Quite the Stable

By Randall MellSeptember 16, 2010, 10:25 pm

The game’s best teachers are making their special marks this year in tournament golf.

Butch Harmon has watched Phil Mickelson win another major, his newest pupil, Dustin Johnson, make a run at PGA Tour Player of the Year honors and his oldest pupil, Fred Couples, dominate on the Champions Tour.

David Leadbetter helped Michelle Wie return to the winner’s circle in a hot, late-summer run.

Jim McLean is a guiding hand in the rise of teen phenom Alexis Thompson.

David Whelan and Paula Creamer
David Whelan with Paula Creamer at the 2007 McDonald's LPGA. (Getty Images)

And Sean Foley’s popularity is soaring with Tiger Woods moving under his watchful eye in the same year Justin Rose and Hunter Mahan have won PGA Tour events.

Big years, for sure, but David Whelan may be trumping them all.

No teacher’s influence reached deeper or wider than Whelan’s this summer.

The evidence is in the variety of champions and championships he touched.

Paula Creamer (U.S. Women’s Open), Peter Uihlein (U.S. Amateur) and Doris Chen (U.S. Girls’ Junior) all won U.S. Golf Association titles under Whelan’s tutelage in a remarkable eight-week span this summer. Jaclyn Sweeney didn’t win the U.S. Women’s Amateur, but she shared medalist honors with Whelan helping her. And if you go back 14 months, you can add Catriona Matthew to Whelan’s list of champions. Whelan helped her win the Ricoh Women’s British Open late last summer.

While fans who follow golf know Whelan’s special gifts, the run of champions he’s touched makes you wonder why he doesn’t get more credit for his influence. Though his pupils sing his praises, the spotlight rarely finds him. And he says that’s the way he likes it.

“David’s had a lot of success,” said David Leadbetter, who first coached and later mentored Whelan. “He’s a really, really good teacher, an excellent communicator who has a great way with people, but he’s a very low-key guy. He’s not into self-promotion.

“But you ask the people who work with him, and he’s very popular. Paula Creamer really leans on him.”

Whelan is the director of instruction at the IMG Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton. It’s where he first met Creamer and Uihlein.

While Whelan is a fixture on the driving range, he isn’t typically around when reporters break out notebooks to interview his students. You follow Creamer, and you’ll see Whelan popping up at the gallery ropes, and trading thoughts with Creamer’s father, Paul, but you won’t often see him around microphones when the day’s done.

“My theory is that it’s all about the player,” Whelan says. “If you are out there for your own reasons and your own reputation, you are doing it for the wrong reasons. In some ways, when the players I’m working with do well, it’s more relief to me than joy. When you are influencing somebody’s game, especially a highly talented athlete, you have to be concerned about them first.”

The concern might never have run higher than his time with Creamer at the U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont back in July.

Just three months after a doctor cut open Creamer’s left thumb to reconstruct ligaments, tendons and a torn volar plate, Whelan was at Creamer’s side to help with more than her swing. He was instrumental in devising a game plan to help her navigate one of the great American tests of golf and its beastly greens.

In practice rounds at Oakmont, Creamer said Whelan stood on every tee box with her, plotting out strategy.

“His thoughts of becoming `in sync’ with the golf course were very important concepts in the heat of the battle,” Creamer said. “He created a game plan for each hole that sounded good to me. We discussed it, then it was up to me to execute it.”

Creamer, despite obvious pain, won the U.S. Women’s Open by four shots. She won just seven weeks after she began hitting balls following surgery.

“The biggest challenge was not being able to practice as much as Paula normally practices,” Whelan said. “The work that was done to get ready had to be done in very short and intense periods.”

That’s a testament to the level of Whelan and Creamer’s communication.

When Uihlein won the U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay last month, he credited Whelan with helping him take his game to another level by hitting more fairways and by showing him how to take spin off shots around the greens.

“When you’ve got somebody who generates as much power as Peter does, as much ball speed, the goal is to control that,” Whelan said.

A former European Tour pro from Newcastle in England, Whelan once beat Nick Faldo in a playoff at the Barcelona Open. That was back in 1988. The victory came a couple years after Whelan turned to Leadbetter for help with his game, a connection that would eventually lead Whelan into teaching as a Leadbetter disciple.

After 10 years as the European director of instruction for the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, Whelan moved to the United States in 2003 to work for Leadbetter in Bradenton.

“I started with David Whelan when I was 15 years old and have never even considered any other coach since that first day,” Creamer said.

Creamer said she respects Whelan’s studious approach, the way he observes and evaluates without feeling the need to quickly “fix” something. She also likes the fact that he competed at the highest level.

“David learned early on with me that I am a more visual learner,” Creamer said. “When I see something done properly, it is easier for me to imitate the movement, or shot, than to just be told how to do it. Because David has such an incredible short game, for example, when he sees me struggle, he will ask for the club and execute the shot repeatedly. I almost get the `feel’ of the shot through him.”

While Whelan learned Leadbetter’s swing principles, he says he’s keenly aware of how everything must be adapted to the uniqueness of every player’s swing. Ask him to detail his method, and Whelan will tell you it depends on the player. Whether he’s teaching Creamer, Uihlein, Matthew, Chen or anyone else, he takes into account a player’s individuality, knowing there are different paths to the same successful ends.

“I try to keep it very simple,” Whelan said. “I try to talk to players in a language they understand, that’s always different. I have feel players, technical players, those who learn by seeing, those by listening. It’s about getting to know your students, assessing that `This is where you are,’ and `This is where you need to be,’ and `This is how you get there. So, let’s get on with a plan and stay focused on it.’”

That approach is proving a winning method.

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Elway to play in U.S. Senior Open qualifier

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 23, 2018, 10:25 pm

Tony Romo is not the only ex-QB teeing it up against the pros.

Denver Broncos general manager and Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway will try to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open next week, according to the Denver Post.

And why not? The qualifier and the senior major will be held in Colorado Springs at the Broadmoor. Elway is scheduled to tee off May 28 at 12:10 p.m. ET. The top two finishers will earn a spot in the U.S. Senior Open, June 27 to July 1.

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Jutanugarn sisters: Different styles, similar results

By Associated PressMay 23, 2018, 10:20 pm

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn play golf and live life differently.

The sisters from Thailand do have the same goal in the LPGA, hoping their shot-to-shot focus leads to titles.

The Jutanugarns are two of six women with a shot at the Volvik Championship to become the circuit's first two-time winner this year. The first round begins Thursday at Travis Pointe Country Club, a course six winners are skipping to prepare elsewhere for next week's U.S. Women's Open at Shoal Creek in Alabama.

''Everybody has a chance to win every weekend,'' Moriya said. ''That's how hard it is on tour right now.''

Ariya competes with a grip-it-and-rip-it approach, usually hammering a 3-wood off the tee.

Moriya takes a more calculated approach, analyzing each shot patiently.

That's perhaps fitting because she's 16 months older than her sister.

''It's funny because when we think about something, it's always the different,'' she said. ''But we pretty much end up with the same idea.''

Off the course, they're also different.

The 22-year-old Ariya appears careful and guarded when having conversations with people she doesn't know well. The 23-year-old Moriya, meanwhile, enjoys engaging in interesting discussions with those who cross her path.

Their mother, Narumon, was with her daughters Wednesday and the three of them always stay together as a family. They don't cook during tournament weeks and opt to eat out, searching for good places like the sushi restaurant they've discovered near Travis Pointe.

Their father, Somboon, does not watch them play in person. They sisters say he has retired from owning a golf shop in Thailand.

''He doesn't travel anymore,'' Moriya Jutanugarn said.

Even if he is relegating to watching from the other side of the world, Somboon Jutanugarn must be proud of the way his daughters are playing.

Ariya became the first Thai winner in LPGA history in 2016, the same year she went on to win the inaugural Volvik Championship. She earned her eighth career victory last week in Virginia and is one of two players, along with Brooke Henderson, to have LPGA victories this year and the previous two years.

Moriya won for the first time in six years on the circuit last month in Los Angeles, joining Annika and Charlotta Sorenstam as the two pairs of sisters to have LPGA victories.

On the money list, Ariya is No. 1 and her sister is third.

In terms of playing regularly, no one is ahead of them.

Ariya is the only LPGA player to start and make the cut in all 12 events this year. Moriya Jutanugarn has also appeared in each tournament this year and failed to make the cut only once.

Instead of working in breaks to practice without competing or simply relax, they have entered every tournament so far and shrug their shoulders at the feat.

''It's not that bad, like 10 week in a row,'' Moriya said.

The LPGA is hosting an event about five miles from Michigan Stadium for a third straight year and hopes to keep coming back even though it doesn't have a title sponsor secured for 2019. LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan told reporters he's confident Ann Arbor will be a long-term home for the circuit.

''I can't tell you the specifics about how we're going to do that,'' Whan acknowledged.

LPGA and tournament officials are hosting some prospective sponsors this week, trying to persuade them to put their name on the tournament.

Volvik, which makes golf balls, is preparing to scale back its support of the tournament.

''We're coming back,'' said Don Shin, president of Volvik USA. ''We just don't know in what capacity.''

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Wise: 'No hard feelings' over Nelson missed kiss

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 10:18 pm

Aaron Wise left the AT&T Byron Nelson with his first PGA Tour trophy and a seven-figure paycheck. But lost in the shuffle of closing out his breakthrough victory in near-darkness was his failed attempt for a celebratory kiss with his girlfriend on the 18th green.

Wise appeared to go in for a peck after his family joined him on the putting surface, but instead he and his girlfriend simply laughed and hugged. After the moment gained a bit of online notoriety, Wise told reporters at the Fort Worth Invitational that the young couple simply laughed it off.

"Yeah, I have been giving her some s--- about that," Wise said. "A lot has been made about it. It's really nothing. Like I was saying, she was just so excited to surprise me. I was kind of ruining the surprise a little bit that she was shocked, and she didn't even see me going in for the kiss."

At age 21, Wise is now one of the youngest winners on Tour. He explained that while both his girlfriend and mother flew in to watch the final round at Trinity Forest Golf Club, where he shared the 54-hole lead and eventually won by three shots, he took some of the surprise out of their arrival in true millennial fashion - by looking up his girlfriend's location earlier in the day.

Still getting used to his newfound status on Tour, Wise downplayed any controversy surrounding the kiss that wasn't.

"No hard feelings at all," Wise said. "We love each other a ton and we're great. It was a funny moment that I think we'll always be able to look back at, but that's all it really was."

Mmm Visuals / Lancaster Country Club

Giving back: Chun creates education fund at site of Open win

By Randall MellMay 23, 2018, 8:04 pm

South Korea’s In Gee Chun is investing in American youth.

Chun broke through on the largest stage in women’s golf, winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago, and she’s making sure Lancaster, Pa., continues to share in what that brought her.

Chun is preparing for next week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek outside Birmingham, Ala., but she made a special stop this week. She returned to the site of her breakthrough in Pennsylvania on Tuesday and Wednesday, launching the In Gee Chun Lancaster Country Club Education Fund. She announced Tuesday that she’s donating $10,000 to seed the fund. She’s expected to raise more than $20,000 for the cause in a fundraising dinner at the club Wednesday evening. The fund will annually award scholarships to Lancaster youth applicants, including Lancaster Country Club caddies and children of club employees.

“I’m excited to be back here,” said Chun, who put on a junior clinic during her stay and also played an outing with club members. “Winning the U.S. Women’s Open here in Lancaster gave me the opportunity to play on the LPGA and make one of my dreams come true.”

Chun also supports a fund in her name at Korea University, where she graduated, a fund for various “social responsibility” projects and for the educational needs of the youth who create them.

“Education is very important to me,” Chun said. “I would like to help others reach their goals.”

Chun made donations to the Lancaster General Health Foundation in 2015 and ’16 and to Pennsylvania’s J. Wood Platt Caddie Scholarship Trust last year. Lancaster Country Club officials estimate she has now made donations in excess of $40,000 to the community.

“We are grateful In Gee’s made such a wonderful connection to our community and club,” said Rory Connaughton, a member of Lancaster Country Club’s board of governors. “She’s a special person.”