Name Recognition

By Randall MellJuly 6, 2011, 1:32 am

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Mike Whan’s legacy as LPGA commissioner is now joined to Alexis Thompson.

For better or worse.

News Tuesday of Whan’s decision to allow the 16-year-old phenom to try to win tour membership through qualifying school looms as large over women’s golf as the Cheyenne Mountain does over the U.S. Women’s Open this week.

By waiving the tour’s requirement that Thompson be 18 years old to be eligible for membership, Whan opens a door he was once reluctant to open.

Consider what Whan said just six months ago when denying Thompson’s request for expanded sponsor exemptions.

“At the core of it, I really didn’t think I wanted to be the commissioner that created a new pathway to the LPGA that made young girls around the world think that as a freshman or sophomore in high school that they have a big decision to make,” Whan said in January. “I didn’t want to create this worldwide phenomenon where 14-year-olds are sitting in their living room and thinking, `high school or pro?’”

Well, what should those girls be thinking now?

If Thompson makes it through Q-School, she will be competing as an LPGA member next year as a junior in high school. That’s radically new terrain for this tour. It’s a radical new possibility for youth with big games and big dreams.

Thompson will turn 17 on Feb. 10 of next year.

Aree Song, Morgan Pressel and Jessica Korda were granted waivers at age 17, but they all turned 18 shortly after. They each were finished with high school when they started playing the tour, or they were virtually finished.

Whan changed his mind about Thompson, and he might have changed the LPGA forever.

Why did he change his mind?

It’s an important question with so much at stake for Thompson and youth who want to follow this trailblazer’s path, but there were no answers coming out of the LPGA leader’s office on Tuesday. The commissioner wasn’t returning calls or doing interviews. A spokesman said Whan may make himself available Wednesday after he arrives at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Whan’s a family man with young children. It’s a good bet he wrestled with this. As a historic decision, it deserves some context, some explanation in what the commissioner might have wrestled with and why he believes this is the right thing to do. His reasons matter.

It may be that this isn’t so much a matter of the time being right for this decision, but maybe his belief in the player being right, Thompson being the right player.

Only Whan can answer that.

Thompson’s different, no doubt. She’s gifted, with a strong, supportive family. She’s proved herself in limited opportunities since turning pro at 15. She’s proved herself with her success, with a near victory at the Evian Masters last summer and a tie for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open. She’s even proved something in her failure this year at the Avnet Classic, in the way she managed her emotions in a final-round stumble.

There are no guarantees, though. We saw it with the unfulfilled promise in Aree Song. We saw it with Ty Tryon.

Thompson may very well be the exception to the LPGA rule, but what’s the rule now?

That’s the question that resonates beyond Thompson. That’s the issue, as much as Lexi’s readiness.

What follows this decision?

How do you create this new avenue for Thompson without creating a pathway strewn with the failed bids of teens attempting to follow?

That’s what Whan seemed to be struggling with last January.

While the commissioner has the power to deny future petitions, he can’t deny parents who see his decision as validation of a new pathway. You can’t deny parents who see a new blueprint: Home school your junior golfer, turn pro at 15, petition the LPGA to go to Q-School at 16.

Maybe that’s a pathway only Thompson is able to make work.

Whan’s decision is creating some debate within his ranks.

“I’m not a fan of it, I don’t really like it,” Kraft Nabisco champion Stacy Lewis said. “The age rule is there for a reason, and it’s a good reason, because of maturity levels. It’s the kind of thing where once you let one player in, do you have to let them all in? Obviously, Lexi’s a special case, she’s a great player for her age, but I would just hate for other kids that age, kids who need the time to mature, I would hate for them to want to follow the same track and get burned out by the time they’re 20.”

On the other side . . .

“I think it’s a good decision,” said Karen Stupples, the 2004 Women’s British Open champ. “I think Lexi’s proved she’s ready to play. She’s a nice girl who fits in well out here.

“Turning pro at 16, it’s a big step to take, but she’s been living the life out here for a year. She has a strong support network. I think she’s an exception. I don’t think you’ll see this very much.”

Juli Inkster’s never been keen on juniors making the jump to pros, but she’s softened on Thompson.

“She’s proven she belongs out here,” Inkster said. “I think it’s more a social issue than playing ability. Everybody knows she belongs, but she’s learned out here. She’s learned the ropes. She knows the players. I’m cool with that.”

Thompson is carving a new path, a potentially exciting one in what it might offer American golf, but a path opened by Whan, who will be forever linked with this path's ultimate destination.

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Hataoka leads Minjee Lee by one at LPGA Volvik

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:54 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - After losing in a playoff last weekend, Nasa Hataoka is making another bid for her first LPGA Tour victory.

Hataoka shot a 4-under 68 on Friday, and the Japanese teenager led by one stroke over Minjee Lee after the second round of the Volvik Championship. Hataoka, who is coming off the first two top-10 finishes of her LPGA career, made seven birdies at Travis Pointe Country Club. She began her round on No. 10, and her best stretch came toward the end, when she birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

''I'm really comfortable playing the LPGA,'' the 19-year-old Hataoka said through a translator. ''I've really got confidence now.''

Hataoka made the cut nine times in 17 starts as a rookie in 2017, and she has made significant strides of late. She tied for seventh at last month's MEDIHEAL Championship and nearly won a week ago at the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia.

Hataoka finished the second round in Michigan at 9 under. Lee (69) was also solid Friday. Gaby Lopez (68), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (70) and Lindy Duncan (70) were a stroke behind Lee in a tie for third.

Hataoka did not make a single bogey in last week's three-round tournament, and she didn't have any in the first round in Michigan. She finally made a few Friday, but that didn't stop her from taking sole possession of the lead.

''I kind of feel like not really perfect, but I just kind of try to (be) aggressive,'' she said.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lee, who lost by one stroke on this course last year, is in contention again.

''I guess the fairways are pretty generous and I think the greens are a little bit on the trickier side to read,'' Lee said. ''As long as your iron shots are pretty solid, I think you're going to be in good position around this golf course.''

Lee birdied the first two holes, and the only blemish on her scorecard Friday came on the par-5 14th. After missing the fairway to the right, she hit an aggressive shot out of the rough that went straight toward a water hazard well in front of the green. She settled for a bogey after taking a drop.

''I thought the ball was sitting OK in the rough, but it must have been a bit funny, or underneath it,'' she said. ''I made a mistake. I thought it was good enough to hit 3-wood there.''

Lee lost last year in Michigan to Shanshan Feng, but Feng will have some ground to make up in her attempt to repeat. She shot 69 on Friday but is still eight strokes behind the leader.

Ariya Jutanugarn was 6 under after a second consecutive 69.

Lopez made only six pars in the second round, tied for the fewest of the day, but her eight birdies and four bogeys put her near the top of the leaderboard.

''It was a little bit of an up and down,'' she said. ''There's so many opportunities out here to make birdie, that the most important thing to do is just to be patient, to be in the moment and not to get ahead of yourself. I think I came back from a couple mistakes that I did.''

In contrast to Lopez, Brittany Lincicome parred all 18 holes Friday and made the cut at 1 under. Paula Creamer (71) triple bogeyed the par-4 13th. She followed that with an eagle on the very next hole but missed the cut by a stroke.

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Childhood rivals share Sr. PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:00 am

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Kevin Sutherland and Scott McCarron have been rivals since their junior golf days around Sacramento, California. The two old friends were back at it Friday at the top of the Senior PGA Championship leaderboard.

''It's honestly, nothing new for us,'' said Sutherland who played in the third-to-last group and birdied his last two holes for a 5-under 66 to match McCarron at 8 under.

McCarron had a 68 in the morning wave to emerge from a championship record group of six tied for the first-round lead.

Sutherland was last year's Charles Schwab Cup winner with his only senior win coming in the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, while McCarron has six PGA Tour Champions wins, including a major at the 2017 Senior Players Championship.

''We are both (Northern California) guys, played in high school, junior golf, on tour and it seems like a lot on the Champions Tour,'' Sutherland said. ''We were in the last group on Sundays a lot last year. Scott played so well and had an incredible year, and I had a great year, too.''

Sutherland's lone PGA Tour victory came at McCarron's expense in 2002 at La Costa in the Accenture Match Play Championship, when he beat McCarron 1 up in the 36-hole final. As youngsters they played on opposing high school teams located about an hour apart and met often in state tournaments as well as on the California junior circuit.

''It's been happening for 30 years, wait 35 years now, I guess,'' Sutherland said. ''Playing together on a Saturday is a little different. We're both still trying to get in position to win.''

Jerry Kelly shot a 65 to join Tim Petrovic (69), Chris Williams (68) and Joe Durant (67) at 7 under. Durant tied for second last week in the Regions Tradition, also a major championship.

Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

McCarron feels like he is just starting to warm to the task this year. He had to replace his clubs, including a favored putter damaged beyond repair in air transit two months ago.

''I've been putting with a back-up putter I had, but it just didn't feel quite right,'' he said. ''I changed last Sunday at the Regions Tradition and started putting better on Sunday. So I'm using this one again this week and seem to be putting pretty good with it.''

McCarron said the Harbor Shores course played a little tougher in light winds in the second round. He made six birdies and three bogeys.

''I would just like to have a couple of those bogeys back,'' he said. ''But we're in a good position going into the weekend.''

McCarron came to the press center after his round and walked in on a press conference where course-designer Jack and Barbara Nicklaus were being honored by sponsoring KitchenAid with the establishment of a local college scholarship program in their name.

McCarron, who said he has idolized Nicklaus since his youth, played media and asked Nicklaus what he ate when he was near the lead going into the weekend of a major championship.

Nicklaus said if you play well one day, eat the same thing the next day.

''But no hamburgers, or you will play like hamburger,'' he said.

Stuart Smith, the Reno, Neveda, club pro who was tied for the lead after the first round, missed the 36-hole cut with a second-round 83.

''I'll take the 66, 83 and enjoy the 66 yesterday,'' he said. ''You put this one down to just plain old golf. It's a nasty game we play sometimes. Glad I have a day job.''

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Wise, Simpson both miss cut at Colonial

By Nick MentaMay 25, 2018, 11:34 pm

The two most recent winners on the PGA Tour, Aaron Wise and Webb Simpson, missed the cut at the Fort Worth Invitational on Friday.

Wise and Simpson both came up short of the 2-over total by a shot following rounds of 70-73.

Wise was safely inside the number before playing his last four holes in 4 over par with two bogeys and a closing double following a trip into the water at the par-4 ninth.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Simpson, making his first start following his Players triumph, similarly struggled coming home, bogeying three of his final six holes.

Other notables who won't be around for the weekend at Colonial include Xander Schauffele (+4), Jason Dufner (+5), Patrick Cantlay (+6), Smylie Kaufman (+13), and Sam Burns (+13).

This is Kaufman's 11th consecutive MC and his 15th in his last 16 starts.

Jason Seaman and Kristi Hubly Seaman

Sr. PGA caddie learns of nephew's heroism in school shooting

By Tim RosaforteMay 25, 2018, 10:33 pm

Tracy Hubly caddied for her husband, club pro Chris Starkjohann, on Friday at the KitchenAid Senior PGA and learned after their round that her nephew was credited with helping stop the school shooting at Noblesville West Middle School in Indiana.

Jason Seaman, a 29-year-old science instructor and seventh grade football coach at the school, took three bullets but survived as what his aunt called a hero.

“You hear the stories about these shootings and I think about Parkland and the officer that was trained but didn’t go into the school,” Hubly said. “It’s really shocking to think it comes close to your family, but it does."

It’s not unusual for Hubly to caddie for her husband, a teacher at Carlsbad Golf Center and coach of a PGA Junior League program in Southern California. Hubly, who works in the pro shop at Emerald Island Golf Course in Oceanside, Calif., was on the bag when he was low golf professional at the 2009 Senior PGA Championship held at Canterbury GC. 

Starkjohann, 61, missed the cut at Harbor Shores with rounds of 76-79—155 and was heading to the Colorado State Open.

 “I didn’t hear about it until after my round was done,” Starkjohann said. “Everything happened after I got in.”