Wegmans LPGA Championship Sunday: Inbee Park Defeats Brittany Lincicome with Clutch Up-and-Down on 1st Playoff Hole

Wegmans LPGA Championship Sunday: Inbee Park Defeats Brittany Lincicome with Clutch Up-and-Down on 1st Playoff Hole

The narrative all week here at the Wegmans LPGA Championship has been that Monroe Golf Club is a bombers’ paradise, but in the end the final edition of the tournament in Rochester became a pitch-and-putt contest between defending champion Inbee Park, who made 2 clutch 10 footers in her last 2 holes to get to -11, and Brittany Lincicome, who 3-putted from about 25 feet on the 72nd hole to fall back to that same number and open the door to the former world #1.

They played the 18th again on the first playoff hole, and even though Lincicome outdrove Park by over 50 yards, both players went over the green with their approaches.  Lincicome ended up not far from where she left her 25-footer 6 feet short, while Park had gunned for the pin and rolled to the back-right rough right behind it.  Lincicome hit a good chip, but it released to about 9 feet, while Park cozied hers up within 3 feet.  The previous night, Lincicome had admitted that the key place her nerves show up is on the greens, while Park has been talking down her putting this year but even before she switched putters last week was still among the top 3 in the world on the greens this year on the LPGA.  Long story short:  Lincicome missed.  Park made.  Park defended her title.

More to come!

[Update 1 (7:52 pm):  I spent most of the day following Mina Harigae (16th-18th holes), Jennifer Song (6th-12th), Danielle Kang (10th-18th), and Tiffany Joh and Jane Park (12th-end, back and forth between their 2 groups).  But I did get back to the 17th green in time to see Lydia Ko fail to get up-and-down from the neck on the 17th and watch Inbee pour in her birdie attempt.  I was to Inbee’s right for her drive on 18 and the intensity on her face as she transitioned to her downswing was something to behold.  I couldn’t get close to the green, but I saw her par save disappear and heard the crowd’s roar an instant later.  I tried to get back to the 18th tee in time to see the 2 players tee off from the tee area, but was blocked by the ropes for the short way and had to go the long way around.  Made it within 100 yards of the tee on the right side of the fairway, but by that time Lincicome was ready to drive.]

[Update 2 (7:58 pm):  Brittany came into the interview room while I was typing update #1.  I got to ask her about her thought process after her bogey on the par-5 12th and she gave a fantastic answer.  I hope she continues to play well because she’s one of the best interviews on the LPGA.  Totally honest and very thoughtful.]

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!

Rory and Ji-Yai Rose to the Occasion; Inbee and Suzann Couldn’t

Heading out to Rochester after my union retreat in Albany is over to scout out Monroe Golf Club and see who I can follow, but I couldn’t help thinking aloud about the way in which Rory McIlroy and Ji-Yai Shin rose to the occasion on their respective tours, while Inbee Park and Suzann Pettersen couldn’t block rookie Mirim Lee from getting her 1st career win on the LPGA.

Let’s face it:  Rory’s win was epic in every way.  Seemed even Thor was sending him some lightning bolts in honor of his play by the time they finished the final round in near-darkness!  Ji-Yai did what she had to do against a former LPGAer whose career never took off in the States like Shin’s did.  But the epic battle that could have happened between Inbee and Suzann just never materialized.  Suzann was +2 over her final 13 holes, while Inbee was +1 over her last 15 holes.

It’s crazy what a fine line separates a truly great performance from the “coulda woulda shoulda” chorus line!  At least Inbee and Suzann are in some fantastic company, as I don’t think there’s enough room on the internet to list all the guys who are wondering what mightabeen yesterday at Valhalla!

Pet Peeves About Golf Channel’s Day 1 International Crown Coverage

In no particular order:

There’s No “Q” in Sakura!  And No “Mini”!!  Sa-koo-ra Yo-ko-mee-nay.  Say it fast with equal emphasis on each syllable and you’ll be fine.  Never mind that the romanized “r” in Japanese is somewhere between an English “r” and “l”–too tough to learn for just one week.  Although if you can learn how to lisp “Atha” and “Motho,” why not go the extra mile for one of the JLPGA’s best players ever?  [Update (7/26/14, 9:33 am):  Also, Sakura’s no “meanie” (although Kirk and Wright might beg to differ after that shot on 17 Friday!).  Yo-ko-mee-nay, people!]

Speaking of Sakura…  She’s got a John Daly-esque swing.  And I think we saw it once on the 18th hole.  C’mon, people!

First-Tee Footage?!  Everyone talked about how emotional (in so many ways) the 1st drive of the 1st tee was this week.  Yet did Golf Channel shoot it, save it, and replay it for us?  Noooo!!!!!  I know playing every national anthem would have taken too long.  But how about a quick montage with the last 2 seconds of each country’s anthem and reaction shots by the players during it and right after they knew where their 1st shots went?  Or feature the best reactions at the top of Day 2’s coverage?

Show More Tee Shots!  When something even remotely dramatic happens on the tee–shot in the woods, player hits fairway after partner puts it in woods, one bomber outdrives another, whatever–we oughtta see it.  Everything matters in match play and with so few groups on the course, we should be able to get a good sense of how every match is unfolding and not have to rely so much on Juli Inkster’s summaries of what happened.

Know Your Matches.  I can’t believe that Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall–the Vikings of the Solheim Cup–struggled so much in the 1st 12 holes yesterday against struggling young Okinawans Mika Miyazato and Mamiko Higa.  So much for Solheim Cup experience and heroics, eh?  You know what else I can’t believe?  That we barely saw a shot of the latter’s great play and not even much of the former’s great comeback.  This was a made-for-tv David vs. Goliath deal, but we saw very little of it.  (True, most of the fireworks from Team Japan occurred in the 1st 5 holes.  But this is what they make highlights for.)

Speaking of Balance…  Man, the cameras loved Teams USA and Spain, and I wholeheartedly endorse that decision.  But if 2 seconds per shot of golfers walking, standing, and consulting with each other and their caddies on non-pivotal shots were cut, just think of how much more could have been shown of the Vikings vs. the Okinawans, Karrie Webb and Minjee Lee taking it to Na Yeon Choi and In-Kyung Kim (with attendant speculation on how the pressure is affecting the half of Team ROK that isn’t coming into this week with a whole lot of confidence), and Inbee Park and So Yeon Ryu lighting up the course?

And Now a Word from Our Sponsors.  Given how many commercials that GC gets to show at the end of each day, wouldn’t it be nice if they cut back a little midway through the coverage?

[Update 1 (8:00 am):  Ruthless Mike wants more credit given where it’s due to Team Taiwan.  HappyFan gives Judy Rankin credit for mentioning the Japan-Korea almost-annual team matches during an interview, but rightly criticizes the bulk of the coverage for pretending as if the Asian and other non-Solheim Cuppers have no professional team experience.  I wish I had thought of both (or, more accurately, remembered the latter).  I mean, nobody remembers the Lexus Cup?]

Ricoh Women’s British Open Thursday: Ayako Uehara and Mo Martin Are the Only Players in the 60s

Even though the weather was fantastic for England, only 2 players broke 70 during the 1st round of the Ricoh Women’s British Open.  Ayako Uehara and Mo Martin both hit 14 greens at Royal Birkdale; the JLPGA transplant made 4 birdies between the 5th and 12th holes, then birdied the 18th to post a great 68, while the Symetra Tour graduate birdied 3 of her last 5 holes for a fine 69.  Martin showed why she leads the LPGA in driving accuracy, hitting 12 of 14 fairways, which amazingly is slightly worse than her average for the season!  Uehara, 10th on tour in finding the fairway off the tee, was well below her season average, but took only 1 bogey all day, on her 1st hole.

The surprises continue among the group of golfers at -2.  Morgan Pressel has not had a great 2014, but she was -3 and bogey-free through her 1st 12 holes and held on for a strong 70, despite hitting only 7 greens all day.  The key was that she took only 22 putts (a bit surprising even for someone ranked 3rd on tour in average putts per round).  Mina Harigae bounced back from an opening double with 4 birdies in her last 6 holes to join Pressel at T3.  She was 4 for 4 in sand saves on her day.  And Sarah Kemp, who played well last week on the LET, birdied 3 of her last 4 holes to match Pressel’s and Harigae’s 70s.  The Aussie beat last week’s top 3 finishers, In-Kyung Kim, Nikki Campbell, and Stephanie Meadow, by 7 shots each, T3 and T6 finishers Lee-Anne Pace and Ariya Jutanugarn by 5 shots each (despite a walkoff eagle by the Thai sensation!), and world #1 amateur Minjee Lee by 13 shots.  Kemp’s key was hitting 15 greens in regulation.

Add Holly Clyburn‘s name to the list of surprises.  Sure, she’s #6 on the LET Order of Merit, but it took an eagle on the par-5 6th to get her going after a bogey-bogey start; birdies on 13 and 18 after a bogey on 11 made her the leader in the clubhouse from the very 1st group off the 1st tee this morning at 6:30 am.  Not only did she beat playing partner Karrie Webb by a shot and fellow Brit Florentyna Parker by 5, she ended the day low among a promising crop from England, including LET Order of Merit leader Charley Hull (73), amateur Georgia Hall (73), and Jodi Ewart Shadoff (75).

Joining Clyburn at -1 are names you’d expect near the top of the leaderboard:  world #1 Stacy Lewis, #8 So Yeon Ryu, and #16 Amy Yang.  All of them had their ups and downs early on, but they each finished strong to round out the total of 9 golfers who got under par.  Suzann Pettersen would have joined them, but she took a penalty on the par-5 17th when her ball moved after she addressed it (she had hit the green in 2 and resolutely slammed home the birdie putt!).  But I’m sure all 14 players at E, from youngsters Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and amateur Emma Talley to prime-time players Inbee Park, Anna Nordqvist, Azahara Munoz, Ji-Yai Shin, and Ai Miyazato to big surprises like Amelia Lewis and Marina Alex to a small surprise like Julieta Granada (who takes a 4-hole-and-counting birdie streak into tomorrow’s round), can tell a similar “coulda woulda shoulda” tale or ten.  I paid particular attention to Ai-sama’s round, and it seemed like while she was putting very well, she was having trouble with her positioning shots on the par 5s and was inconsistent with her approach shots.

But her troubles pale beside those of Ya Ni Tseng (82), Cristie Kerr (81), Se Ri Pak (79), Shiho Oyama (79), Caroline Hedwall (79), Na Yeon Choi (78), Mika Miyazato (78), Mamiko Higa (78), and Misuzu Narita (77).  Like Inky, Meadow, and Minjee, these players will be fighting to make the cut after horrific starts to their 2014 WBO campaigns; unfortunately, Caroline Masson, who finished T3 at the ISPS Handa Ladies European Masters last week, won’t be joining them, as she had to withdraw.

Given how high so many great golfers went, those who hung in there and stayed in the mid-70s have nothing to be ashamed of.  Paula Creamer was +5 through her 1st 5 holes but fought back to a 75 with birdies on 15 and 16 and near-misses on 17 and 18.  Like Ariya Jutanugarn, JLPGA money-list leader Sun Ju Ahn made a late eagle to salvage a 75 of her own.  Last year’s JLPGA money-list title-holder, Rikako Morita, was E through her 1st 14 holes, but then went double bogey-bogey and failed to birdie either of the closing par 5s, so she’s probably a little more frustrated with her 75.  Michelle Wie’s walkoff birdie kept her at +3, as well.  True, it was her worst scoring round of the year, but she’s by no means out of the tournament.  Neither are Laura Davies, Catriona Matthew, Angela Stanford, and Eun-Hee Ji, who headline the big group at 74 (but were overshadowed by Linda Wessberg‘s 6-hole birdie train on the back that allowed her to recover from a bogey-quad opening!), or even Hee Young Park, Gerina Piller, Brittany Lincicome, Miki Saiki, and Su-Hyun Oh, the biggest names among those who shot 76s today.  I’m sure they’d all rather be tied at +1 with the likes of Shanshan Feng, Jeong Jang, Meena Lee, Brittany Lang, Chella Choi, Jenny Shin, Pornanong Phatlum, Erina Hara, and Gwladys Nocera, but given how tough the opening holes have been playing, it’s entirely possible they could be after 21 holes instead of 18!  Particularly if tomorrow’s weather forecast is a little too optimistic….

Bottom line is, Royal Birkdale’s already been showing its teeth this year, thanks primarily to the rough being lusher than it’s been in previous WBOs.  Even the 17th, which gave up loads of birdies today, threw a 7 at Ya Ni Tseng, a 9 at Line Vedel, and a 10 at Bree Arthur!  It’s going to be a real mental, emotional, and physical challenge over the next 54 holes for everyone who makes it into the weekend!

The Week the Mighty Fell

Just like the temperature has been yo-yo-ing around in western NY this December, some of the best golfers in the world ran hot and cold this past week.  Stacy Lewis, So Yeon Ryu, and Tiger Woods each seemingly had wins sewn up yesterday before Pornanong Phatlum, Lydia Ko, and Zach Johnson zoomed past them down the home stretch. [Insert cliche about thrill of victory/agony of defeat, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, or another of your choice here.]

Phatlum’s Shanshan Feng-like near-hole-out to beat Lewis had Ruthless Mike wondering if Stacy is as snake-bit as Greg Norman.  Not yet.  Ryu can also stake a claim to the title, as she lost to Sei Young Kim in September on the KLPGA when Kim made 2 final-round eagles in her last 10 holes!  But my own personal nominee is Ai Miyazato, who got to watch her brother Yusaku win on the Japan Tour yesterday.  Twice in a row at the LPGA Founders Cup she’s run into the buzzsaw of the world #1 being the world #1–Ya Ni Tseng in 2012 and Stacy Lewis in 2013.  Ya Ni actually held Ai-sama off twice in 2012, just a few weeks earlier at the Honda LPGA Thailand.  Too long ago to count?  Well, Ai-sama was making a charge in late September on the JLPGA, looking like she was headed for her 1st win there since 2009, only to fall apart down the stretch and hand the trophy to Na-Ri Lee.
Let’s face it.  Golf is cruel.  And that’s how/why we love it.  Right?