Getty Images

J. Korda hoping for major breakthrough

By Randall MellMarch 29, 2018, 10:25 pm

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Jessica Korda is smiling a lot this week.

Her coach, David Whelan, notices that.

It’s a big deal, because major championship weeks used to make Korda so uptight.

“It’s nice to see her laughing and having fun, to see her excited to be playing this week,” Whelan said. “That certainly wasn’t the case in majors in the past.”

Korda wouldn’t recommend having your upper jaw broken in three places, your lower in two and 27 bolts screwed into your skull as a way to spend your offseason.

But, wow, is it working for her.

Korda won her first LPGA start after a painful surgery in December to correct her jaw’s alignment and cure her recurring headaches, and now she is in early position to try to win her first major championship.

With a 5-under-par 67 Thursday, Korda is off to her best start in this event. She was one shot behind Ayako Uehera with the afternoon wave going off.

“I'm really happy with how I handled today, stayed calm,” Korda said. “Always a fun pairing with Lydia (Ko). So I really enjoyed myself.”

With five LPGA titles, Korda has a nice career going, but she hasn’t mustered much success in the majors yet.

In 34 major championship starts, she has two top-10 finishes. She really struggled in majors in 2015 and ’16, missing the cut in seven majors in a row.

What’s going on?

“You want to play so well, you put extra pressure on yourself,” Korda said. “Seeing everything around you, the atmosphere, the people, the interest, and obviously [thinking about] what it would be like to be a major champion, you just get so caught up in that.”

Korda wasn’t caught up in anything but making birdies in the first round. Her game has never looked more complete than it does now.

“It’s only Thursday, guys,” Korda reminded reporters.

But what a Thursday.

Full scoring from the ANA Inspiration

ANA Inspiration: Articles, photos and videos

At the first hole, Korda hit a wedge to 2 feet and made birdie. She opened with four consecutive birdies.

Korda was firing on all cylinders. She hit a 311-yard drive at the second hole. She hit driver off the deck in the fairway at the ninth hole, blistering the shot 270 yards to the back of the green to set up a two-putt birdie. She hit every fairway but one on the front nine, every green in regulation but one.

While Korda wouldn’t recommend the pain that came with her surgery, she said there has been something transforming about it. The absence of headaches is a daily tonic.

“I'm just a happier person,” she said. “Now, I wake up, no headaches, and it just puts a totally different pressure on you. Now I wake up pain-free every day.”

There’s something else giving her peace of mind.

Whelan, the coach she first went to three seasons ago, completely transformed her short game. He followed her Thursday, loving what he sees, a player confidently attacking because she is no longer afraid of missing greens.

Korda described her game as “really, really bad” before meeting Whelan.

“She had the ability to hit a few shots around the greens, but not the ability to hit the shot that suited the situation,” Whelan said.

Whelan gave Korda a variety of shots, from soft flops to low fliers than skip and spin to quick halts. He taught her how to properly use the bounce of her wedges.

“It’s about having confidence you can hit the shot required,” Whelan said. “That’s what it all boils down to.”

Whelan worked with Nelly, Jessica’s younger sister, who recommended him to Jessica.

“He completely turned my golf game around,” Nelly said.

Whelan first started working with Jessica after she missed the cut at the U.S. Open at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club three years ago. That’s the year she missed the cut in every major.

In the beginning, all Whelan did was work on Korda’s short game. He started things off with a chipping contest, stepping in and showing her how it’s done. An Englishman, Whelan won on the European Tour, back when Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo were in their primes.

“I think if there’s one thing I did for Jessica, it was make the game a little more fun again,” he said.

Whelan sees that this week, with Korda more relaxed than she has been at majors in the past. After her round, Korda didn’t talk about the work she was going to do on the range. She talked about getting back to her room to play with her dog, Charlie, a goldendoodle.

“She isn’t putting so much pressure on herself,” Whelan said.

Getty Images

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.



Getty Images

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.”

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.”