Bunker Shots Lone Stars and Golf Trails

By Randall MellMay 11, 2010, 6:58 pm

Blasting into the week ahead as the PGA Tour migrates to the Lone Star State, and LPGA and Champions tours move to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail ... 

PGA Tour (75x100)


Valero Texas Open

The Texas Swing opens with Zach Johnson vying to join Arnold Palmer in the record books.

Johnson is seeking his third consecutive Valero Texas Open title. Since this tournament’s inception in 1922, Palmer’s the only player to win it three years in a row.

Justin Leonard’s also trying to make some history, but he’s aiming to overtake Palmer as the only player to win this event four times. Leonard won it in 2000, ’01 and ’07.

The tournament’s being played on a new venue, the TPC San Antonio’s AT&T Oaks Course, a Greg Norman design with Sergio Garcia as the player consultant. That explains Garcia’s appearance this week, his second at the event, his only other coming seven years ago.

Bunker Shot: Ernie Els is making a refreshing appearance. It’s refreshing because he’s a superstar taking his game to new territory at age 40. This marks the first time Els will tee it up in the Texas Open. Els needs to refresh the confidence he built winning the CA Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March. As high as he was in that run, Els was almost as low at the Masters, where his tie for 18th was deceiving. He beat himself up profusely for failing to take his best game to Augusta National, where he struggled with a third-round 75 to shoot himself out of the championship. Els seems to be battling a Masters’ hangover in his two starts since. He squandered a chance at the European Tour’s Ballantine’s Championship with a 74 on Saturday and missed the cut last week at The Players. With the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach five weeks away, Els has a great opportunity. He finished second the last time the U.S. Open was played at Pebble Beach and the guy who beat him there by 15 shots (Tiger Woods) isn’t certain to play next month with a neck injury. It’s an open door for Els.

Mell’s picks: Winner – Bo Van Pelt. Contender – Ernie Els. Darkorse – David Duval.

  • Course: TPC San Antonio’s AT&T Oaks Course in San Antonio, Texas. Par 72, 7,522 yards (Designed by Greg Norman with Sergio Garcia as player consultant, opened this year).
  • Purse: $6.1 million (winner’s share, $1,098,000).
  • TV times: Thursday-Friday, Golf Channel, 3-6 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, CBS, 3-6 p.m.
  • Last year: Zach Johnson shot 60 in the third round at LaCantera Golf Club but needed a playoff to beat James Driscoll, who came from eight back in the final round to force extra holes.

LPGA Tour _newLPGA

Bell Micro LPGA Classic

Life without Lorena Ochoa officially begins this week.

In the tour’s first event since Ochoa’s retirement took effect, the fight to succeed her as the LPGA’s next dominant player begins in earnest. All the tour’s big names will be there. Jiyai Shin, who overtook Ochoa as No. 1 last week, joins No. 2 Ai Miyazato, No. 3 Yani Tseng, No. 4 Suzann Pettersen and every player in the top 10 of this week’s Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. Ochoa’s name was removed from the rankings as she moves into inactive status.

Bunker shot: Morgan Pressel turned tables on the Asians last week. For a decade now, players from the Far East have crossed the American border and claimed LPGA victories. Pressel teed it up on the Japan LPGA Tour last week and left with the Salonpas Cup as champion. She was the only American in the event. Pressel jumped eight spots in the world rankings to No. 17 with her third professional title. Pressel isn’t a power player, but Miyazato’s showing you don’t have to overpower the competition to make a run at No. 1. Pressel appears poised to move her name in that mix.

Mell’s picks: Winner – Suzann Pettersen. Contender – Yani Tseng. Darkhorse – Brittany Lang.

  • Course: Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail’s Magnolia Grove (The Crossings course), Mobile, Ala. Par 72, 6,532 yards (Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and opened in 1992).
  • Purse: $1.3 million (winner’s share, $195,000)
  • TV times: Golf Channel, Thursday, 6:30-8:30 p.m.; Friday, noon-2 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 4-6 p.m.
  • Last year: Was not played last season.

2009 European TourEUROPEAN TOUR

Iberdrola Open Cala Millor Mallorca

Jose Maria Olazabal, sidelined while battling rheumatism, makes a cameo this week.

Olazabal will play the pro-am on Wednesday. The last of the Spaniard’s 23 European Tour victories came here in 2005. The two-time Masters champ is sure to get an enthusiastic reception on his native soil. Olazabal was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame last year.

Bunker shot: The Iberdrola Open is the last warmup before the BMW Championship next week in Wentworth. Paul Casey is scheduled to return to defend his title at Wentworth. Ernie Els, Rory McIrloy, Padraig Harrington and Martin Kaymer are committed to one of the strongest fields of the year in Europe. Ryder Cup jockeying begins in earnest with players stepping up bids to make what’s looking to be a powerhouse European squad. The Euros will be favored when the matches are played at Celtic Manor in Wales in October.

Mell’s picks: Winner – Soren Hansen. Contender – Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Darkhorse – Chris Wood.

  • Course: Pula Golf Club, Son Servera, Mallorca, Spain. Par 70, 6,808 yards (Designed by Jose Maria Olazabal).
  • Purse: 800,000 euros (winner’s share, 133,330 euros)
  • TV times: Golf Channel, Thursday-Friday, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 8:30-11:30 a.m.
  • Last year: Inaugural year.

Regions Classic

Bernhard Langer gets a chance to make up ground on Fred Couples in the Charles Schwab Cup race.

Langer’s in the field with Couples taking time off after a six-week stretch bouncing back and forth from the Champions Tour to the PGA Tour. Couples leads the Charles Schwab Cup points race with 1,015 points. Langer’s second with 818. There’s 225 points available to this week’s winner.

Ken Green’s comeback continues. He made a strong impression in his return at the Liberty Mutual Legends and will be looking to build on that this week.

Bunker shot: Fred Funk didn’t like saying goodbye at The Players Championship with a final-round 78 on Sunday. Look for the short hitter to come back big on this big course. Funk’s five-year exemption as winner of The Players expired, but he’s motivated to play his way back there. The winner of the Constellation Energy Senior Players in October gets an invite. That will be played in Funk’s old stomping grounds at the TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm in Maryland. 

Mell’s picks: Winner – Bernhard Langer. Contender – Tom Pernice. Darkhorse – Denis Watson.

  • Course: Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Ross Bridge, Hoover, Ala. Par 72, 7,473 yards (Designed by Roger Rulewich and opened in 2005).
  • Purse: $1.7 million (winner’s share, $225,000).
  • TV times: Golf Channel, Friday, 6:30-8:30 p.m.; Saturday, 6:30-9:30 p.m.; Sunday, 7-9:30 p.m.
  • Last year: Keith Fergus won the rain-shortened event last year, shooting a pair of 6-under-par 66s to finish three shots ahead of Gene Jones.


BMW Charity Pro-Am

A cast of celebrities will help celebrate the 10th anniversary of the event.

Actors Kurt Russel, Luke Wilson and Thomas Gibson are among celebrities scheduled to play.

Bunker shot: NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice makes his second Nationwide Tour start. He won’t, however, be competing among the celebrity/amateur attractions. He’ll compete in his second Nationwide Tour event as a pro. Rice has ambitions for a pro golf career. He opened with an 83 and 76 in his debut at the Fresh Express Classic last month.

Mell’s picks: Winner – Kevin Chappell. Contender – Tag Ridings. Darkhorse – D.J. Brigman.

  • Course: Thornblade Club, Greer, S.C.; Brights Creek Golf Club, Mill Spring, N.C.; The Carolina Country Club, Spartanburg, S.C.
  • Purse: $600,000 (winner’s share, $108,000).
  • TV times: Golf Channel, Thursday-Friday, 1-3 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 1-4 p.m.
  • Last year: Australia’s Michael Sim defeated Argentina’s Fabian Gomez at the first hole of their playoff.
Getty Images

Arizona grabs last spot with eagle putt, playoff win

By Ryan LavnerMay 22, 2018, 3:18 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – With her team freefalling in the standings, Arizona coach Laura Ianello was down to her last stroke.

The Wildcats began the final round of the NCAA Championship in third place, but they were 19 over par for the day, and outside the top-8 cut line, with only one player left on the course.

Bianca Pagdaganan had transferred from Gonzaga to compete for NCAA titles, and on the 17th hole Ianello told her that she needed to play “the best two holes of your life” to keep the dream alive.

She made par on 17, then hit a 185-yard 6-iron out of a divot to 30 feet. Not knowing where she stood on the final green, Pagdaganan felt an eerie calm over the ball. Sure enough, she buried the eagle putt, setting off a raucous celebration and sending the Wildcats into a play-five, count-four team playoff with Baylor at 33 over par.

Their match-play spot wasn’t yet secure, but Ianello still broke down in tears.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring

“Bianca is such an inspiration for all of us,” she said. “She’s the kind of kid that you want to root for, to have good things happen to.”

Arizona prevailed on the second playoff hole. As the 8 seed, the Wildcats will play top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals Tuesday at Karsten Creek.

Though the finish had plenty of drama, no teams played their way into the coveted top 8 on the final day of stroke-play qualifying.

Baylor came closest. The Bears barely advanced past regionals after a mysterious stomach virus affected several players and coaches. They competed in the final round with just four healthy players.

On Monday, Gurleen Kaur put Baylor in position to advance, shooting 68, but the Bears lost by three strokes on the second extra hole.

Arkansas finished one shot shy of the team playoff. The second-ranked Razorbacks, who entered NCAAs as one of the pre-tournament favorites, having won seven times, including their first SEC title, couldn’t overcome a 308-300 start and finished 10th. Player of the Year favorite Maria Fassi finished her week at 19 over par and counted only two rounds toward the team total.

Getty Images

Kupcho gets redemption with NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 22, 2018, 2:54 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Driving from Chicago to Denver the night of the 2017 NCAA Women’s Championship, Mike Kupcho was worried about what the next two days might bring.

A few hours earlier, he’d watched his 20-year-old daughter, Jennifer, take a two-shot lead into the 71st hole at Rich Harvest Farms. With just 127 yards left for her approach, she hit her pitching wedge the one place she couldn’t afford to miss – short, in the pond – and then compounded the error with a three-putt. The triple bogey dropped her one shot behind Arizona State’s Monica Vaughn.

Kupcho conducted a series of teary interviews afterward, but she had no time to dwell on the heartbreaking finish. She hopped on a plane back home and competed in a 36-hole U.S. Open qualifier two days later.

“We were worried about how she’d react – I didn’t know what to expect,” Mike said. “I would have been a wreck.”

But Jennifer fired a 66 in the opening round, then a 72 in the afternoon to earn medalist honors.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring

“Well,” Mike said, “I guess she’s over it.”

Kupcho made it official Monday at Karsten Creek, claiming the NCAA title that should have been hers last May.

The Wake Forest junior won by two shots – the same margin she blew a year ago – for her fourth victory of the season, vaulting her into contention for the Annika Award.

“It’s just exciting to get here after everything I’ve been through,” she said.

Entering the final round in a share of the lead, Kupcho birdied the first but played Nos. 5-7 in 4 over par. It seemed like another collapse was brewing.

“I told her she’s going to have to face some adversity at some point,” said Wake Forest assistant Ryan Potter, who walked alongside her Monday. “There was a lot of golf to play, especially on a course like this.”

A birdie on 11 sent her on her way. She added a birdie on the drivable 12th, dropped another one on the par-5 14th and then canned a 60-footer for birdie on 16.

And so there she was again, two shots clear with two holes to go, when she stepped to the tee on the 17th. She piped a drive down the center, then flushed her approach directly over the flag, leading to a stress-free par. On 18, with water all the way down the left side, she nuked her second shot into the middle of the green for a two-putt birdie.

If there were any lingering questions about whether Kupcho could close, she answered them emphatically Monday. She carded five back-nine birdies for a two-shot victory over Stanford’s Andrea Lee (66) and Arizona’s Bianca Pagdaganan (72).

“Redemption,” Potter said. “She knew she could do it. It was just a matter of holding the trophy.”

After last year’s devastating finish, Potter tacked a photo on his closet wall of a victorious Arizona State team posing with the NCAA trophy. Each day was a reminder of how close they’d come.

“That sticks with you,” he said.

There were areas of Kupcho's game to shore up – namely chipping and bunker play – and she worked tirelessly to turn them into strengths. She built momentum throughout the season, culminating with a dominant regional performance in which she tied a school record by shooting 15 under, holed the winning putt to send her teammates to the NCAA Championship and became just the second player in history to win a regional in consecutive years.

“She’s interesting,” Potter said, “because the bigger the tournament, the bigger the stage, the better she plays.”

Indeed, Kupcho became the first player in a decade to finish in the top 6 in three consecutive NCAAs.

Here at Karsten Creek, she tied a women’s course record with a 7-under 65 in the opening round. And even though she backed up on Day 2, she played the last two rounds in 3 under to claim the title.

The one she kicked away a year ago.

Getty Images

Kupcho wins NCAA title; final eight teams set

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 1:55 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – On one of the more nerve-racking days of the college golf season two important honors were up for grabs at Karsten Creek – the individual title, and the top eight teams attempting to qualify for match play.

Here’s the lowdown of what happened Monday at the women’s NCAA Championship:

Individual leaderboard (total scores): Jennifer Kupcho, Wake Forest (-8); Andrea Lee, Stanford (-6); Bianca Pagdanganan, Arizona (-6); Cheyenne Knight, Alabama (-5); Morgane Metraux, Florida State (-4); Jaclyn Lee, Ohio State (-3).

Team leaderboard: UCLA (+9), Alabama (+9), USC (+16), Northwestern (+21), Stanford (+28), Duke (+30), Kent State (+32), Arizona (+33).

What it means: Let’s start with the individual race. Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho was absolutely devastated a year ago when she made triple bogey on the 17th hole of the final round and lost the individual title by a shot. She was bound not to let that happen again and this year she made five birdies on the last eight holes to shoot 71 and win by two shots. Kupcho is the first player with three consecutive top-six finishes at the NCAA Championship since Duke’s Amanda Blumenherst (2007-09).

The team race took an unexpected turn at the end of the day when Arizona junior Bianca Pangdaganan made eagle on the last hole to vault the Wildcats into an eighth-place tie, meaning they would enter a playoff with Baylor for the final spot in the match play portion of the championship.

The Wildcats got a reprieve because they played terribly for most of the day and dropped from third place to 10th at one point. In the playoff, Arizona ultimately defeated Baylor in an anticlimactic finish.

Best of the rest: Stanford played horribly the first round. So bad that it almost seemed like the Cardinal shot itself out of the championship. But they played steady over the next three days and ended with the fifth seed. This is the fourth year in a row that Stanford has advanced to match play.

Round of the day: USC shot a 5-under total on Monday, the best round of the day by six shots. They landed as the third seed and will play Duke in the quarterfinals.

Stanford sophomore Andrea Lee shot a 7-under 65, the best score of the day by three shots. Lee made seven birdies and no bogeys and vaulted up the leaderboard 11 spots to end in a tie for sixth place.

Biggest disappointment: Arkansas, the second-ranked team in the country, missed qualifying for match play by one shot. The Razorbacks shot a 20-over 308 in Round 1 and played only slightly better with a 300 in the second round. Consecutive 1-over-par 289 scores were a good try, but results in a huge miss for a team expected to contend for the team title.

Here are Tuesday morning's quarterfinal matchups:

Cut and not so dry: Shinnecock back with a new look

By Bradley S. KleinMay 21, 2018, 9:22 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – The last time the USGA was here at Shinnecock Hills, it nearly had a train wreck on its hands. The last day of the 2004 U.S. Open was so dry and the turf so firm that play was stopped in the morning just to get some water on the greens.

The lessons learned from that debacle are now on display three weeks before Shinnecock gets another U.S. Open. And this time, the USGA is prepared with all sorts of high-tech devices – firmness meters, moisture monitors, drone technology to measure turf temperatures - to make sure the playing surfaces remain healthy.

Players, meanwhile, will face a golf course that is 548 yards longer than a dozen years ago, topping out now at 7,445 yards for the par-70 layout. Ten new tees have assured that the course will keep up with technology and distance. They’ll also require players to contend with the bunkering and fairway contours that designer William Flynn built when he renovated Shinnecock Hills in 1930.

And those greens will not only have more consistent turf cover, they’ll also be a lot larger – like 30 percent bigger. What were mere circles averaging 5,500 square feet are now about 7,200 square feet. That will mean more hole locations, more variety to the setup, and more rollouts into surrounding low-mow areas. Slight misses that ended up in nearby rough will now be down in hollows many more yards away.

The course now has an open, windswept look to it – what longtime green chairman Charles Stevenson calls “a maritime grassland.” You don’t get to be green chairman of a prominent club for 37 years without learning how to deal with politics, and he’s been a master while implementing a long-term plan to bring the course back to its original scale and angles. In some cases that required moving tees back to recapture the threat posed by cross-bunkers and steep falloffs. Two of the bigger extensions come on the layout’s two par-5s, which got longer by an average of 60 yards. The downwind, downhill par-4 14th hole got stretched 73 yards and now plays 519.

“We want players to hit driver,” says USGA executive director Mike Davis.

The also want to place an emphasis upon strategy and position, which is why, after the club had expanded its fairways the last few years, the USGA decided last September to bring them back in somewhat.

The decision followed analysis of the driving statistics from the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where wide fairways proved very hospitable to play. Players who made the cut averaged hitting 77 percent of fairways and driving it 308 yards off the tee. There was little fear of the rough there. “We didn’t get the wind and the dry conditions we anticipated,” says Davis.

Moving ahead to Shinnecock Hills, he and the setup staff wanted to balance the need for architectural variety with a traditional emphasis upon accuracy. So they narrowed the fairways at Shinnecock Hills last September by seven acres. They are still much wider than in the U.S. Opens played here in 1986, 1995 and 2004, when the average width of the landing areas was 26.6 yards. “Now they are 41.6 yards across on average,” said Davis. So they are much wider than in previous U.S. Opens and make better use of the existing contours and bring lateral bunkers into play.

This time around, with more consistent, healthier turf cover and greens that have plenty of nutrients and moisture, the USGA should be able to avoid the disastrous drying out of the putting surfaces that threatened that final day in 2004. The players will also face a golf course that is more consistent than ever with its intended width, design, variety and challenge. That should make for a more interesting golf course and, by turn, more interesting viewing.