Cut Line: Big makes and big misses in 2016

By Rex HoggardDecember 10, 2016, 12:39 am

It’s only apropos that 2016 was the year of the monkey. In our bookend Cut Line we applaud the U.S. Ryder Cup team for getting the monkey off their backs at Hazeltine National, and arraign the USGA for what could best be described as rules monkey business.

Made Cut

Long live The King. Rory McIlroy had just put the finishing touches on an $11.5 million payday at the Tour Championship in September when news of Arnold Palmer’s death surfaced.

Initially stunned by the news, McIlroy was told by a PGA Tour media official he could wait to comment, but the Northern Irishman shook his head emphatically.

There was no need to wait.

“No, no. Look, Arnie put the game on the map. I don’t think any other sports person in any other sport did for their profession what Arnie did for our game,” the emotional FedEx Cup champion insisted. “I wouldn’t be here playing for this ridiculous amount of money without him and I was just fortunate to spend some time with him.”

It was just one of thousands of tributes paid to the 87-year-old legend in the days and weeks after his death, but for McIlroy it was important to tell the world what Palmer meant to him and the game.

Arnie would have approved.

Up to the task. Whatever you want to call the task force-turned-committee there’s only one word for the results the group produced: success.

The task force that was formed in the wake of the U.S. loss at the 2014 Ryder Cup was reactionary, many said, and left no wiggle room if things didn’t go the American side’s way in ’16. In quiet circles, Europeans chuckled at the idea that the secret sauce to winning the matches could be found in a conference room.

But along the way the American players took ownership of their team room. They tabbed Davis Love III to lead the U.S. side again, overhauled the selection system and, most importantly, created a process every player could believe in.

Love & Co. dismissed the idea that the American victory at Hazeltine National was somehow vindication for everything the task force set out to do, reminding all that the changes were about the next 16 matches not just the ’16 matches.

That’s how ethos are altered and legacies are built, whatever you call the agent of change.

Tweet of the Year: @WestwoodLee (Lee Westwood) “No pressure there then lads!”

The Englishman was referring to a tweet sent out, by Golf Channel, with a quote from Love prior to the matches: “This is the best golf team, maybe, ever assembled.”

The quote, taken in full context, was a hypothetical explanation of what Love would tell his team before the matches, but it ended up on the European team’s bulletin board.

Love’s team may not have been the best “ever,” but they were certainly unrivaled in 2016.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Brazil or bust. The golf course would never be completed in time. Rio wasn’t safe for athletes or fans. The Zika virus would be the lasting legacy of the Olympics.

The headlines in the weeks before this year’s Games told a dire story, and high-profile no-shows from the likes of world No. 1 Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth didn’t help to make golf’s return to the Olympics an unqualified triumph.

Despite the setbacks, the logistical and security concerns, despite the mosquitos – for the record, we saw exactly one during our fortnight in Rio – golf’s return was largely a success.

Six medals were doled out to players from six different countries, the competitions were compelling and the athletes unharmed.

What remains to be seen is how all that work will benefit the game in the long term. Interest in golf in undeveloped countries has increased, but according to various reports the Olympic Golf Course has not exactly lived up to its lofty billing.

Getting golf to Rio was difficult. Making sure that return means something may be even more challenging.

Pelley’s play. European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley is young and engaging, some might even say avant-garde; and along with incoming PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan he represents a fundamental shift to a more forward-thinking power base in the game.

It turns out Pelley is also a bit of a gambler.

Last month Pelley and the European Tour unveiled a new Rolex Series, a seven-tournament series with larger purses that officials hope will stem the talent drain of young players to the U.S. tour.

Although the initiative was largely applauded, Pelley conceded that a $7.7 million shortfall for three of those events will be subsidized by the tour and Rolex in 2017. Nor does the current version of the Series do anything to shore up the weak part of the Continent’s schedule (February-May).

Pelley has impressed since taking office last year, but his challenge now is delivering on all that promise.

Missed Cut

Open season. Two national championships, two rules snafus. It’s not exactly the kind of scorecard the USGA had hoped for in 2016, but at the association’s two biggest events, the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open, the final outcome was marred by curious rulings.

At Oakmont in June, Dustin Johnson was penalized a stroke when officials decided he caused his golf ball to move on the fifth green during Sunday’s final round, even though Johnson said he’d done nothing wrong.

A month later, it was Anna Nordqvist who was penalized when officials said she grazed the sand while playing out of a fairway bunker during a playoff.

Both incidents were glaring, high-profile examples of how archaic the Rules of Golf have become to a modern audience, and USGA executive director Mike Davis assured a group of club professionals last month in New York that change was coming.

A bit of that fresh look arrived this week when the USGA and R&A announced a new local rule that eliminates the penalty when a ball is accidentally moved on the putting green.

It was a good start, but the “modernization” of the rules needs to continue.

Swoosh-ed. In August, Nike Golf announced it was getting out of the hard goods business and would focus on footwear and appeal.

As to why the Swoosh was unable to make its club business work despite having the game’s, and perhaps all of sport’s, most influential pitchman for well over a decade is best left to those with a better grasp of the category.

But it’s the immediate aftermath of Nike Golf’s move out of the hard goods business that is so difficult, not for the players like Tiger Woods who must now find new equipment, but for the dozens of engineers and technicians who lost their jobs.

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With baby on the way, Piller WDs from Zurich

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 2:45 pm

AVONDALE, La. – With wife Gerina set to give birth to their first child, Martin Piller figured he’d need to check his phone every few holes at the Zurich Classic.

He didn’t even make it that far.

Piller withdrew before the start of the first round Thursday.

Piller’s partner, Joel Dahmen, who only got into the field because of Piller’s status as the team’s A player, was allowed to remain in the event.

Piller was replaced in the field by Denny McCarthy. The new team of McCarthy-Dahmen will tee off at 2:36 p.m. ET.

The format change at the Zurich should make things easier for the new teammates. The first round is now best ball, not alternate shot.

The only event that Gerina, a three-time U.S. Solheim Cupper, has played this season was the Diamond Resorts Invitational in January. The couple’s baby was due May 3, and she said that she plans to take off the entire year.

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China's Jin (64) leads by one in Beijing

By Associated PressApril 26, 2018, 12:28 pm

BEIJING – Daxing Jin took a one-stroke lead at the China Open after shooting an 8-under 64 Thursday in the first round.

Jin's bogey-free round at the Topwin Golf and Country Club included six birdies and an eagle on the par-5 eighth. The 25-year-old Jin is playing in only his eighth European Tour event and has made the cut only once.

Matt Wallace (65) had an eagle-birdie finish to move into a tie for second with Nino Bertasio, who also produced a bogey-free round. Alexander Bjork and Scott Vincent (66) were a further stroke back.

Defending champion Alexander Levy, who won last week's Trophee Hassan II in Morocco, is in a large group five shots off the lead at 3 under.

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Putting prepared Park's path back to No. 1

By Randall MellApril 26, 2018, 12:13 am

Inbee Park brings more than her unshakably tranquil demeanor back to the top of the Rolex Women’s World Rankings this week.

She brings more than her Olympic gold medal and seven major championships to the Mediheal Championship on the outskirts of San Francisco.

She brings a jarring combination of gentleness and ruthlessness back to the top of the rankings.

Park may look as if she could play the role of Mother Teresa on some goodwill tour, but that isn’t what her opponents see when she’s wielding her Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball mallet.

She’s like Mother Teresa with Lizzy Borden’s axe.

When Park gets on one of her rolls with the putter, she scares the hell out of the rest of the tour.

At her best, Park is the most intimidating player in women’s golf today.

“Inbee makes more 20- and 30-footers on a regular basis than anyone I know,” seven-time major championship winner Karrie Webb said.

All those long putts Park can hole give her an aura more formidable than any power player in the women’s game.

“A good putter is more intimidating than someone who knocks it out there 280 yards,” Webb said “Even if Inbee misses a green, you know she can hole a putt from anywhere. It puts more pressure on your putter knowing you’re playing with someone who is probably going to make them all.”

Park, by the way, said Webb and Ai Miyazato were huge influences on her putting. She studied them when she was coming up on tour.

Webb, though, believes there’s something internal separating Park. It isn’t just Park’s ability to hole putts that makes her so intimidating. It’s the way she carries herself on the greens.

“She never gets ruffled,” Webb said. “She says she gets nervous, but you never see a change in her. If you’re going toe to toe with her, that’s what is intimidating. Even if you’re rolling in putts on top of her, it doesn’t seem to bother her. She’s definitely a player you have to try not to pay attention to when you’re paired with her, because you can get caught up in that.”

Full-field scores from the LPGA Mediheal Championship

Park has led the LPGA in putts per greens in regulation five of the last 10 years.

Brad Beecher has been on Park’s bag for more than a decade, back before she won her first major, the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open. He has witnessed the effect Park can have on players when she starts rolling in one long putt after another.

“You have those times when she’ll hole a couple long putts early, and you just know, it’s going to be one of those days,” Beecher said. “Players look at me like, `Does she ever miss?’ or `How am I going to beat this?’ You see players in awe of it sometimes.”

Park, 29, won in her second start of 2018, after taking seven months off with a back injury. In six starts this year, she has a victory, two ties for second-place and a tie for third. She ended Shanshan Feng’s 23-week run at No. 1 with a tie for second at the Hugel-JTBC LA Open last weekend.

What ought to disturb fellow tour pros is that Park believes her ball striking has been carrying her this year. She’s still waiting for her putter to heat up. She is frustrated with her flat stick, even though she ranks second in putts per greens in regulation this season.

“Inbee Park is one of the best putters ever,” said LPGA Hall of Famer Sandra Haynie, a 42-time LPGA winner. “She’s dangerous on the greens.”

Haynie said she would rank Park with Kathy Whitworth, Mickey Wright and Nancy Lopez as the best putters she ever saw.

Hall of Famer Joanne Carner says Park is the best putter she has seen since Lopez.

“I thought Nancy was a great putter,” Carner said. “Inbee is even better.”

Park uses a left-hand low grip, with a mostly shoulder move and quiet hands.

Lopez used a conventional grip, interlocking, with her right index finger down the shaft. She had a more handsy stroke than Park.

Like Lopez, Park prefers a mallet-style putter, and she doesn’t switch putters much. She is currently playing with an Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball putter. She won the gold medal with it two years ago. She used an Oddysey White Ice Sabertooth winged mallet when she won three majors in a row in 2013.

Lopez hit the LPGA as a rookie in 1978 with a Ray Cook M1 mallet putter and used it for 20 years. It’s in the World Golf Hall of Fame today.

“I watch Inbee, and I think, `Wow, that’s how I used to putt,’” Lopez said. “You can see she’s not mechanical at all. So many players today are mechanical. They forget if you just look at the hole and stroke it, you’re going to make more putts.”

Notably, Park has never had a putting coach, not really. Her husband and swing coach, Gi Hyeob Nam, will look at her stroke when she asks for help.

“When I’m putting, I’m concentrating on the read and mostly my speed,” Park said. “I don’t think mechanically about my stroke at all, unless I think there’s something wrong with it, and then I’ll have my husband take a look. But, really, I rely on my feel. I don’t think about my stroke when I’m out there playing.”

Hall of Famer Judy Rankin says Park’s remarkably consistent speed is a key to her putting.

“Inbee is definitely a feel putter, and her speed is so consistent, all the time,” Rankin said. “You have to assume she’s a great green reader.”

Beecher says Park’s ability to read greens is a gift. She doesn’t rely on him for that. She reads greens herself.

“I think what impresses me most is Inbee has a natural stroke,” Beecher said. “There’s nothing too technical. It’s more straight through and straight back, but I think the key element of the stroke is that she keeps the putter so close to the ground, all the time, on the takeaway and the follow-through. It helps with the roll and with consistency.”

Park said that’s one of her fundamentals.

“I keep it low, almost like I’m hitting the ground,” Park said. “When I don’t do that, I miss more putts.”

Beecher believes the real reason Park putts so well is that the putter brought her into the game. It’s how she got started, with her father, Gun Gyu Park, putting the club in her hands as a child. She loved putting on her own.

“That’s how she fell in love with the game,” Beecher said. “Getting started that way, it’s played a huge role in her career.”

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Teams announced for NCAA DI women's regionals

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 25, 2018, 10:50 pm

Seventy-two teams and an additional 24 individuals were announced Wednesday as being selected to compete in the NCAA Division I women's regionals, May 7-9.

Each of the four regional sites will consist of 18 teams and an extra six individual players, whose teams were not selected. The low six teams and low three individuals will advance to the NCAA Championship, May 18-23, hosted by Oklahoma State at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

The four regional sites include Don Veller Seminole Golf Course & Club in Tallahassee, Fla., hosted by Florida State; UT Golf Club in Austin, Texas, hosted by the University of Texas; University Ridge Golf Course in Madison, Wis., hosted by the University of Wisconsin; TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, Calif., hosted by Stanford University.

Arkansas, Duke, UCLA and Alabama are the top seeds in their respective regionals. Arizona State, the third seed in the Madison regional, is the women's defending champion. Here's a look at the regional breakdown, along with teams and players:

Austin Regional Madison Regional San Francisco Regional Tallahassee Regional
Arkansas Duke UCLA Alabama
Texas USC Stanford Furman
Michigan State Arizona State South Carolina Arizona
Florida Northwestern Kent State Washington
Auburn Illinois Oklahoma State Wake Forest
Oklahoma Purdue North Carolina Vanderbilt
Houston Iowa State Colorado Florida State
Miami (Fla.) Virginia Louisville Clemson
Baylor Wisconsin N.C. State Georgia
Texas A&M Campbell Mississippi Tennessee
BYU Ohio State Cal UNLV
East Carolina Notre Dame San Diego State Kennesaw State
Texas Tech Old Dominion Pepperdine Denver
Virginia Tech Oregon State Oregon Coastal Carolina
UTSA Idaho Long Beach State Missouri
Georgetown Murray State Grand Canyon Charleston
Houston Baptist North Dakota State Princeton Richmond
Missouri State IUPUI Farleigh Dickinson Albany
Brigitte Dunne (SMU) Connie Jaffrey (Kansas State) Alivia Brown (Washington State) Hee Ying Loy (E. Tennessee State)
Xiaolin Tian (Maryland) Pinyada Kuvanun (Toledo) Samantha Hutchinson (Cal-Davis) Claudia De Antonio (LSU)
Greta Bruner (TCU) Pun Chanachai (New Mexico State) Ingrid Gutierrez (New Mexico) Fernanda Lira (Central Arkansas)
Katrina Prendergast (Colorado State) Elsa Moberly (Eastern Kentucky) Abegail Arevalo (San Jose State) Emma Svensson (Central Arkansas)
Ellen Secor (Colorado State) Erin Harper (Indiana) Darian Zachek (New Mexico) Valentina Giraldo (Jacksonville State)
Faith Summers (SMU) Cara Basso (Penn State) Christine Danielsson (Cal-Davis) Kaeli Jones (UCF)