Womens Open field comes under scrutiny

By Randall MellJuly 6, 2009, 4:00 pm
2009 U.S. WomenThe U.S. Womens Open begins this week with the strength of its field under scrutiny.
 
Michelle Wie and Natalie Gulbis didnt make it under the U.S. Golf Associations new exemption criteria. Neither did LPGA veteran Wendy Ward and rookie Vicky Hurst.
 
But 29 amateurs will tee it up when play begins Thursday at the Saucon Valley Country Clubs Old Course in Bethlehem, Pa.
 
When the USGA released its new exemption criteria earlier this year, red flags went up in the offices at the LPGA, an intensely interested bystander in the national championships makeup.
 
There were some top LPGA players and marquee names not in the field, and I voiced my concern about that, said Jane Geddes, the LPGAs senior vice president of tournament operations and player services. I understand that after you win a U.S. Womens Open, people dont ask you what the field was like, but Id like to believe that the U.S. Womens Open is one of the most prestigious championships, if not the most prestigious, and that you are competing against the best players at the moment. Im not sure this new criteria lends itself to that.
 
Geddes is a former LPGA player whose 11 titles include the 1986 U.S. Womens Open.
 
The U.S. Womens Open is conducted by the USGA. The LPGA had no input in how exemptions were devised, but Geddes role dictates that she protect the interests of LPGA players. She voiced concerns about the USGAs criteria when the new exemptions were released, before it became clear Wie, Gulbis and other LPGA members werent going to make the field.
 
What I voiced was less about the specifics of the criteria, more about the spirit of making sure we have the best field possible on a world stage, Geddes said. I know thats what the players want. Its my job to make sure the USGA knows what my opinion is.
 
The most significant changes to the USGAs new exemption criteria were in how it used the LPGAs money list.
 
Before this year, the USGA offered exemptions to the top 40 players on the season-ending money list from the previous year, plus the top 35 on the money list as of June 1 of the current year. This year, changes were implemented so that the top 50 off the final 2008 money list were exempt, plus the top 10 on the money list as of June 1, 2009.
 
Essentially, the changes meant more players from the previous year got exemptions with fewer getting them in the current year.
 
Obviously, we want the worlds best players in the field, but that can become a subjective issue, said Mike Butz, the USGAs deputy executive director.
 
Butz said the changes were designed to exempt the most consistently exceptional performers over a period of time.
 
With the shrinking womens schedule, USGA officials became concerned that the LPGA was playing just 11 regular events before the June 1 money list criteria kicked in for the current year. By comparison, the PGA Tour played 23 events prior to June 1.
 
The women used to play 15 events (by June 1), Butz said. There was a question whether it was right to exempt the top 35 off just 11 events.
 
If the USGA were still using top 35 in money from the current year, Wie, Gulbis, Ward and Hurst would have made the field.
 
Wies an LPGA rookie who didnt become a member until this year, but shes enjoying a solid first season. She tied for third Sunday at the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic, her second consecutive top-10 finish and fifth of this season. Shes 12th on this weeks money list and ranked No. 25 in the Rolex Womens World Golf Rankings.
 
Gulbis is 33rd on the money list and 39th in the world rankings and top five among gate attractions.
 
I felt badly for our players, Geddes said. Certainly, Michelle Wie and Natalie Gulbis are two of our top players, not just marquee players.
 
We tend to error on the side of whos playing well now. By July, we can get a read on whos playing well now.
 
Wie, Gulbis, Ward and Hurst had chances to play their way into the U.S. Womens Open through sectional qualifiers but failed to advance.
 
The USGA uses the Official World Golf Ranking for men as part of its exemption criteria for the U.S. Open. Those rankings have evolved since their inception 23 years ago and become a widely accepted measure.
 
The Rolex Womens World Golf Rankings are not used by the USGA, mostly, Butz said, because theyre still so young. The womens rankings were implemented in 2006.
 
Had the USGA used the top 50 in the world rankings as of May 25 of the current year, as they do for the men, both Wie and Gulbis would be in this weeks U.S. Womens Open field, but new issues would be brought into play. Four Japanese LPGA players and a Korean LPGA player not currently exempt would bump somebody out.
 
Neither the USGA nor the LPGA is ready to implement the world rankings.
 
We have to go where we are more comfortable, but I would say we are getting closer (to using the world rankings), Butz said. Obviously, as we go through the year we will take a look at how it all plays out.
 
The USGA also made changes this year to only exempt top 15 finishers and ties from last years U.S. Womens Open. Previously, the top 20 and ties were exempt. Scotlands Catriona Matthew is the only player to lose a spot in the field based on that change, but Matthews presence was doubtful anyway. She gave birth in mid-May to her second child and has yet to tee it up in an event since the birth.
 
Butz said the USGA will re-examine its exemption criteria, as it does every year, when its Championship Committee meets in October.
 
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    Kupcho wins NCAA title; final eight teams set

    By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 1:55 am

    STILLWATER, Okla. – On one of the more nerve-racking days of the college golf season two important honors were up for grabs at Karsten Creek – the individual title, and the top eight teams attempting to qualify for match play.

    Here’s the lowdown of what happened Monday at the women’s NCAA Championship:

    Individual leaderboard: Kupcho, Wake Forest (-8); Andrea Lee, Stanford (-6); Bianca Pagdanganan, Arizona (-6); Cheyenne Knight, Alabama (-5); Morgane Metraux, Florida State (-4); Jaclyn Lee, Ohio State (-3).

    Team leaderboard: UCLA (+9), Alabama (+9), USC (+16), Northwestern (+21), Stanford (+28), Duke (+30), Kent State (+32), Arizona (+33).

    What it means: Let’s start with the individual race. Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho was absolutely devastated a year ago when she made triple bogey on the 17th hole of the final round and lost the individual title by a shot. She was bound not to let that happen again and this year she made five birdies on the last eight holes to win by two shots. Kupcho is the first player with three consecutive top-six finishes at the NCAA Championship since Duke’s Amanda Blumenherst (2007-09).

    The team race took an unexpected turn at the end of the day when Arizona junior Bianca Pangdaganan made eagle on the last hole to vault the Wildcats into an eighth-place tie, meaning they would enter a playoff with Baylor for the final spot in the match play portion of the championship.

    The Wildcats got a reprieve because they played terribly for most of the day and dropped from third place to 10th at one point. In the playoff, Arizona ultimately defeated Baylor in an anticlimactic finish.

    Best of the rest: Stanford played horribly the first round. So bad that it almost seemed like the Cardinal shot itself out of the championship. But they played steady over the next three days and ended with the fifth seed. This is the fourth year in a row that Stanford has advanced to match play.

    Round of the day: USC shot a 5-under total on Monday, the best round of the day by six shots. They landed as the third seed and will play Duke in the quarterfinals.

    Stanford sophomore Andrea Lee shot a 7-under 65, the best score of the day by three shots. Lee made seven birdies and no bogeys and vaulted up the leaderboard 11 spots to end in a tie for sixth place.

    Biggest disappointment: Arkansas, the second-ranked team in the country, missed qualifying for match play by one shot. The Razorbacks shot a 20-over 308 in Round 1 and played only slightly better with a 300 in the second round. Consecutive 1-over-par 289 scores were a good try, but results in a huge miss for a team expected to contend for the team title.

    Here are Tuesday morning's quarterfinal matchups:

    Cut and not so dry: Shinnecock back with a new look

    By Bradley S. KleinMay 21, 2018, 9:22 pm

    SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - The last time the USGA was here at Shinnecock Hills, it nearly had a train wreck on its hands. The last day of the 2004 U.S. Open was so dry and the turf so firm that play was stopped in the morning just to get some water on the greens.

    The lessons learned from that debacle are now on display three weeks before Shinnecock gets another U.S. Open. And this time, the USGA is prepared with all sorts of high-tech devices – firmness meters, moisture monitors, drone technology to measure turf temperatures - to make sure the playing surfaces remain healthy.

    Players, meanwhile, will face a golf course that is 548 yards longer than a dozen years ago, topping out now at 7,445 yards for the par-70 layout. Ten new tees have assured that the course will keep up with technology and distance. They’ll also require players to contend with the bunkering and fairway contours that designer William Flynn built when he renovated Shinnecock Hills in 1930.

    And those greens will not only have more consistent turf cover, they’ll also be a lot larger – like 30 percent bigger. What were mere circles averaging 5,500 square feet are now about 7,200 square feet. That will mean more hole locations, more variety to the setup, and more rollouts into surrounding low-mow areas. Slight misses that ended up in nearby rough will now be down in hollows many more yards away.



    The course now has an open, windswept look to it – what longtime green chairman Charles Stevenson calls “a maritime grassland.” You don’t get to be green chairman of a prominent club for 37 years without learning how to deal with politics, and he’s been a master while implementing a long-term plan to bring the course back to its original scale and angles. In some cases that required moving tees back to recapture the threat posed by cross-bunkers and steep falloffs. Two of the bigger extensions come on the layout’s two par-5s, which got longer by an average of 60 yards. The downwind, downhill par-4 14th hole got stretched 73 yards and now plays 519.

    “We want players to hit driver,” says USGA executive director Mike Davis.

    The also want to place an emphasis upon strategy and position, which is why, after the club had expanded its fairways the last few years, the USGA decided last September to bring them back in somewhat.

    The decision followed analysis of the driving statistics from the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where wide fairways proved very hospitable to play. Players who made the cut averaged hitting 77 percent of fairways and driving it 308 yards off the tee. There was little fear of the rough there. “We didn’t get the wind and the dry conditions we anticipated,” says Davis.

    Moving ahead to Shinnecock Hills, he and the setup staff wanted to balance the need for architectural variety with a traditional emphasis upon accuracy. So they narrowed the fairways at Shinnecock Hills last September by seven acres. They are still much wider than in the U.S. Opens played here in 1986, 1995 and 2004, when the average width of the landing areas was 26.6 yards. “Now they are 41.6 yards across on average,” said Davis. So they are much wider than in previous U.S. Opens and make better use of the existing contours and bring lateral bunkers into play.

    This time around, with more consistent, healthier turf cover and greens that have plenty of nutrients and moisture, the USGA should be able to avoid the disastrous drying out of the putting surfaces that threatened that final day in 2004. The players will also face a golf course that is more consistent than ever with its intended width, design, variety and challenge. That should make for a more interesting golf course and, by turn, more interesting viewing.

    Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys Documentary Series Continues Tonight at 8 p.m. ET on Golf Channel

    By Golf Channel Public RelationsMay 21, 2018, 8:27 pm

    Monday’s third installment in the four-part series focuses on the Big 12 Championships and NCAA Regional Championships

    Reigning NCAA National Champion Oklahoma Sooners and Top-Ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys Prepare for Showdown Friday at the 2018 NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships

    ORLANDO, Fla., May 21, 2018 – Tonight’s third episode of the critically-acclaimed documentary series Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys (8 p.m. ET) wraps up the conclusion of the 2017-18 regular season and turns to post-season play for the top-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys and reigning NCAA National Champions Oklahoma Sooners.

    Drivenwill take viewers behind the scenes with the conclusion of regular season play; the Big 12 Conference Championship, where Oklahoma captured their first conference championship since 2006; and the NCAA Regional Championships, where Oklahoma State and Oklahoma – both No. 1 seeds in their respective regionals – were both victorious and punched tickets to the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships.

    The episode also will set up the showdown starting Friday at the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships, where Oklahoma State will attempt to dethrone Oklahoma as national champions, all taking place at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., Oklahoma State’s home course. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will be paired together for the first two rounds of individual stroke play Friday and Saturday.

    Driven’s fourth and final episode will air on NBC on Saturday, June 16 at 5 p.m. ET, recapping all of the action at the NCAA Golf National Championships and the two programs’ 2017-18 golf seasons.

    Golf Channel is airing back-to-back weeks of live tournament coverage of the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships. Golf Channel’s coverage begins today (4-8 p.m. ET) to crown the individual national champion and track the teams attempting to qualify for the eight-team match play championship. Golf Channel’s coverage on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 22-23 will include all three rounds of team match play, ultimately crowning a team national champion. Next week (May 28-30), the same programming schedule will take place for the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships.

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    Mann's impact on LPGA felt on and off course

    By Randall MellMay 21, 2018, 8:00 pm

    Just a few short hours after winning the U.S. Women’s Open in 1965, Carol Mann was surprised at the turn of emotion within her.

    She called her friend and mentor, Marlene Hagge, and asked if they could meet for a glass of wine at the Atlantic City hotel where players were staying.

    Hagge was one of the LPGA’s 13 founders.

    “I’ll never forget Carol saying, `I don’t mean to sound funny, because winning the U.S. Women’s Open was wonderful, but is that all there is?’” Hagge told GolfChannel.com Monday after hearing news of Mann’s death.

    It was one of the many defining moments in Mann’s rich life, because it revealed her relentless search for meaning, within the game, and beyond it.

    Mann, an LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer, died at her home in Woodlands, Texas. She was 77.

    “Carol was a very good friend, and a really sincere and good person,” Hagge said. “She was intelligent and insightful, the kind of person who always wanted to know the `why’ of things. She wasn’t content to be told this is the way something is. She had to know why.”

    Mann’s search for meaning in the sport took her outside the ropes. She was a towering presence, at 6 feet 3, but her stature was more than physical. She won 38 LPGA titles, two of them major championships, but her mark on the game extended to her leadership skills.

    From 1973 to ’76, Mann was president of the LPGA, leading the tour in challenging times.

    “Carol was a significant player in the growth of the LPGA,” LPGA Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said. “She was involved when some big changes came to the tour. She was a talented woman beyond her golf.”

    Mann oversaw the hiring of the tour’s first commissioner, Ray Volpe, a former NFL marketing executive. Their moves helped steer the tour out of the financial problems that threatened it.

    “Carol was willing to do something nobody else wanted to do and nobody else had the brains to do,” Hagge said. “She loved the LPGA, and she wanted to make it a better place.”

    At the cost of her own career.

    Juggling the tour presidency with a playing career wasn’t easy.

    “My golf seemed so secondary while I was president in 1975,” Mann once told author Liz Kahn for the book, “The LPGA: The Unauthorized Version.”

    That was a pivotal year in tour history, with the LPGA struggling with an ongoing lawsuit, a legal battle Jane Blalock won when the courts ruled the tour violated antitrust laws by suspending her. With the tour appealing its legal defeats, a protracted battle threatened to cripple LPGA finances.

    It was also the year Mann led the hiring of Volpe.

    “I could barely get to the course in time to tee off,” Mann told Kahn. “There was so much other activity. I burned myself out a bit.”

    Still, Mann somehow managed to win four times in ’75, but she wouldn’t again in the years that followed.

    “I had launched a ship, and then I had to let it go, which was not easy,” she said of leaving her tour president’s role. “I was depressed thinking that no one on tour would say thank you to me for what I had done. Some would, others never would, and 10 years later players wouldn’t give a damn.”

    Mann’s reign as a player and a leader aren’t fully appreciated today.

    “A lot of players in the ‘60s haven’t been fully appreciated,” Rankin said.

    Mann won 10 LPGA titles in 1968, the same year Kathy Whitworth won 10. Mann won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average that year. She won eight times in ’69 and was the tour’s leading money winner.

    “Those were the toughest times to win,” Hagge said. “You had Kathy Whitworth and Mickey Wright, who is the best player I ever saw, and I saw them all. You had so many great players you had to beat in that era.”

    Mann’s good humor came out when she was asked about her height.

    “I’m 5-foot-15,” she liked to say.

    After retiring from the tour at 40, Mann stayed active in golf, working as a TV analyst for NBC, ABC and ESPN. She found meaning in her Christian faith, and she was active supporting female athletes. She was president of the Women’s Sports Foundation for five years. She wrote a guest column for the Houston Post. She devoted herself to the World Golf Hall of Fame, taught at Woodlands Country Club and became the first woman to own and operate a course design and management firm.

    “I’ve walked on the moon,” Mann once said. “I enjoy being a person, and getting old and dying are fine. I never think how people will remember Carol Mann. The mark I made is an intimate satisfaction.”