Eyes on reigning NCAA champs at East Lake Cup

By Ryan LavnerNovember 1, 2015, 9:44 pm

ATLANTA – Forty-eight hours after her team won the NCAA Championship, Stanford women’s coach Anne Walker finally looked down at her phone. She had more than 1,000 unread messages. 

There was the note from the viewer watching at home in New Zealand, and from the man sitting in a pub in England, and from the guy waiting in the airport in Oakland, who was apparently so engrossed in the championship match against Baylor that he nearly missed his flight.

“It was just nuts,” Walker said Sunday. “I had so many text messages, I thought I’d have to throw my phone away.”

The memories have come rushing back now that all four teams from last year’s NCAA semifinals have reconvened here for the inaugural East Lake Cup. Stanford, which returns all five starters from last year’s title-winning squad, will face off against No. 2-ranked Duke in the first round of matches Monday.  

The party rages on for the Cardinal, even five months later.

Over the summer, Walker and junior Casey Danielson attended the ESPY Awards. Upon returning to campus, the entire team attended a party with some of the program’s most prominent boosters. The players gave speeches and made toasts and received their NCAA rings. A few weeks ago, they had a fun photo shoot with the NCAA trophy in San Francisco – in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, at the Twin Peaks, on Lombard Street.

“We decided as a group this fall that we obviously want to be focused and get better, but we really want to make the most of being the reigning national champions,” Walker said. “First-hand experience tells me that it’s really hard to win, and we might never get another chance.”

It hasn’t been all fun and games, of course. Stanford already has two wins this fall and is ranked sixth in the country. To hear Walker, though, this celebration was a year and a half in the making: The program’s transformation began at the 2014 Pac-12 Championship, where the Cardinal outdueled USC, UCLA and Arizona State to win the conference title.

“That feeling of getting that championship really inspired the group,” she said, “because they asked themselves: If this win feels this good, what does a national championship feel like? It’s an addictive feeling, that high that you get of just being in the moment and getting it done.”

That feeling is a distant memory for the reigning men’s champion, LSU.

The Tigers, who stormed through the spring and thumped Southern Cal in the final, have been beset with injuries through the first four events of the season. They will face Georgia in the first match Monday.  

Heralded freshman Nathan Jeansonne has missed two events this fall – the first because of mononucleosis, the latest because of an eye abrasion he suffered while trying to remove a contact lens. Sophomore Blake Caldwell’s back went out in the second event. Another of the team’s top freshmen, Luis Gagne, played the first tournament but has been out since because of a wrist injury.

And that list of the walking wounded doesn’t even include junior All-American Brandon Pierce, who is trying to play his way back into shape after suffering a broken neck the day after NCAAs.

The injury list has been so long, coach Chuck Winstead joked, that “it feels like they’ve been trying to tackle Leonard Fournette,” the school’s Heisman Trophy frontrunner.

Every week, it seems, the Tigers have been trying to make it work, to find a starting lineup that will keep them competitive. So far, they’ve had mixed results, with their only win coming in their home event and two other finishes outside the top eight.

This fall has been nothing like Stanford’s joy ride.

“For me the fall has not been fun at all,” Winstead said, “because we haven’t played like we’re capable of playing. Every individual has their own threshold of what is acceptable to them relative to their performance. Every team has one, too. For these guys, and for their coach, the results this fall are not acceptable relative to what we’re capable of, and that’ll create what we need to keep going.”

Yet it’s fair to wonder here whether LSU’s fall results even matter. College golf is all about peaking at the right time. That’s the late spring, not midway through the fall. There is still plenty of time for the Tigers to get healthy, to gel as a team, to prepare to defend their title.

“The fall matters to me,” Winstead said. “If you’re a great player, you want to be great all the time. I don’t think great players show up for Augusta and all of a sudden are Masters champions. Great players are great players because they bring it every week.”

LSU is loaded with those great players, from Zach Wright to All-American Eric Ricard to No. 1-ranked freshman recruit Sam Burns. But the Tigers have looked lethargic so far, perhaps because of a national-title hangover, or maybe because of all the injuries that have thrown their lineup into flux. Teams that face tough competition at home, in head-to-head battles in practice, often fare better on the road.  

“We’ve had our ups and downs this fall,” Wright said, “but we have a really good team. It’s gonna be all right.”

A national title leads to increased expectations, sure, but also an added level of perspective. And patience. Walker knows this. Now Winstead does, too. 

“You know what it looks like now to build a team into being able to perform like that,” he said. “I felt like I had an idea before, but I don’t have to wonder. I’ve seen it. Hopefully we can trend heading back that way soon … like, tomorrow.”

American Junior Golf Association

Junior golfer's amazing run: ace, albatross, birdie

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 11:03 pm

While most of the golf world had its attention focused on Scotland and The Open Championship at Carnoustie on Thursday, the REALLY remarkable performance of the day was taking place in Halifax, Mass.

There, in an American Junior Golf Association tournament, a 16-year-old Thai player made a hole-in-one and an albatross on consecutive holes.

According to the AJGA, Conor Kelly holed a 5-iron shot on the 198-yard, par-3 eighth hole. It was his first hole-in-one. He then holed a 4-iron second shot from 220 yards on the 480-yard ninth holer for the albatross. (We're gonna go out on a limb and say it was his first albatross.)

Certainly a nice way to make the turn - but Kelly wasn't finished. He birdied the par-4 10th for a 1-2-3 sequence on his scorecard. For the day, he shot a 5-under 67 in the AJGA Junior Golf Hub Championship at the Country Club of Halifax.

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McIlroy, Rahm betting co-favorites after Open Round 1

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 10:10 pm

They're both three shots off the lead, but after starting The Open with rounds in the 60s Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are now betting co-favorites to lift the claret jug at Carnoustie.

McIlroy is four years removed from his Open triumph at Royal Liverpool, while Rahm remains in search of his first major title. Both carded rounds of 2-under 69 in Scotland to sit three shots off the lead of Kevin Kisner. While McIlroy started the tournament at 16/1 and Rahm at 20/1, they're now dead even at 10/1 in updated odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

Kisner started the week at 200/1, but after an opening-round 66 he's quickly been trimmed to 25/1. Tony Finau sits one shot behind Kisner and is now listed behind only McIlroy and Rahm at 12/1 after starting the tournament at 60/1.

On the other side of the coin, consensus pre-tournament betting favorite Dustin Johnson fell from 12/1 to 100/1 following an opening 76 while Masters champ Patrick Reed shot a 4-over 75 to plummet from 30/1 to 200/1. Trailing by five shots following an opening-round 71, Tiger Woods' odds remained unchanged at 25/1 as he seeks a 15th career major title.

Here's a look at the revised betting odds heading into the second round at Carnoustie:

10/1: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm

12/1: Tony Finau

14/1: Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

20/1: Francesco Molinari

25/1: Tiger Woods, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson, Kevin Kisner

30/1: Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka

40/1: Ryan Moore, Jason Day

50/1: Erik Van Rooyen, Brandon Stone, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Danny Willett, Thomas Pieters, Marc Leishman, Thorbjorn Olesen, Russell Henley, Matthew Southgate

80/1: Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Brendan Steele, Kevin Na

100/1: Dustin Johnson, Zander Lombard, Sung Kang, Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Chris Wood, Pat Perez, Luke List, Charley Hoffman

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Despite 78, Lincicome savors PGA Tour experience

By Randall MellJuly 19, 2018, 9:41 pm

Two bad holes derailed Brittany Lincicome in her historic start Thursday at the Barbasol Championship, but they couldn’t wipe the smile off her face afterward.

It might have been the most fun she ever had shooting a 78.

Lincicome joined Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie as the only women to tee it up in a PGA Tour event when she striped her opening tee shot down the middle Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

A double bogey at her ninth hole and a triple at her 16th might have spoiled her chances at joining Zaharias as the only women to make a 36-hole cut in a PGA Tour event, but it didn’t spoil her experience.

“I did what I wanted to do, with having fun,” Lincicome said. “I think I nailed that part pretty well.

“I love playing with the guys. It's so much fun, being inside the ropes with them. Hopefully, I can get a good one tomorrow.”

Lincicome, 32, held her own for 16 holes, playing them in 1 over par, but those two big numbers left her tied for last place when she signed her scorecard, though other players remained on the course.

At 6 over, Lincicome is 13 shots behind the leader, probably seven or eight shots off the projected cut line, but she savored the experience. She arrived wanting to inspire young girls to dream big, and to bring some extra attention to a title sponsor who means so much to her. She represents Pure Silk, part of the Barbasol family.

Sam Ryder, who joined Conrad Shindler playing alongside Lincicome, was impressed with the way Lincicome carried herself.

“I would play with her every day if she wanted to,” said Ryder, who opened with a 68. “She's just a great person.

“Even though I know she's probably a little disappointed with her final score, she had a smile on her face all day.”

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, made her first birdie at her 12th hole, dropping a 30-foot putt, but she wasn’t happy with her putter much of the day. She missed three other good birdie chances, a 4-footer at her eighth hole, an 8-footer at her 10th and a 12-footer at the last.

“Pretty happy with my game overall,” Lincicome said. “I had two bad holes, but I drove it well. I did all the things I said I needed to do, but my putter let me down today.”

After piping her first drive, Lincicome opened with three consecutive pars.

“I was actually calmer than I thought I was going to be,” she said. “I thought I was going to be a nervous wreck. After the first tee shot, I was pretty happy that I found the fairway.”

Lincicome said Ryder and Shindler made her feel welcome. So did the crowds.

“It was great,” she said. “I could feel the energy of the crowd support me. Every time I hit a good driver or good shot, they would cheer for me, which was great.

“Conrad and Sam were so nice. I couldn't have asked for a better pairing. They were very welcoming, and we were interacting, they were asking me questions, and it was great.”

On Tuesday, Lincicome said a key to her play would be hitting fairways. She did that, hitting 10 of 14, but she was taking in longer clubs than she does in LPGA events, with Keene Trace set up at 7,168 yards. That’s 600 yards longer than she played last week at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic, where she finished second. She hit just 8 greens in regulation in this PGA Tour start.

Lincicome is nicknamed “Bam Bam.” She is one of the LPGA’s longest drivers, but she was typically 30 to 40 yards behind Ryder and Shindler after hitting her driver. She averaged 259 yards per drive, Ryder 289 yards.

“She had a couple birdie putts that she could have made,” Ryder said. “If she made a couple of those, might've been a little bit different, just to get a little bit of momentum. Who knows?”

Lincicome’s biggest challenges were the par 3s.

At the 18th, playing 195 yards, she mis-hit her tee shot, knocking it in the water, short of the green. She took a penalty, moved up to a forward tee, dropped and hit into a right greenside bunker. She got up and down from there for a 5.

At the seventh, playing 198 yards, she missed wild right and deep. From a tough spot in the rough, she left her pitch short of the green. She chipped her third past the hole and to the fringe, where she took three putts from 20 feet.

Afterward, Lincicome wasn’t dwelling on the bad shots. She was focused on going to sign autographs for all the fans waiting for her, including all the little girls who came out to see her.

“I need to go back over there and sign,” she said. “Any time I can influence a child, especially a girl, obviously I want to get them involved with the LPGA, as much as possible.”

Her overall assessment of her day?

“It was a great experience,” she said.

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.