Jutanugarn said.

Oddsmakers just may make Jutanugarn the betting favorite with Ko there. On Sunday in Michigan, Jutanugarn closed out with a bogey-free 5-under-par 67. She pulled away on the back nine making four birdies over a five-hole stretch.

“I’m speechless,” said Jessica Korda, who trailed Jutanugarn by just one shot starting the final round. “That was amazing.”

Jutanugarn was a teen phenom from Thailand who struggled to return from surgery after tearing the labrum in her right shoulder in the summer of 2013, but there’s more to her rebound than that the return of physical skill.

“Getting more and more confident,” Jutanugarn said.

Kim remembers talking to Jutanugarn amid the rookie’s run of 10 consecutive missed cuts last year.

“She was really, really distraught,” Kim said. “I was like, `If you had any idea how good of a golfer you are . . . It’s unbelievable.”

Jutanugarn admitted fighting nerves losing the ANA Inspiration. Her collapse at Mission Hills added to questions about her ability to close out leads. Three years before that she blew a chance to win her first LPGA title at the Honda event in Thailand in equally heartbreaking fashion. She took a two-shot lead to the final hole there, but she watched her homeland wince and groan, instead. She made triple bogey and lost to Inbee Park.

While Jutanugarn battled nerves closing out the Yokohama Classic and Kingsmill Championship earlier this month, she didn’t betray any Sunday in Michigan.

“She looked bored,” Korda said. “She sat down on the 16th tee and 18th tee, chilling in the shade, told me to come sit down next to her, like we were having a picnic.”

Gary Gilchrist, who began coaching Jutanugarn early this year, said he was most impressed with Jutanugarn’s demeanor.

“It was watching how composed she was,” Gilchrist said. “We talked this week about how everyone gets nervous, and I told her if she started feeling stress today, she should just smile and get on with it. A smile relaxes the body.”

Jutanugarn has struggled with her driver this year, but it wasn’t an issue. She hit 3-woods and 2-irons off the tee boxes all week at Travis Pointe. She kept the ball low in the wind Sunday, hitting stingers.

“She was hitting that three-quarter shot,” Gilchrist said. “She has a strong 3-wood and can hit shots with such a penetrating trajectory, where the ball runs 30 yards. It helps to have a shot to go to like that under pressure.”

Jutanugarn joins a growing cast of young stars. With the LPGA calendar turning to June, nobody older than 23 has won a tour title this year.

“It’s an exciting time for the LPGA,” Kim said. 

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Lincicome grouped with two rookies in Barbasol

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 17, 2018, 9:54 pm

Brittany Lincicome will tee it up with a pair of rookies when she makes her first start in a PGA Tour event Thursday at the Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, is scheduled to go off the 10th tee at 9:59 a.m. ET in the first round with Sam Ryder, 28, and Conrad Shindler, 29. They’re off the first tee Friday at 2:59 p.m. ET

Lincicome will become just the sixth woman to play in a PGA Tour event, joining Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie.

“The first three or four holes, I’ll be a nervous wreck, for sure,” Linicome said.



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Lincicome thrilled by reception from male pros

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 8:31 pm

Brittany Lincicome wondered how PGA Tour pros would greet her when she arrived to play the Barbasol Championship this week.

She wondered if there would be resentment.

She also wondered how fans at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky., would receive her, and if a social media mob would take up pitchforks.

“I can’t stop smiling,” Lincicome said Tuesday after her first practice round upon arriving. “Everyone has been coming up to me and wishing me luck. That means a lot.”

PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, husband of LPGA pro Gerina Piller, welcomed her immediately.

Other pros sought her out on the practice putting green.

She said she was also welcomed joining pros at a table in player dining.

Fans have been stopping her for autographs.

“It has been an awesome reception,” said Dewald Gouws, her husband, a former long-drive competitor. “I think it’s put her much more at ease, seeing the reception she is getting. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”

Lincicome, 32, wasn’t sure if she would be playing a practice round alone Tuesday morning, but when she made her way to the first tee, Domenico Geminiani was there, just about to go off.

He waved Lincicome over.

“He said, `Hey, Brittany, do you want to join me?’” Gouws said. “Come to find out, Dom’s a pretty cool guy.”

Geminiani made it into the field as a Monday qualifier.

“The two of us were both trying to figure things out together,” Lincicome said.

Keene Trace will play to 7,328 yards on the scorecard. That’s more than 800 yards longer than Highland Meadows, where Lincicome finished second at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic last weekend. Keene Trace was playing even longer than its listed yardage Tuesday, with recent rains softening it.

Nicknamed “Bam Bam,” Lincicome is one of the longest hitters in the women’s game. Her 269.5 yard average drive is 10th in the LPGA ranks. It would likely be dead last on the PGA Tour, where Brian Stuard (278.2) is the last player on the stats list at No. 201.

“I think if I keep it in the fairway, I’ll be all right,” Lincicome said.

Lincicome is an eight-time LPGA winner, with two major championships among those titles. She is just the sixth woman to compete in a PGA Tour event, the first in a decade, since Michelle Wie played the Reno-Tahoe Open, the last of her eight starts against the men.

Lincicome will join Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Wie in the elite ranks.

Zaharias, by the way, is the only woman to make a 36-hole cut in PGA Tour history, making it at the 1945 L.A. Open before missing a 54-hole cut on the weekend.

What are Lincicome’s expectations?

She would love to make the cut, but . . .

“Just going to roll with it and see what happens,” she said. “This is once in a lifetime, probably a one-and-done opportunity. I’m just going to enjoy it.”

Lincicome grew up playing for the boys’ golf team at Seminole High on the west coast of Florida. She won a couple city championships.

“I always thought it would be cool to compete against the guys on the PGA Tour,” Lincicome said. “I tend to play more with the guys than women at home. I never would have gone out and told my agent, `Let’s go try to play in a PGA Tour event,’ but when Tom Murray called with this opportunity, I was really blown away and excited by it. I never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.”

Tom Murray, the president of Perio, the parent company of Barbasol and Pure Silk, invited Lincicome to accept one of the tournament’s sponsor exemptions. Lincicome represents Pure Silk.

Lincicome said her desire to play a PGA Tour event is all about satisfying her curiosity, wanting to know how she would stack up at this level. She also wants to see if the experience can help take her to the next level in the women’s game.

As a girl growing up, she played Little League with the boys, instead of softball with the girls. She said playing the boys in golf at Seminole High helped her get where she is today.

“The guys were better, and it pushed me to want to be better,” Lincicome said. “I think playing with the guys [on the PGA Tour], I will learn something to take to LPGA events, and it will help my game, for sure.”

Lincicome has been pleased that her fellow LPGA pros are so supportive. LPGA winner Kris Tamulis is flying into Kentucky as moral support. Other LPGA pros may also be coming in to support her.

The warm fan reception Lincicome is already getting at Keene Trace matters, too.

“She’s already picked up some new fans this week, and hopefully she will pick up some more,” Gouws said. “I don’t think she’s putting too much expectation on herself. I think she really does just want to have fun.”

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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

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

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.”