NCAA title just the beginning for LSU?

By Ryan LavnerJune 3, 2015, 10:36 pm

BRADENTON, Fla. – The only untidy aspect of LSU’s victory over Southern Cal on Wednesday was the celebration.

Brandon Pierce right here, Zach Wright over there … and Ben Taylor, up on 18 with nary a teammate in sight, closing out this NCAA Championship.

Once they met up behind 17 and checked live scoring on their phones, Pierce and Wright decided to sprint toward the final green to watch the clinching putt. They slowed down at the 150-yard mark, long enough for the TV cameramen to catch up, and when Taylor dropped his 8-footer for par, they took off running again, faster now, screaming and throwing up their hands and mobbing their All-American senior who sealed the 4-1 victory.

“Right now this means everything to me,” Wright said. “We came here on a mission to try to win this.”

And to think: The Tigers almost didn’t even make it to Concession.

Frustrated by the bumpy greens at The Course at Yale, LSU was 11 shots off the fifth-place cut line entering the final round of the regional tournament.

Full coverage: NCAA Division I National Championships

The night before that round, LSU coach Chuck Winstead gathered his players and showed them examples of how previous teams had snuck into NCAAs, how it was possible, how they just had to believe.

“We started getting our minds wrapped around that we could actually make the comeback,” senior Stewart Jolly said.

Even with the pep talk, the outcome looked grim – the deficit swelled to 14 shots at one point in the survive-and-advance tournament. But after a furious back-nine rally, all five starters ended up shooting in the 60s, none better than Taylor and Pierce, who carded matching 65s.

That it was Pierce who delivered that day was only fitting.

Last spring, when doctors discovered a stress fracture in his back that would force him out of competition for eight months, he didn’t go into hiding or distance himself from the team. No, he pulled closer. He attended every practice, flying around in a golf cart to encourage his teammates. He waited at the golf house until the Tigers returned home from an away tournament. And on the eve of a big event, he tapped out one-page notes to each of his brothers and left them in their locker, hoping to provide a little inspiration.

Pierce shot 29 on his final nine holes that day in New Haven. The Tigers moved on to nationals by a single stroke.

Turns out LSU’s entry into the NCAA Championship was more riveting than its exit.

In winning the first four matches Wednesday, the Tigers trailed for only a total of eight holes, and never by more than a one-hole deficit. It was a thoroughly dominant performance by a team with no weaknesses in its lineup.

“They’re all interchangeable,” Winstead said of his five starters.

LSU’s total team effort capped a long week when many of the favorites fell short.

No. 1-ranked Florida State didn’t even advance to match play. Texas, the hottest team in the country with six wins in its last seven starts, bowed out in the quarterfinals. Illinois, which won an NCAA-best eight times this season, looked flat in the semis.

Left standing was No. 9 LSU and No. 13 USC – teams that likely would have combined for more than seven wins this season if they didn’t play such a grueling schedule.

Nevertheless, it was the first time since 2009 – the first year of NCAA match play – that the championship match did not feature at least one finalist with a top-5 national ranking.

A surprise, maybe, but there’s never been more parity in college golf, the margin of error at a brutal golf course like Concession is razor-thin, and 18-hole match play is a shortened game that doesn’t always determine the best champion.

That background might help soften the blow for many of the top seeds, but one thing was still abundantly clear Wednesday: LSU was the most deserving team after enduring eight rounds in seven days here.

“They’re really good,” USC’s Sean Crocker said. “They just beat us today.”

And they didn’t waste any time in the championship, either, with the top three in the lineup – Pierce (2 and 1), Taylor (1 up) and Wright (3 and 2) – all winning their final match to stomp out any potential upset.

Not bad for a group that didn’t even know the tournament format until last week, a few hours before their first-round tee time.

Winstead said he only learned that the schedule was 72 holes of stroke play followed by three rounds of match play during the coaches’ meeting Thursday night. He thought it was a 54-hole qualifier, just like in 2014.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “If you don’t play great, you’re not going to be around, whether you play 54, 72, 36 or 108.”

A year ago at Prairie Dunes, the Tigers were ecstatic just to reach NCAA match play. They eventually lost to Alabama in the semifinals. This year, they had bigger goals, even after losing Smylie Kaufman, who recently won on the Tour, and Curtis Thompson, one of Lexi’s long-hitting brothers.

“Last year it was kind of a shock,” said Wright, who extended his NCAA match-play record to 5-0. “We weren’t prepared for it. This year we were mentally there."

Three of LSU’s players are ranked inside the top 65 nationally. The other two are established seniors: Jolly, ranked 123rd, is a former All-American, while Taylor, ranked 137th, added an NCAA title to the national championship he won at Division II Nova Southeastern.

“We don’t have a superstar,” Winstead said.

But the Tigers might have a couple of ’em next season.

Pierce sure looks like one, after he broke David Toms’ LSU single-season scoring record (71.0) in seven starts this spring. Yes, the Tigers lose the two seniors, but they also will welcome top-10 prospects Sam Burns (No. 1) and Nathan Jeansonne (No. 7) in addition to Luis Gagne. More studs are expected to arrive in Baton Rouge beginning in fall 2016.

The perception of LSU is changing, from a middling team ranked outside the top 80 when Winstead took over in 2005, to an emerging threat with NCAA champion John Peterson at the top, to now a powerhouse-in-waiting with a bevy of hungry recruits.

“When it’s going the wrong way, you have to hold on to the train a long time just to get it to stop,” Winstead said. “Just hold on, hold on, until you get it to stop. Then you have to turn it around. And then it takes a while to build speed.”

After this NCAA title, it’s full speed ahead.

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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.”