Spieth kept Grand Slam quest alive to very end

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2015, 9:23 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – A Grand Slam quest that spanned 99 days unraveled in three minutes Monday.

It could have ended hours or days earlier – after the five three-putts in the wind-blown second round … or the four-putt in the final round … or the countless missed opportunities that caused brief fits of rage – but the ghost of Hogan teased Jordan Spieth until the very end, right down to his final full shot on the Old Course.

Cruel game.

Fifty-five years after Arnold Palmer arrived at St. Andrews hoping to capture the third leg of the Slam, only to come up one shot short, another hugely popular American superstar watched someone else hoist a claret jug that easily could have been his.

Tied for the lead on the 71st hole, Spieth pushed a 6-foot par putt and then hit a wayward drive that left him an awkward yardage to a dicey pin. The ensuing par left him at 14-under 274, one shot out of the three-man playoff, eventually won by Zach Johnson

No one has ever gotten closer to matching Ben Hogan's trifecta in 1953. 

“It won’t hurt too bad,” Spieth said, his hands stuffed into his blue pants pockets. “I made a lot of the right decisions down the stretch and certainly closed plenty of tournaments out, and this just wasn’t one of those. It’s hard to do that every single time. I won’t beat myself up too bad because I do understand that.”

It wasn’t just talk either – he waited around for more than an hour afterward just so he could hug Johnson and congratulate him on a bucket-list major.

“He’s a phenomenal talent,” Johnson would say later, “but he’s a better person than he is golfer.” 

The phrase Spieth has used repeatedly during both summer Opens is “free rolling.” He’s playing to win, of course, but the fact that he already has two majors in the bag this year freed him up to take a few extra chances.

“There’s really no downside,” he said here Sunday night. “If we have a chance to win and we don’t execute, then we’re going to be OK.”

That doesn’t mean this loss was easy to stomach.

Because after blowing away the field at Augusta and then watching Dustin Johnson crumble on the 72nd green at Chambers Bay, this time it was Spieth who let one get away.

The greatest irony? His magical short game – his greatest strength – was the part that let him down the most in his quest for a third major in a row.

Ranked first on Tour in three-putt avoidance, Spieth’s speed control was off all week, leading to a career-worst 37 putts in the second round (including five three-putts) and a ghastly four-putt on the eighth green Monday.

“I think my biggest advantage over anybody in the world is my first-putt proximity,” he said, “and it certainly cost me at least a couple of shots.”

Yet the most fearsome version of Spieth is when he has red ass – when he quickens his pace and he chats off caddie Michael Greller’s ear and he fidgets with the bottom button on his polo. He was so ticked Sunday that he took out his aggression on his golf bag.

“I couldn’t hold it in,” he said. “I wasn’t going to break a club or throw a club. I didn’t want to hit Michael, so I figured I’d hit my golf bag.”

He promptly birdied his next three holes, and four of his next six, to come home in 32 and sit just one off the lead heading into the final day.

Spieth opted for a less violent release in the final round, flinging his ball into the gorse after the four-putt double on 8, but it proved just as effective. Needing to rebound quickly, he rolled in a 20-footer and nipped a wedge to 6 feet on the next two holes to gain back those precious strokes.

Turning back into the wind at St. Andrews, he strung together five consecutive pars to stay in the hunt. Then came the 16th, where he poured in a 50-footer that was tracking all the way. Spieth raised his putter when the ball was 15 … 10 … 5 feet away, and then he punched the air, and the grandstand shook, and suddenly, at 15 under, tied for the lead, all of the mistakes were erased and it all felt possible again.

Did the thoughts of the claret jug, of matching Hogan, of eventually tying Jones, enter his mind then?

Because it had to.

Because it’s only human nature.

“Not really,” Spieth said. “No.”

The task ahead was too difficult to consider any of the historical implications.

After hitting a drive down an adjacent fairway, he studied his long approach into the most famous par 4 in the world, the brutally difficult Road Hole that had surrendered just a single birdie Sunday, and only nine all week.

His goal was to make 4, somehow, and he had 240 yards to the flag, into a cold wind and pesky mist. “I don’t think I could hit driver that far,” he said, and so he opted for a 4-iron that he knuckled into the first cut of the right rough, the only reasonable angle into the treacherous final-round hole location.

His pitch landed softly on the green, checked near the cup and rolled out about 6 feet. He has made 77 percent of his putts from that range this season, one of the most proficient on Tour, but on this rare occasion he missed.

He claimed it wasn’t because of the pressure.

“I just didn’t hit a great putt there,” he said, nor did he hit a great drive three minutes later, when it all came undone.

Needing birdie, nothing less, he was too quick in his transition and yanked his tee shot way left. He grimaced and extended his left arm, signaling his foul ball. He bent over, tapped his tee twice with his driver and swiped at the soggy turf.

“Who would have thought a drive on 18 was going to be what really hurt me at the end there?” he said later. “It’s kind of hard to not hit a good one on that hole.”

Fans in the grandstands applauded his entire walk up the fairway, a rock star closing out his set, and Spieth gave a single tip of his blue cap. The poorly positioned drive took lob wedge out of his hands, and he marched all the way up to the green, to the exact spot where he wanted his ball to land, just over the top of the ridge, because any slight miscue meant the difference between a short birdie putt to tie and a hit-and-hope from down below the green, the Costantino Rocca putt, in the Valley of Sin.

“Up and down for a playoff,” he told Greller.

A quick-triggered photographer snapped Spieth in his backswing, and he was forced to reset, a problem Hogan never had. His three-quarter shot landed atop the ridge, nearly perfect, but it had too much spin and rolled back down the slope. Slogging toward the green, he put his left hand over his head.

A man shouted from an old stone building.

“Come on, Spieth. We believe!”

He peered into his yardage book, consulted with Greller and stalked the putt from every angle. He gave his long birdie putt a run, and it looked good for a while, but it slid by the left edge. His bid for the Slam was over.

Spieth gave Greller a quick handshake, tousled his thinning hair, and congratulated and comforted fellow playing competitor Jason Day on an Open well played.

The fans in the 18th grandstand gave Spieth a standing ovation as he walked off the green, and the kid returned the favor, clapping and thanking them with a thumbs-up.

Afterward, Spieth met with the media and thoughtfully assessed how he played, what he could have done differently. Exiting the flash area, he spotted a young fan who had climbed onto his father’s shoulders and poked his head over the chain-link fence. They held out a piece of paper and asked for an autograph.

“Slam next year,” the man said.

Spieth smiled.

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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.”