Pleading the fifth

By Randall MellJuly 25, 2011, 8:39 pm

The best players in the women’s game are at Carnoustie for the Ricoh Women’s British Open this week.

The destination is notable given its history and its treacherous test.

It’s notable with the nature of major championship golf being redefined in the women’s game.

Last week, the Evian Masters was designated to become the LPGA’s fifth major beginning in 2013. There will be a new name, The Evian, new September dates and a new test on an $8 million redesign of Evian Masters Golf Club.

The news fuels debate with the women arriving at Carnoustie for the year’s final major on the Scottish course built in 1850, a links Old Tom Morris once helped redesign. Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Tom Watson all won the claret jug there.

The Evian Masters didn’t begin until 1994 and wasn’t an LPGA-sanctioned event until 2000. With the turn to Carnoustie, this week feels like a major in every regard. It sparks conversation about what really constitutes a major championship.

How much should history and tradition dictate in the designation? Can you really just issue a proclamation making an event a major? And what about five majors in a year? Is it blaspheme or a brilliant stroke?

Know this: If there are golf gods, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan didn’t want to offend them, and that’s why the decision to upgrade The Evian didn’t come easily or quickly.

“I grinded over this a long time,” Whan told

Whan said Evian executive Franck Riboud first approached him about turning the Evian Masters into a major a full month before he officially assumed the commissioner’s job more than a year-and-a-half ago. Riboud had been pushing even before that, but Whan knew the notion of five majors would irritate some golf devotees. He knew the crowning of a major champion at Evian Masters Golf Club would come with questions about the benign nature of the test it offers.

“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,” Whan said. “I’m really respectful of the game’s traditions. I didn’t want to mess with tradition without walking through this.”

So Whan sought out some of the game’s icons and dignitaries to seek their opinions. He cornered former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman at the World Golf Hall of Fame induction ceremony. He called on former LPGA commissioner Charlie Mechem. He quizzed Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez, Louise Suggs, Beth Daniel and Karrie Webb. He sought out today’s top players, including Paula Creamer and Suzann Pettersen.

“If you dig, you’ll probably find 30 people I turned to,” Whan said. “I told them, ‘Hey, this is where I’m going. Am I nuts?’ I was looking for somebody to say you have completely flipped your lid.”

Whan said he didn’t hear that.

“I remember telling my wife that each of these conversations is giving me momentum, not fear,” Whan said. “I think I had some fear because I didn’t want to be the guy who messed with tradition.”

Whan knew he would get a no-nonsense answer from Suggs, one of the LPGA’s founders.

“Louise said, ‘Hey, Mike, if somebody is going to put you on a grand stage with a big purse and make a big deal of the women’s game, that’s your job,’” Whan said. “I thought that was the best synopsis.”

Lopez also liked the idea.

“Five majors is definitely a plus, I think,” Lopez said. “The TV time, the attention, we need that.”

About messing with tradition, Whan learned the LPGA’s unique history factored into perceptions. The women’s game doesn’t have the fixed nature of major championship history. It’s been all over the place. When the LPGA was created in 1950, there were just three majors. For 10 years over the late ‘60s and ‘70s, there were only two majors. The Women’s Western, the Titleholders and the du Maurier Classic have come and gone. The Kraft Nabisco’s only been a major since 1983, the Women’s British Open since 2001.

Ask most golf fans, and they can’t tell you who holds the most major championship triumphs in the women’s game. Patty Berg’s record 15 isn’t as revered a feat as Jack Nicklaus’ 18.

With the women’s schedule having shrunk the last three years, Whan also didn’t see the harm in offering players another chance to earn two points toward the 27 required to earn Hall of Fame induction.

So Whan presented Riboud and Evian tournament director Jacques Bungert a list of provisions the tour wanted met before it would designate Evian a major.

“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,” Whan said. “To [Evian’s] credit, over the last year, we knocked all 10 off the list.”

A golf course redesign was on high the list. Evian secured architect Steve Smyers for the $8 million renovation at the LPGA’s recommendation. The LPGA also required securing of financing for network TV coverage. Plus, the tournament dates had to be moved to September.

The course redesigns looms as vital. If The Evian’s going to be a legitimate fifth major, the test has to live up to the billing.

“I know Steve Smyers will take it seriously, and hopefully he’ll do a good job,” Daniel said. “I totally understand Franck and Jacques wanted this to be a fifth major, and now they understand they have to make changes to the golf course, and they’re willing to do it.”

In the final analysis, Whan agreed to designate Evian as a fifth major to elevate LPGA exposure.

“After doing the job a couple years, you realize the most important thing you can do is give the best players in the world the grandest stages you can,” Whan said. “We don’t get 12 hours of network TV every week. The coverage we get at a major, that’s really our big moments. It’s an opportunity to showcase the best players in the world on a big stage. We really thought we should take advantage of it.”

And that’s how a fifth major was born.

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Alabama faces 'buzzsaw' Arizona for NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 23, 2018, 2:00 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – There was no way Laura Ianello could sleep Monday night, not after that dramatic ending at the NCAA Women’s Championship. So at 12:15 a.m., the Arizona coach held court in the laundry room at the Holiday Inn, washing uniforms and munching on mozzarella sticks and fried chicken strips from Sonic, her heart still racing.

Ianello got only three hours of sleep, and who could blame her?

The Wildcats had plummeted down the team standings during the final round of stroke-play qualifying, and were 19 over par for the day, when junior transfer Bianca Pagdanganan arrived on the 17th hole.

“Play the best two holes of your life,” Ianello told her, and so Pagdanganan did, making a solid par on 17 and then ripping a 6-iron from 185 yards out of a divot to 30 feet. There was a massive leaderboard positioned to the right of the par-5 18th green, but Pagdanganan never peeked. The only way for Arizona to force a play-five, count-four playoff with Baylor and reach match play was to sink the putt, and when it dropped, the Wildcats lost their minds, shrieking and jumping over the ropes and hugging anyone in sight.

Watching the action atop the hill, Alabama coach Mic Potter shook his head.

“I was really glad we didn’t win the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed,” he said, “because they’re a buzzsaw with a lot of momentum.”

Given new life, Arizona dispatched Baylor by three strokes in the playoff, then turned its attention to top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals on Tuesday morning.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Facing two first-team All-Americans, the Wildcats beat them, too, continuing the curse of the medalist. In the afternoon, worried that the adrenaline would wear off, Ianello watched her squad make quick work of Stanford, 4-1.

“They’ve got a lot of great momentum, a lot of great team energy,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “They thought they were going home, and now they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing with an edge.”

After a marathon doubleheader Tuesday at Karsten Creek, Arizona now has a date with Alabama in the final match of this NCAA Championship.

And the Wildcats better rest up.

Alabama looks unstoppable.

“They’re rolling off a lot of momentum right now,” Ianello said. “We know Alabama is a good team. But they’re super excited and pumped. It’s not the high of making it [Monday]; now they’ve got a chance to win. They know they have to bring it.”

Even fully rested, Arizona will be a significant underdog against top-ranked Alabama.

After failing to reach match play each of the past two years, despite being the top overall seed, the Tide wouldn’t be stopped from steamrolling their competition this time.

They roughed up Kent State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals, then frontloaded their lineup with three first-team All-Americans – Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight – in their semifinal tilt against Southern Cal.

Potter said that he was just trying to play the matchups, but the move sent a clear signal.

“It gets pretty tedious when you never miss fairways and hole a lot of putts and your opponent knows that you’re not going to spray it,” Potter said. “That’s tough to match up against.”

They breezed to the first three points, draining any drama out of the semifinals. Of the 99 holes that Bama’s Big 3 played Tuesday, they trailed after only two.

“We’re always consistent,” Stephenson said, “and that’s exactly what you need in match play. Someone has to go really low to beat us.”

That Arizona even has that chance to dethrone the Tide seemed inconceivable a few months ago.

The Wildcats had a miserable fall and were ranked 39th at the halfway point of the season. On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, sent a text to Ianello that she was turning pro. Once she relayed the news, the team felt abandoned, but it also had a newfound motivation.

“They wanted to prove that they’re a great team, even without her,” Ianello said.

It also was a case of addition by subtraction: Out went the individual-minded Quihuis and in came Yu-Sang Ho, an incoming freshman whom Ianello described as a “bright, shining light.”

Because incorporating a top-tier junior at the midway point can be intimidating, Ianello organized a lively team retreat at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, where they made vision boards and played games blindfolded.

They laughed that weekend and all throughout the spring – or at least until Pagnanganan made that last-ditch eagle putt Monday. Then tears streamed down Ianello’s face.

Folding uniforms after midnight, she regaled Alabama assistant coach Susan Rosenstiel with stories from their emotional day on the cut line, not even considering that they might face each other two days later for a national title. She was too delirious to ponder that.

“I feel like a new mother with a newborn baby,” Ianello said. “But we’re going off of adrenaline. This team has all the momentum they need to get it done.”

Yes, somehow, the last team into the match-play field might soon be the last team standing.

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Pairings, tee times set for championship match

By Jay CoffinMay 23, 2018, 1:02 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Alabama coach Mic Potter has three first-team All-Americans on this team. It’s little surprise that all three are going out first in the Crimson Tide’s championship match against Arizona Wednesday at Karsten Creek.

Potter tinkered with his lineup in both the quarterfinal victory over Kent State and the semifinal win over USC. But with the NCAA title on the line, this one was a no brainer.

“We don’t want to sacrifice anything,” Potter said. “We just want to give ourselves a chance to win every match.”

Arizona kept its lineup the same all day Tuesday in defeating Pac-12 foes UCLA and Stanford in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. That meant junior Bianca Pagdanganan, the Wildcats grittiest player this week, was in the last match of the day. She won twice.

Now, with all the marbles riding on the championship match, Arizona coach Laura Ianello moved Pagdanganan up to the third spot to assure that her match is key to the final outcome.

Junior Haley Moore, Arizona’s best player all year, is in the fifth spot and will face Alabama senior Lakareber Abe.

“Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a helluva ride,” Ianello said.

Alabama (2) vs. Arizona (8)

3:25PM ET: Lauren Stephenson (AL) vs. Yu-Sang Hou (AZ)

3:35PM ET: Kristen Gillman (AL) vs. Gigi Stoll (AZ)

3:45PM ET: Cheyenne Knight (AL) vs. Bianca Pagdanganan (AZ)

3:55PM ET: Angelica Moresco (AL) vs. Sandra Nordaas (AZ)

4:05PM ET: Lakareber Abe (AL) vs. Haley Moore (AZ)

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Women's NCAA finals: Arizona vs. Alabama

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 11:49 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – It’s the SEC vs. the Pac 12 for the women’s NCAA Championship; Alabama vs. Arizona, to be more specific.

Both the Crimson Tide and Wildcats cruised in their respective semifinal matches Tuesday at Karsten Creek. Alabama easily beat USC, 3-1-1; Arizona defeated match-play juggernaut Stanford, 4-1.

Alabama’s top three players, Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight were unstoppable forces in both matches on the marathon day. Stacked in the top three positions in the semifinals all three won their matches on the 17th hole, making the last two matches inconsequential.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Arizona, the eighth seed, won as decisively as second-seeded Alabama, but needed a miracle to be in this position in the first place.

Junior Bianca Pagdanganan drained a 30-footer for eagle on the last hole of stroke play on Monday to get the Wildcats into a playoff against Baylor, which they won on the second hole. Then on Tuesday, presumably running on fumes, they downed top-seeded UCLA in the morning, then crushed Pac-12 foe Stanford in the afternoon.

Pagdanganan, Gigi Stoll and Hayley Moore each won both matches for Arizona on the hot, draining day.

“I don’t want to let them down so I do my best to rise to the occasion,” Pagdanganan said.

Said Arizona coach Laura Ianello: “How many players, when you tell them under pressure that you need them, can really handle it,” Ianello said about Pagdanganan. “This kid can.”

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NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 11:30 pm

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals were contested Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live finals action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.


TV Times (all times ET):

4-8PM: Match-play finals (Click here to watch live)