My Favorite Shots from The Blizzard of 2014

Around the World of Women’s Golf in 10 Easy Links

Between being figuratively snowed in at work and literally snowed in at home in Hamburg (where I’ve spent something like 12 of the last 48 hours shoveling), I’ve taken an unexpected sabbatical from Mostly Harmless, but I’m back!  Let’s catch up on what I’ve missed!

Christina Kim Prevails Over Shanshan Feng in Playoff at Lorena’s Place.  I’ve gotta be honest, I erased the 1st 3 rounds on my DVR after watching the intros and still have the last 6 holes of so of the final round to watch, but I’ll be sure to do so now that I finally gave in and saw that Kim won in a playoff over Feng!

Yoko Maeda Beats Satsuki Oshiro in Playoff for Early 30th Birthday Gift.  Maeda hasn’t even been on the JLPGA often enough to be called a journeywoman, but she bounced back from a walkoff bogey at the Ito-En Ladies that opened the door for Oshiro, who was also looking for her 1st-ever victory on tour, by closing it on the 1st playoff hole with a par.  Momoko Ueda finished 1 shot out of the playoff, which moved her into the top 10 on the money list.  Sun-Ju Ahn continues to maintain a near insurmountable lead on Bo-Mee Lee (not to mention Ji-Yai Shin, Misuzu Narita, Teresa Lu, and Miki Sakai, who all have either cracked the 100 million yen barrier this season or have a hope of doing it).

In Gee Chun Wins for 3rd Time on KLPGA in 2014.  Chun’s win came in dramatic fashion over the final 9 holes, but it was almost overshadowed by Kyu Jung Baek narrowly winning the Rookie of the Year race over Min Sun Kim and Jin Young Ko.  Also, Ha Neul Kim announced that she’ll be playing in the final stage of JLPGA Q-School (she finished T1 at one of the previous stage’s sites on 11/7).  Her last round in the last KLPGA event of 2014 may turn out to be her last start as a KLPGA member.

Xi Yu Lin Wins in Homeland on LET.  Congratulations to LPGA rookie Xi Yu Lin, who beat Charley Hull by 5 shots for her 1st-ever win on the LET!  Lin made her professional debut at the very same event in 2011, finishing 5th, so it’s fitting her 1st victory off the CLPGA came here, as well.

Sakura Yokomine, Ha Na Jang, Sei Young Kim, Charley Hull, Stephanie Meadow, Minjee Lee, Ariya Jutanugarn, Su Hyun Oh Highlight LPGA Q-School’s Final Stage.  But check the field list:  there are a lot of current, former, and maybe future LPGAers on it!  Names like Lorie Kane, Birdie Kim, Chie Arimura, Vicky Hurst, Cheyenne Woods, Ju Young Park (Hee Young’s little sis), Alison Lee, Annie Park, Simin Feng, Ani Gulugian, Ginger Howard, and Madison Pressel are just a few that’ll stick out to die-hard fans of women’s golf.  It all starts the 1st week of December!

The LPGA’s Last Event of 2014 and the JLPGA’s Next-to-Last Are on Tap This Week.  Check out the pre-tournament notes and interviews for the CME Group Tour Championship (where season-ending race leader Stacy Lewis, world #1 Inbee Park, and 2014 Rookie of the Year Lydia Ko have the best shot at winning the $1M Race to the CME Globe) and live scoring for the ElleAire Ladies Open (where Momoko Ueda has jumped out to an early lead).

So buckle your seat belts, everyone!  (That’s something I’ve practically forgotten how to do, as The Constructivist Family has been housebound the last 2 days and we have no idea when the state of emergency or travel ban will be lifted!)  2014 is going out with a bang!

Wegmans LPGA Championship Saturday: Who Will Make a Move as the Rains Move in on Pittsford?

Wegmans LPGA Championship Thursday: Lexi Thompson and Meena Lee Lead at -6

Even though I’m writing this from the media center at Monroe Golf Club, I’m sure you know more about what happened during the 1st round of the Wegmans LPGA Championship than I do.  You see, while Lexi Thompson (66), Meena Lee (66), Brittany Lincicome (67), Lisa McCloskey (67), and Shanshan Feng (68) were lighting it up in the morning, I was following Laura Davies, Angela Stanford, and So Yeon Ryu.  And while Cristie Kerr fired a 68 and Jennifer Kirby (-5 through 15) was going on a run in the afternoon, I was following Ai Miyazato, Sandra Gal, and Lizette Salas.  True, I did see a lot of shots from Feng, who was in the group behind us in the morning, but the only time I saw Lexi was when we happened to duck into the same porta-potty zone at the same time!  So I’m going to focus in this post on what I did focus on today:  6 golfers and 1 course (which I’ve now walked 3 times, so I feel like I’m starting to get to know it).

What was neat about following these 6 golfers was the range of styles of play they bring.  Davies is of course a classic bomber, while Ryu, Stanford, and Gal are straight shooters and Miyazato and Salas are precision players.  So I got to see how they each attempted to attack a course that was equally new to each of them.  Their scores ranged from 69 (Stanford) to 74 (Miyazato), but to tell you the truth, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between the players in terms of quality of play.  I saw 84 drives today and only 1 missed the fairway by more than a yard–Davies’s pull into the trees off the 1st tee (where she ended up on wood chips that constituted a temporary cart path, took relief from it, punched out into the front-left trap, and made a great sandie to save par!).  Salas hit the fewest greens (11) and Gal the most (15), but until I looked it up, they didn’t seem so different from everyone else I followed, who hit 13 or 14.  I only saw a few bad misses of greens, as most ended up on the fringe or just off it.  One that stands out was Ryu’s double-cross on the par-3 6th that ended up in the front-left trap, from which she made double when she hit it a little thin out of the sand and ended up in jail over the back-right corner of the green.  Salas put herself in a few very difficult traps, as well, but she had trouble carrying the high banks and had to make excellent scrambles from the rough to save bogeys on those holes.  Even the apparent yardage differences from their scorecards are somewhat misleading, as they only average results on a few holes.  Davies was consistently longer than everyone else, while Ryu and Stanford were neck-and-neck on most holes.  Miyazato was surprisingly long, expecially on the front (their back), often outdriving both Gal and Salas.  In fact, Miyazato’s drive on 9 wasn’t that far short of Davies’s!

So what made the difference between their rounds?  If you guessed pitches, chips, and putts, pat yourself on the back.  Salas bogeyed her 1st 2 holes and needed to work to avoid a double on the par-4 11th, but she was able to make 3 birdies on each side to offset her 5 bogeys.  Miyazato had maybe the best ball-striking round I’ve ever seen her play, but she missed 5 putts between 4 and 12 feet on the back (her front) and I was so disheartened I stopped counting on the front.  And yet, after she made what turned out to be her only birdie of the day on the par-4 7th (after sticking her approach to 3 feet) and followed it up with another great approach on the short par-3 8th, she had 12 feet from pin-high right to fight back to E on the day.  The putt had perfect speed but crept around the perimeter of the hole instead of falling in.  Then she hits a great wedge on the par-5 9th that lands near the hole but fails to hold and as the rain starts falling just misses a chip-in and then misses the comebacker.  Contrast that with Stanford, who came about an inch short of an eagle on the par-4 18th and ended up being the only person I saw to break 70 today, and that just about sums it all up.

There’s a lot more to say–I literally charted every shot on my course map–but I don’t have time to go into more details.  So in the 10 minutes I have until I have to catch a shuttle and go to my favorite Korean restaurant in Rochester, let me just sum up the rounds in bullet points:

  • Ryu:  2 bad shots in a row on the par-3 6th were the only thing that kept her over par.  She did have trouble with super-long putts on the front a couple of times, but pretty much anyone would have.  Her left wrist was taped, but it didn’t seem to affect her ball-striking.  What held her back was an inability to make the putts she needed to get some momentum going.
  • Stanford:  She was solid all day and deserved to go a couple lower than she actually ended up.  That approach on 18 makes up for a lot, though!
  • Davies:  A typical adventurous round for Dame Laura, although after 1 she was almost always in the fairway all day.  She hit a driver off the deck on 9 and almost reached it in 2, but she also displayed fantastic touch out of the sand.  If a few par saves and birdie putts had fallen, she could have gone really low today.  71 was about the worst she could have scored.
  • Miyazato:  Fantastic ball-striking both off the tee and especially with her fairway woods and hybrids, solid pitches when she missed the green, but even when she stuck it or made good recovery shots, her putter just didn’t come through for her today.  At one point late on the back she missed 4 really make-able birdie or par putts in a row.  After her round, she talked about just accepting that it’s part of a process that she has to keep working at.  She attributed her improved ball-striking the last 2 months to a lot of hard work, so she knows at some point the putter will start working for her again.
  • Salas:  What a battler!  For every bad approach shot she’d hit, she’d hit a great one, too.  She had a good-sized group of family and fans following her and they had a lot to celebrate!
  • Gal:  A very elegant, artistic golfer, with great touch around the greens and on them.  She was right around the hole all day, but could get only 2 birdies to fall.  Her 71 was about the worst she could have scored, too, given the quality of her play.
All right, I hope I learned a lot about tempo, focus, and persistence that I can take to my Mid-Amateur qualifier tomorrow at Tuscarora.  Walking 36 wasn’t too much of a struggle, but I’ll be glad to get some food and some rest before I play at 9:39 am tomorrow!

Wegmans LPGA Championship Day 2: Sizing Up Monroe Golf Club

The decision to move the Wegmans LPGA Championship from Locust Hill to Monroe Golf Club has sure created a lot of extra work for players and caddies–and for me!–in what could be the last year for the LPGA in the Rochester area for a long time (more on that later).  I’m going to break my scouting report of Monroe GC into 3 posts:  this one on my overall impressions of the course; the next on the front 9, and the last on the back 9.

This one will be a little rushed, as I got to talk to the Full Metal Archivist for almost 2 hours straight this morning after she dropped onechan and imoto off at the home of the girl who stayed with us each of the 2 previous summers, so got to the course much later than I originally planned.  And then I spent a half-hour watching Stacy Lewis, Ai Miyazato, Karine Icher, Austin Ernst, and Karrie Webb practicing on the putting green instead of writing.  I have to catch the shuttle to my car in about half an hour, so whatever I can’t get to here will go into my next 2 posts.

It’s More Oak Hill Than Locust Hill.  The overall feel of Monroe GC is very different than Locust Hill to me.  Although it’s obviously a classic Donald Ross design, it seems to combine many of the attributes I associate with newer, linksy courses with the tree-lined fairways, often elevated and bump-laden greens, and clever use of the terrain that are hallmarks of Ross’s designs.  For one thing, the fairways and greens seem like they drain better than Locust Hill’s and hence are firmer (although we’ll have to see how they handle the most recent wave of rain to hit this area).  The grass in the fairways seems more similar to Oak Hills, very tightly mown and somehow smoother than Locust Hill’s, while the rough doesn’t seem to be grown to the sometimes insane lengths you saw in previous years, particularly when it became a major.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s thick and heavy (and today wet) and I don’t know whether they’ll be mowing it all week.  But it’s really the combination of fairway bunkers and much more hilly and complexly-contoured fairways that make this course more reminiscent of Oak Hill than Locust Hill to me.  There are several holes where you can get serious kicks forward or to the side, depending on where your ball lands.  There are many holes where the shaved area in the neck of traps is so steep it seems designed to repel shots or allow one spun back off false fronts to roll 15-25 yards away from the green.  But the key design feature–and maybe this is why I think of Monroe GC has a woodlands-links hybrid of sorts–is the plethora of fairway bunkers, which are often quite deep and usually placed to maximize pressure off the tee on all kinds of golfers.

It Doesn’t Favor Any Particular Type of Golfer.  Yes, I can see where short hitters may be at a disadvantage with 6 par 4s playing over 400 yards and 3 of the 4 par 3s playing long and often severely uphill.  BUT, and this is a big but, all its par 5s are short, it also provides many holes with a lot of roll out, its fairways are typically narrow, and there are so many fairway bunkers they challenge players of all lengths.  As I’ll go into more detail in my next 2 posts, there are a few holes where the bombers can take a risk and get a big reward if they can keep it in play off the tee.  BUT, and this is another big but, everyone is going to face serious challenges on and around the greens.  You need to know where to land your ball to get it close to different kinds of pins–something I couldn’t figure out very well in the abbreviated time I had to study the greens.  And you need to deal with holes where there are very few places to miss it and have a fairly simple up-and-down attempt.  That’s why I saw so many players practicing all kinds of chips and pitches from all kinds of places off the green to all kinds of places on it.  Like at Pinehurst, one’s scrambling ability will be at a huge premium this week.  And like at Royal Birkdale, so will driving accuracy.  So while longer hitters will always have the advantage of clubbing down off the tee for accuracy and using shorter clubs on their approach shots, they’ll still have to be consistently accurate to be a factor on Sunday.

It’s Visually Intimidating and Deceiving.  In a different way than Locust Hill.  My recurring image of Locust Hill is trees very close to fairways and greens with very subtle breaks, and while you have the tree-lined prison effect on a few holes at Monroe GC, you more have to deal with the occasional overhanging tree and with the fairway bunkers and fairway contours than at Locust Hill.  And there are a fair number of greens that aren’t as bumpy or undulating or tiered as the rest, more so than you’ll find at Locust Hill.  But you also have your share of blind tee shots, tee shots where you have to aim over trouble to get to the best side of the fairway, rises and falls that are hard to judge and that play with your depth perception, and areas of greens you can’t see from the fairway.  You also have to really make an effort to look at the greens from all directions and angles, because you can get a totally different look at the slopes and contours when you do that.  Basically, there are a lot of illusions out there on every kind of shot, so you really have to do your homework on this course.  At the same time, if you put yourself in good positions, it seems to me that you’ll have a lot more good birdie chances than at Locust Hill.  We’ll see who’s able to do that soon!

All right, it’s time for me to hit the road.  Going to hang with my friend and his family and maybe go to that Korean restaurant again, this time as a group.  If we have too good a time, I’ll sleep over here again (where the internet connection is not as fast or stable as at home), so I may not get to my next posts until I return to Hamburg.  We’ll see!

One thing I can say is seeing so many good swings, great tempos, and players I know and don’t know much about (got to see a lot of Lisa McCloskey, Kelly Tan, and Heather Bowie Young on the back 9 today, for instance, as well as Christina Kim) is that it makes me wish I could play this course under the same conditions they do.  I’m really getting psyched up for my Mid-Amateur qualifier this Friday at Tuscarora, even if the timing of my Texas trip and this tournament has cut down on my practice and playing time!

Wegmans LPGA Championship Day 2: Sizing Up Monroe Golf Club

Wegmans LPGA Championship Day 2: Rain, Rain Go Away!

It rained pretty hard overnight here in the Rochester area and we’ve got a hurricane-like cell slowly rotating around us, so the media center here at Monroe Golf Club is still pretty quiet.  My plan is to survey the back 9 and write up my scouting reports before I head out around 5.  Let’s see if I can stick to it!