Ariya Jutanagarn Leads But Shoal Creek Staff Wins U.S. Women's Open Day One

Somehow they got Shoal Creek playable, through no shortage of manpower, machinery and insane hours put in by Rex Davis's staff and volunteer crew. Round one of the 2018 U.S. Women's Open was started and completed on time and the course looked mostly playable, writes Beth Ann Nichols for Golfweek:

Plenty of players came into the first round worried about playing the ball down in the muck, particularly with so many rough patches in the fairways due to uncharacteristically tough winter and spring seasons. Nearly five inches of rain fell at Shoal Creek dating back to late Sunday afternoon. Since 1895 the USGA has never implemented a lift, clean and place policy at one of its championships. And they weren’t starting now.

There were mud balls. And it played long with virtually no rollout – Kang hit a 5-iron and a couple 4-irons into par-4s – but in most cases it was better than expected. The fact that Round 1 began on time and remained uninterrupted by weather delays was nothing short a miracle.

The best compliment came from Michelle Wie:

“It’s incredible that we played today and got a practice round in yesterday,” said Wie. “The greens staff did an amazing job. I mean the greens were perfectly fine. The fairways are fine. You would not have known that it rained so much.”

Leader Jutanagarn's highlights:

Really Up Shoal Creek: The U.S. Women's Open Is Just One Big Mess

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More rain Wednesday meant more of a mess at Shoal Creek, host of the 2018 U.S. Women's Open starting Thursday near Birmingham.

Some players will not have played a single practice round, others who did reported a course essentially under water and desperately needing preferred lies. So far, the USGA isn't budging given its history of having never played lift, clean and place.

Oh and thunderstorms are in most forecasts for the scheduled tournament days. 

From Beth Ann Nichols' Golfweek story about the situation:

After Tuesday’s practice rounds were washed out due to the remnants of Tropical Storm Alberto, Wednesday’s were delayed until 1 p.m. due to electricity. Since 10 p.m. Tuesday evening, the course received 1.62 inches of water, pushing the overall total since Sunday afternoon to 4.76 inches.

“I’ll just say it,” said USGA senior managing director John Bodenhamer, “we were a little unlucky last night. I think we had hoped for a better night, and we got worse.”

From Randall Mell's story:

This might be as unprepared as players have ever felt for a U.S. Women’s Open, with the rain closing the course for a day and half.

Karine Icher did not expect to play a single hole before Thursday’s start after her Wednesday afternoon practice round was canceled with morning rain pushing back tee times.

“It’s unfair,” Icher said.

Like a number of players here, Icher wished the USGA would have set up nine-hole practice rounds on Wednesday, so every player would have gotten access to the course.

Frustration is part of every U.S. Women’s Open week, but rarely have anxieties mounted so palpably before the first tee shots were even struck.

Fox's Brad Faxon posted this from the course:

THURS, MAY 31 Coverage times:

Bonus First Round 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM

First Round 3:00 – 8:00 PM FS1/FSGO

Featured Groups 3:00 – 8:00 PM FSGO

Birmingham Blues: Tropical Storm To Put USGA's Lift-Clean Opposition To The Ultimate Test

Even after Tropical Storm Alberto passed through a Shoal Creek already wet and not in the best of shape by the USGA's admission, the USGA suggested Tuesday that the plan is to play the ball down despite mudballs galore.

From Randall Mell's report:

“I would say it is our intention to play 72 holes to identify our champion, and play the ball as it lies,” said John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s senior managing director of championships and governance.

Bodenhamer said his staff will continue to evaluate conditions on Wednesday, but it appears it will take extraordinary circumstances for the governing body to implement preferred lies on what is likely to be a soggy course.

Cristie Kerr minced no words.

“The course is unplayable,” Kerr said. “There’s going to be mud on every ball. It’s not fair. Tropical storms aren’t part of the game.”

Players took the Tropical Storm's passing in stride, as Beth Ann Nichols writes, opening up books or limiting their practice just two days out from the biggest event in the women's game.

Lift And Clean Coming? Tropical Storm On Top Of Already Wet, Weakened Turf Doesn't Bode Well For U.S. Women's Open

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Randall Mell paints a pretty bleak picture for course conditions before the heart of a tropical storm hits 2018 U.S. Women's Open host Shoal Creek. The USGA may have to break precedent and play lift, clean and place, a move possibly telegraphed by a rare pre-tournament apology for already so-so turf conditions. A rough spring was cited as the reasoning. 

Players are enjoying the Nicklaus design but saying the course was already unable to take on much more water before the pre-hurricane season storm strikes.

Kerr played 18 holes in a practice round Monday in mist and light rain. The course was soggy, with close to 3 inches of rain having fallen over the last week. There is more rain forecast for late Monday and early Tuesday, with Alberto’s passing. The USGA’s meteorologist said anywhere from 1 to 3 inches could fall during the storm.

“Frankly, I don’t think this golf course can take much more water,” Kerr said.

Ko's 3-Wood Reminds Us What Shotmaking Can Be Like When The Professional Game Has Symmetry

If you haven't seen the shot, do check out Lydia Ko's 3-wood from Lake Merced and the 2018 MEDIHEAL Championship.

In her Golfweek account, Beth Ann Nichols called it "one of the most clutch 3-woods in LPGA history, negotiating a tree down the left side of the closing par 5 and nestling it in close for eagle. For a moment, an albatross was in the picture."

I want to highlight the shot for a host of reasons beyond the simple pleasure of watching someone with supernatural talents deliver so decisively under pressure. 

Some are wondering why the LPGA held more appeal in recent weeks and shots like Ko's bear greater study in the context of the distance and skill debate.


--The 18th hole for this particular event will never be confused with Augusta National's 13th, yet there was enough strategic interest to create intrigue: drive down the right side and get a better view of the green, drive left and perhaps shorten the approach, but also lose the better angle.

--In the playoff, Minjee Lee outdrove Ko by 30 yards, but as Golf Channel's Karen Stupples noted almost immediately, Ko would have the better angle due to an overhanging cypress tree and the shape of the alleyway approach. Check out this screen grab of Ko's angle, with Lee's ball down the left, just above Ko's waistline:

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--Since LPGA driving distances are of sane proportions for a majority of the golf courses on earth, even very simple architectural elements provided options, risks and nuanced reward in positioning. The execution by Ko was ultimately masterful, but she was given a canvas thanks to the firm ground conditions, immaculate turf and LMCC design to execute something special.

--Watching the way Ko's ball hit the ground and release toward the hole only added to the drama and beauty of the shot. If this were a 6-iron, as we see all too often hit into a par-5 by today's male players, the shot loses appeal. It's not something we talk about nor is it a shot that leaves us in awe of the players. Or, in modern parlance, we don't feel like we're living under par.

--The game is far more interesting to watch and play when angles have meaning and the ground can be used. Even a novice golf watcher can get a thrill from a shot like Ko's and appreciate that they saw something few humans could accomplish. 

--When the game is compelling because of the aforementioned elements, more people will tune in on those merits over, say, watching forty-year-olds playing air guitar to music that hasn't been relevant in decades, if ever.

Video: Lydia Ko With The Best Of Shot Of 2018 (So Far)?

It's early, but given the circumstances, Lydia Ko's 3-wood on 18 at Lake Merced in sudden death is the clubhouse leader for 2018's best to date.

In a playoff with Minjee Lee--winner of the U.S. Junior Girls at the same course--Ko went for the 18th in two. But it was the combination of pressure, picking three-wood off the tight LMCC fairways and hitting over an overhanging cypress branch that makes this really special. 

LPGA Weighs Its Augusta National (Women's Invitational) Options

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On the surface, Augusta National's creation of a women's amateur tournament beginning in 2019 turned heads and seems an aggressive reach into the LPGA's territory.

But in reading Beth Ann Nichols' Golfweek look at the LPGA dilemma in how to schedule their first major of the year going forward and now up against the new Augusta event, I wonder if there is a danger in overthinking this one. 

After all, the Augusta event will only be televised on Saturday and the field only play Augusta National that morning. Given that the members will want to play their course, I suspect play will start early and can occupy a similar time frame as Sunday's Drive, Chip and Putt. That leaves the afternoon to the PGA Tour and LPGA.

“They’re an amateur tournament, we’re a professional major,” Cristie Kerr said. “I don’t think we should have to move our professional major because there’s a one-round event at Augusta National for amateurs.”

I agree! But should the ANA move because the pre-Masters week means it gets lost in some of the attention devoted to The Masters? Yes, say many. But there are scheduling issues with that scenario as well, Nichols notes.

What seemed an obvious fix, at least for one year – to flip-flop the Kia Classic and the ANA – has a significant consequence for TV.

Right now the ANA Inspiration offers 20 hours of live television coverage. Moving one week back puts the women’s major up against the PGA Tour’s Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin. That could mean tape-delayed coverage for early rounds of the ANA and a significant drop in the live window on the weekend. Tape-delayed coverage for an LPGA major would be a controversy in itself.

“The major experience is priority No. 1,” Whan said.

Venues Matter, Volume 3,909: Wilshire v. TPC San Antonio

Sweet-Swinging Jin Young Ko tees off at Wilshire's 7th, playing 92 yards for the final round to a front and far left hole location. 

Sweet-Swinging Jin Young Ko tees off at Wilshire's 7th, playing 92 yards for the final round to a front and far left hole location. 

It's been a long time since a course has elicited as many texts, Tweet responses and consistent commentary. They all went something like this: "Wilshire looks great! Fun viewing! Great crowds!"

Perhaps it was the prime-time placement of the LPGA Tour action from stately and cool Wilshire Country Club. Maybe it was that ingeniously placed crane shot, conspiring with the late light to make Wilshire and surrounding old Hollywood look so darn cool. And just possibly all of that, with enthusiastic commentary from Gannon/Stupples/Cockerill/Foltz/Abbott juxtaposed with the already-tired-looking and soulless TPC San Antonio served as yet another remind of golf in a classy old course in the city center is way better than rural TPC golf.

Wilshire won the week 8&7 over TPC San Antonio. 

All of this should sting at PGA Tour headquarters but won't, even though the Valero Texas Open used to be played at a beloved city-center course with Tillinghast ties and big crowds.  The PGA Tour chases the money and worries about the fallout of going to antiseptic, suburban, bloated venues later. Or the events just die and no one examines the ties between venues with soul and those where even a novice detects the joylessness.

As the PGA Tour pursues a mind-bogglingly short-sighted position in favor distance advances that will all but rule out quaint, city-center courses on a more human-scale like Wilshire, they will have no one to blame when the numbers speak volumes.

Sure, the PGA Tour will still out-rate the LPGA Tour this week because a network broadcast still always wins. But only three of the world top 30 could find their way to San Antonio, while LA's new LPGA stop drew 21 of the world 25. For perspective, the upcoming Zurich Classic and its two-man team format has landed 10 of the world's top 14 thanks almost entirely to the fun format change.

The Valero will change dates next year to a pre-Masters slot. But major changes in the TPC San Antonio design and maintenance will be needed to build upon what Houston did in the pre-Masters position. Though as I noted in last week's Alternate Shot, the Valero should be careful what it wishes for in demanding the pre-Masters date. Houston's venue offered no masterpiece, but it also didn't make players want to hurl their drivers.

As Eamon Lynch notes for Golfweek, the May calendar spot is not helping the Valero, nor is the stagnant nature of PGA Tour golf. But really, it's all about the venue for players, fans, television and ultimately, the sponsors footing the bills.

That same poll declared the AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio the fourth-worst stop on the schedule, suggesting that being named for a corporation isn’t the most objectionable thing about it. The Greg Norman design (presumably he confessed to it under interrogation) hosted last week’s Valero Texas Open. It is one of the Tour’s oldest and most respected events and raises huge sums for charity. Yet players look forward to TPC San Antonio much as a condemned man does the gallows.

Wilshire's Par-3 Closer Should Make For A Fun Finish


The LPGA Tour's Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open wraps today on a perfect Sunday with a pretty tightly packed leaderboard.

There is also the fine play of Rio Olympian Aditi Ashok, who at six back is probably too far back today, but remains one of the more inspirational stories in pro golf, writes Beth Ann Nichols.

Ashok had Saturday's shot of the day on the short par-4 14th:

🦅 time for @aditigolf! #LPGAGoesHollywood @lpga_la

A post shared by LPGA Tour (@lpga_tour) on

It's been a very successful week at Wilshire based on the reviews of those watching Golf Channel's east coast prime time coverage. I explain here why this was a great get for the LPGA Tour and why more courses of Wilshire's architectural intrigue should be the tour's next frontier, especially as the PGA Tour endorses distance chasing and the road to 8,000-yard snoozefests. 

Those who know Wilshire love its 10th hole and are irked by its use as the closing hole this week. But for legitimate logistical reasons, the dreaded par-3 finish may not be so dull after all. Here is my story for Golfweek on what to expect with this grand one-shotter.

A few more images:

The par-3 10th for members, the 18th for the Hugel-JTBC LA Open and note the fairway connection to the 17th hole this week.

The par-3 10th for members, the 18th for the Hugel-JTBC LA Open and note the fairway connection to the 17th hole this week.

Rear view

Rear view

Yardage guide

Yardage guide

Ko: Leadbetter Responds To His Critics

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Lydia Ko opened with a 70 in the Hugel-JTBC LA Open but the off-course discussion about her career trajectory continues. A few weeks after Kevin Van Valkenburg's ESPN The Magazine profile of Ko, where former instructor David Leadbetter's work is harshly evaluated by several golf observers, the famed instructor is pushing back.

Here is what might have prompted Leadbetter to respond, from Van Valkenburg's story:

Leadbetter helped Faldo remake his swing in the '80s, when he was the No. 1 player in the world, and he was Els' coach for nearly 20 years, when Els won three of his four majors. But he was also given the derisive nickname Lead Poison by tour players and media members after Wie, another teenage prodigy, failed to blossom. Wie, who recently won her first tournament in nearly four years, continues working with Leadbetter.

"Lydia Ko, from the time she was a child, everyone could see where she was headed," says Brandel Chamblee, a former PGA Tour player who now works as an analyst for the Golf Channel. "David Leadbetter completely changed the DNA of her golf swing. Why in the world would you do that? Because you want to put your stamp or signature on the masterpiece that is this kid?"

But Ko continued to play well before firing Leadbetter. She currently works with Ted Oh.

On his website, Leadbetter posted this rebuttal today. He targets Lydia's father and fatigue as key issues. 

Along with all of this, her father, a non-accomplished golfer, heard rumors that she needed to change her swing and made suggestions to Lydia to change it - independently of her coaches. Sean Hogan traveled with her to the LPGA KEB HanaBank Championship during the last part of the season and observed Lydia being very confused [with her swing].

Amazingly enough, despite all of this, she had an excellent chance of remaining No. 1 in the world with a solid finish at the last tournament of the year. She shot 62 (10 under par) in the second round and things seemed to be on track. Her last round, unfortunately, was very average and she just lost out on winning the LPGA Player of the Year.

In this day and age, we have ways of measuring energy output in the swing. In the last quarter of the year, she had lost 20% of her energy which could only mean one thing - complete fatigue. Unfortunately, to the unknowledgeable, this can be misconstrued as experiencing swing issues.

Golf Gods At Work: LPGA's First Major Heads To Monday Finish After Playing Par-5 Over And Over Again

The Masters has flirted with not finishing in daylight Sunday nights--hint, hint say multiple sources with knowledge of the Golf Gods and their thinking in making everyone come back Monday. (The Masters at least moves to the 10th tee for its second playoff hole.)  

But as Beth Ann Baldry explains for Golfweek that if nothing else, the Inbee Park-Pernilla Lindberg ANA Inspiration playoff moves to the 10th tee for its 8 am re-boot, ending the insanity of playing a par-5 over and over again. 

“I’m just happy that we got rid of that 18th hole,” said Park, who will square off against Lindberg at 11 a.m. Eastern on the par-4 10th hole. Park birdied the 10th hole twice this week; Lindberg birdied it once.

Lexi Reveals Just How Much Grief Last Year's ANA Penalty Caused

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Powerful stuff from Lexi Thompson at her ANA Inspiration press conference a year removed from the four-stroke penalty that cost her a major. 

Penalties, which, by the way, could not happen again thanks to changes in the rules, as Larry Bohannan explains in the Desert Sun.

From Beth Ann Nichols' Golfweek story:

“That night was extremely rough,” said Thompson of the hours that followed the toughest loss of her career. “I was screaming, crying. You know, I’ve re-lived it for a while. I had nightmares about it. You know, I still occasionally do.”
Thompson, 23, cried on every tee shot that followed her encounter with rules officials after the 12th hole. She said it was the fans who allowed her to finish the way she did.
“I heard them chanting my name on every shot, every tee,” she said. “I heard them on the green chanting my name, and I was like, I have to finish strong for them.” 

Video: It's As If They Knew Eun-Hee Ji's KIA Ace Was Coming

If you didn't hear about Eun-Hee Ji's KIA Classic final round, she hit all 18 greens and made a one at the par-3 14th en route to victory. (Beth Ann Nichols' game story has the lowdown.)

Besides a car for winning the event, she took home a KIA Sorrento for this shot. But it's the setup by Grant Boone, Judy Rankin and Jerry Foltz that adds to the spectacle of a surreal moment (and a rewarding sponsorship for KIA).

From Morning Drive's recap:

Kerr On Ko: "Her game’s not in good shape"

No one wants to kick Lydia Ko when she's down, but given the turnover of coaches and caddies she's fired in recent years, this assessment filed by Golf Channel's Randall Mell from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup is noteworthy. (The event was won by Inbee Park, who held off world No. 363 Laura Davies among others, as Ron Sirak writes in this game story from Phoenix.) 

From Mell's story on Ko:

Ko came to Phoenix ranked 112th in driving distance, 121st in driving accuracy and 83rd in greens in regulation. She was sixth in putting average.

Cristie Kerr saw the struggle playing two rounds with Ko.

“Her game’s not in good shape,” Kerr said. “She seemed a little lost.”

LPGA Tour Coming To Classy Old Wilshire CC

The Forecaddie explains the return of big time pro golf to Wilshire Country Club, one of the few courses on earth to have hosted all three tours. The historic LA-club is an underrated Norman MacBeth masterwork loaded with character and rich in tournament history.

And now Korean botox maker HUGEL will sponsor at least three years of LPGA golf there, with the middle year marking the club's centennial.

Ran Morrissett's review if you aren't familiar.

LPGA In 2018: 34 Events In 14 Countries...

And back again in LA and San Francisco with $68.75 million in purses, adding big markets and better flow on the travel front, notes Golfweek's Beth Ann Nichols.

She writes:

Two events are gone from the ’17 – Lorena Ochoa’s event in Mexico City and the Manulife in Canada – but stops in Shanghai, Los Angeles and San Francisco have been added.

“Perhaps the most important aspect of our schedule is the consistency – continuing to deliver strong playing opportunities both in North America and around the world, while growing overall purse levels every year,” said LPGA commissioner Mike Whan.

Twenty-three new title sponsors have been added to the LPGA portfolio in the last six years, including South Korean skincare company L&P Cosmetic, which will sponsor the new event at Lake Merced outside San Francisco. Swinging Skirts hosted an event at Lake Merced from 2014 to ’16 but now sponsors the LPGA’s event in Taipei.

The return of San Francisco to the schedule helps build a strong West Coast Swing. Following a week off after the ANA Inspiration, the tour returns to Oahu for the LOTTE Championship April 11-14 before heading to the greater Los Angeles area for the inaugural HUGEL-JTBC Championship. The host club will be announced in 2018.

I don't know the proposed LA venue but let us all pray that the former Industry Hills, now Pacific Palms, will not be visited for a third time. No one deserves that. No one.

LPGA Commish Mike Whan explained the schedule thinking to Golf Central's Ryan Burr here.

And ratings are in for 2017, For Immediate Release:


NBC Sports’ LPGA Tour Coverage Ties 2013 for Most-Watched Year Since 2011

NBC and Golf Channel Boast Top-6 Most-Watched Women’s Golf Telecasts in 2017

ORLANDO, Fla., Dec. 13, 2017 – Beginning with the dramatic playoff finish at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic in January and concluding with Lexi Thompson winning the $1 million Race to the CME Globe, nearly 22 million viewers tuned in to LPGA Tour coverage across Golf Channel and NBC in 2017. This makes 2017 the most-viewed LPGA Tour season across NBC Sports since Golf Channel joined the NBC Sports Group in 2011. Additionally, 2017 tied 2013 as the LPGA Tour’s most-watched year across NBC Sports since 2011. Coverage drew an average of 221,000 viewers per telecast in 2017 (+24% vs. 2016), according to data released by The Nielsen Company.


For the first time ever in televised women’s golf, Sunday’s final round of the RICOH Women’s British Open (Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017, 1.1 million viewers) delivered the most-watched and highest-rated women’s golf telecast of the year. NBC’s Saturday (Day 2) coverage of the Solheim Cup in August placed second with 968,000 viewers, followed by Sunday’s Solheim Cup coverage on NBC with 946,000 viewers. Golf Channel’s live coverage of Sunday’s final day of the Solheim Cup drew 795,000 viewers, the most-watched women’s golf event on cable in eight years.






Avg. Viewers P2+































Florida Prilosec Shortage Averted: Pro Tours Retain Tax-Exempt Status In Senate Bill

Since this CNBC story hit last week reporting the potential Senate tax bill inclusion of a giant headache for golf's professional organizations, heartburn and acid reflux medicine has been flying off the shelves in greater Daytona Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach and West Palm Beach.

While we don't know if this shortage was tied to the possibility of losing 501(c)(6) status for the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour and PGA of America, things should return to normal after some Senator struck language sometime Friday. The bill was voted on Saturday morning without language that would have done untold damage to the business operations of the tours and potentially to the PGA of America.

My Golfweek story here on the language in the bill and what this might have meant. Not included are insights into the thousands of messages between tours and lobbyists in the frantic moments leading to the final legislation shaping.

Here is a final version of the bill, minus all of the pork written into the margins.

Shark Talks Weakness Of Today's Players Inside 150, Why The Masters Can Make Players Use Anything They'd Like

We forget that when Greg Norman is not hawking golf carts and posting shirtless Instagram images, he can be a keen observer of the game.

In an interview with an unbylined Gant News writer filing for the CNN affiliate, Norman touches on Patrick Reed knowing so little about his clubs, LPGA players being more accurate with their drivers and many other topics.

But the two getting my attention involved what he sees as a big change in the prowess of today's players with a wedge approach (inside, gulp, 150 yards).

“If you look at today’s top players, their distance control inside 150 yards with a wedge is quite amazingly poor,” he said.

“These guys are 20ft short, 30ft left, 20ft long, their distance control is not consistent. It could just be the way they play — when it works, it works and when it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

“In our era, every time you’d put a pitching wedge in your hand, if you didn’t think you’d get the ball inside 10ft every time, or seven out of 10 times, you weren’t having any control over your golf game.”

I do see this in watching many of today's players compared to Norman's era and wonder what the exact cause is that makes Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson such standouts in this distance.

On the topic of distance, Norman agrees with others that this is about sustainability and Augusta National could be the solution.

“I remember the eighth hole at Augusta was nearly impossible to reach in two and now these guys are hitting irons in there,” said Norman who finished second three times at The Masters, perhaps most notably in 1996 when he blew a six-shot lead and Nick Faldo took the green jacket.

“Augusta can’t lengthen itself anymore but the tech is going to allow these players to keep hitting it longer year after year.

“If they sent out an invitation to the players and said ‘you’re going to use a gutter percha ball and a hickory shafted golf club, go get them worked out, practice before you get there, the best player will still win that week.

“The best players have that ability to make that adjustment no matter what they’re using.”