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With game trending longer, Donald could be last of his kind

By Rex HoggardFebruary 7, 2018, 7:31 pm

Although he doesn’t look the part of an athletic anomaly, Luke Donald may end up being his generation’s unicorn.

At 5-foot-9, 165-pounds, the Englishman could generously be considered a mid-length player on the PGA Tour. Some may even say a short hitter.

“Average [hitter],” he smiled when asked his status among the play-for-pay set.

Either way, what Donald accomplished is nothing short of astounding. On May 29, 2011, he ascended to No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking. All total, he spent 56 weeks atop the world heap, which is well short of Tiger Woods’ 683 weeks as No. 1.

What makes Donald’s accomplishment unique is that he ranked 165th on Tour in driving distance at that moment. It should come as no surprise that when he was unseated atop the ranking for good on May 27, 2012, it was Rory McIlroy who claimed the crown and ranked 15th on Tour in driving distance.

Donald may well be the last of his kind, a short/mid-length hitter who consistently found a way to beat the best.

“No,” Russell Knox shrugged when asked if it could happen again. “I think I’m really good at golf and I hate to limit myself and say I couldn’t be No. 1 in the world, but the ball and the clubs just go so straight now I feel like everyone has gained from it but the guys who hit it further and the courses are so long now and the greens are firmer and faster, it’s such a massive advantage to be 320 [yards] plus off the tee.”

Defining exactly what qualifies a player as a short/mid-length hitter may be up for debate, but there’s no uncertainty as to where these outliers now stand on the world scale.

Consider Knox, who won twice on Tour in 2016 including a signature victory over a world-class field at the WGC-HSBC Champions, as the voice of reason. His victory at the ’16 Travelers Championship moved him to 18th in the world rankings. He’s never been any higher despite one of the most consistent games on Tour.

It’s not as though the likes of Donald and Knox don’t aspire to such lofty positions ... they’re just realistic.

 “You look at the guys in the top 10, there’s not too many of them [mid-length],” Donald said. “It makes me proud of what I did. I did it at a time when not too many thought I could have done it.”

To prove the point, look no further than the current Official World Golf Ranking which is a new age Murderer’s Row, with Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose rounding out the top 5. Only Spieth (75th) ranks outside the top 35 in driving distance.

It’s become a popular notion that Speith is a mid-length hitter on Tour, but the statistics show he’s more upper-middle class off the tee. The average drive on Tour last year was 292 yards, which would technically make Spieth (295-yard average) above average.

“I’d say 180th [in driving distance] is on the shorter end and 100th is mid-length,” estimated Zach Johnson, who like Donald has defied convention his entire career.

The more intriguing numbers, at least for Donald, come down to simple math. When he moved to world No. 1 in 2011, he was picking up 2.27 strokes per round on the field, which is a combination of the various strokes-gained statistics. It’s the secret sauce, at least that’s what Donald and Mark Broadie, a professor at Columbia Business School who helped the Tour create the strokes-gained concept, concluded.

“The magic formula is you have to gain two strokes on the field per round,” Donald explained. “I’m losing 1 1/2 [strokes] off the tee if I’m not hitting it 300 [yards] all the time or hitting it straight, so I have to find 3 1/2 [strokes] in the rest of my game, which is almost impossible. That’s what it was when I was No. 1.”

Simply put, without the benefit of 320-yard drives, every other aspect of a player’s game must be nearly flawless for a sustained period of time.

This reality is compounded by golf course set-up that caters to the long-driving set, particularly at major championships where players generally make up the most ground in the world rankings.

That doesn’t necessarily mean long golf courses as much as it means layouts that reward length disproportionate to other aspects of a player’s game.

“The shorter hitters need courses with more rough, even a course like Torrey Pines, it’s not a bad course for a medium or shorter hitter. You have to be in the fairway even if it’s 7,500 yards,” Knox said. “But if you get a 7,500-yard course with little rough, a short hitter has no chance.”

At venues like Waialae Country Club, site of last month’s Sony Open, and Harbour Town Golf Links, which hosts the RBC Heritage in April, the short/mid-length players can compete, but those types of ballparks are becoming increasingly rare at the highest level.

Instead, the Tour offers a steady diet of courses like the 7,452-yard Plantation Course at Kapalua, where Dustin Johnson lapped the field by eight strokes last month. In fairness, the current world No. 1 also ranks eighth this season in strokes gained around-the-green, but averaging 296 yards off the tee certainly doesn’t hurt.

Sport defies absolutes and perhaps there’s a short/mid-length hitter who could follow Donald’s footsteps all the way to the top of the mountain, but even those who aspire to such greatness have a hard time seeing the way.

“No, it’s hard,” Zach Johnson figured when asked if a short/mid-length hitter could ever ascend to world No. 1. “[Donald’s] short game was sickening, in a good way, one of the best sand games I’ve ever seen, putter was pure.”

No one played “small ball” better than Donald, which makes his time atop the world so impressive, and very likely makes him the last of his kind.

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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.”