Europeans and Their Chances at the Masters
My Masters Picks
I have to start this weeks column with the Masters Tournament, one of my favorite weeks of the year. Having attending Mercer University in Macon, Ga., I have a special affinity with the Peach State and its most famous sporting event. Indeed, I was lucky enough to be a patron of the tournament through-out my university years and a couple beyond, but ironically since joining the GOLF CHANNEL Ive not been able to make the pilgrimage. However, I am looking forward to joining Vince Cellini in the studio for our late night 'Live From the Masters' specials. On Thursday youll see my interview with Englishman David Howell, which was shot at Doral ahead of the WGC-CA Championship. To me, Howell is a British favorite at Augusta. He has a solid short game and says himself that Augusta represents his best chance at a major title. With two top 20 finishes in as many appearances at the tournament, hes certainly shown he can perform on the demanding lay-out. During our interview, among other things, he talks about playing with Tiger on Saturday in 2005, during his first appearance in the event.
As for other European hopefuls, Justin Rose is certainly keen to put his back problems behind him, excuse the pun. I watched him for all 18 holes at the Tavistock Cup last Tuesday, and his outward 29, although a touch lucky at times, was extremely impressive. The only worry from Roses point of view is being out of the competitive game for such a long time; his last outing was the Accenture Match Play at the end of February. Hell have his old caddie in Mick Doran on the bag; the pair captured two wins in 2002 before Doran moved to work for Lee Westwood and then Howell. Dorans first steady employer was Costantino Rocca, giving him a front row seat when the Italian was paired with Tiger Woods for the final round of his win for the ages in 1997.
Paul Casey is also one to watch. The Englishman didnt qualify for the tournament last year, so coach Peter Kostis made him watch video of the tournament to inspire a return to Georgia this season. The motivation worked and now Casey is one of my European favorites. His length and scoring ability is second to none; its just a case of putting it all together at the right time.
Henrik Stenson is also a hot favorite. My only worry with him is whether hes had enough experience in the big-time to come through and take the title at a place like Augusta. Realistically, only since his run through the desert swing of 2006 has the big hitting Swede been put on the world map.
And finally, a quick shot in the dark: Jose Maria Olazabal. He wasnt a favorite in 1999; hes not a favorite this year by any means, but he finished tied for third last season, he knows Augusta terribly well, has two green jackets and when the tournament begins, maybe hell turn back the clock and surprise us all.
But theyll all be playing for second, my true Masters tip . Tiger, of course.
Pablo Martin has, for sometime now, been on the GOLF CHANNEL radar. My colleague, Steve Burkowski, who covers the amateur and collegiate games has been singing the young Spaniards praises ever since he stepped onto the scene in the United States a couple of years ago. A student and golfer at Oklahoma State University, Martin is now surely the best amateur golfer on the planet. Somewhat surprisingly, following his victory at the Estoril Open de Portugal on Sunday, he has decided to remain an amateur; although Burkowski told us on our 'UK Golf Central' show on Monday that Martin told him hes planning to forego his senior year in preference to a switch into the professional ranks. Raphael Jacquelin finished second to Martin at Oitavos Golfe. The Frenchman has, in my opinion, one of the smoothest swings on the tour and hopefully he will use this finish to build on his solitary European Tour victory.
Ross McGowan was a front runner for most of the week, but fell away with a final-round 76. I had the pleasure of playing quite a bit of amateur golf with Ross; we were both members at Walton Heath in Surrey for a while before McGowan turned professional and turned his attention to his original home club of Banstead Downs. At 24, McGowan, who only turned pro late last year, was somewhat of a late convert to the professional ranks but with a huge amount of experience as an amateur, including four years at the University of Tennessee. He certainly did his time, as they say. McGowan has a Challenge Tour card this year but relied on sponsors' exemptions to play at Madeira and Oitavos last week.
A Truly Impressel Performance
The first major championship of the year is done and dusted. Congratulations to Morgan Pressel, who I think has developed as a player and a person exponentially since turning professional 15 months ago. Bitter disappointment for Suzann Petterssen, whose double bogey at the 16th cost her dearly. The Norwegian has now had the chance to win for two weeks running but hasnt managed to come through with a trophy. My hope is that Petterssen will learn from these two second places and capture a victory or two before the end the season. Shes battled injuries in her career but now seems to be fit and healthy. The Europeans will certainly need her to be at her most productive for the Solheim Cup in September. Dont forget Catriona Matthew. I think Im right in saying the Kraft Nabisco was not aired in the United Kingdom and so Matthew didnt receive all the camera-time from the American CBS broadcast she possibly deserved. Had her 6-foot par putt on the last dropped we could have been talking about a British major winner. This was only Matthewss second tournament back since the birth of her daughter, so a truly marvelous achievement for the Scotswoman.
On a personal note, may I take this opportunity to wish Renton Laidlaw a very speedy recovery. Renton has been in extremely poor health since suffering a heart attack during an operation for prostate cancer a couple of weeks ago. Hes currently at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. I, like many of you, always enjoy Renton and Warren in the mornings during our European Tour coverage. His style is unique, his knowledge of European golf second to none. Although Rentons family appreciates your well wishes tremendously, they have asked for cards and flowers not to be sent to the hospital at this time.
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Lincicome grouped with two rookies in Barbasol
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.
Lincicome thrilled by reception from male pros
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.”
Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown
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.
Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'
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.”
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.”