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USGA again gets it wrong at Shinnecock Hills

By Rex HoggardJune 17, 2018, 1:06 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For two days there was harmony at the 118th U.S. Open. The USGA presented a demanding test. Players, however, insisted it was fair.

Thursday was a grind, with a relative par of 76.47 thanks to an exacting golf course and winds that threatened to torpedo the championship’s return to the East End of Long Island, but cooler heads prevailed.

The USGA softened the setup and the collective took a deep breath. Nothing to see here.

It wasn’t until the early groups on Saturday made the turn under bright sunny skies and a building breeze that things began to go wrong. Putts that had been challenging suddenly became impossible and greens that had been on the slower side of the normal U.S. Open threshold began to turn a muted brown.

It was happening again, the ghosts from 14 years ago echoing across the rolling layout like an alarm. It was 2004 all over again.

“They've lost the golf course,” Zach Johnson told Sky Sports. “When you have a championship that comes down to sheer luck, that's not right.”

Replace Johnson with Kevin Stadler or J.J. Henry and it was as if the entire championship had been transported back to the ’04 U.S. Open, when these same rolling greens turned crusty and then cruel.

On that Sunday 14 years ago, Stadler and Henry were the first group off and their adventure on the seventh green added up to a dozen collective strokes and led the USGA to break out the hoses, but it was too late.

USGA CEO Mike Davis called that day a “double bogey” in the association’s history. At last year’s U.S. Open when he was asked about the 2004 championship, he said, “That will not happen again. If it does, I’m retiring.”

Shinnecock Hills hasn’t quite bottomed out like it did in 2004, but it’s close.

“Maybe they got more wind than they thought they’d get,” Brendan Steele said. “The course was fair the first two days, today I thought it was getting sketchy.”

Steele wasn’t alone in his assessment of Saturday’s set up miscue.

“They lost the golf course today, certainly on the back nine,” said Henrik Stenson, who was alone in sixth place at 5 over par.

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Unlike 2004 when the primary concern was the seventh green, on Saturday it was the 13th and 15th greens, which featured hole locations cut on knobs and dangerously close to the edge.

“When you have L wedge in your hand and you hit to the spot you want to and you almost make the putt and it blows of the green 20 yards, it starts to become a point where, 'Did these guys screw up? Did they not see this coming?'” said Pat Perez of his episode on the 15th hole. “The pin didn’t have to be where it was.”

Brooks Koepka, who is 18 holes away from winning his second consecutive U.S. Open, had a similar adventure on the 15th hole when his approach trickled into a greenside bunker.

“I don't have anything nice to say about that green [No. 15] and the pin location, so I'm just not going to say it,” said Koepka, who is tied for the lead at 3 over.

There will be those who say this is nothing more than typical players carping and that the play-for-pay types simply need to toughen up. But that ignores just how bad things got on Saturday and the facts.

The USGA’s own weather forecast called for gusts to 20 mph and warm, dry conditions, and yet the association rolled the dice with what turned out to be borderline hole locations.

“There were some aspects today where well-executed shots were not rewarded. We missed it with the wind,” Davis said. “We don’t want that. The firmness was OK but it was too much with the wind we had. It was probably too tough this afternoon – a tale of two courses.”

Officials made similar comments in 2004 when these same greens became crispy, but by then it was too late. Fourteen years ago play was suspended during the final round and crews were called in to water certain putting surfaces between groups, but the damage was done.

It was a dark moment for the USGA that Davis and Co. have spent the last decade trying to untangle, which makes Saturday’s miscues so surprising. This wasn’t supposed to happen, not again, not like this with the technology officials had available to them.

Unlike in ’04, officials have an opportunity for a real-time mea culpa, a chance to salvage a week that started with so much, but it won’t be easy. Sunday’s forecast is similar to what it was for Round 3, which means the options are limited. Crews were already starting to water greens as the day’s final group made the turn and Davis was clear on how he planned to ease up on the final day’s set up.

“The message was loud and clear to the grounds staff and to our team that handles the agronomy part of it is that let's slow the course down. We must slow the course down tonight, and we will,” Davis said. “That probably means more water applied and just making sure the greens are right.”

There had been a steady drumbeat since last year’s championship, which was won by Koepka with a potentially embarrassing 16-under total, that the championship had lost its way and veered too far in favor of the player. Saturday’s show may have struck a more traditional tone, but at what cost?

“Be careful what you wish for. We've all been asking for a real U.S. Open again. So I guess we got one for sure this week,” said Justin Rose, who is a stroke off the lead.

Maybe this was an over-reaction to what happened last year at Erin Hills or maybe it was simply an unthinkable lapse in judgment, either way the challenge now is making sure Sunday isn’t a sequel of what happened in 2004.

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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.”

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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.”