Bunker Shots Magic and Mojo

By Randall MellSeptember 28, 2010, 4:32 pm

Blasting into the week ahead, from Ryder Cup magic and mojo to rank-and-file angst.

Ryder Cup

The Ryder Cup

Chemistry matters.

Camaraderie, too.

Such notions seemed overplayed within the boundaries of team golf, and then along came Paul Azinger with his pod system.

Azinger’s social game planning as American Ryder Cup captain two years ago was strong evidence that maybe team bonding really does make a difference. His structured, almost formulaic approach to team building was the story behind the American victory at Valhalla. Without superstar Tiger Woods, the United States ended its three-event losing streak to Europe looking more like brothers-in-arms than they ever have.

Some of us believed hot putters trump kindred spirits every time, but Azinger changed the nature of the debate. He made us wonder if camaraderie can serve as a fireplace for stoking hot starts. He made us wonder if you can create momentum before the first putt drops.

And now here comes European captain Colin Montgomerie, determined to show there’s another intangible important in the creation of winning momentum.

Montgomeries believes an inspiring speech can stoke a hot start.

“The Ryder Cup begins not with the first shot, but the speeches the two captains make at the opening ceremony,” Montgomerie told the Daily Mail of London. “There's definitely a game that goes on between the captains, and it seems to make a difference psychologically, as to what happens when the action begins.”

Montgomerie alluded to American Hal Sutton and European Nick Faldo for making speeches that failed to inspire.

“It's part of a trend, where the team whose captain gives the best speech tends to start well the next day and that sets the tone for the match itself.” Montgomerie said. “I know how important it is from how it made me feel. In 2004, Bernhard Langer gave a brilliant, ambassadorial speech and we lost only one-and-a-half points on the opening day. Azinger gave the best American speech in recent times and his team came flying out of the blocks.

“So my job is to make sure my team leaves that opening ceremony on Thursday, and they're thinking to themselves: 'Captain Monty, I think we're going to be all right in his hands.'”

Oddly, Montgomerie confessed he enters this Ryder Cup having already prepared both a winning and losing speech.

Camaraderie, bonding, inspired speeches.

Their effects are impossible to truly measure. And yet if this Ryder Cup comes down to a single missed putt, it’s likely the multiple autopsies sure to follow will offer up some profound psychological reason the putt fell or didn’t fall.

Bunker shot: First, there was speculation American captain Corey Pavin might not choose Tiger Woods as a captain’s pick if Woods didn’t make the team on points. Then Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy announced that he would love to play Woods in the Ryder Cup and that every European player would “fancy his chances” against the slumping Woods. Just last week, NBC’s Johnny Miller pointed out that Woods has failed to lead in Ryder Cups. And now, there’s speculation Woods might spend some time on the bench for the first time in his Ryder Cup career. The world’s No. 1 player arrives in Wales with a large supply of the best fuel in sports: disrespect.

Mell’s pick: Europe wins 14 ½ to 13 ½.

  • Course: Celtic Manor’s The Twenty Ten Course, Newport Wales. Par 71, 7,378 yards.
  • Purse: None.
  • TV times: Friday, ESPN, 2:30 a.m.-1 p.m. (ET); Saturday, NBC, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. (ET, tape delay); Sunday, NBC, 7 a.m.-1 p.m. (ET).
  • Last time: The Americans rallied without Tiger Woods, ending a three-event losing streak with a 16 ½ to 11 ½ victory against the Europeans.

PGA TOURPGA Tour (75x100)

Viking Classic

A week after the FedEx Cup Playoffs end, the PGA Tour gets back to basics with the first of five Fall Series events.

Golf’s rank-and-file get serious about the business of securing PGA Tour cards for 2011.

Sean O’Hair is the only player among the top 60 in the world rankings in the field this week. He’s No. 25. Heath Slocum is the next highest ranked player teeing it up at No. 61. Count John Daly, David Duval, David Toms, Charles Howell III, Rocco Mediate and Boo Weekley among the biggest names in the event.

Bunker shot: It’s Bubble Boy season. The Fall Series begins with Chris Stroud as Mr. Bubble Boy at No. 125 on the money list. He’ll try to hold that spot through the season finale, the Children’s Miracle Network Classic (Nov. 11-14). The biggest names outside the top 125 who are in danger of losing fully exempt status for 2011 are Jonathan Byrd (No. 130), Rocco Mediate (No. 188) and John Daly (No. 194).

Mell’s picks: Winner – Brian Gay. Contender – Chad Campbell. Darkhorse – Woody Austin.

  • Course: Annandale Golf Club, Madison, Miss. Par 72, 7,199 yards.
  • Purse: $3.6 million (winner’s share, $648,000).
  • TV times: Thursday-Sunday, Golf Channel, 8-10 p.m. (ET).
  • Last year: Event rained out, unplayable course conditions.


Ensure Classic at Rock Barn

Jay Haas is back to defend his title in a bid to win for the first time this season.

Haas, 56, has won 14 Champions Tour titles but none since the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship almost a year ago.

Bunker shot: A hand full of players may have trouble playing cross eyed this weekend. There are four former Ryder Cup captains likely to be playing with one eye on the Ensure Classic and another on the Ryder Cup matches at Celtic Manor. Tom Kite, Hal Sutton, Mark James and Bernhard Langer all served as captains. Nearly a quarter of the Ensure Classic field played in a Ryder Cup.

Mell’s picks: Winner – Jay Haas. Contender – Bernhard Langer. Darkhorse – Hal Sutton.

  • Course: Rock Barn Golf & Spa, Conover, N.C. Par 72, 7,046 yards.
  • Purse: $1.75 million (winner’s share, $262,500).
  • TV times: Friday-Sunday, Golf Channel, 2-4 p.m. (ET).
  • Last year: Jay Haas closed with a 65 to defeat Russ Cochran and Andy Beach by two shots.


Soboba Golf Classic

With just five events remaining, the pressure builds.

Every player among the top 30 on the Nationwide Tour money list is teeing it up this week.

At season’s end, the top 25 earn promotions to the PGA Tour.

Bunker shots: Life changing leaps will occur in golf’s best developmental league over the next five weeks. Nate Smith took a large one Sunday winning the WNB Golf Classic. With his victory, he leaped from 78th on the money list to 25th. That makes him the Nationwide Tour Bubble Boy this week.

Mell’s picks: Winner – Jamie Lovemark. Contender – Kevin Chappell. Darkhorse – J.J. Killeen.

  • Course: Country Club at Soboba Springs, San Jacinto, Calif. Par 71, 7101 yards.
  • Purse: $1 million (winner’s share, $180,000).
  • TV times: Thursday-Friday, Golf Channel, 4-6 p.m.
  • Last year: Jerod Turner defeated Derek Lamely by two shots.
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.

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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.

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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.