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.

Evian Championship: Articles, videos and photos

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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Watch: Is this the up-and-down of the year?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 3:30 pm

Play away from the pin? Just because there's a tree in your way? Not Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Watch him channel some Arnie (or, more appropriately, some Seve) with this shot in the Valderrama Masters:

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Cut Line: Johnny's exit, Tiger's fatigue

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2018, 2:06 pm

In this week’s edition we bid farewell to the most outspoken and insightful analyst of his generation and examine a curious new interpretation that will require players to start paying attention to the small print.

Made Cut

Here’s Johnny. After nearly three decades Johnny Miller will hang up his microphone following next year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Miller called his first tournament as NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst in 1990 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and he told Cut Line this week that at 71 years old he’s ready to relax and spend time with his 24 grandchildren.

“I was the first guy with an open microphone,” Miller said. “That requires a lot of concentration. It’s not that I couldn’t do it but the handwriting was on the wall; it would be more of a challenge.”

Miller will be missed for his insight as much as his often-blunt deliveries, but it’s the latter that made him one of a kind.

A long ride to the right place. After nearly four years of legal wrangling a group of PGA Tour caddies dropped their class-action lawsuit against the circuit this week.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in early 2015 in an attempt by the caddies to secure marketing rights for the bibs they wear during tournaments as a way to create better healthcare and retirement benefits.

The district court largely ruled against the caddies and that ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year, but better healthcare options may still be in the cards for the caddies.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies.

Sajtinac told Cut Line that the Tour has offered a potential increase to the longtime stipend they give caddies for healthcare and in a statement the circuit said talks are ongoing.

“The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

It’s rare when both sides of a lawsuit walk away feeling good about themselves, but this particular outcome appears to have ended with a favorable outcome for everybody involved.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A long haul. Tiger Woods acknowledged what many had speculated about, telling a group this week at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach that his season-ending push and his first victory in five years took a physical toll at the Ryder Cup.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

Woods went 0-4 for the U.S. team in France and appeared particularly tired on Sunday following the European victory at Le Golf National.

For Woods the result was worth the effort with his victory at the Tour Championship ending a five-year drought, but his play and concession that it impacted him at the Ryder Cup does create some interesting questions for U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who sent Woods out for both team sessions on Saturday.

Tweet(s) of the week: @BobEstesPGA (Bob Estes) “I spoke to a past Ryder Cup captain yesterday. We both agreed that there should be a week off before the [Ryder Cup] to adequately rest and prepare.”

Given Woods’ comments this week it seems likely he would agree that a break – which may become the norm with the Tour season ending three weeks earlier – would be helpful, but Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts had a slightly different take in response to Estes’ tweet. “I’m afraid a different schedule wasn’t gonna make the fairways wider. On that particular course with how we played, [the United States] had absolutely no chance. Hasn’t more than half the euros played playoffs too?” Colsaerts tweeted.

It’s never too early to get a jump on the 2020 trash talking.

Missed Cut

By the book. The USGA and R&A’s most recent rulemaking hill involved the use of green-reading materials. On Monday the game’s rule-makers unveiled new interpretations on what will be allowed starting next year.

Out will be the legal-sized reams of information that had become ubiquitous on Tour, replaced by pocket-sized books that will include a limited scale (3/8 inch to 5 yards).

While the majority of those involved were in favor of a scaled-back approach to what to many seemed like information overload, it did seem like a curious line to draw.

Both sides of the distance debate continue to await which way the rule-makers will go on this front and, at least in the United States, participation continues to be a challenge.

Banning the oversized green-reading books may have been a positive step, but it was a micro issue that impacted a wildly small portion of the golf public. Maybe it’s time for the rule-makers to start looking at more macro issues.

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S.Y. Kim leads Kang, A. Jutanugarn in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:24 am

SHANGHAI  -- Sei Young Kim led the LPGA Shanghai by one stroke at the halfway point after shooting a 5-under-par 67 in the second round on Friday.

Kim made six birdies, including four straight from the sixth hole, to move to a 10-under 134 total. Her only setback was a bogey on the par-4 15th.

Kim struggled in the first half of the year, but is finishing it strong. She won her seventh career title in July at the Thornberry Creek Classic, was tied for fourth at the Women's British Open, and last month was runner-up at the Evian Championship.

''I made huge big par putts on 10, 11, 12,'' Kim said on Friday. ''I'm very happy with today's play.''

Danielle Kang (68) and overnight leader Ariya Jutanugarn (69) were one shot back.

Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos

''I like attention. I like being in the final group. I like having crowds,'' Kang said. ''It's fun. You work hard to be in the final groups and work hard to be in the hunt and be the leader and chasing the leaders. That's why we play.''

She led into the last round at the Hana Bank Championship last week and finished tied for third.

Brittany Altomare had six birdies in a bogey-free round of 66, and was tied for fourth with Bronte Law (68) and Brittany Lincicome (68).

Angel Lin eagled the par-5 17th and finished with the day's lowest score of 65, which also included six birdies and a lone bogey.

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'Caveman golf' puts Koepka one back at CJ Cup

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:12 am

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea – Brooks Koepka, recently named the PGA Tour Player of the Year, gave himself the perfect opportunity to become the No. 1 player in the world when he shot a 7-under par 65 to move to within one shot of the lead in the CJ Cup on Friday.

At the Nine Bridges course, the three-time major champion made an eagle on his closing hole to finish on 8-under par 136 after two rounds, just one stroke behind Scott Piercy, who was bogey-free in matching Koepka's 65.

With the wind subsiding and the course playing much easier than on the opening day when the scoring average was 73.26, 44 players – more than half the field of 78 – had under-par rounds.

Overnight leader Chez Reavie added a 70 to his opening-round 68 to sit in third place at 138, three behind Piercy. Sweden's Alex Noren was the other player in with a 65, which moved him into a tie for fourth place alongside Ian Poulter (69), four out of the lead.

The best round of the day was a 64 by Brian Harman, who was tied for sixth and five behind Piercy.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos

The 28-year-old Koepka will move to the top of the world rankings when they are announced on Monday if he wins the tournament.

Thomas, playing alongside Koepka, matched Koepka's eagle on the last, but that was only for a 70 and he is tied for 22nd place at 1 under.

Koepka's only bogey was on the par-5 ninth hole, where he hit a wayward tee shot. But he was otherwise pleased with the state of his ''caveman golf.''

''I feel like my game is in a good spot. I feel like the way I played today, if I can carry that momentum into Saturday and Sunday, it will be fun,'' Koepka, winner of the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, said.

''My game is pretty simple. I guess you can call it like caveman golf – you see the ball, hit the ball and go find it again. You're not going to see any emotion just because I'm so focused, but I'm enjoying it.''

Piercy, who has fallen to No. 252 in the world ranking despite winning the Zurich Classic earlier this year with Billy Horschel – there are no world ranking points for a team event – was rarely out of position in a round in which he found 13 of 14 fairways off the tee and reached 16 greens in regulation.

''Obviously, the wind was down a little bit and from a little bit different direction, so 10 miles an hour wind versus 20s is quite a big difference,'' said Piercy, who is looking for his first individual PGA Tour win since the Barbasol Championship in July 2015.

''It was a good day. Hit a couple close and then my putter showed up and made some putts of some pretty good length.''

Australia's Marc Leishman, winner last week at the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur, shot a 71 and was seven behind. Paul Casey's 73 included a hole-in-one on the par-3 seventh hole and the Englishman is nine behind Piercy.