Spieth a master of preparation

By Ryan LavnerAugust 12, 2015, 10:42 pm

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – There are obvious benefits to those practice-round money games: bragging rights, hitting shots that matter, and, yes, a little extra pocket change when things work out, as they did here Tuesday, with Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas handing Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler a 1-up defeat.

But for Spieth, the more important work was done Wednesday at Whistling Straits. Throwing down balls in gnarly rough, sizing up runoffs and slashing out of the inconsistent bunkers, he treated his nine-hole practice round like a complex math equation, testing all of the variables, trying to find the best solution.

It was Spieth at his tactical best, and it’s one of the biggest – and most underappreciated – reasons why he has climbed to No. 2 in the world in only his third year as a pro.

“He’s always been really high on the golf IQ spectrum,” said Spieth’s instructor, Cameron McCormick. “I call it tactical intelligence. He takes in information really, really quickly, and he can go from very broad to very narrow and center in on it, whether he’s looking at a yardage book, or whether he’s played the hole only once.”

Indeed, for all of Spieth's myriad gifts – his envy-inducing short game, his magical putter, his relentless attitude – this is arguably his most impressive: He’s proven to be a quick study.

Spieth began the 2013 season with no status on any major tour, playing courses that he had seen only on TV. Rookies typically struggle their first year out as they adjust to life on the road or a full schedule, but not this kid. He shot 13 rounds of 65 or better, won once, posted three runners-up, recorded nine top-10s and 13 top-25s and, perhaps most impressive, missed only five cuts.

How was he able to adapt so quickly?


PGA Championship: Full-field tee times


“I didn’t really have another choice,” he said. “You either do it or you don’t have a job. If you don’t learn quickly how to play golf courses that you haven’t played before, you’re going to be very, very far behind. I don’t know how, other than just realizing that it was live or die."

In preparation for his first Masters, Spieth played Augusta National with McCormick in fall 2013. One of McCormick’s biggest takeaways was that, surprisingly, it didn’t require a tremendous amount of prior knowledge. Sure enough, Spieth shot par or better all four rounds in his debut, shared the 54-hole lead and tied for second. He won the very next year, of course, and tied the tournament scoring record.

TPC Sawgrass is one of the most diabolical layouts on the Tour schedule, a design that usually requires years of trial and error to learn the best angles of attack. Yet in his first start there as a pro, Spieth shared the third-round lead.

Course knowledge can be just as important as form at St. Andrews. Spieth had seen the most famous links in the world only once in person, during a round with some of his Walker Cup teammates in 2011, and then on his home simulator. He arrived for the biggest tournament of his life late on a Monday, played a full practice round, and added 28 more holes over the next two days.

After playing the Wednesday practice round on the Old Course, it became apparent to McCormick that they hadn’t gathered all of the information that they needed. With the shifting winds, they didn’t know the line for the layup to the left of the fairway on the par-5 14th. It was a point of reference that Spieth would need to draw from, so after the round caddie Michael Greller headed back out to the hole and jotted down a few notes.

The next day, with all of the Grand Slam hype swirling around him, Spieth shot 67 in the opening round.

“It’s about paying attention,” said McCormick, who was recently named the PGA National Teacher of the Year. “The player that maybe is complacent and talking to his player partners, the player who maybe is more interested in the social aspect just as much as the exercise of playing a practice round, that player might miss that. And then he might get to that situation and say, ‘Now what do I do?’ You hit a shot with certain unknowns. And when you’re competing and trying to beat the best players in the world, unknowns are bad.”

Which is why Spieth tries hard to eliminate them, running through every possible scenario, even if only for a few seconds. On the fourth green Wednesday, he looked back down the fairway, almost as if there was a thought cloud above his head.

“He was thinking to himself: 'Is this a realistic place that I can miss it? Will it roll up into the rough or will it stay in this collection area?'” McCormick said later.

“That’s telling to the type of tactician that he is, and how he can deduce very quickly what is the likely miss and where do I need to practice from.”

This wasn’t a trait drilled into Spieth by his instructor. Heck, during Spieth’s junior days, McCormick traveled with his pupil to only a few of the big tournaments each year, such as the U.S. Junior and U.S. Amateur.

“It’s his own intelligence that he’s developed over time, just recognizing that I need to create a competitive advantage,” McCormick said.

Well, Spieth has certainly put that advantage to good use this season. In the first three majors, he is a combined 37 under par – 14 shots better than the next best player, Louis Oosthuizen.

Now comes the PGA, held on another venue where, on paper, he would seem to be at a disadvantage, having never played the course in competition. The last time Whistling Straits hosted a major, in 2010, Spieth was entering his senior year of high school.

He saw the course for the first time a few days before the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, in a 40-mph wind. This week, when he wasn’t taking money off Rickie and Phil, he was playing shots from the edge of the greens, where the bluegrass blends into the fescue and makes chipping difficult.

Said McCormick: “There are mistakes that you can prevent by making sure that you’re observant rather than playing practice rounds where maybe they’re more into the exercise of playing 18 holes than what can do I today that will save me a stroke tomorrow? That’s the attitude Jordan takes. Always has.”

And it’s one that’s proven quite successful.

Getty Images

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.

 

 

Getty Images

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.”

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.”