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WGC-Mexico deserves better spot on the schedule

By Rex HoggardFebruary 28, 2018, 9:32 pm

MEXICO CITY – Leaving Trump National Doral was bittersweet for many PGA Tour types.

Although the Blue Monster had fallen out of favor in some circles following one too many facelifts, the annual South Florida stop was more than just another week on the road. For many, it was the unofficial start to the season and a staple on the schedule since 1962.

Those mixed feelings were somewhat mitigated by the event’s shift to Mexico City last year, a move that finally put the “World” back in World Golf Championship. The WGCs might have brought together the game’s best from across the globe, but they did so with a distinctly American lineup since the concept’s inception in the late 1990s.

Until the WGC-HSBC Champions in China was added to the rotation, the events had with a few exceptions been played in the U.S., which made the move to Mexico both encouraging and overdue.

The best version of professional golf being played in a region that had been void of top-caliber events checked off all the right boxes and was exactly what Benjamin Salinas, the CEO of Grupo Salinas, had in mind.

“In Mexico, golf has been an elite sport, and if you wanted to play golf you had to be a member of a private club, and that’s unacceptable,” Salinas said on Wednesday at Chapultepec Golf Club.

For Salinas, whose family runs TV Azteca and retailer Grupo Elektra, bringing the world’s best to Mexico is a matter of pride. Giving children, who have never been exposed to the game, a chance to experience and understand golf has always been the primary goal.

“We want more golfers, of course, but it’s more important the values that the game has,” he said. “We feel it starting to grow and this [the WGC] is an eye-opener.”

Officials recently opened a First Tee program just outside Mexico City, which was no small feat in a country that doesn’t adhere to the same non-profit notions as in the U.S., and Salinas has an ambitious goal to open a private golf course in every state in Mexico.

WGC-Mexico Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Perhaps exposing the game to the globe’s underdeveloped corners wasn’t in the original WGC mission statement, but Mexico now stands as the standard and a potential model for future international events.

That Salinas’ ambitious dream is unfolding in real time despite less-than-ideal conditions is both avoidable and misguided.

This week’s field at Chapultepec features 45 of the top 50 players in the Official World Golf Ranking, which is hardly reason for concern, but the no-shows are conspicuous. Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Jason Day all passed on the event, while Hideki Matsuyama and Brooks Koepka are out with injuries. It’s always easy in these situations to question the player, but this is more about the schedule than it is an issue of individual motivation.

McIlroy is fresh off three consecutive starts dating back to Pebble Beach, Stenson is in the field next week in Tampa, and Day is a former champion at Bay Hill and will pick up his schedule there. All three will also play the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, in three weeks. Put another way, something had to give, and Mexico’s golf showcase, which is currently wedged between two Florida swing events, is the loser in this scenario.

Even Jordan Spieth, who tied for 12th here last year, was on the fence about playing this WGC as late as two weeks ago in Los Angeles.

“I love the golf course. I just didn’t know what was going to be best for me to be prepared for the Masters,” Speith said. “Ultimately, this tournament was one I thought could be fantastic for that. I was just trying to figure out where I was going to tee it up and get those reps."

The dramatic makeover of the Tour schedule beginning with the 2018-19 season will feature the WGC-Mexico Championship moving to the back end of the West Coast swing, but with fields in California and Arizona enjoying a renaissance in recent years, a post-Los Angeles date likely won't be a dramatic improvement over the event’s current date.

As the Tour schedule compacts to prepare for a pre-football season finale in 2019 and beyond, finding prime real-estate will be a challenge, but Mexico should be first in line for an upgrade, particularly with officials like Salinas talking in terms of a 20- or 30-year commitment.

The championship deserves better. Salinas deserves better. And the opportunity to truly grow the game on an international stage certainly deserves better.

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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.”