McIlroy makes a major statement with PGA win

By Rex HoggardAugust 11, 2014, 2:59 am

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Two by two they marched out like perfect pairs to the ark bound for higher ground in a race against the clock, if not the rain.

Foreshadowed by a biblical morning downpour that turned the PGA Championship Sunday matinee into a midnight screening, or so it seemed, the 96th edition of the season’s final major will be recorded in history as 2014’s most entertaining final round and perhaps the moment Rory McIlroy crested the hill separating potential and proven.

Birdies were traded, leads were taken and lost with equal abandon, the final two groups played up a dark and gloomy 18th hole as a foursome and McIlroy may have finally taken his place as Tiger Woods’ heir apparent.

With a grit that transcended his status as a “nice guy,” McIlroy withstood every sling and arrow the all-star cast of contenders could heap on him. There’s been a reluctance in many circles to label the Northern Irishman Woods’ successor and subject him to the inherent dangers of unrealistic expectations, but with a closing 68 at Valhalla Golf Club there is no more ducking the question.

“It’s always hard to compare players,” said Henrik Stenson, one of five players who held a share of the lead during a frenzied final round. “But if he’s not the same, he’s not far behind. If I told you that if he were to win at least one major in the next five or seven years you wouldn’t be surprised, would you?”

No, we wouldn’t.

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It’s not that McIlroy became the third-youngest player to win four major championships behind Woods and Jack Nicklaus. It’s not that he’s now won his last three consecutive starts, dating back to July’s Open Championship. It’s not that he now stands one green jacket away from a career Grand Slam. It’s how he won that fourth major that now elevates the 25-year-old to legend status.

This victory wasn’t like those walk-overs at the 2011 Congressional Open or ’12 PGA. This was a street fight from the moment McIlroy set out just before the dinner hour on the East Coast.

Clinging to a one-stroke lead, McIlroy bogeyed the third hole to drop into a tie with a resurgent Phil Mickelson and someone named Bernd Wiesberger. At the sixth hole he failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker to drift two shots off the pace, and as he watched Rickie Fowler roll in a 28-footer for birdie up ahead from the middle of the 10th fairway he was a full three strokes out of the lead.

If his first three major championships were works of art, this one was a muddy brawl pieced together with duct tape and the kind of major moxie that turns good players into great ones.

From 281 yards, McIlroy pulled his second shot at the par-5 10th some 15 yards left and 30 feet below his intended target and could only smile as the ball bounded along the soggy turf to 7 feet.

The eagle putt moved McIlroy to 14 under and within one shot of Fowler.

“That was my lucky break,” McIlroy conceded.

But then luck had nothing to do with the rest of a flawless closing loop.

He birdied No. 13 from 9 feet to tie Fowler and Mickelson at 15 under – the first time in more than three hours he found himself back atop the leaderboard – and pulled away for good at the 17th hole after hitting his approach from a fairway bunker to 10 feet for biride.

It was the kind of gritty performance that had been missing from Rory’s resume, and why the ’14 PGA will likely go down as a crossroads for McIlroy.

“The other three (major victories) we were always in control. We weren’t in control here,” said McIlroy’s caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald. “We’ll remember this one.”

Those who doggedly tried to wrest the Wanamaker Trophy away from the world No. 1 will certainly remember it.

Mickelson made the day’s biggest move, quickly climbing his way out of a three-stroke hole with birdies at Nos. 1, 3, 7 and 9 to turn with a share of the lead.

The same man who told the press last Saturday at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational that if he were able to play well it would “be out of nowhere,” held a share of the lead until the 16th hole when he missed the green, hit a heroic chip shot and eventually made a 10-footer for par.

“I know that regardless of how I played this week I’ve got to address some things these next three or four months,” said Mickelson, who finished alone in second place to post his first top-10 finish on the PGA Tour this year and secure his place on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. “These next four or five years I really want to make special.”

But it was Fowler who seemed destined to play the role of spoiler throughout the day, beginning his round par-bogey-birdie-birdie to tie for the lead and chipping in on the fifth to pull clear of the field.

But a bogey at the 14th hole dropped him one shot behind McIlroy and he failed to birdie the 18th hole, finishing tied for third place after a closing 68 to become just the third player to claim the Top-5 Slam. He joined Woods and Nicklaus as the only players to finish inside the top 5 in all four majors in a single season.

That, however, was little consolation.

“Right now it’s just the sting,” Fowler said. “I really felt like I could win this one. I was disappointed to come up short, but to look back on the full year and all four majors, definitely something to be proud of.”

Stenson, who tied for third with Fowler, took a similar approach to the week despite an unfortunate break at the 18th hole. Two shots back with one hole to play, the Swede’s drive found the fairway along with a large piece of mud. Predictably, his second shot at the par 5 sailed wildly into the gallery left of the green.

It was a common theme at the Mud Ball Open.

There’s nothing wrong with Valhalla as a major championship venue that an industrial-sized squeegee can’t fix. The realities of an outdoor game aside, the PGA of America’s fascination with the Nicklaus design is curious for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the association’s aversion to playing lift, clean and place despite a forecast that was on the biblical side of bad for most of the week.

The decision to play the ball “down” was even more questionable considering the PGA had no problem at the 2004 Senior PGA, which was also played at Valhalla, playing preferred lies.

In six of the last 11 championship rounds at Valhalla – counting the ’04 Senior PGA, ’08 Ryder Cup and this week’s PGA – inclement weather has impacted play.

But then Valhalla’s sloppy status did nothing to diminish the shine on McIlroy’s accomplishment. This, his fourth major in his last 14 Grand Slam starts, was different. This was better because he had to fight for it.

“It is the most satisfying,” McIlroy admitted. “To win it in this fashion and this style, it means a lot. It means that I can do it. I know that I can come from behind. I know that I can mix it up with the best players in the world down the stretch in a major and come out on top.”

He also knows what is next - Augusta National and the career Grand Slam. “Two hundred and (forty-two days until the 2015 Masters) ... not that I’m counting,” he smiled.

No, but the rest of us will be.

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Club apologizes for calling cops on black women members

By Associated PressApril 23, 2018, 11:07 pm

YORK, Pa. - A golf club in Pennsylvania has apologized for calling police on a group of black women after the co-owner and his father said they were playing too slowly and refused requests to leave the course.

“I felt we were discriminated against,” one of the women, Myneca Ojo, told the York Daily Record. “It was a horrific experience.”

Sandra Thompson and four friends met up Saturday to play a round of golf at the Grandview Golf Club, where they are all members, she told the newspaper.

At the second hole, a white man whose son co-owns the club came up to them twice to complain that they weren’t keeping up with the pace of play. Thompson, an attorney and the head of the York chapter of the NAACP, told the newspaper it was untrue.

On the same hole, another member of the group, Sandra Harrison, said she spoke with a Grandview golf pro, who said they were fine since they were keeping pace with the group ahead of them.

Despite that, the women skipped the third hole to avoid any other issues, she said.

It’s part of golf etiquette that slow-moving players let groups behind them play through if they are holding things up, and often golf courses have personnel who monitor the pace of play, letting golfers know when they are taking too long.

The five are part of a larger group of local women known as Sisters in the Fairway. The group has been around for at least a decade, and all of its members are experienced players who have golfed all over the county and world, Thompson said. They’re very familiar with golf etiquette, she said.

After the ninth hole, where it is customary to take a break before continuing on the next nine holes, three of the group decided to leave because they were so shaken up by the earlier treatment, the women told the paper.

Thompson said the man from the second hole, identified as former York County Commissioner Steve Chronister, his son, club co-owner Jordan Chronister and several other white, male employees approached the remaining two women and said they took too long of a break and they needed to leave the course.

The women argued they took an appropriate break, and that the men behind them were still on their beer break and not ready to tee off, as seen in a video Thompson gave the newspaper. The women were told that the police had been called, and so they waited.

Northern York County Regional Police arrived, conducted interviews and left without charging anyone.

“We were called there for an issue, the issue did not warrant any charges,” Northern York County Regional Police Chief Mark Bentzel said. “All parties left and we left as well.”

A phone listing for Steve Chronister rang busy on Monday. He told the York Daily Record he didn’t have time to comment on Sunday.

Jordan Chronister’s wife and co-owner of the club, JJ Chronister, said Sunday she called the women personally to apologize.

“We sincerely apologize to the women for making them feel uncomfortable here at Grandview, that is not our intention in any way,” she told the newspaper. “We want all of our members to feel valued and that they can come out here and have a great time, play golf and enjoy the experience.”

She said she hopes to meet with them to discuss how the club can use what happened as a learning experience and do better in the future.

Thompson said she’s not sure a meeting is what needs to happen.

“There needs to be something more substantial to understand they don’t treat people in this manner,” she said.

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Randall's Rant: Augusta has the power to strengthen LPGA

By Randall MellApril 23, 2018, 9:57 pm

Augusta National Golf Club is turning women’s golf upside down.

If you care about the LPGA, that should be your hope, anyway.

Your hope should be that the investment made in the new Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship announced at the Masters three weeks ago will eventually filter up the women’s ranks.

While the new amateur event comes with significant challenges for the women’s tour - with its first major (the ANA Inspiration) in a tough spot the same week as the Augusta National Women’s Amateur - there is LPGA seed money being planted in Georgia

There’s an investment that may grow the women’s game beyond fueling new interest among girls.

“I just hope corporations start recognizing the value of investing in the women’s game, the way Augusta National does,” two-time major champion Cristie Kerr said. “There are so many corporate sponsors in the men’s game who don’t invest a single dollar in the women’s game. Obviously, that’s their prerogative, but we have a lot of value as a tour.”

And there’s your hope.

Augusta National is a collection of power brokers, CEOs and leaders now invested in growing the women’s game.

They’re taking a special interest in watching these young female amateurs emerge, and it’s only natural to expect they’ll become emotionally invested in where these young players go.

And a lot of these young players will go on to the LPGA.

The LPGA is thriving under commissioner Mike Whan’s leadership, with Whan seeing opportunities where others didn’t. He saw Asian interest in the tour as an asset, not the liability so many thought a decade ago.

The LPGA had withered to 23 events in 2011 with $40 million in total prize money. This year, it's up to 34 events with a tour-record $68 million in prize money. Whan did that with a lot of Asian backing.

Of the 10 tour events the LPGA has staged so far this year, including this week’s tournament in San Francisco, nine have Asian-based title sponsors. Even the LPGA’s domestic events are thriving on Asian money. 

All six of the U.S. events staged so far this year have Asian-based title sponsors. You have to move into May and next week’s Volunteers of America Texas Classic before finding an American corporate title sponsor of an American LPGA event.

That starts changing with summer approaching, but overall there will be 17 Asian-based companies or organizations as title sponsors of LPGA events this year, with 14 American-based entities sponsoring or owning events.

Whan says that’s a good thing.

“The diversity of sponsorship on the LPGA makes us a stronger business,” Whan said. “Since I’ve been in office, we’ve worked through recessions in different parts of the world. None of those recessions were crippling to our overall schedule, because we have so many sponsors on board, from so many different places.”

Whan says American corporate interest is growing considerably, with more American marketing partners joining the LPGA this year. The next steps players would like to see are increased purses and endorsement opportunities for women.

The winning two-man team at the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic this week will take home a combined $2,073,000. This week’s LPGA Mediheal Championship features a $1.5 million purse for the entire field.

“The income gap in golf is as much a concern to me as the corporate income gap is to working women,” 12-time LPGA winner Stacy Lewis wrote in an essay earlier this year for the World Economic Forum.

U.S. Solheim Cup captain and LPGA Hall of Famer Juli Inkster started wearing a San Francisco Giants cap this year with no endorsement deals on her bag or shirt. She has become more outspoken about the lack of corporate support for all female golf pros.

“I'm going to say it right now, and I probably shouldn't say it, but I just don't understand how all these companies get away with supporting PGA Tour events and not supporting the LPGA,” Inkster said at the last Solheim Cup. “It makes me a little upset, because I think we've got a great product. We deserve our due.”

With Augusta National investing in young amateur women, it may only be a matter of time until corporate America significantly steps up support. The game’s greatest power brokers appear ready to grow with the young women they will begin investing in next year. That should be the hope for anyone who cares about the LPGA.

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Report: Tour close to finalizing Detroit tournament

By Will GrayApril 23, 2018, 7:07 pm

With the final pieces of the 2019 schedule falling into place, the PGA Tour appears on the verge of returning to Michigan for the first time in nearly a decade.

According to a Detroit News report, the Tour is "believed to be close" to an agreement to bring a tournament to the Motor City beginning in 2019, reportedly likely to take place at Detroit Golf Club near downtown.

While the specifics remain undisclosed, the prime candidate for such a move appears to be The National. The Washington, D.C.-area event, which benefits Tiger Woods' TGR Foundation, was sponsored by Detroit-based Quicken Loans from 2014-2017. This year the tournament will be conducted at TPC Potomac without a title sponsor.

According to a Detroit News report in September, Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert was open to continuing his company's sponsorship of the event if it shifted to Detroit.

In addition to The National, the only other current PGA Tour event without a title sponsor is the Houston Open. On Monday Charles Schwab was introduced as the new title sponsor of the Fort Worth Invitational beginning in 2019.

The PGA Tour has not held an event in the state of Michigan since 2009, the final year of the now-defunct Buick Open at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club. While the final details of a revamped schedule have yet to be announced, the Tour is expected to unveil its itinerary for the 2018-19 season at The Players next month.

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Inbee Park quietly reclaims world No. 1

By Randall MellApril 23, 2018, 6:44 pm

Inbee Park moved back to No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings in about as ho-hum fashion as you’ll ever see a player take the top spot.

It isn’t that she doesn’t care about the top ranking. It just wasn’t a priority in her return to golf this year, after missing big portions of the last two years with injuries.

With an Olympic gold medal and seven major championship titles, the LPGA Hall of Famer isn’t done trying to top the scoreboards that matter most to her.

“To be honest, I never really think about being No. 1 again,” Park said early last week, before tying for second at the Hugel-JTBC LA Open. “If it comes to me, great. If not, it doesn't matter.”

It came to her for the fourth time in her career.

Park, 29, reigned at No. 1 for 59 weeks in her longest run on top, back in the 2013 and ’14 seasons.

Oddly, this run to No. 1 almost comes as a surprise to Park, who didn’t need long to get back to the top spot after returning to the tour. She won the Bank of Hope Founders Cup last month in her second after missing seven months with a back injury.

Park last lost the No. 1 ranking in October of 2015, doing so to Lydia Ko.

In six starts this year, Park has finished T-3 or better four times. She leads the tour in scoring average (69.13) and is second in greens in regulation (77.5 percent).

Just wait until her putter heats up.

Yeah, Park’s not very satisfied with her putting. She’s one of the greatest putters who ever played the women’s game, but she has been frustrated with the inconsistency of her stroke much of this season. Of course, her standards are high. She ranks second in putts per greens in regulation so far this year.

On Sunday, this is how Park summed up her putting in 2018: “Some days, I’ve been really good. Some days, I’ve been really bad.”

Park has led the LPGA in putts per GIR in five of the last 10 years. She switched from her preferred mallet-style putter to a blade earlier this season and won with a Toulon Madison blade at the Founders Cup last month. She was back with an Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball mallet this past week. That’s the putter she used to win the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro two years ago. She used an Odyssey Sabertooth winged mallet in her 2013 run of three consecutive major championship victories.