Evian trying to prove status as fifth LPGA major

By Randall MellSeptember 10, 2013, 2:19 pm

EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France – There’s a new starlet in the LPGA’s major championship lineup.

Here in the shadow of the Alps, on the emerald fairways perched above Lake Geneva, the Evian Championship boldly steps up in class this week as the fifth major in women’s golf.

For a number of years now, this event has felt like a major for the Europeans in the LPGA ranks. Evian has built a reputation among pros for its first-class presentation and amenities, but now there’s a whole new standard to measure up to in its first year as an officially designated major. There is added scrutiny over whether this starlet will be a supreme enough examination to be worthy of its new status.

This championship was founded as the Evian Masters in 1994 as a Ladies European Tour event. It became a co-sanctioned LPGA event in 2000 with the LPGA announcing two years ago that it would be a major.

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The list of past winners is impressive, speaking to the caliber of fields the event has attracted from its start, with Helen Alfredsson winning the inaugural competition. Annika Sorenstam, Juli Inkster, Karrie Webb, Laura Davies, Paula Creamer, Jiyai Shin and Ai Miyazato are among an All Star cast that has won here. Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park is the defending champ.

The purse is also impressive at $3.25 million, equaling the U.S. Women’s Open as the richest on tour.

The largest question looming over Evian’s worthiness as a major is the redesign of the Evian Resort Golf Club. It was an $8 million undertaking over the last year, with everything about the course upgraded, from the tees to the fairway configurations to the green complexes and bunkering. It is a different and more substantial test that architect Steve Smyers and European Golf Design created in their collaborative effort. There’s a lot at stake with the nature of this new test likely having the ultimate say in whether this really feels like a major championship.

Will the golf be as pure as the famed spring waters here?

Will the test be as grand as the picturesque setting the Alps and Lake Geneva give this course?

“It’s coming together,” Smyers told GolfChannel.com. “We had extremely difficult weather in the winter, and then a cold and wet spring. It might have been the worst weather there in recorded history, but the staff there has done a wonderful job getting the course ready. The test will be there. You’re going to have a championship test that is really going to identify the best ball-strikers.”

While players say the test is admirably upgraded, that quirky elements of the original design have been softened, there are some issues with the new grasses. The early reviews are that this course is another year from being what Evian and the architects imagined. There are some bare patches in the new sod laid down, spotty enough that they are expected to be marked as ground under repair this week. There are also some issues in how the greens are a little inconsistent in the way they receive shots.

“I think it’s OK,” two-time major championship winner Cristie Kerr said. “Obviously, it’s not in the shape they wanted. That’s just the way it is when you try to get it all done in such a short period of time, but we do love this place.”

There is an undeniable affection for this event among players, and there’s hope that the newly redesigned course will win their affection as thoroughly as everything that goes with this week.

“I have always loved this golf course,” said Paula Creamer, who won the Evian Masters in ’05. “I think it’s a great test, but to be major championship worthy it needed to be tougher.”

Evian Resort Golf Club is built on the side of a mountain. Smyers and European Golf Design made it tougher adding length, making tee shots with drivers more challenging. They made it tougher flattening out some landing areas on the side of this mountain but then adding more undulation to the much larger greens they created.

The course is marked at 6,433 yards, which is actually a few yards shorter than it played last year, but Smyers said it has the potential to play 300 yards longer than a year ago. Also, it’s now a par 71 layout instead of par 72 with the 18th hole now a long par 4 instead of a short par 5.

In great measure, Evian’s elevation to major championship status is the fruit of Franck Riboud’s ambitious vision and LPGA commissioner Mike Whan’s bold leadership.

Riboud is the CEO of Groupe Danone, which owns Evian mineral water and Dannon, the yogurt company. Before Whan officially took over as commissioner in 2010, Riboud was in his ear, wooing him with his grand plan. In the end, it made sense to Whan, but only if Riboud and Evian’s tournament management could meet Whan’s list of demands. The course redesign was at the top of the list.

“I grinded over this a long time,” Whan told GolfChannel.com back when he decided to declare Evian a major. “If you asked me before I became commissioner how I would stand on designating a fifth major, I probably wouldn’t have been in favor of it. I’m really respectful of the game’s traditions. I didn’t want to mess with tradition without walking through this.

“There was a list of 10 things I really thought kept this tournament from being a legitimate major, and until they were addressed, there was really no point in talking about something more significant. To Evian’s credit, we knocked all 10 off the list.”

Majors evolve over time, but Evian evolved into one practically overnight.

The caliber of this week's winner, the nature of the leaderboard and the drama that unfolds will have a lot to say about whether this feels right as a major.

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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.”