A Great Little Town

By Randall MellMay 21, 2009, 4:00 pm
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LPGA Tour _newCORNING, N.Y. ' Down where Market and Pine streets meet, in the heart of downtown Corning, you could swear the giant hands on the clock tower move backward.
 
The brick-laden sidewalks in the town square look like cobblestone. Theres a drug store with an old, wooden RX sign over the front window just down from the square.
 
Norman Rockwell didnt paint Corning to life. It just feels that way.
 
Two-time Corning Classic champion Rosie Jones likes how time falls back here, how every spring this special place embraces LPGA pros as if they were favorite daughters returning home.
 
Thats what made Jones walk through downtown so emotional the day before Thursdays start of the Corning Classic. Shes here to help the LPGA say goodbye to one of her favorite tournaments.
 
Sometime late Sunday afternoon, when the last shot is struck, the Corning Classic will close its books after 31 memorable years. Corning Inc., manufacturer of glass and ceramic products, can no longer justify the cost of title sponsorship in a sagging economy.
 
This wasnt one of our huge, big events on tour, but it was a big, heartfelt event, Jones said. Those are hard to come by and those are hard to keep.
 
Jones is celebrated as the Queen of Corning, a moniker she earned becoming the tournaments only back-to-back champion with titles in 1996 and 97. She isnt playing this week, but she came back anyway to play in Tuesdays Super Shootout and Wednesdays pro-am. She wont be staying around for Sundays finish, though.
 
I think it would be really, really hard for me, she said.
 
Corning is a blue-collar city of 10,882. With no pro teams or big college events competing for its affection, this tournament has always been the big event in town.
 
A giant banner hangs across Market Street, welcoming the LPGA and its fans. Theres also a small, old-fashioned scoreboard in the middle of downtown, where folks who cant attend are able to see whos on the leaderboard as they shop or work. In years past, shop owners competed to see who could fashion the best store-front window decorations in golf themes. An LPGA player would be given the honor of acting as judge. There was a parade, too, with the event always held on Memorial Day weekend.
 
Market Street is where LPGA pros have long mingled with locals. Over a beer at Snootys Pig, a steak at Gaffers, a slice of pizza at Anniellos or coffee at Wegmans, players always enjoyed special guest status.
 
You go out to eat in Corning, and you know everyone in the restaurant, said Bev Stantz, co-chairman of the Corning Classic merchandise committee. Its a great little town.
 
Stantz has worked all 31 tournaments. She worked the first in 1979 as a hole marshal controlling the gallery.
 
Nobody probably thought this little tournament would last as long as it has when we started, Stantz said. Sadly enough, its finally run its course. You feel really bad saying goodbye. This tournaments done a lot for this community.
 
Over the years, the Corning Classic has pumped more than $5 million into local charities. While Corning Inc. has pledged to continue to help charities, the company announced a month ago that it could no longer afford to serve as title sponsor without a presenting sponsor. None could be found.
 
Corning Inc. reported sales falling to $989 million a year ago, a 39 percent plunge from the previous year. In January, the company announced the lay off of 3,500 employees.
 
Tournament President Jack Benjamin projects the Corning Classic will lose $400,000 this year.
 
Projections were worse for the years going forward, Benjamin said.
 
Thats partly because the LPGA was asking more in negotiations over a new contract. This marks the last year of a four-year deal with the tournament declining to pick up the option for next year. The tournaments board was negotiating a new deal through 2013 when it pulled the plug.
 
The cost of running this years Corning Classic will be about $3.7 million, Benjamin said. The tournament projects under a new four-year deal, those costs will average out to about $4.45 million annually, though Benjamin said its possible the LPGA would have made concessions to lower those costs.
 
The negotiations, however, never got that deep.
 
The LPGAs asking price didnt help, but that wasnt the reason for this decision, Benjamin said. We just cant generate the revenue to keep this tournament the way it is. The economys taken a huge toll.
 
Cornings the fourth LPGA tournament lost from the LPGAs 2008 schedule. Issues simmer with four events seeking new title sponsors and the contracts expiring at seven other events.
 
Unfortunately, quite a few companies are in Cornings place, said two-time LPGA winner Morgan Pressel. And this is one you never thought you would lose because its been around so long. Theres frustration among players, because we want to play more and we want to play more state side. Travels a pain, but its where we are heading.
 
Pointing a derisive finger at the LPGA for upping its asking price is difficult to do when Corning Inc. wont do it and neither will any of the Tours own players. Nobody within the tours current player ranks is challenging the Tours new business model. A sagging economy looms too large in the equation to blame anything else.
 
Everythings all about business this day and age, said Jan Stephenson, the only player in this weeks field who competed in the inaugural Corning Classic in 1979. I remember how it used to be, how its been here for so long. I came back this year just to thank Corning for all its done for us.
 
Stephenson, 57, remembers being designated one year to judge the store-front window decorations on Market Street.
 
Though Stephenson, a 16-time LPGA winner, seriously contended just once in 13 starts at Corning, she loves the intimate nature of this event. So did her father, Frank, who caddied for her that first year. He loved Corning until the day he died in 1988.
 
They loved him here, too, Stephenson said. He used to send Christmas cards to friends he made here.
 
Stephenson, like so many players, is a guest in private housing this week. She and former champion Cindy Rarick are staying with the owners of a vineyard in a house in a valley overlooking a lake.
 
Its like being on holiday, she said.
 
Stephenson remembers teeing it up that first year in 79. Penny Pulz won the inaugural event in bone-shivering cold weather. Over the years, many of the tours greatest players stepped up to take the trophy. Donna Caponi, Patty Sheehan, JoAnne Carner, Pat Bradley, Betsy King, Juli Inkster, Beth Daniel and Annika Sorenstam have all won it.
 
I still remember how cold it was that first year, Stephenson said. There was sleet during the pro-am.
 
Weather has been one of the few negatives in this event, with springs unpredictable waves making rain and cold so often a factor. This week, the weathers been spectacular with Thursdays start opening in warm and sunny conditions.
 
I think its Gods way of saying thank you, said tour veteran Lorie Kane.
 
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    Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

    By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

    After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

    But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

    Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

    Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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    Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

    By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

    Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

    The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

    “There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

    “To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

    Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

    “To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.

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    Rose: T-2 finish renewed my love of The Open

    By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 9:00 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Rose made the cut on the number at The Open and was out for an early Saturday morning stroll at Carnoustie when, all of a sudden, he started putting together one great shot after another.

    There was no pressure. No one had expected anything from someone so far off the lead. Yet Rose shot 30 on the final nine holes to turn in 7-under 64, the lowest round of the championship. By day’s end he was five shots behind a trio of leaders that included Jordan Spieth.

    Rose followed the 64 with a Sunday 69 to tie for second place, two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. His 133 total over the weekend was the lowest by a shot, and for a moment he thought he had a chance to hoist the claret jug, until Molinari put on a ball-striking clinic down the stretch with birdies on 14 and 18.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “I just think having made the cut number, it’s a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday,” said Rose, who collected his third-career runner-up in a major. He’s also finished 12th or better in all three majors this year.

    In the final round, Rose was well off the pace until his second shot on the par-5 14th hole hit the pin. He had a tap-in eagle to move to 5 under. Birdie at the last moved him to 6 under and made him the clubhouse leader for a few moments.

    “It just proves to me that I can play well in this tournament, that I can win The Open,” Rose said. “When I’m in the hunt, I enjoy it. I play my best golf. I don’t back away.

    “That was a real positive for me, and it renewed the love of The Open for me.”

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    Woods does everything but win at The Open

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 22, 2018, 8:57 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a proud man who spent the majority of his prime scoffing at silver linings and moral victories, Tiger Woods needed little cajoling to look at the bright side Sunday at Carnoustie.

    Sure, after a round in which he took the solo lead at The Open with nine holes to go, the first words out of Woods’ mouth were that he was “a little ticked off at myself” for squandering an opportunity to capture his 15th major title, and his first in more than a decade. And that immediate reaction was justified: In the stiffest winds of the week, he played his last eight holes in 2 over, missed low on a 6-footer on the final green and wound up in a tie for sixth, three shots behind his playing partner, Francesco Molinari.

    “Today was a day,” Woods said, “that I had a great opportunity.”

    But here’s where we take a deep breath.

    Tiger Woods led the freakin’ Open Championship with eight holes to play.

    Imagine typing those words three months ago. Six months ago. Nine months ago. Twelve months ago.

    The scenario was improbable.

    Inconceivable.

    Impossible.

    At this time last year, Woods was only a few months removed from a Hail Mary fusion surgery; from a humiliating DUI arrest in which he was found slumped behind the wheel of his car, with five drugs in his system; from a month-long stay in a rehab clinic to manage his sleep medications.

    Just last fall, he’d admitted that he didn’t know what the future held. Playing a major, let alone contending in one, seemed like a reasonable goal.

    This year he’s showed signs of softening, of being kinder and gentler. He appeared more eager to engage with his peers. More appreciative of battling the game’s young stars inside the ropes. More likely to express his vulnerabilities. Now 42, he finally seemed at peace with accepting his role as an elder statesman.

    One major, any major, would be the most meaningful title of his career, and he suggested this week that his best chance would come in an Open, where oldies-but-goodies Tom Watson (age 59) and Greg Norman (53) have nearly stolen the claret jug over the past decade.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    But success at this Open, on the toughest links in the rota?

    “Just need to play some cleaner golf, and who knows?” he shrugged.

    Many analysts howled at Woods’ ultra-conservative strategy across the early rounds here at big, brawny and brutish Carnoustie. He led the field in driving accuracy but routinely left himself 200-plus yards for his approach shots, relying heavily on some vintage iron play. Even par through 36 holes, he stepped on the gas Saturday, during the most benign day for scoring, carding a 66 to get within striking distance of the leaders.

    Donning his traditional blood-red shirt Sunday, Woods needed only six holes to erase his five-shot deficit. Hearing the roars, watching WOODS rise on the yellow leaderboards, it was as though we’d been transported to the mid-2000s, to a time when he’d play solidly, not spectacularly, and watch as his lesser opponents crumbled. On the same ancient links that Ben Hogan took his lone Open title, in 1953, four years after having his legs crushed in a head-on crash with a Greyhound bus, Woods seemed on the verge of scripting his own incredible comeback.

    Because Jordan Spieth was tumbling down the board, the beginning of a birdie-less 76.

    Rory McIlroy was bogeying two of his first five holes.

    Xander Schauffele was hacking his way through fescue.

    Once Woods hit one of the shots of the championship on 10 – hoisting a 151-yard pitching wedge out of a fairway bunker, over a steep lip, over a burn, to 20 feet – the outcome seemed preordained.

    “For a while,” McIlroy conceded, “I thought Tiger was going to win.”

    So did Woods. “It didn’t feel any different to be next to the lead and knowing what I needed to do,” he said. “I’ve done it so many different ways. It didn’t feel any different.”

    But perhaps it’s no coincidence that once Woods took the lead for the first time, he frittered it away almost immediately. That’s what happened Saturday, when he shared the lead on the back nine and promptly made bogey. On Sunday, he drove into thick fescue on 11, then rocketed his second shot into the crowd, the ball ricocheting off a fan’s shoulder, and then another’s iPhone, and settling in more hay. He was too cute with his flop shot, leaving it short of the green, and then missed an 8-footer for bogey. He followed it up on 12 with another misadventure in the rough, leading to a momentum-killing bogey. He’d never again pull closer than two shots.

    “It will be interesting to see going forward, because this was his first taste of major championship drama for quite a while,” McIlroy said. “Even though he’s won 14, you have to learn how to get back.”

    Over the daunting closing stretch, Woods watched helplessly as Molinari, as reliable as the tide coming in off the North Sea, plodded his way to victory. With Woods’ hopes for a playoff already slim, Molinari feathered a wedge to 5 feet on the closing hole. Woods marched grim-faced to the bridge, never turning around to acknowledge his playing partner’s finishing blow. He waved his black cap and raised his mallet-style putter to a roaring crowd – knowledgeable fans who were appreciative not just of Woods making his first Open start since 2015, but actually coming close to winning the damn thing.

    “Oh, it was a blast,” Woods would say afterward. “I need to try to keep it in perspective, because at the beginning of the year, if they’d have said you’re playing The Open Championship, I would have said I’d be very lucky to do that.”

    Last weekend, Woods sat in a box at Wimbledon to watch Serena Williams contend for a 24th major title. Williams is one of the few athletes on the planet with whom Woods can relate – an aging, larger-than-life superstar who is fiercely competitive and adept at overcoming adversity. Woods is 15 months removed from a fourth back surgery on an already brittle body; Williams nearly secured the most prestigious championship in tennis less than a year after suffering serious complications during childbirth.

    “She’ll probably call me and talk to me about it because you’ve got to put things in perspective,” Woods said. “I know that it’s going to sting for a little bit here, but given where I was to where I’m at now, I’m blessed.”

    But Woods didn’t need to wait for that phone call to find some solace. Waiting for him afterward were his two kids, Sam, 11, and Charlie, 9, both of whom were either too young or not yet born when Tiger last won a major in 2008, when he was at the peak of his powers.

    Choking up, Woods said, “I told them I tried, and I said, 'Hopefully you’re proud of your Pops for trying as hard as I did.' It’s pretty emotional, because they gave me some pretty significant hugs there and squeezed. I know that they know how much this championship means to me, and how much it feels good to be back playing again.

    “To me, it’s just so special to have them aware, because I’ve won a lot of golf tournaments in my career, but they don’t remember any of them. The only thing they’ve seen is my struggles and the pain I was going through. Now they just want to go play soccer with me. It’s such a great feeling.”

    His media obligations done, Woods climbed up the elevated walkway, on his way to the back entrance of the Carnoustie Golf Hotel & Spa. He was surrounded by his usual entourage, but also two young, cute members of his clan.

    Sam adhered to the strict Sunday dress code, wearing a black tank top and red shorts. But Charlie’s attire may have been even more appropriate. On the day his dad nearly authored the greatest sports story ever, he chose a red Nike T-shirt with a bold message emblazoned on the front, in big, block letters:

    LOVE THE HATERS.

    After this riveting performance, after Tiger Woods nearly won The Open, are there really any left?