Ready for dessert?

By Randall MellOctober 25, 2011, 8:26 pm

With the PGA Tour season unofficially over, the calendar turns to silly season and lucrative international events.

While there are some hit-and-giggle events scheduled over the final 10 weeks of the year, there’s more than funny money to be won.

Tiger Woods will be looking to win back some confidence. He’s scheduled to tee it up three more times. Despite a hectic late summer and fall, world No. 1 Luke Donald might make four more appearances before New Year’s Eve arrives. The world’s No. 1-2-3 players are all scheduled to play the Dubai World Championship. And with the Presidents Cup being staged in Australia, the Australian Open is reaping a large reward with its field. And, of course, there’s the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, the biggest event of all for hopefuls looking to make it to the game’s grandest stages.

Here’s a look at the best of the rest of the 2011 season:

Shanghai Masters, Oct. 27-30

The largest winner’s check in golf is up for grabs in this inaugural event.

There will be no world ranking points in this unsanctioned exhibition, but there’s a $2 million first-place check at stake. That’s enough to attract Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Charl Schwartzel, Keegan Bradley, Padraig Harrington, Retief Goosen, K.J. Choi and Colin Montgomerie to Lake Malaren Golf Club in Shanghai.

WGC-HSBC Champions, Nov. 3-6

Don’t put it past an aggravated Luke Donald to show up and put an exclamation point on his bid to win PGA Tour Player of the Year.

Frustrated after hearing the PGA Tour won’t be sending out ballots for POY voting as scheduled this week, Donald isn’t ruling out playing the HSBC Champions. Donald says if his wife, Diane, gives birth to their second child this week, he might make the trip and play in Shanghai.

The PGA Tour was originally scheduled to mail out Player of the Year ballots on Tuesday, but Tour officials, realizing late that the HSBC Champions counts as an official victory, decided to hold off on mailing the ballots until after the Shanghai event concludes. Ballots are due Dec. 9.

“I feel like if I even went to HSBC and won, they’d find another event to add,” a frustrated Donald said.

All four major championship winners (Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Keegan Bradley) are announced as playing. Though commitments aren’t solidified until Friday, Martin Kaymer, Webb Simpson, Nick Watney and Adam Scott are among players tournament officials have listed as playing. It’s the only World Golf Championship event played outside the United States. While winnings don’t count as official, whoever wins will get credit for an official PGA Tour victory. The odd arrangement makes it feel like an unofficially official event.

Emirates Australian Open, Nov. 10-13

With the Presidents Cup being played Down Under the week after the Australian Open, Woods is among the American contingent using the event at the Lakes Golf Club in Sydney to sharpen their games. It will be Woods’ first appearance since tying for 30th at the Open three weeks ago. Presidents Cup Internationals captain Greg Norman and American captain Fred Couples are also in the field along with Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Bill Haas, Adam Scott and defending champ Geoff Ogilvy.

Barclays Singapore Open, Nov. 10-13

Instead of heading Down Under early to play the Australian Open, Phil Mickelson is bound for the European Tour event at Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore to warm up for the Presidents Cup. Graeme McDowell, Harrington, Y.E. Yang and Anthony Kim are also scheduled to play with a $6 million purse up for grabs.

The Presidents Cup, Nov. 17-20

Woods will be center stage, as usual, with so much attention focused on whether he deserves to be on the American team headed to Royal Melbourne Golf Club.

This international team event has lacked the grudge-match feel of the Ryder Cup, but the intensity has been ratcheted up with controversy over Woods as a captain’s pick.

After Couples announced early he was picking Woods, criticism rained. Even Norman, the Internationals captain, weighed in, saying he wouldn’t have selected Woods. Ogilvy also questioned the pick. A key factor in how this plays out is whether Steve Stricker, whom Woods has teamed so successfully with, will be sufficiently recovered from a herniated disk in his neck to compete.

Australian PGA Championship, Nov. 24-27

Australian stars Ogilvy, Scott and Day will get some international competition with Americans Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler in the field. Norman’s also planning to play what could be a love fest if his Internationals are coming off a Presidents Cup triumph.

Omega Mission Hills World Cup, Nov. 24-27

The two-man team competition will feature some stellar duos in the foursomes and four-ball format in what’s been changed to a biennial event.

The Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy/Graeme McDowell and South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel/Louis Oosthuizen lead the way as major championship winning combos. The United States’ Matt Kuchar/Gary Woodland, Germany’s Martin Kaymer/Alex Cjeka and England’s Ian Poulter/Justin Rose also are scheduled to play. Italy’s Molinari brothers, Edoardo and Francesco, will be back as defending champs.

Chevron World Challenge, Dec. 1-4

World No. 1 Donald won’t be playing Tiger’s event. Neither will the defending champ, McDowell.

Woods needed a sponsor’s exemption to make it into his own event for his final appearance of the year.

With the Nedbank Challenge going on the same week, Donald and McDowell will be among the lucky dozen competing for riches in South Africa. But you can count Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Matt Kuchar, Nick Watney, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley and Bill Haas among the headliners in the 18-player field at Sherwood Country Club.

Nedbank Challenge, Dec. 1-4

Twelve players compete for $5 million in prize money at Gary Player Country Club in Sun City.

Donald, Lee Westwood, Kaymer, Schwartzel and McDowell are among the lucky dozen that will be going for the $1.25 million first-place prize. Last place will take home at least $250,000.

PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, Nov. 30-Dec. 5

Six days of hell.

That pretty much sums up the angst more than 150 players will be feeling in the final stage of Q-School at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif. The top 25 and ties earn fully exempt status with the next 55 and ties earning Nationwide Tour status and the rest earning conditional Nationwide Tour status.

Dubai World Championship, Dec. 8-11

World No. 1 Donald, No. 2 Westwood and No. 3 McIlroy make this a stellar finish to the European Tour’s Race to Dubai competition at Jumeirah Golf Estates in the United Arab Emirates. With No. 6 Kaymer in the field, four of the top six players in the world will compete for $7.5 million in bonus money in the season-long competition, as well as a $7.5 million tournament purse. Donald holds a commanding lead in the season-long money race, making him a virtual lock to win the Harry Vardon Trophy and the $1.5 million bonus jackpot that goes with it.

Franklin Templeton Shootout, Dec. 9-11

Defending champs Dustin Johnson and Ian Poulter won’t be back, but Stricker, Bradley, Simpson, Fowler and Norman will be featured in the two-man team event at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples.

JBWere Masters, Dec. 15-18

The tireless world No. 1 is scheduled to make his final appearance in a breakthrough year at Victoria Golf Course in Melbourne. Donald is scheduled to play for a third consecutive week following the Nedbank Challenge and Dubai World Championship.

Thailand Golf Championship, Dec. 15-18

The season-ending Asian Tour event boasts an impressive field with McIlroy, Westwood, Ryo Ishikawa and Darren Clarke. There’s a $1 million purse but obviously some appearance fees making this worth the trip to Chonburi.

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Bifurcate to make game easier for amateurs

By Phil BlackmarMay 24, 2018, 1:01 pm

In January of 2017, Golf Digest ran a story about the average driving distance of amateurs. If you missed the article (click here to read it), the numbers may surprise you. It conveniently breaks down the results, both by handicap and by age, to provide a more detailed view of what golf is really like for the majority of players.

I recently ran across the post again and couldn’t help myself; hence this article. The average driving distance on the PGA Tour is around 295 yards, with the leader in the 320-plus range. Per the article, low handicap players top the list at 250 yards, while the 10-19 handicapper – average player – drives it around 215. That’s a big difference.

Bifurcation, the hotbed topic which ignites division among golfers at a level nearly on par with our nation’s current political weather, keeps banging at my door. Frank Nobilo recently said something to the effect that “the average player has never been further removed from the professional game.” I agree.

The most common argument against splitting the rules is that golf is one game – where amateurs and professionals, alike, play the same game. But, do they really?

The “regular” tees on many courses today have been stretched to around 6,500 yards, while the PGA Tour average is over 7,400. Most courses keep greens soft and running around 10 on a stimpmeter (I know, you’re course prides itself on 14’s) while the average on Tour is 12 1/2. Even with the Tour’s comparative lack of rough, it’s still deeper and more penal than most courses opt for, day in and day out.

Tour players also compete under the watchful eye of a staff keen on strict adherence to the rules, while a large percentage of average players are unfamiliar with many of the rules (Me, too; they keep changing). One other thing: Tour players have to count every shot they hit, finish every hole and there are no gimmes nor mulligans.

Add the distance pros hit the ball and it’s easy to see they play a different game. If you disagree, take the time to play a “Tour” course from the tournament tees right after a competition and see what you can shoot.

Putting that argument aside, it occurred to me that I’ve been looking at this from the wrong angle. My reasons for bifurcation have had more to do with protecting my view of the integrity of the game rather than what would be best for the average player.

The guys on the PGA Tour and Tour (LPGA and PGA Tour Champions, too) can really, really play. Last week, I watched a 36-year-old unknown player who had never won on either tour shoot 27 (with a bogey on the front-nine, par 35) in route to a 60. Then he came back two days later with a 28 on the same nine. He won on the Tour.

Science has unlocked many of the mysteries of the game. Club and ball technology have prompted a benefit for athleticism like never before. Biomechanics, video, launch monitors and force plates have combined to create a huge pool of players with very good swings. Did I mention that they can really play?

However, taking advantage of all this technology requires hours in the gym every day, hours on the range every day, hours on the course every day, and hours in the laboratory on a consistent basis. How many amateur players have the time and money to do all this? That’s right, not most. That’s why the median 10-19 handicap player averages 215 off the tee. They just don’t receive nearly as much benefit from today’s technological advancements as does the touring pro.

So, instead of penalizing the professional player for working hard and taking advantage of all that is available today, my argument has shifted to wanting bifurcation in order to make the game easier, less costly and quicker for the average player.

My idea for the average player begins with distance; the game is too darn long. Think about it: If a player gives up 80 yards off the tee and 45 yards on a 7-iron (180-135), it makes sense that this player should play from 7,400 – ((80 X 14) + (45 X 14) + (4 X 50)) = 5,450 yards to relate to the tour game. Even for the player who averages 250 off the tee and 160 with a 7-iron, the same reasoning yields a 6,400-yard course, give or take a little. But I’m not stopping there, equipment rules need to be relaxed as well.

For instance, the allowable trampoline effect for amateurs should be increased with a focus to fit slower club-head speeds. The limit on the size of the club head needs to be removed and larger grooves for more control and spin should be allowed. Ball limits should be relaxed so the player with lower club-head speed gets more benefit from new ball technologies.

Courses also need to quit watering so much, which would yield a more natural look as opposed to playing in the botanical gardens. This will allow the ball to run out more, effectively shorten the course and open up more options for how to play a shot or hole. Running the ball up on a green or down a fairway needs to return to the game. Rough needs to be eliminated; it’s supposed to be a game rewarding angles not just penalizing off the mark shots. It would also be great to see tree branches trimmed up, when possible, to allow for windows of opportunity and artistry instead of simply creating pitch-out masters.

There will always be the faction that consider themselves purists, which is great. Let major amateur championships stick to the stricter set of rules.

Wait, you could even go as far as to make it a different game altogether and give it a different name, flog for example. That way you don’t need different sets of rules for the same game; each game can have its own set of rules. Tennis is seeing a shift to include pickle ball, maybe golf embraces flog. You could go to the flog course instead of the golf course.

You could even have the USFA, United States Flogging Association, established for the advancement and preservation of flogging, tasked with protecting the game’s original vision of a fun, cheap game which plays quick and embraces imagination and artistry. I think you would be surprised how much you would like flog.

Anyone care to go flogging Saturday?

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LPGA Korean event gets sponsor, new venue

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 24, 2018, 12:21 pm

BMW Group Korea will be the title sponsor of the LPGA’s new South Korean event scheduled for next year. 

The event will be played at LPGA International Busan in the port city of Busan in October of 2019. It’s the first LPGA golf facility to be opened outside the United States, with the golf course scheduled to be ready for play in the summer of next year. The LPGA announced in a news conference in Busan in March that the course would host a new event with the title sponsor to be named at a later date.

BMW Group Korea will give South Korea two LPGA events in the fall Asian swing. The KEB Hana Bank Championship is played in Incheon in October.

The Busan event will feature a $2 million purse with a first-place check of $300,000.

Formerly Asiad Country Club, LPGA International Busan is a renovation being managed by Rees Jones. The golf facility’s opening will mark the first of several projects the LPGA plans in the region, including the opening of an LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Center and the establishment of an LPGA regional qualifying school.

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Arizona caps an improbable journey with a title

By Ryan LavnerMay 24, 2018, 3:49 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Five hours before the final match at the NCAA Women’s Championship, Arizona coach Laura Ianello sat cross-legged on a couch in the Holiday Inn lobby and broke down four times in a half-hour interview.

It’s been that kind of exhausting season.

From poor play to stunning midseason defections to a stroke-play collapse, Ianello has felt uneasy for months. She has felt like she was losing control. Felt like her carefully crafted roster was coming apart.

So to even have a chance to win a NCAA title?

“I know what this team has gone through,” she said, beginning to tear up, “and you don’t get these opportunities all the time. So I want it for them. This could be so life-changing for so many of them.”

A moment that seemed impossible six months ago became reality Wednesday at Karsten Creek.

Arizona continued its magical run through the match-play bracket and knocked off top-ranked Alabama to capture its third NCAA title, with junior Haley Moore – who first rose to fame by making the cut at an LPGA major as a 16-year-old – rolling in a 4-footer to earn the clinching point in extra holes.

All throughout nationals Arizona was fueled by momentum and adrenaline, but this was no Cinderella squad. The Wildcats were ranked ninth in the country. They won twice this spring. They had four medalists. They were one of the longest-hitting teams in the country.

But even before a miracle end to NCAA stroke play, Arizona needed some help just to get here.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring

On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, texted Ianello that she was turning pro. It may have been a gift to her parents, for their years of sacrifice, but it was a lump of coal in Ianello’s stocking.

“I was absolutely heartbroken,” she said. “It was devastating.”

Even more bad news arrived a few weeks later, when junior Gigi Stoll told Ianello that she was unhappy, homesick and wanted to return to Portland, Ore. Just like that, a promising season had gone off the rails.

Ianello offered her a full release, but Stoll looked around, found no other suitors and decided to remain with the team – as long as she signed a contract of expected behavior.

“It was the most exhausting two months of my life,” Ianello said. “We care so much about these freakin’ girls, and we’re like, Come on, this is just a small, little picture of your life, so you don’t realize what you’re possibly giving up. It’s so hard to see that sometimes.”

Stoll eventually bought in, but the rest of the team was blindsided by Quihuis’ decision.

“We became even more motivated to prove we were a great team,” said junior Bianca Pagdanganan.

It also helped that Yu-Sang Hou joined the squad in January. The morale immediately improved, not least because the players now could poke fun at Hou; on her fourth day on campus she nearly burned down the dorm when she forgot to add water to her mac-and-cheese.

Early on Ianello and assistant Derek Radley organized a team retreat at a hotel in Tucson. There the players created Oprah-inspired vision boards and completed exercises blindfolded and delivered 60-second speeches to break down barriers. At the end of the session, they created T-shirts that they donned all spring. They splashed “The Great Eight” on the front, put the state of Arizona and each player’s country of origin on the sleeves, and on the back printed their names and a slogan: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

“I can’t think of anything else that better embodies this team,” Radley said.

This spring, they rallied together and finished no worse than fourth in a tournament. Through three rounds of stroke play here at the NCAA Championship, they used their distance advantage and sat third in the standings. Then they shot 17 over par in the final round, tumbling outside the top-8 cut line.

They were down to their final chance on the 72nd hole, needing an eagle to tie, as Pagdanganan lined up her 30-footer. She dramatically drained the putt, then gathered her teammates on the range.

“This means we were meant to be in the top 8,” she said. Less than an hour later, they beat Baylor in the team playoff to earn the last match-play berth.

Ianello was so amped up from the frenetic finish that she slept only three hours on Monday night, but they continued to roll and knocked off top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals, beating a pair of Player of the Year contenders, Lilia Vu and Patty Tavatanakit, in the process. In the afternoon semifinals, they jumped all over Stanford and won easily.

It was a cute story, the last team into the match-play field reaching the final match, but a stiffer challenge awaited the Wildcats Wednesday.

Alabama was the top-ranked team in the country. The Tide were a whopping 110 under par for the season, boasting three first-team All-Americans who were so dominant in their first two matches that they trailed for only two of the 99 holes they played.

Ianello already seemed to be bracing for the result on the eve of the final match.

“Win or lose,” she said, “this has been a hell of a ride.”

But their wild ride continued Wednesday, as Hou won four holes in a row to start the back nine and defeat Alabama’s best player, Lauren Stephenson, who had the best single-season scoring average (69.5) in Division I history.

Then sophomore Sandra Nordaas – the main beneficiary after Quihuis left at the midway point of the season – held on for a 1-up victory over Angelica Moresco.

And so Arizona’s national-title hopes hinged on the success of its most mercurial player, Moore. In the anchor match against Lakareber Abe, Moore jumped out to a 2-up lead at the turn but lost the first three holes on the back nine.

By the time Radley sped back to help Moore, in the 12th fairway, she was frazzled.

“But seeing me,” Radley said, “I saw a sense of calm wash over her.”

Moore played solidly for the rest of the back nine and took a 1-up lead into the home hole. She didn’t flinch when Abe hit one of the shots of the entire championship – a smoked 3-wood to 12 feet to set up a two-putt birdie and force extras – and then gave herself 4 feet for the win on the first playoff hole. She sank the putt and within seconds was mobbed by her teammates.

In the giddy aftermath, Ianello could barely speak. She wandered around the green in a daze, looking for someone, anyone, to hug.

The most trying year of her career had somehow ended in a title.

“At some moments, it felt impossible,” she said. “But I underestimated these young women a little bit.”

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Pac-12 continues to dominate women's golf

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 24, 2018, 3:04 am

Arizona's women's golf championship marked the fourth consecutive year in‌ which the women's Division I national title was won by a Pac-12 team. All four championships were won by different schools (Stanford, 2015; Washington, 2016; Arizona State, 2017; Arizona, 2018). The Pac-12 is the only conference to win four straight golf championships (men or women) with four different schools.

Here are some other statistical notes from the just-concluded NCAA Div. I Women's Golf Championship:

• This is the second time that Arizona has won the national title the year after rival Arizona State won it. The last time was 1996.

• Arizona now has three women's golf national championships. The previous two came in 1996 and 2000.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

• Arizona is only the sixth school to win three or more Div. I women's golf championships, joining Arizona State (8), Duke (6), San Jose State (3), UCLA (3) and USC (3).

• Arizona's Haley Moore, who earned the clinching point on the 19th hole of her match with Alabama's Lakareber Abe, was the only Arizona player to win all three of her matches this week.

• Alabama's Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight also went 3-0. Gillman did not trail in any match.

• Since the match-play format was instituted in 2015, Arizona is the lowest seed (8) to claim the national title. The seeds claiming the national championship were Stanford (4) in 2015; Washington (4) in 2016; and Arizona State (3) in 2017.