Eyes on NCAAs after Illinois, USC win East Lake Cup

By Ryan LavnerNovember 3, 2015, 11:57 pm

ATLANTA – They call him “Big Body Burge,” partly because the 6-foot, 185-pounder is a beast in the weight room, but mostly because he mashes the ball off the tee – he’s longer than any player in college golf.

The problem Illinois senior Alex Burge occasionally encounters, of course, is that those big blasts tend to drift off-line, leading to big numbers and squandered opportunities and disappointing rounds.

“He’s been so up and down,” said Illini assistant coach Zach Barlow, and so it wasn’t a total surprise that when he approached the penultimate group Tuesday at East Lake, Burge was searching, 3 down with six to play in his match against Georgia junior Greyson Sigg.

Then Burge won the next two holes with par. Then he drained a 20-footer for birdie on 16. Then he rolled in another one on 17. All square.

With his Illinois teammates now gathered around the tee box on the par-3 finishing hole, with the overall team match now hinging on his result, Burge flushed what he thought was a perfect long iron into a cold, steady mist. It came up short, in wet, juicy rough on a steep bank, a spot so awkward that he needed to balance on his toes just to avoid tumbling into the bunker.

“It could have come out a million different ways,” Barlow said, but instead the pitch shot came out perfect, soft and with spin, and nestled to within a few inches for a conceded par. Sigg holed an 8-footer just to stay alive.

That’s when Big Body Burge did what he does best, thumping one of his biggest drives of the week, a mighty blow up the hill on the par-5 10th that left him only 234 yards to the flag – and 30 yards ahead of Sigg.

Needing to step on a 3-wood, Sigg came out of the shot and flared it way right, his ball crashing around in the trees. Burge ripped a 2-iron right at the flag, to within 30 feet. His two-putt birdie gave him the win, yes, but also lifted the Illini to the overall team title, 3-1-1, at the inaugural East Lake Cup. It was a significant match-play victory for a squad that has come so close, so often over the last few years in the NCAA Championship.

“It’s a big confidence boost for me,” Burge would say later. “I’ve been on the other side of the spectrum a few times, so to be able to come back and pull it out was exciting.”

Illinois entered this week as the favorite – the No. 2 ranking, the three fall wins, the four top-50 players. But match play has been unkind to the Illini of late. In 2013, they lost in the NCAA final. The next year, they dropped a quarterfinal match. And then, in June, at Concession, they earned the No. 1 seed in stroke play but fell short in the semifinals.

“You just have to keep knocking on the door,” Illinois coach Mike Small said. “Match play is fleeting; it’s a different animal.”

Keep listening to Small and Barlow, though, and it’s clear that lessons were learned this week.

They learned that Belgian Thomas Detry has what it takes to lead off. He went 2-0.

They learned that Charlie Danielson, who is the highest-ranked player on the team (No. 7), is improving every week and makes for a tough out in the middle of the lineup. He went 2-0.

They learned that sophomore Nick Hardy is one of the grittiest competitors in the country, hanging with both USC’s Sean Crocker and Georgia’s Lee McCoy in the anchor spot despite driving it all over the map.

And they learned that they can never count out Burge, the No. 5 man with no top 10s, no rounds in the 60s and a national ranking near 200 this season.

“He never looked fazed today,” Barlow said. “He never looked out of it. Some guys look defeated and you can kind of tell that it’s set in on them, but he stayed the course.”

So did the No. 1-ranked Southern Cal women’s team, after knocking off No. 2 Duke in what could be a NCAA preview.

Last year’s national championship was the first time that match play was used to decide the women’s final. The Trojans struggled to adjust to the format and watched as less-decorated Stanford and Baylor programs slugged it out in the last match.  

Here, Southern Cal appeared more confident. The Trojans pulled away from an injury-depleted Baylor team to reach the championship match, then overwhelmed the Blue Devils with their depth, taking advantage of an off-day from world No. 1 Leona Maguire and winning the women’s team title, 4-1.

“It’s another experience for them,” USC coach Andrea Gaston said. “That’s what matters, to get into the rhythm of match play and know that you’re not just playing the golf course. Anytime players can get this experience, we can bethat much better next time.”

USC put early points on the board thanks to Karen Chung and Kyung Kim. Most impressive was the performance of Gabriella Then, a former U.S. Junior champion who matched up against Maguire, the reigning NCAA player of the year.

Then jumped out to a 2-up lead at the turn, withstood a Maguire rally and put her away with a spectacular up-and-down on the 18th hole.

“That was a huge point for Gaby,” Gaston said, and moments later, across the pond, USC junior Tiffany Chan closed out her match, 3 and 2, for good measure.

“This is a chance for us to see what we can do, Nos. 1-5,” Gaston said, “and I felt we were very strong.”

Georgia coach Chris Haack felt the same way, even in a losing effort. He approached Small at the trophy presentation, shook his hand and couldn’t help but look toward NCAAs.

“I’ll be glad to do this one more time with you in late May,” Haack said.

Big Body Burge will be ready.

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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.”