No. 1 ranking weighs heavy on those not named Tiger

By Randall MellOctober 30, 2013, 8:02 pm

Shakespeare didn’t write about golf all those years ago, but the great poet and playwright’s words are relevant to what’s happening at the top of the men’s and women’s games today.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

Shakespeare put those words in Henry IV’s mouth in his play about the king’s embattled reign, but they aptly capture the challenge and burden that comes with the No. 1 world ranking in golf these days.

The No. 1 ranking has never appeared to be a more weighty or burdensome crown than it has become for anyone not named Tiger Woods. It’s something that couldn’t be fully appreciated until Woods seized the top ranking back earlier this year.

The WGC-HSBC Champions begins Thursday in China with a Shakespearean mystery as a subplot.

The last four world No. 1s not named Tiger Woods are in the field, and, to varying degrees, they’re all in some sort of puzzling slide, whether gentle or jarring.

Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood will tee it up at Sheshan International this week looking to find the form that helped them get atop the world rankings.

When you factor in what’s happening to slumping former No. 1 Yani Tseng in women’s golf, it’s difficult to imagine a time when so many former No. 1s have swooned together.

Woods has won five times this season while taking back the top ranking. McIlroy, Donald, Westwood and Kaymer haven’t won anything this season. Though all four play the PGA Tour, it’s surprising that none of them is really in the thick of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai. Westwood starts this week 19th in the standings, Kaymer 32nd. Donald and McIlroy are in danger of not even qualifying for the season finale DP World Tour Championship. They have to crack the top 60 in the standings to gain a spot. Donald is No. 61, McIlroy No. 62.

“Of course, I expect myself to be a lot higher than that,” McIlroy said in China this week. “I won The Race to Dubai last year, and I was second in '11, and I was second in '09. So, I've been a factor in it for the last few years, and to be down where I am, obviously, doesn't feel too good and is a reflection of how my year has gone. 

“It's just the reality, and the reality is I haven't played well enough to be a factor.” 

Photos: Players who have reached No. 1

Woods isn’t playing the WGC-HSBC Champions, but the nature of what’s happening to all four players who succeeded him as No. 1 in the wake of his personal woes ought to add to the appreciation of Woods’ enduring ability to hold up under all the scrutiny, expectations and demands that come with the No. 1 ranking.

Thursday will mark exactly three years to the day Woods last lost the No. 1 ranking. It took him two-and-a-half years to get it back.

Nobody outside Woods in today’s game understands the unique challenge of holding on to No. 1 after you get there better than McIlroy, Donald, Westwood, Kaymer and Tseng.

This is the 654th week that Woods has reigned atop the world rankings. He has been a pro for 16 years. He has been No. 1 for 12 ½ of those years. In some ways, that’s more remarkable than his 14 majors. You have to try to peak at the right times to win one or two majors a year. You have to consistently be on top of your game to stay No. 1 for any lengthy reign.

The marvel of Woods’ success isn’t necessarily all the talent. It’s how he has kept motivated to do the work to be better than everyone else for so long. Because the thing is, the more you raise the bar, the harder everyone else behind you works to catch up. There’s going to be a relentless parade of challengers testing you.

Even in the women’s game of late, we’ve seen the debilitating burden the No. 1 ranking can bring.

Tseng dominated the LPGA, reigning at No. 1 for 109 weeks, but she is the first to admit the scrutiny and pressures that came with the run wore her down. She was still No. 1 back in March of this year. She has slipped to No. 26 in this newest ranking.

“It just drove me crazy,” Tseng said of trying to live up to being world No. 1. “Everyone wants to be No. 1, but nobody understands how hard it is to be No. 1. Now I know why Lorena [Ochoa] and Annika [Sorenstam] retired, because it’s very hard.”

McIlroy last held the No. 1 ranking on March 24 of this year. He’s No. 6 today.

Donald last sat atop the world rankings on Aug. 11, 2012. He’s No. 14 today.

Westwood last reigned as No. 1 on May 28, 2011. He’s No. 21 today.

Kaymer last held the top ranking on April 23, 2011. He’s No. 41 today.

This week’s WGC-HSBC Champions is a study in the uneasy heads that once wore crowns.

It’s a shame Shakespeare can’t be there to write the story.

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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.”