Sights and sounds from Wednesday at Augusta

By Randall MellApril 10, 2013, 9:33 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Follow me.

It’s Wednesday afternoon at the Masters, and it’s time to take a stroll around Augusta National.

If you’ve never been here, I’ll be your eyes and ears. If you have been here, well, I’ll help you remember what it’s like.

Our first stop is “The Tree,” the famous towering oak behind the clubhouse, a tree reported to be more than 200 years old. If this tree could talk, the stories would captivate us. It’s planted between the locker room and the first tee. Everyone who is anyone in golf has wandered under this tree through the years – from Bobby Jones to Ben Hogan to Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods. More than that, the movers and shakers all find their way here – from PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem to Acushnet CEO Wally Uihlein to USGA executive director Mike Davis and agent Mark Steinberg.

The Masters

There are other extraordinary people who you might not have heard about who find their way here, too.

David Meador, 64, was here Wednesday to receive the Golf Writers Association of America’s Ben Hogan Award. The honor has been presented annually since 1954 to an individual who has continued to be active in golf despite a physical handicap or serious illness. Meador was 18 when a car accident robbed him of his eyesight with his optic nerve crushed in the violent crash. He is the Hogan Award winner for the way he persevered through blindness, through two bouts of cancer and through all the surgeries required to overcome complications his cancers caused. He’s a three-time winner of the U.S. Blind Golf Association national championship.

Wednesday was a day Meador will never forget with Phil Mickelson, Gary Player and so many other big names in the game stopping to congratulate him out here under the tree.

Meador says golf helped draw him out of his despair and rediscover himself.

“The first shot I hit [after being blinded], that was the real me,” Meador said. “I was reconnecting with the real me.”

Here, just beyond the tree, there’s outdoor dining for those with the right badge. It’s a beautiful little setting with tables under umbrella canopies. You’re told the colossal lump-crab and shrimp cocktail is popular. So is a drink called the Azalea, a pinkish concoction that is made up of one part lemon juice, one part pineapple juice, three parts gin and grenadine.

You’re told just a day before, U.S. Amateur champ Steven Fox introduced himself to Jack Nicklaus out here. Fox was just hoping he could say hello, but Nicklaus gave him so much more to remember. He invited Fox under one of the umbrellas and they chatted for 45 minutes.

Walking past here now, we see Jack’s wife, Barbara, talking with Annika Sorenstam, Annika’s husband Mike McGee and Honda Classic executive director Ken Kennerly. We also see Keegan Bradley returning from the Par 3 Contest, and so we head over there to watch.

It’s a spectacular day with a sapphire sky glowing over an emerald carpet of grass.

There, over at the ninth tee, there’s Ernie Els. He hasn’t played the Par 3 Contest in six years, but after failing to qualify for the Masters last year, he returns here determined to soak up the little joys of Masters week more completely. He is here today with his 14-year-old daughter, Samantha, as his caddie. She had never done this before, and she told her father she wanted to tote his clubs. So Ernie, who has endured his share of heartache in failing to win this major championship, made a run at winning the Par 3 Contest. He steered his final tee shot to a foot and tapped in the birdie to go to 4 under, which tied him for the lead as he walked off the course.

Ernie Els

“I probably needed a year off, to be honest,” Els told me a couple weeks ago. “I think it was a good thing I missed it, in how it has given me a kind of new, fresh start.”

After tapping in for that last birdie Wednesday, Els marches over to Samantha, and they wrap arms around each other. It was a special day, you can see that.

Els doesn’t want to leave Augusta National feeling like a jilted lover again, even if things don’t go right for him again. He’s tired of trying too hard here, wanting it too badly. He wants peace with this course.

“Augusta is that kind of place, where the dream and the story, it’s all almost written for some players,” Els said when we spoke back at Bay Hill. “Maybe mine was there [in the ’04 loss to Mickelson], and I didn’t quite take the opportunity. Who knows? If I never win the Masters, it will be disappointing. I’m obviously on the wrong end of it now. It’s a course and a place that has given me a lot of hope of winning it, but it is definitely bittersweet memories.”

The Par 3 Contest is a lot like games at a family picnic. Robert Garrigus’ 9-month-old son, R.J., stole the show hiking alongside his dad with his little jumbo driver. Rory McIlroy played alongside his girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, as his caddie.

It’s time to go down to see Amen Corner now, to check out the state of the azaleas and dogwoods there. We’ll hear later that Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player made a late afternoon appearance in the Par 3 Contest. We’ll hear that Tom Watson got Arnold Palmer to autograph a Masters flag. We’ll wish we saw that, but any walk down to Amen Corner is worth the trip. We see something special on the way. We see a family of four stopped in the crosswalk in the middle of the 15th fairway, posing for a photo that they plan to use as their Christmas card.

As trilogies go, Amen Corner is an epic tale of wonder and woe. The most famous trio of holes in golf is as beautiful as it is unsettling. The azaleas are sprawling like fire right now at the feet of all the towering pines down here. The dogwoods are aglow in splintered rays of sunshine piercing the treetops. There is beauty and trouble here for players.

Augusta National 12 green

Nobody is playing through down here now, but it doesn’t matter, Amen Corner is star and stage. There are folks snapping shots of the 13th green with nobody on it.

It’s time to head back to the media center, and we notice how many people are carrying those hard, plastic Masters beer cups in big stacks. It’s Wednesday. It’s visitors day, and apparently nobody is throwing away their beer cups. They’re souvenirs, something to make the beer taste better at home. We also notice how many folks are carrying cameras, posing with Augusta National’s famed holes as backdrops.

As good walks go, this one wasn’t spoiled.

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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.”