Lorena Ochoa still relishes time on the practice range, but it’s so different now. The joy today is watching her son, Pedro, hit balls on the golf course where her family makes its home in Mexico City. He will turn 3 next month, and Ochoa knows half the fun for her son is hopping into their golf cart, beside her, to make the drive to the range from their house. Pedro likes to stop and feed the ducks on a pond there after hitting balls. “We have our routines,” Ochoa told GolfChannel.com in a telephone interview. “We go to the playground after school and to the range. He likes to hit golf balls. He only hits about 10 balls and then he’ll say, ‘OK, I’m done, let’s go.’” Then it’s off to the feed the ducks with his baby sister, Julia. Pedro may like hitting balls more than his mother does these days. “I don’t like to practice that much anymore,” Ochoa says. “I don’t play very much.” With the Lorena Ochoa Invitational set for its seventh annual staging this week, questions arise anew over whether old competitive fires are beginning to burn within Ochoa again. She will tell you that they don’t. She relishes her life as a mother too much. She retired four years ago at 28 as the world No. 1 to start a family with her husband, Andres Conesa Labastida, president of Aeromexico. She doesn’t regret leaving the game for a moment. Lorena Ochoa Invitational: Articles, videos and photos While Ochoa could have a spot in her own tournament this week, she’s only teeing it up in the pro-am. “I’ll play the pro-am to be with the sponsors and friends,” Ochoa said. But what about the future? Can she begin to see the day she’ll want to compete for championships again? “No, I don’t see myself competing again,” Ochoa said. “I’m finished. I may go to play one tournament at some point, to have fun and to see some friends, but I don’t see myself competing again. I’m enjoying this part of my life.” Last Wednesday, Ochoa’s youngest, Julia, celebrated her first birthday. Pedro helped wake her up with a birthday song. “Julia’s a happy girl,” Ochoa said. “She laughs a lot, and she’s starting to walk. Pedro’s talking now, and he’s a really good brother. It’s amazing, and I feel blessed.” Ochoa can’t envision taking time away from them to re-commit to competition at the highest level. “Everyone asks if I miss playing,” Ochoa said. “I don’t really miss it. If I’m not able to practice and do it the right way, I don’t want to do it anymore.” Ochoa won the last of her 27 LPGA titles five years ago at the Navistar Classic, but her name still resonates on tour. “She’s one of the names you still hear players on tour talking about,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said. “I don’t know how much communication players still have with her, but she’s in our fabric. The respect for Lorena is through the roof. I don’t know a player who wasn’t a little wowed playing with her.” Ochoa’s passion for the game continues to be sharing its benefits with countrymen, families and juniors. That’s why she’s so excited about all the changes to her tournament this year. While staging the first six tournaments on the golf course where she grew up in Guadalajara was special, she sees the event’s move to Mexico City this year as an important step for the tournament and her country. It is being played at the Club de Golf Mexico in the heart of Mexico City, where Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer teamed together to win the World Cup of Golf in 1967. “I couldn’t ask for a better place to play the tournament,” Ochoa said. “The course has held big events before, and the members are excited for us to be there. It’s in beautiful shape, and I think the players are going to like it.” Ochoa’s event faced some challenges last year at Guadalajara Country Club, when the local government pulled funding, causing the event to lose its television deal. With the move to Mexico City, Ochoa believes her tournament has secured a strong future. “Playing in Guadalajara was a dream come true for me,” Ochoa said. “I wanted to share my experiences with my community and all the club members there, but it seems right to move to Mexico City now, to make the tournament even better and more important. There are so many clients and businesses and golf courses here. With the tournament televised around the world, we’ll be showing Mexico to the world. It’s good for Mexico City and the country.” Ochoa’s event has a contract to play in Mexico City through 2016. Ochoa Sports Management, headed by Lorena’s brother, Alejandro, operates the tournament. “Everyone’s on board, sponsors, the government,” Ochoa said. “Everything’s going smoothly. We aren’t worried about the future of the tournament. We have a three-year deal and hopefully we’ll be here a lot longer.” Whan said the tournament’s ability to secure television coverage was key. “For a long time, they’ve had four big sponsors and each of them has wanted the event in Mexico City, because that’s where they’re based and where all their customers are, where the hub is,” Whan said. “Alejandro told me a long time ago, if I ever tell you I need to go to Mexico City, it means I’m finally doing what my sponsors asked.” Lorena remains intricately involved in her charities, including the school her foundation built in Guadalajara. The Lorena Ochoa Foundation is the primary beneficiary of her tournament. The foundation’s mission is to provide opportunities for children and adults in family-based health, fitness and educational programs in Mexico and the United States. She built the Lorena Ochoa Golf Academy in Jurupa Valley, Calif., and has established Lorena’s Links golf programs at six sites in Southern California.
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – There’s a touching scene at the end of the movie “Big” when Tom Hanks’ girlfriend realizes that he really is just a little kid who was magically made into an adult by a carnival machine called “Zoltar.” It was a lot to take in. “I tried to tell you,” he says. “I didn’t listen, I guess,” she says bewilderedly. “I didn’t hear you, or want to or how would I have … even if I did listen, why would I know? Why would I know that?” At this moment, I feel as disoriented as she did in that one. Until Sunday, I did not really believe Jordan Spieth could win the Grand Slam. Sure, the kid is impressive – more than impressive. Yes, he has the all-encompassing game that can win any week on any golf course. And absolutely, his composure is awe-inspiring both on the golf course and off it. Still, I just didn’t believe for a minute that anyone could really win golf’s Grand Slam. And now, after Sunday, I do. Now, let’s state the obvious first: Spieth is a long way from the Slam. Heck, he’s a long way from victory here at St. Andrews. He’s 12 under, a shot behind a couple of stars (Jason Day and Louis Oosthuizen) and an amateur who is actually eight months older than him (Paul Dunne). Three of the world’s top 11 players – Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Adam Scott – are just two shots behind Spieth. With the wind down Sunday, the Old Course was like a Chuck E. Cheese, with every player* having his very own birthday parties. Unless the wind howls (and it is not expected to blow exceptionally hard), Monday figures to be like that again. (* Except Dustin Johnson, who shot a miserable 75 that was more like an 80 considering the conditions and his length off the tee.) So, no, nothing is done yet. But Sunday, Jordan Spieth showed something. It isn’t entirely different from what he showed at Augusta when he won the Masters or Chambers Bay when he won the U.S. Open. But what he did Sunday on the Old Course with all the history on the line and doubts in the air, it sure seemed different. Look: Here was Spieth, winner of the first two major championships, on perhaps the world’s most famous golf course. And he wasn’t playing very well. Over a 27-hole stretch he was just even par, which is less-than-special this week. In the multi-day adventure that was his second round, he three-putted five times. Five! On the front nine on Sunday, he missed two good birdie chances and on the ninth hole he had a dreadful three-putt – one that prompted him to slug his golf bag in fury. “I couldn’t hold (the frustration) in,” he said. And he added, “I didn’t want to hit Michael (Greller, his caddie) so I figured I’d hit my golf bag.” At that moment, it was absolutely clear: The Slam had slipped away. That seemed bound to happen at some point. It always has seemed to me that winning all four major championships in the same year is impossible. Heck, what Tiger Woods did – winning four major championships in a row over two seasons – is almost impossible. But to do it all in a calendar year, to beat more than 100 of the world’s best players on four wildly different golf courses in a four-month span – with all the attention and focus on you and the ghosts of golfers shrieking in the background – well, that seems fully impossible. Nobody has ever done it. Palmer couldn’t do it. Nicklaus couldn’t do it. Player couldn’t do it. Woods couldn’t do it. See, golf is a game of the mind, and every crack of doubt, every sliver of uncertainty, every moment of hesitation weighs down the mind. When Spieth punched the golf bag, he was three shots out of the lead. It looked then that was as close as it might ever get. And then the kid birdied the 10th hole, the 11th hole and the 12th hole to move into the lead. That’s when it really hit home: This kid does not doubt. And this, I think, is the greatest gift in golf. I once asked Dan Jenkins what he thought separated Jack Nicklaus from all the other talented players, and he said this: “You can’t compare Jack with anyone else. It was almost as if he felt it was his birthright to win major championships.” Tiger Woods was like that too at his best. He didn’t have to fight doubt because he never felt doubt. And now, there’s Spieth. Maybe it’s because he’s 21 (he turns 22 next Monday) and simply hasn’t learned how to doubt. Maybe it’s because of his family, who so obviously raised him to believe without limits. Maybe it’s because he’s accomplished so much already. Or maybe he was just born with this unique talent. What is the first thing they tell you when you are trying to walk a tightrope? Don’t look down. But Spieth does look down, he looks down again and again. He knows exactly what’s on the line here. He understands it thoroughly. And he embraces just how high he is flying. Here’s what Tiger Woods said in 2002 when he was trying to win the third leg of the Slam. “I’ve got to play well and take care of business,” Woods said. And here’s what Jordan Spieth said:’ “I see it as something that’s only been done once before and it was a long time ago (Ben Hogan in 1953). That opportunity very rarely comes around. … And I’d like to have a chance to do something nobody has ever done. And so if I think about it that way, then I just want it a little bit more tomorrow, to be able to try and go into the last major and accomplish something that’s never been done in our sport. … I do recognize what’s at stake, and for me to accomplish that feat is going to be to simplify things and to just go about our business.” So, yes, Woods and Spieth ended their thoughts the same way, but Spieth was a little bit more expansive – he knows that he’s playing for the Grand Slam, and he knows what that would mean, and he knows enough about golf history to understand just how the odds stack against him. But you know what? He can do it. On the back nine Sunday, he played as if he had already won the tournament and was just acting it out for the public. To watch someone be that confident, that assured, that poised is inspiring. It’s at the heart of why I love professional golf. Jason Day could win on Monday. He’s an amazing player who keeps getting close and one of these days he will break through. Louis Oosthuizen could win on Monday. He already won an Open at St. Andrews five years ago and he understands how to do it. Padraig Harrington could win on Monday. He’s a three-time major champion who seems to have found his game again. Frankly, two dozen people could win the Open on Monday because the field is bunched up and the golf course is exposed and shootouts are unpredictable. But it sure seems to me that while a lot of players believe they can win the Open, Jordan Spieth believes he will. There’s a wide chasm between “can” and “will.” I believe, too.
(Editor’s note: This story originally ran on Dec. 17) COVERING THE WALLS of Arnold Palmer’s Latrobe, Pa., office is a vivid history of the King’s career: letters from presidents, scorecards, snapshots with celebrities. Tucked into a dark corridor almost as an afterthought is the Sept. 1, 1969, issue of Sports Illustrated. It was the 11th time Palmer’s familiar face graced the cover of Sports Illustrated but unlike the other occasions this time was riddled with mixed messages. The headline said it all: “Farewell to an era: Arnold Palmer turns 40.” Palmer, who turned 40 on Sept. 10th of that year, was winding down his 15th season on the PGA Tour and his first, at least to that point, without a victory. The implications of the headline, and the accompanying story, were clear – one of the game’s most charismatic and compelling players was nearing the end of his career. It was a message Palmer begrudgingly understood but didn’t like. Asked recently if the SI cover inspired him to prove he still had the game to compete, Palmer flashed his familiar smile and left no room for ambiguity: “Absolutely.” Palmer would win twice before the end of the 1969 season and add six more titles to his resume before slipping gracefully into his golden years. Tiger at 40 Dec. 16: Who is Tiger Woods? Dec. 16: Why Tiger still matters Dec. 17: Tiger’s future in his 40s Dec. 17: The Tiger effect on youth Dec. 30: ‘Golf Central’ birthday special In many ways, Palmer admitted, that SI cover and the general sense of finality that surrounded his 40th birthday motivated him, gave him something to prove despite a career that already ranked among the game’s best. Tiger Woods will face a similar situation later this month when he turns 40, a milestone that has been met with a mixture of skepticism and sentimentality. Earlier this month at his own Hero World Challenge, even Woods seemed willing to accept the reality that time and too many trips to the surgeon’s table had caught up with him. “I think pretty much everything beyond this will be gravy,” Woods said. “For my 20 years out here I think I’ve achieved a lot, and if that’s all it entails, then I’ve had a pretty good run. But I’m hoping that’s not it. I’m hoping that I can get back out here and compete against these guys.” If that doesn’t exactly sound like a competitor who, as poet Dylan Thomas once penned, plans to “rage, rage against the dying of the light,” know that Woods has come by this new measured perspective honestly. He underwent microdiscectomy surgery in March 2014 and missed nearly four months on Tour while he recovered. When he returned to competition in 2015, he withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open when his glutes wouldn’t “activate,” and he had a second microdiscectomy in September after missing the FedEx Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive year. There was a third “follow-up procedure” in October, although the details of this surgery remain unknown, and when he resurfaced to host the World Challenge he said his golf activity had been limited to nothing more than walking. “There is no timetable. So that’s the hardest part, that’s the hardest part for me is there’s really nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build towards,” Woods said. “It’s just taking it literally just day by day and week by week and time by time.” IT’S IN THAT CONTEXT that Woods’ 40th birthday has become a much more nuanced milestone. While there is no shortage of players who enjoyed success well into their 40s, few if any began the final decade of their careers with so many unanswered questions. Whatever comes next for Woods depends entirely on how his back responds to three surgeries in two years, but there is a litany of examples of players who were competitive at the highest levels well into their fourth decade. Mark O’Meara, one of Woods’ earliest confidants and a neighbor when the two lived in the Central Florida enclave Isleworth, turned 40 shortly after Woods turned pro in 1996. In a cosmic twist of time, it was Woods’ early success, particularly at the 1997 Masters, that prompted O’Meara, who turned 40 in January of ’97, to work harder when many of his contemporaries were easing quietly into their pre-Champions Tour years. “He motivated me a ton. I probably wouldn’t have won those two majors had he not come into my life,” said O’Meara, who won four times in his 40s including the 1998 Masters and Open Championship. John Cook was also part of that Isleworth crew that converged just as he was entering his 40s, a milestone that is often complicated by competing interests outside of golf that can dull one’s competitive edge. “Being around Tiger and being around Charles Howell kind of kept Mark [O’Meara] and I young,” said Cook, who won on Tour twice in his 40s. “We just watched the greatest player, it kept us motivated. It kept us wanting to play.” Where Woods will find his will to move forward is, like his current medical diagnoses, something of a mystery. For the better part of two decades the finish line has always been Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships, the last of which came at Augusta National when the Golden Bear was 46. “He’s still got his eye on the prize. It’s the record. He’s said it ever since he was a kid – he wants that record,” Cook said. “I don’t think he’s satisfied with the last four or five years. The year he had  was really good, but no majors. That’s what’s it’s all about.” But that Jack-or-bust mentality has been somewhat softened in recent years. Former swing coach Hank Haney said this year on Sirius XM PGA Tour radio that catching Nicklaus was never Woods’ primary goal. Earlier this month at the World Challenge, Woods talked about eclipsing Nicklaus on the all-time Tour wins list, with only a passing reference to the game’s ultimate litmus test for greatness – 18 major championships. Perhaps Woods’ current medical plight has prompted him to reassess what’s possible. Perhaps he was never zeroed in on Nicklaus’ record – although at this point it does seem like a revisionist spin on diminishing returns. Either way, Tiger’s mind, if not his body, doesn’t appear to be entirely at ease with the idea that his time may have passed. “I really do miss it. I miss being out here with the boys and mixing it up with them and see who can win the event. That’s fun,” Woods said. If a paradigm of hope is what Woods needs, there is no shortage of examples he can pull from. In his last start of 2015 – the Wyndham Championship, an 11th-hour addition to his schedule to make the FedEx Cup Playoffs – he lost to 51-year-old Davis Love III. Love and Woods have grown closer since the creation of last year’s U.S. Ryder Cup task force and Love has become something of a voice of reason when it comes to Woods’ future. “If he just plays, you know he’s going to get better,” Love said. “Give him from the first of February to the end of the FedEx Cup [Playoffs], where he’s healthy, 16 tournaments, he’ll play really well.” It’s become the ultimate qualifier – if he’s healthy. For the most part, Nicklaus didn’t deal with the assortment of injuries that Woods has, but his record in his 40s, when he won five times, including three of those 18 majors, should give Tiger a reason to be optimistic. Or, he could look to Phil Mickelson, his primary rival throughout much of his career who added four Tour titles to his resume since turning 40 in 2010, most notably the 2013 Open Championship which set up a late-in-career bid to complete the career Grand Slam by winning the U.S. Open. “I’m 45. I still love golf and appreciate the fact that I’m able to play at the highest level and do what I love to do,” Mickelson said in June. “Some people don’t want to do it that long, and I understand. It’s each individual’s own preference.” OF COURSE, THE ULTIMATE arbiter of success past 40 would be Vijay Singh, who collected 22 of his 34 Tour titles in his fourth decade, including the 2004 PGA Championship. Singh, who at 52 finished inside the top 125 on the FedEx Cup points list last season and has shown no signs of taking his game permanently to the greener pastures of the Champions Tour, had a singular motivation when he turned 40: “I just wanted to win,” he said. But even in Singh there is a cautionary tale as Woods plots his course into the next decade. While the Fijian blazed a new trail for 40-somethings there was a physical toll. He averaged more than 25 events on Tour after turning 40 – a number Woods didn’t approach even before he was sidelined with an assortment of injuries – and was ultimately slowed, like Tiger, by injury. “I was in good physical shape, until I got my knee done. For some reason it was all over then,” said Singh, who underwent right-knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus in January 2008 and hasn’t won since. “It went to my back … it was just downhill from there.” For Woods, the optimism that was there just two years ago after he’d won five Tour events and his 11th Player of the Year Award has faded, replaced by uncertainty. Most agree the best player of his generation, perhaps of all time, has the talent to make 40 the new 30, but the questions remain. Even if Woods’ health returns, he must still find the competitive spark that drove him to hone his trade through endless hours of practice and preparation. “Only he knows what he wants to do deep down inside,” O’Meara said. “Turning 40, with the life he has led and the pressure and the scrutiny he’s lived under, there’s not that many human beings who have experienced what he has. At the end of the day we’re still human beings, and human beings can only take so much. “It’s going to be difficult to get back to that level that he once was, but who knows? Sometimes when you least expect it with him, when you underestimate his desire and ability, he comes roaring back.” Palmer found his post-40 drive in that Sports Illustrated cover, a desire to prove those who would second-guess his future wrong, and it’s certainly a form of motivation Woods is familiar with as the crescendo of doubt has grown the closer he gets to his 40th birthday on Dec. 30. But as Palmer eyed that fateful cover from 1969, the conversation turned to Woods and his impending birthday. The signature smile vanished, replaced by the slightest hint of sadness. “I’m afraid some of my thoughts about Tiger and his life and his future might be different. There are things that would be unfair, to him, for me to say,” Palmer said. “He has an opportunity and a talent that is something he should value more than he does.”
BEACHWOOD, Ohio – Bryson DeChambeau shot a 2-under 68 on Saturday to take the third-round lead in the Web.com Tour Finals-opening DAP Championship. DeChambeau, the 22-year-old former SMU player who swept the 2015 NCAA and U.S. Amateur titles, had an 8-under 202 total at Canterbury Golf Club. Overnight leader Zack Sucher was a stroke back after a 68, and D.A. Points also had a 68 to reach 6 under. Andres Gonzales (68), Will MacKenzie (69), Trey Mullinax (69), Rory Sabbatini (70) and Stuart Appleby (71) were 5 under. The four-event series features the top 75 players from the Web.com Tour money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings and non-members such as DeChambeau who earned enough money to have placed in the top 200 had they been eligible. The top 25 players on the Web.com Tour regular-season money list earned PGA Tour cards. They are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for 25 cards based on series earnings. Andrew ”Beef” Johnston was tied for 34th at even par after a 73. The Englishman was eighth in the British Open.
PEABODY, Mass. – Kirk Triplett shot an 8-under 62 on Thursday in the first round of the U.S. Senior Open to match the lowest round in a PGA Tour Champions major. Loren Roberts is the only other player to shoot a 62 in the tournament, setting the record in 2006 at Prairie Dunes in Kansas. Triplett started on No. 10 on the 6,815-yard Salem Country Club course and played his first nine holes in 4 under. After making the turn, he birdied two of the first three holes, and then holed out a 9-iron from 120 yards to eagle the 341-yard, par-4 fourth hole. He closed with five pars for a one-stroke lead over Olin Browne, who left himself short on a 30-foot birdie putt on the final hole. ”Even though there are some red numbers on the board, if you messed up on the wrong side, you were cooked,” said Browne, the 2011 Senior Open champion. ”The greens were receptive and the wind was down. So the ball was going where we started it. But if you didn’t hit good shots, you were going to pay the price.” Doug Garwood was another stroke back at 64. Paul Goydos, who made the turn at 5 under to take an early lead but bogeyed his final hole, was at 65 along with Tom Lehman, Kenny Perry, Jerry Smith, Barry Lane and Duffy Waldorf. Ten players have shot 62 in major tournaments on the Champions Tour, including Browne in the 2012 Senior Players Championship. Goydos and Browne each shot 30 on the back nine. ”Thirty is usually a six- or seven-hole score for me this year,” said Goydos, who shot 59 in 2010 in the John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour. ”You’re going to think about the last hole for a few minutes. … It might put a little taint on my sandwich, yeah, but that’s the mentality of who we are.” Smith birdied the first hole but followed that with a pair of bogeys that got him off to a bad start. ”I just had to settle down,” Smith said. ”I think I’ve been getting a little too emotional at times when things aren’t going my way in tournaments. … My caddie actually told me before we started this tournament to not let things get to you.”
OTTAWA, Ontario – Sung Hyun Park added the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open title to her U.S. Women’s Open crown with a comeback victory Sunday at Ottawa Hunt. Park birdied the final hole for a 7-under 64 and a two-stroke victory over fellow South Korean player Mirim Lee. Four strokes behind leaders Nicole Broch Larsen and Mo Martin entering the round, The 23-year-old Park finished at 13-under 271. She won the U.S. Women’s Open last month in New Jersey for her first LPGA title. ”I can’t think of anything. I can’t believe this,” Park said. ”I think it was a perfect game today. Everything was. There were no mistakes today, and I think it was perfect.” Park had five birdies in an eight-hole stretch on Nos. 3-10, and also birdied the par-4 16th before her closing birdie on the par-5 18th. ”I think this golf course fits my game,” Park said. ”My shots and putting were good. I think this week was just perfect for me. That’s how I got the confidence on this golf course.” Lee had two eagles in a 68. Michelle Wie withdrew before the round and was taken to Ottawa Hospital for surgery to remove her appendix. Wie was tied for 23rd, six strokes back entering the day. Larsen had a 70 to drop into a tie for third at 10 under with Cristie Kerr (69), In Gee Chun (70), Shanshan Feng (68) and Marina Alex (68). Martin was another stroke back after a 72. ”I really enjoyed this week,” Chun said. ”Today is Sunday, so a lot of spectators come out here. I really like their support for the players. I really appreciate it. Sung Hyun had a really good round today. But I don’t know, my game was not really bad, so I’m happy for her to win this week. I’ll just keep going to next week.” Alex had her best career finish. ”I thought the overall setup was great,” Alex said. ”I thought they set the course up perfect today.” Canadian star Brooke Henderson followed her course-record 63 with a 71 to tie for 12th at 7 under. The 19-year-old major champion is from nearby Smiths Falls. ”These crowds were so incredible,” Henderson said. ”I just could never have imagined this many people coming out to watch me play golf. It’s amazing. Definitely a week I’ll remember forever.” Park joined her countrywomen In-Kyung Kim (three victories) and So Yeon Ryu (two) as the only multiple winners this season. Park has 10 career Korea LPGA victories. She was looking forward to see her dog Ato at her Florida base during a two-week break. ”It’s been awhile since I’ve seen my dog, so I’m planning to play with my dog during my vacation,” Park said.
NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – Golf is skewing younger than ever before, but for some reason Ryder Cup team captains continue to rely on aging warriors in the game’s biggest pressure-cooker. Experience is the most overused word in a Ryder Cup year, and European captain Thomas Bjorn hammered home its importance again and again Wednesday when he announced his four captain’s picks. Same for U.S. skipper Jim Furyk, who brought 40-somethings Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson back into the fold for the Americans. In an era of young, fearless players, six of the seven captain’s picks are 38 or older and have made a combined 41 Ryder Cup appearances. So much for a youth movement. “These four all bring so much to the Ryder Cup,” Bjorn said when announcing that Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey will round out the European squad. “They bring loads of experience, loads of appearances, loads of points won, and they know what it’s like to win and lose. They’ll come in with heart and soul into this.” With five first-timers already on his roster, Bjorn might also have been scared off by what happened two years ago at Hazeltine, where then-captain Darren Clarke brought six rookies to an away game and watched them go a combined 7-9-1. It’s not a captain’s job to prepare the next generation of talent for the Ryder Cup – his concern is protecting himself for this match – and Bjorn ultimately decided that he’d rather risk his legacy by siding with the proven veterans. Ryder Cup: Articles, photos and videos Fair enough, but that strategy is inconsistent with the trends of the modern game – it’s just the second time in the past two decades that the average age of the Europeans (34.3) is higher than the Americans (32.8), a disparity that would be even greater if not for 48-year-old Mickelson. So why the need for so many guys who have been there and done that? Rory McIlroy said it’s mostly for continuity in the team room – a veteran presence can bring a sense of calm and perspective while also offering guidance to the newcomers on what to expect during the week. “There’s no atmosphere like it,” Justin Rose added. “It’s an atmosphere you can’t really prepare for. It’s an atmosphere you don’t know how you’re going to react until you’ve done it a couple of times. That’s really the only factor – it’s a cauldron like no other that we play in.” But all of that experience in the cauldron hasn’t been worth much recently, if you recall some of the most memorable Ryder Cup performances. Though it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly when golf got young, the emergence of Rickie Fowler is generally a good starting point. He burst onto the scene in 2009, after spending only two seasons at Oklahoma State, and was picked for the Ryder Cup the following fall as a 21-year-old. It was an eye-opening ascension, proving to the next generation that they could experience almost-immediate success. The Ryder Cup has dozens of horror stories, of players feeling nauseas or being unable to feel their hands on the first tee, but ever since Fowler’s debut in the 2010 matches, the young, unproven talent have made the most noise. It started with Keegan Bradley, who teamed with Mickelson and went 3-1 at Medinah in 2012. It continued in 2014, with Victor Dubuisson earning a 2-0-1 record and helping the Europeans to victory, while Patrick Reed (3-1) and Jordan Spieth (2-1-1) were the lone bright spots in an otherwise dismal week for the Americans. Two years ago, Brooks Koepka bashed his way to a 3-1 mark at Hazeltine, perhaps setting the stage for his major breakthroughs, while Thomas Pieters was a revelation, going 4-1 for the Europeans. The average age of those standouts: 24. “Based on what you’re seeing on the Golf Channel or what you’re asked by the media, it seems like (experience) is 50 percent of it, but I think it’s 15 percent of it,” Spieth said. “Certainly there’s help to getting started and getting in the mix, but within our team just about everybody has had major-championship experience – and it’s a similar feeling, being in the hunt – so I think that experience is more important overall than just three days. “I think you can draw on experience, and it certainly can help, but I don’t think to the extent that it is sometimes pushed.” Europe will trot out five rookies (Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren, Tyrrell Hatton and Thorbjorn Olesen) in Paris, though there’s nothing naïve about them – they’ve won a combined 30 event around the world. The Americans, so far, have only two “rookies”: Justin Thomas, who won the 2017 PGA, reached world No. 1 this year and has more Tour victories (eight) than any player over the past two seasons; and Bryson DeChambeau, the hottest player in golf, a three-time winner this season who has already locked up the top seed for the Tour Championship. Combined, they’re one year older (49) than Mickelson and ranked inside the top 7 in the world. There’s room for another first-timer, Tony Finau, but the most common argument used against him is that he doesn’t have the, ahem, requisite experience in the Ryder Cup arena. Well, the U.S. rookies – with none of the scar tissue of their predecessors – have gone 20-10-5 in the past three matches. Because experience isn’t as valuable as playing stellar golf.
Stacy Lewis was disappointed her request for a special exemption to allow her to play in this year’s U.S. Women’s Open was rejected, forcing her to qualify, but she received good news from the USGA before she teed it up Saturday at the Hugel-Air Premia LA Open. The two-time major champion and former world No. 1 was offered and accepted special dispensation that allows her to play while the USGA conducts a review of its maternity extension policy for competitors. “Fundamentally, we think this is the right thing to do,” Craig Annis, the USGA’s managing director of marketing, communications and community affairs, told GolfChannel.com. Brittany Lincicome, who used the current USGA policy to defer her qualifying status to next year, also was offered special dispensation to play the U.S. Women’s Open at the Country Club of Charleston in South Carolina May 30-June 2. She told the USGA that she isn’t sure yet whether she will use it. She is about five months pregnant. Lewis gave birth to her first child, Chesnee Lynn, last October. Lewis took off the second half of last year to prepare for the birth and slipped outside the U.S. Women’s Open qualifying standards. She can still qualify on her own this year, but she sought an exemption to assure her place wasn’t lost because of pregnancy. Lewis is No. 65 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She can still qualify by moving among the top 50 on the Monday before the championship begins. Or through sectional qualifying. Or by winning an LPGA event. After her request for a special exemption failed, Lewis, 34, appealed to the USGA to consider amending its maternity policy for competitors. The organization quickly reacted. “It wasn’t about me personally,” Lewis said. “If I didn’t play this year and it caused things to change, that’s great, too. So I’m just glad it worked out in my favor this time.” Annis said the special dispensation allows the USGA to address issues that players like Lewis and Lincicome face this year while the organization does a “full review” of its policy, which will include looking at the major changes the LPGA made to its maternity policy earlier this year, as well as the policies of other organizations. “When we look at our own USGA staff policy around maternity leave, what we are essentially saying is when you go out on maternity leave, your status remains the same within the organization,” Annis said. “And when you come back, you can expect that as well.” Under the USGA’s current “maternity extension” policy for competitors, a player who has met qualification standards for the current year can defer her status until the following year, due to maternity. Lewis appealed to the USGA, saying she didn’t believe a player should have to make a choice. She was heard. “We thought this is an opportunity to refresh our policy and go a few steps further,” Annis said. “As we did that, we recognized we weren’t going to be able to come up with a policy in a short period of time that would address the myriad issues that we want and need to address.” So Lewis and Lincicome were offered the special dispensation. “We wanted to reach out to make sure they were welcome to play if they chose,” Annis said. With a baby boom on tour, the LPGA revamped its maternity policy this year, giving mothers and expectant mothers more options. Under the former LPGA policy, a player taking maternity leave was limited to no more than 10 tournament starts in the year she was taking leave. Under the new policy, a player can play an unlimited number of events in the year she takes leave. Also, the new policy gives a returning mother more time to come back to the tour. It allows moms to spend more time with their babies before returning. Under the new policy, a mom can take up to two years to return to the tour, without losing the status she had when she started her maternity leave. Plus, once a mom decides to return to the tour, she can play under a maternity extension that would give her a number of events, rather than a calendar year, to retain her status. For example, if there are 30 events on the tour schedule, a player returning in July would have 30 tournaments to retain her status. She could do so over two seasons. That’s 30 tournaments on the schedule, not 30 starts by the player.
PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – Those who watched the first Open Championship played on these rugged shores in nearly seven decades would learn that Shane Lowry is an infinitely likable bloke with the kind of short game that would make the late Seve Ballesteros envious. They would have also gleaned that Royal Portrush was as good as advertised and that the best and worst of links golf can only be appreciated when the wind howls and the rain lashes in from every direction. But only those paying close attention to the 148th edition could have truly grasped the transformative powers of sport. For a country that’s been defined for far too long by walls – most notoriously the looming “peace walls” that meander through Belfast and more subtly the flags that frame and define neighborhoods, the British Union Jack for the protestant majority and the Republic of Ireland standard for the catholic enclaves – it didn’t go unnoticed that, at least for one week, Northern Ireland was a country without borders. It was there late Sunday as Ireland’s Lowry put the finishing touches on his major masterpiece to a cacophony of thunderous applause at every turn. As the Champion Golfer of the Year climbed the hill at the par-3 16th hole, a young lad waved a Republic of Ireland flag that had been hastily fastened to an umbrella. It wasn’t that long ago such a display would have been unwise, if not unwittingly dangerous. Despite the differences that continue to split Northern Ireland – even two decades after the Good Friday Agreement ended the violence to the masses – at least for one breathless moment, the country was equally and unequivocally united behind Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, native sons who honed their game on the country’s rolling links, as well as Lowry, who grew up four hours to the south in Ireland across a transparent border. “This event and the people that have come out to support this event, it means a lot to this whole island economically and really just from a showcasing of this amazing place,” said McDowell, who grew up playing next door at Rathmore Golf Club. “It’s history and everything that’s gone on, it’s more about the present and really where Ireland can go, north and south. And hopefully we’re one place in the future.” To the untrained and uninitiated this was little more than a golf tournament, albeit a grand golf tournament on a grand layout. Those watching the action unfold in Sunday’s gale probably had no clue that the night before a concert had been held in the center of Portrush that included the Sons of Ulster marching band. This was an affront to some who called it an “unnecessary provocation” and the R&A went so far as to issue an advisory that warned vendors to stay clear of the potential political fray. Your browser does not support iframes. Full-field scores from the 148th Open Championship Full coverage of the 148th Open Championship Several hundred people gathered for the concert according to various reports without incident, Northern Irish, Irish and a horde of fans from across the globe mingling about and enjoying a perfect summer evening. Most sidestepped the question because of a lack of knowledge. Others avoided answering because of an abundance of it. “Without getting into politics or religion, because that’s not a good thing to get into around here,” McDowell said when asked the significance of last week’s championship. “It’s symbolic. It’s a shift. It’s a move on. It’s a step from our past. It shows how many hurdles we’ve overcome, how far we’ve come as an island.” If last week’s gathering was symbolic, and it was, a stroll through Portrush’s narrow streets was proof, however circumstantial, that even the most frenzied change of pace can make things seem so normal. There were no flags, either Union Jack or Irish, laying claim to the village. Along Causeway Street there are three churches, two catholic and a protestant offering, within a Dustin Johnson 3-wood of each other. That means nothing in most places but in the not-so-distant past the proximity was a potential flashpoint, but there was no tension, no side glances, no concerns. In fact, the most radical statement to be found was a curious message scratched into a wall across an alley from the Atlantic Bar – “I hate golf.” Officials downplayed the significance of The Open’s return to Royal Portrush for the first time since 1951, instead navigating the political no-man’s land with a message everyone could understand. “We are very conscious that the Open comes to town once every X years,” explained R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers. “As guests we are very conscious that we want to be part of the community, we are very clear that we want to spend money in the community. We want to help with legacy funds in the community. But we will be gone in a couple of weeks. And so we want to live with the community.” This Open lived up to those lofty expectations flawlessly. So much so, that the drumbeat for a return engagement had already started long before Lowry began his victory celebration. McDowell, who along with McIlroy and Darren Clarke helped lead the charge to bring The Open back to Portrush, went so far as to say he’s heard “whispers” that The Open could return to Royal Portrush in five years. “With the financial commitment that Portrush have made for this, for it to get the recognition and then get back here soon, to keep that Portrush train rolling, it would be huge,” he said. “If we have to wait another 10 years, the icing might rub off between now and then. People might forget a little bit. Hopefully we can get back soon.” The quality of golf and infrastructure certainly would justify such a quick turnaround, but it’s the more esoteric qualities of this year’s championship that shouldn’t be ignored. This was so much more than simply another major. This was a sea change, even if for a moment. Even before Lowry hoisted the claret jug, metaphorically uniting north and south, the ability of sport to blur ancient rivalries and differences was evident as McIlroy, whose inexplicable 79 to start the week stunned the island, grinded to nearly make the cut. He didn’t play the weekend, missing out by a stroke, but he did prove a point. “I wasn’t coming here to try and produce any sort of symbolism or anything like that,” said McIlroy in an emotional exit interview. “But to see everyone out there sort of cheering on one cause, cheering for the same thing was pretty special. And that thing was me, fortunately.” This shouldn’t be overstated. The Open won’t be a panacea for lasting tranquility on the island. But it was a week when the world viewed Northern Ireland through the lens of a championship sporting venue and not a fractured country.
ADELAIDE, Australia – Seven-time major champion Inbee Park hasn’t won an LPGA tournament in nearly two years, but her 19 tour victories include trophies at Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia. She might well be adding Australia soon to that total in the Asia-Pacific region. Park took a three-stroke lead at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open on Saturday after a 5-under 68, including a 40-foot birdie putt on the 18th at Royal Adelaide. She had a 54-hole total of 15-under 204. Nineteen-year-old Ayeon Cho will play in the final group with her fellow South Korean. Cho shot 69 on Saturday and was alone in second. American Marina Alex was in third at 11-under after a 70, four strokes behind. Full-field scores from the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open ”I had similar putts yesterday which didn’t go in, but they did today,” Park said. ”I will play under a lot of pressure tomorrow, but it should be a fun day, I love the golf course. I will love the atmosphere.” ”It has been a while since I played in Australia, My caddie and physio are Australians, so I hope to be partying with them tomorrow. The last three days have been quite consistent in putting.” Cho, last year’s LPGA rookie of the year, closed her round with back-to-back-birdies. She led going into the final round of last week’s Vic Open in Australia but shot a 9-over 81 to fall into a tie for 16th. ”I think I was in a rush in some situations that my shots were not good,” said Cho. ”I will not try to rush in many moments and I will do step by step for any shots.” Highlights: Park (68) leads in Australia, eyes 20th career win Park last won on the LPGA Tour at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in mid-March 2018. That will be the next tournament stop on the 2020 tour – in Phoenix from March 19-22 – following the cancellation of tournaments in Thailand (where Park won in 2013), in Singapore (where Park won the HSBC Women’s Champions in 2015 and 2017) and in China. Those tournaments were cut from the schedule due to a viral outbreak that began in China that has infected more than 67,000 people globally. The World Health Organization has named the illness COVID-19, referring to its origin late last year and the coronavirus that causes it.