Recommended Reading: On Inbee Park’s 3rd LPGA Victory of 2014

So once again I was unable to watch any LPGA that I DVRed this past week, due to work responsibilities reaching a white-hot pitch, imoto’s interest in catching up on past seasons of Once Upon a Time, and my own interest in seeing Primus play live for what may well turn out to be the only time in my life.

As a result, I’m going to recommend some other people’s writing on Inbee Park’s victory at the Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship by 2 shots over Stacy Lewis:  Centurion‘s post over at LLLLet’s Golf!,  LPGA.com‘s notes and interviews, the AP‘s game story, Ladies on Tour‘s summary, Elizabeth Bethel‘s post over at ProGolfNow/Fansided, and Rick Woelfel‘s post over at Women’s Golf Center….

Enjoy!

LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship Weekend: Newly 19-Year-Old Kyu Jung Baek Gives Herself Birthday Present with Playoff Win Over Brittany Lincicome and In Gee Chun

Kyu Jung Baek turned 19 on October 15th but could celebrate her birthday only with an opening 74 at the LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship.  Yet with maturity beyond her years she figured out how to handle the winds and the Sky 72 Ocean course and her own balky back as she bounced back with rounds of 69, 68, and 67.  Her final-round back-9 31 included 5 birdies in a row and was so good that she even gave herself a chance to sink a curling downhill 6-footer on the par-5 18th for the win.  Even though she missed that putt, Baek succeeded in forcing her way into a playoff at -10 with Brittany Lincicome and 20-year-old In Gee Chun, who themselves closed with fantastic 66s to outdistance world #2 Inbee Park (68-67, -9), Michelle Wie (67-67, -8), Catriona Matthew (70-67, -8), Hyo Joo Kim (71-66, -7) and the rest of the 31 players within 5 shots of the lead with 18 holes left to play.  What’s more, she learned from that miss and from Lincicome’s birdie miss from a similar angle and distance on the 1st playoff hole.  Baek calmly sunk the downhill 5-footer to secure her 1st-ever LPGA victory and 4th KLPGA title of 2014.

I was able to cap off a great birthday by watching Baek catch fire on the back in the middle of the night.  In a week when heralded (and higher-ranked) under-22s struggled–Sei Young Kim hovered between 71 and 74 and finished T42 at +2, Ha Na Jang opened with an 80 and even 30-straight under-par rounds after it only got her back to T35 at +1, Lydia Ko could never get it going and finished T29 at -1, Minjee Lee was either awesome or awful (she sandwiched a 78 and a 74 between an opening 69 and a closing 64 to finish T24 at -3), and Kim needed that Sunday charge to finally get it out of neutral–Baek found her tempo and found the hole, making great chips, pitches, and sand saves when she needed to and taking advantage of almost every birdie opportunity she gave herself.  For the week, she took 15 putts fewer than Inbee Park, who has probably been the best putter in the world for at least the last 4 years.  Yes, Baek hit the fewest greens in regulation of anyone in the top 20 except Yoon Kyung Heo and Julieta Granada, but Heo had 120 putts and Granada 107 to Baek’s 102.  It’s that kind of putting that wins you tournaments on any tour.

Speaking of which, it’ll be interesting to see if Baek decides to take up LPGA membership next year.  Will she make like Teresa Lu and decide to stay on her home tour for at least another year?  For that matter, which KLPGA stars will decide by November 18th to sign up for the final stage of LPGA Q-School?  Ha Na Jang has already expressed an interest in doing this….

Looking ahead to the inaugural Blue Bay LPGA event on Hainan Island, I’m hoping Michelle Wie will be able to play as planned.  As well as she scored on the weekend, I saw her shaking her right hand after many shots down the home stretch today.  Here’s hoping she’s healthy enough to keep teeing it up.  As excited as I am to watch LET winner this week Lee-Anne Pace tee it up against a bunch of Chinese up-and-comers (Xi Yu Lin, Jiayun Li, Yu Yang Zhang, Yuting Shi, Liqing Chen, star amateurs Jing Yan and Haruka Morita/Wanyao Lu, and new pros Simin Feng and Yu Liu) and veterans (Li-Ying Ye, Hongmei Yang, Hong Tian, and Panpan Yan) and LPGA stars (Lydia Ko, Shanshan Feng, Lexi Thompson, Cristie Kerr, Anna Nordqvist, Azahara Munoz, Brittany Lincicome, Caroline Hedwall, Mirim Lee, Amy Yang, Morgan Pressel, and Ya Ni Tseng, among others), a tournament without Wie just doesn’t have as much buzz in the U.S. and world media.  Especially because Stacy Lewis, Inbee Park, Suzann Pettersen, and Na Yeon Choi are taking the week off to prepare for the Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship (where Ai Miyazato got a sponsor invite!), the Blue Bay needs all the help it can get.

Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia Weekdays: So Yeon Ryu Races To Lead

Stacy Lewis‘s 65 was the low round of the day on Thursday at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, but she stalled Friday and a million players (it seemed) blew by her, led by Ayako Uehara‘s 63 and 64s by Lydia Ko and Jodi Ewart Shadoff.  But your leader at the halfway point is So Yeon Ryu, who went 66-65 to become the 1st player to get to double digits under par in the field.  Ryu has been so dialed in, each of her 4 bogeys came as quite a shock.  Let’s see if she can handle the lead on the weekend better than Lewis did last week.

I was sick yesterday and catching up today, but I did get to see most of the tv coverage and really enjoyed seeing so many good rounds.  But it would have been nice to see more of Azahara Munoz‘s 65 or find out that Sandra Gal matched it and Paula Creamer was only 1 shot worse, tied with Chella Choi.  I’m excited to see a lot of Uehara today and will be rooting for Danielle Kang and Na Yeon Choi to get it going and Jenny Shin and Shanshan Feng to move into serious contention.

On NHK Coverage of the Japan Women’s Open

Most JLPGA events are covered by Japanese cable channels, so despite having TV Japan through my own cable system, I almost never get to watch the top female golfers in Japan on tv.  But NHK, which supplies the feed for TV Japan, does cover the Japan Women’s Open.  And the last 9 holes of the final round made it onto TV Japan.  So I got to see first-hand the differences between NHK and Golf Channel’s approaches to covering women’s golf.

Give the Audience What They Want.  In the U.S., Sunday coverage is all about the leaders and who’s going to win.  On NHK, I didn’t see the leader Teresa Lu until 13 minutes into the coverage, and then, only to see her make her 1st bogey of the day when she missed a 20-foot par attempt.  I did see a lot of Yun-Jye Wei, who became the co-leader upon Lu’s miss, but that’s mostly because she was playing with the media’s new darling Ai Suzuki, who got the majority of coverage in the 1st 20 minutes, along with 17-year-old amateur Kana Nagai.  Apparently NHK’s audience wants to see Suzuki sizing up putts and Nagai walking up fairways, running off greens, and taking her rain jacket on and off, because the cameras followed their every move.  We did get to see footage of Nagai’s amazing eagle with a fairway wood on the 428-yard par-4, but instead of recapping their rounds and showing highlights that would help explain how they each got to -6, 2 shots off the lead after Lu’s bogey, they relied on the announcers to set things up and instead focused on Suzuki’s and Nagai’s faces and reactions in the present.  Lu had made 6 birdies in her 1st 11 holes to jump out to the lead, but mostly what the camera showed was how tiny and high-energy Nagai is and how Suzuki was reacting to the pressure of trying to win her 2nd major in a row (pouting a little after knocking her 30-foot birdie try 10-feet past, flashing a nervous smile after her par save lipped out).  The NHK coverage certainly succeeded in establishing a quasi-intimacy with both young Japanese golfers, but to someone used to following the leaders on a Sunday, it was certainly strange that we saw only 2 shots from Lu and no tournament recap or highlights in the 1st 20 minutes!

What Have You Done for Me Lately?  The other thing I’m used to from American golf coverage is a focus on the stars of the LPGA.  How many times have we checked in on Paula Creamer over the years even when she’s not in contention?  It’s an understatement to note that Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson get plenty of tv time, too.  But for all that global golf fans criticize American tv for focusing so much on American stars, Golf Channel and the networks do a much better job of catching us up on all the stars of the LPGA than NHK on Japan Women’s Open Sunday did for even established Japanese stars in the field.  The only player besides Suzuki and Nagai to even get mentioned was Mika Miyazato, and that was during an interview with Suzuki.  I can understand that Miyazato, Chie Arimura, Sakura Yokomine, Shiho Oyama, Rikako Morita, Misuzu Narita, and Momoko Ueda didn’t have a chance to win, but not even to show a single shot from them in the 1st 20 minutes of coverage was frankly shocking to me.  Same goes for money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee, #2 Sun-Ju Ahn, and #3 Ji-Yai Shin.  Sure, they were well behind Lu and Wei, but they are the top 3 players on tour and both Shin and Ahn started the day with a great chance to pass Lee on the money list.  I mean, Mikan was playing with Lu and Ahn with Nagai, but we only saw Mikan’s approach on 18 just past the hour mark (too bad she went on to 3-putt!) and mostly just caught glimpses of Ahn at the corners or edges of shots of Nagai or her shots until the 18th hole, when she stuck her approach to 12 feet and made the birdie to finish in solo 4th.

Game on!  Things got a little better after the 20-minute mark.  We saw Na-Ri Lee around 22 and a half minutes into the coverage, who had gotten to -6 thanks to back-to-back birdies to close out the front (which again they chose not to recap for us), leave a long birdie try on 12 well short and make the 6-foot par save right after Suzuki got up-and-down from a bad lie near the green and Wei failed to.  We saw Lu’s approach to pin-high on the 365-yard par-4 15th right after she became the solo leader.  We saw the 2nd page of the leaderboard for the 1st time.  We saw Lee make a 30-footer on the par-3 13th to move to -7.  We saw Lu hit her birdie putt through the break.  We saw Wei struggle with the wet rough and Suzuki with the green-side bunker’s wet sand as they both bogeyed the 11th.  We saw Lu land her approach on the par-5 16th a foot past the pin but bound 16 feet away.  We saw Nagai hit the middle of the green on the 15th and Lee barely avoid a green-side bunker on the 14th.  We saw Lu just miss the right-to-left sweeping birdie try.  And so on.  The NHK’s coverage definitely found its rhythm in the next half-hour, although they still spent the most time on Suzuki’s shots and gave the announcers plenty of time to talk about every aspect of her play.

Nice Tech!  I liked the bullseye with blue 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10-meter circles they’d superimpose around some of the pins on certain approach shots.  I also liked how they’d sometimes show a map of the hole to the left of the player about to hit their drives, or show the exact length of a putt by superimposing a line and the distance in meters on the green, or show arcs from the bullseye on sand shots so we could see how far the player was from the pin and how the terrain and the distance from the hole interacted.  It was informative without being distracting.

Down to the Wire!  Yes, they spent far too much time on Wei’s bogey train on the back, but as it got down to the wire, Lu and Lee got a lot more coverage.  Lu made a great lag on the 406-yard 18th from maybe 60 feet to par out and finish her week at -8, just before Lee left a 8-foot downhill big breaker 10 inches short on the 16th to remain 1 back.  They spent a lot of time on the 17th tee as Lee chose a utility club, sized up her shot to the back-left pin, and pulled it into the front of the greenside left bunker–and focused on her face for almost the entire walk up the 180-yard par 3.  And they did a fantastic job on her shot from the sand and reaction to the ball going in the hole to tie her for the lead, showing it live and in slow motion twice.  Even as she pulled her drive on 18 into the left rough, they spent a lot of time on the green with Nagai (who just missed sinking a 50-footer for birdie and was beaming as she walked off the green) and Ahn (who had a great reaction to making her birdie try).  Lee could barely get her approach over the pond 50 yards short of the green and faced a tough uphill pitch from an uphill lie in deep rough.  When she failed to carry it to the top tier and the ball rolled backwards to about 40 feet from the pin, she needed a miracle to force a playoff, but her putt was off-line from the start.  She did well to save par from 6 feet and finish in solo 2nd.

After the End.  At that point, the last 2 pairings still on the course had virtually no chance to force a playoff.  How did NHK fill the rest of their air time?  With more Suzuki and Wei, of course!  But once they failed to get holes in 1 on 17, guaranteeing that Lu would win, the coverage pretty quickly shifted into an interview with Nagai, who had the best finish of any amateur in the history of the JWO.  They even showed her her eagle and got her reaction to it at the very end of the interview–very cute!  Before going back to Suzuki and Wei on the 17th green, they showed a list of low amateurs in the past 15 years or so and wondered aloud about who would make Team Japan in the 2016 Olympics.  They showed Lee leaving the course, Lu hanging around the scorer’s tent, and Ji-Yai Shin and Ah-Reum Hwang putting out on 18.  After showing Wei’s and Suzuki’s approaches to 18, they finally went to the tapes, mentioning how Lu won the tournament with 3-straight birdies to start her round and showing how she sank 3 more in a 4-hole stretch as she made the turn, then focusing on key par putts down the stretch.  (Apparently Lu didn’t want to be interviewed before the awards ceremony.)  So after Suzuki and Wei finished, it was back to Nagai’s eagle and the 1st view of her birdie on 10, along with her best pars coming home, before showing the awards ceremony.  After answering the first couple of questions in simple Japanese, she went back and forth between English and Japanese the rest of the interview, but mostly in English.  After that, they moved so quickly into face time for their announcing crew and the closing montage that they barely had time to include defending champion Mika Miyazato congratulating new champion Teresa Lu from the awards ceremony in between.

And then, after 2 hours and 15 minutes of the most important women’s golf tournament in Japan, a cute show on cats walking around in an Italian city began.  Only in Japan!

Reignwood LPGA Classic Sunday: Can Stacy Lewis Do It?

Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic Thursday: Strike While the Iron Is Hot!

Evian Championship Sunday: Hyo Joo Kim Beats Karrie Webb on 72nd Hole on Network TV…and I Miss It!

Hyo Joo Kim looked to be in control of the Evian Championship for much of the final round, despite charges by Na Yeon Choi and Ha Na Jang, and an eagle-par-birdie run by Mi Jung Hur, but right about the time Golf Channel coverage switched over to NBC, things changed dramatically.  Even as Karrie Webb‘s birdie barrage in the middle of her round–5 birdies between the 9th and 15th holes that got the LPGA legend to -11–put the pressure on the 19-year-old KLPGA superstar, Kim bogeyed both par 3s on the back to drop from -12 to -10.  And even as Choi, Jang, and Hur faltered down the stretch, the tournament came down to the 72nd hole.

Not that I got to see any of it.  I was behind on my DVRed Golf Channel coverage and only found out about the switch to network tv a half-hour after its coverage had ended.  So I didn’t get to see how Kim stuck her approach on the final hole and sank her 12-foot birdie attempt while Webb’s approach failed to fade and she failed to get up and down from the fringe to force a playoff.  I didn’t get to see the look on Webb’s face down the home stretch as she was trying to become the 1st golfer to ever win 6 different major championships.  I didn’t get to see Kim’s body language as she was trying to become the 3rd youngest winner of an LPGA major.  At least I’ll have highlights–some time.

But on a day the Buffalo Bills went 2-0 and my entire neighborhood was cheerful, I spent most of the afternoon annoyed at myself that I never double-checked LPGA.com or my tv listings.  That’s what I get for purposely staying off the web (after posting on 20-year-old Ai Suzuki‘s record-breaking major victory on the JLPGA, that is!) so that I could savor the final-round drama!