Sunday
Jul022017

Kang captures Women's PGA, edging Henderson

Writing from Olympia Fields, Illinois

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The power of belief can carry someone a long way, whether that belief is from within or someone close.

Danielle Kang enjoyed that feeling all week at Olympia Fields Country Club.

First it was her brother Alex, to whom she turned when she was vexed as to her game plan on Olympia’s sturdy North Course. He looked at photos she sent him and together, they figured out a plan of attack.

Then she drew on the pleasant memories of conversations and encouragement from her father, K.S., who died of cancer late in 2013. Kang spoke of him in the present tense, and who not, for one of the tattoos on her right hand is “Dad” in his Korean writing.

“He doesn’t talk much. However, when he does say something, it means a lot. He’s the kind of guy that is very positive. Anything is possible. So I always looked at him like he’s magical, because he feels I can do anything,” Kang said late on Sunday afternoon.

After, of course, proving him correct by making a two-putt birdie 4 on the final hole of the final round to win the 63rd KPMG Women’s PGA Championship by a stroke over fast-closing defending champion Brooke Henderson.

Kang rolled in a two-foot putt for her fifth birdie of the back nine, an inward 32, a final round 3-under-par 68, and a total of 13-under-par 271 to win for the first time as a professional – and a major championship at that.

She had won back-to-back U.S. Women’s Amateurs in 2010 and 2011, so using the Bobby Jones tally system, this is her third major championship overall.

It came in dramatic fashion. She birdied four straight holes starting at the par-4 11th, rolling in 73 feet of putts – 12 feet on the 11th, 25 feet on the 12th, 30 feet on the 13th, and six feet on the 14th after a brilliant approach out of the rough 132 yards distant – to first climb back into a tie for the lead with Henderson and Chella Choi, and then build a three-stroke lead.

But Kang failed to save par from a greenside bunker on the par-3 17th, falling to 12-under. Minutes later, Henderson tapped in a 2-inch birdie putt at the last after leading a 30-foot eagle putt that short, and they were tied.

Kang’s 233-yard approach from the 18th fairway finished 25 feet below the hole. Two putts meant a birdie and victory, but there was work to be done.

“The first putt, I was just more worried about getting that speed right, because it was kind of gusty,” Kang said.

It finished two feet short by her estimation.

“Let me tell you, that was the hardest two-footer I’ve ever had to putt,” Kang said. “I had to tell myself, ‘Danielle, you don’t miss two-footers, so just putt it.’

“It was pretty nerve-wracking, but I just did it.”

It fell perfectly, the last of 40 birdies on the final hole on Sunday. Kang is the first to win with a birdie at the last in the LPGA / Women’s PGA since Meg Mallon in 1991.

“I just wanted to finish it off after a rocky start,” Kang said, thinking back to her three-putt bogey on the 10th hole. The four-birdie binge followed immediately.

“That was actually the turning point for me,” Kang said of the three-putt. “I said, ‘You know what, if I’m going to three-putt from 20 feet, I’m going to learn from it.’ Let’s just not hit it as hard.”

Like a Fourth of July fireworks display, they went boom-boom-boom-boom into the cup the next four holes.

A critical par-save on the par-4 16th via a 19-foot putt kept her at 13-under and made the bogey on the 17th less harmful to the cause.

“It looked like a 50-footer to me,” Kang said of the putt on the 16th.

By this point, it was between her and Henderson unless Choi, who bogeyed Nos. 9 and 11 to fall to 9-under, then birdied the 16th, birdied in. She did not, and finished with a par 71 for 10-under 274. Thus, Henderson’s birdie-birdie finish for 12-under 272 was the only pressure put on Kang on the back nine. She answered with a flourish.

Henderson, whose defense fell just short, wasn’t at all displeased.

“The birdie on 17 meant I had a chance,” said Henderson, whose 5-under 66 was the best round of the day. “On 18, that putt, I took some extra time, walked it twice to get the pace right. Missed it by an inch.”

And right in the jaws. This time, Henderson did not score for Canada. Maybe it was that string of pars from the 10th through the 16th that hurt more.

“I had a mix of good putts and some that could have been a bit better,” Henderson said. “I can’t complain. But if I made one or two, it would have been different.”

Kang had come close before, but in 143 previous starts as a professional had never finished better than in a tie for third, and her best finish in a major was a tie for 22nd in the 2013 LPGA Championship, as this fandango was then named. The close calls were, of course, nothing compared to losing her dad nearly four years ago after his long battle with brain cancer.

“It’s been a really difficult road for me for the past four or five years,” Kang said. “It’s life, though. You have to pick yourself up and keep working hard at it, then believe in what you’re doing.

“I know he (her dad) is here for it. What are the odds that my first win is a major? I’m pretty sure he had something to do with it. I felt him with me every day, and I still do.

“Over that last putt, for some reason, I remembered him telling me, ‘I’ll buy you a TV if you make this four-footer at the U.S. Am.' I remembered it. So I wasn’t even worried about the putt.”

It fell. So, as she told the story, did a tear.

Around Olympia

A severe squall lashed the course and the surrounding area about a hour after Kang sank the winning putt, blowing much that wasn’t nailed down through the air with winds estimated at 60 mph. Some trees were said to have been felled as well. But after that came a rainbow. The pot of gold seemed to be somewhere on the South Course, ticketed for Kang. ... Kang was pelted with pretzels, and then golf tees, by pal Michelle Wie while sitting in a radio booth in the press center and doing one last interview. Kang finally turned around and said, “How old are you?” giggling all the while. ... The field average for Round 4 was 71.853 strokes, moving the overall average of 72.305. ... Thirty-five players broke par for 72 holes, with another 10 at even par 284. ... World No. 1 So Yeon Ryu finished tied for 14th with a 1-over 72 for 4-under 280, but still made $47,606. ... World No. 3 Lydia Ko had an awful weekend, finishing 76-76 for 5-over 289. She made $8,686.

Tim Cronin

Saturday
Jul012017

Kang, Choi share WPGA lead, many chase

Writing from Olympia Fields, Illinois

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Happy Canada 150 Day!

At one point early Saturday afternoon, there was a seven-way tie at 7-under-par for the lead in the 63rd KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Danielle Kang, Sei Young Kim, Woon-jung “Chella” Choi, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, Amy Yang and Brittany Lincicome were jammed into the top spot.

When the last putt fell on Olympia Fields Country Club’s North Course, only American Kang and South Korean Choi remained on top. Knotted at 10-under-par 203, they’ll play together Sunday in the final round of the year’s second major championship with a trophy and $525,000 on the line and 14 players within five strokes of them.

Only Jiyai Shin, a two-time major champion, is within two strokes. Her 7-under-par 64, the day’s best round, jumped her into solo third early in the afternoon. Defending champion Henderson is at 7-under 206 after a 2-under 69 on her native Canada’s 150th birthday, while Yang and Kim, like Choi from South Korea, are four back at 6-under 207 on a most international leader board.

Choi scored 4-under 67 to gain a share of the lead via birdies on the 14th and 18th holes. Kang birdied those holes as well, and would be the sole leader but for a bogey on the par-4 16th, her first three-putt of the tournament.

Choi’s round was bogey-free, which not only moved her to the front but gets her a gift from her dad, back as caddie the last four tournaments after a 10-week retirement. He had caddied for her since her junior days.

“He wanted to stay with my mom,” Choi said. “I lost my confidence. I said, ‘It’s very tough to play golf. Can you come back and help me, just a couple weeks? That’s why he come back. He says, ‘Just focus on golf, just one shot.’ ”

That worked. Choi had only 28 putts, saving par five times to go with the four birdies.

She’s not won a major, her best finish a tie for fifth in the then-LPGA Championship in 2013.

Kang won back-to-back U.S. Women’s Amateurs in 2010 and 2011, but hasn’t won since turning pro after the second U.S. Women’s Am title, and hasn’t finished better than tying for 14th in a major, that the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open. She tied for 22nd in the 2013 LPGA.

A stroke behind after 36 holes, she’s been getting advice from high places: Wayne Gretzky, Caitlyn Jenner and three-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Hollis Stacy either called or texted before the third round.

“Hollis said, ‘If you’re not nervous, what are you doing out there?’ ” Kang relayed, and added that brother Alex, whose advice she followed to the letter to craft her game plan for the week, said, “Stay aggressive. Your game’s perfect.”

It wasn’t quite that, but close enough. She finally bogeyed a hole – the par-4 third – but still went out in 2-under 34 and nearly botched the par-4 12th, the down-and-up eastbound classic adjacent to Vollmer Road that members play as the third hole. Her approach bounced off the hilltop green onto the slope well below the putting surface, and she had a difficult third. The pitch went two-thirds of the way up the hill. She was in danger of giving up the lead.

“The first chip I was being aggressive, but it came out soft,” Kang said. “I could either chip it normally and try to hit it close, but I said, ‘You know what, I like flop shots. I’m just going to flop it again.’ ”

It bounced onto the green and rolled into the hole, a par-saver to match Jerry Barber’s saved 4 on the same hole and the same side of the hill in the final round of the 1961 PGA Championship. He went on to win.

Shin was in the clubhouse, and just about headed back to her hotel, the ink dried on her 64 on the scoreboard, before the final twosome of Kang and Kim had played five holes. Four straight birdies and five in six holes coming in for a women’s course record 5-under 30 vaulted Shin up the leader board.

“I’m pretty lucky because I started early in the morning,” Shin said, thinking she beat the wind, which didn’t become a major factor.

Shin fell off the radar when she left the LPGA Tour following the 2013 season, but she won the Women’s British Open in 2008 and 2012 and piled up 11 wins on the circuit. Now she plays mostly in Japan.

“I very enjoy because less traveling and more three-day tournaments,” Shin said in halting English. “Physically, I feel much better.”

This Women’s PGA is a four-round test. Shin hasn’t been there in a while. Kang and Choi have been but haven’t won a pro major. Henderson is lurking. Yang and Kim are within striking distance if all goes perfectly.

How often does that happen?

O, Canada

Brooke Henderson, who calls Ontario home and sports sponsorships from Canadian Pacific and the Royal Bank of Canada on her shirts, received plenty of encouragement from the gallery on Saturday. That it was Canada Day, and the country’s 150th birthday, helped.

“Happy Canada Days a little bit over the course, which is good,” Henderson said. “I’m still in fourth place, which is great. Any time you can see your name that close to the top is a really good feeling. And it’s disappointing. I would really have liked to have 17 and 18 (a bogey and a par) back. They were very similar putts, and I just hit it through the break both times.”

If there was no tournament this week, Henderson would do a very Canadian thing.

“I would probably go to my cottage and watch fireworks at night,” she said. “This is a very special day back home.”

Around Olympia

World No. 3 Lydia Ko stubbed her scoring toe, firing a 5-over 76 to fall out of contention. ... Kelly Shon, who wowed everyone with an 8-under 63 on Friday, came back to earth with an even-par 71 on Saturday and stands at 2-under 211. ... The course averaged 71.312 strokes, compared to 73.217 in Round 1 and 72,083 in Round 2, when the full field was on hand. The three day average is 72.383. The final average for the 2003 U.S. Open was 72.38. ... Attendance continues to be spotty. There was a crowd of about 300 following Michelle Wie and Ko around on the front nine, and that was the largest gaggle with any group. Add in those in the KPMG suites and fans that parked themselves under a tree by a green for a while, along with various wanderers, and there might have been 6,000 on the grounds over the course of the day. The ticket price of $30 for the final round is a bargain for big-time golf, let alone a major championship.

Tim Cronin

Friday
Jun302017

Shon’s 63 sets mark at Olympia; Kang, Kim co-leaders through 36  

Writing from Olympia Fields, Illinois

Friday, June 30, 2017

In the United States Open fourteen years ago, Olympia Fields Country Club members blanched when the best players in the world pockmarked their famed North Course with a fusillade of eagles and birdies highlighted by Vijay Singh’s second-round 63.

The mortification of the old-timers quadrupled when columnists from around the country such as Woody Paige mocked the course’s toughness.

Paige isn’t here this week, and some of the old-timers are no longer with us, but the best players in the world – female division – are on the premises, and the scoreboard is once again neon red.

That’s crystal clear after 36 holes of the 63rd KMPG Women’s PGA Championship, where 7-under 135 leads, where 40 players are under par, and where Kelly Shon, whose first-round 77 put her in danger of missing the cut, rebounded with a women’s course record 8-under-par 63 on Friday morning.

The 63, a 14-stroke improvement, not only matched Singh and Rickie Fowler, who recorded his 63 in the first round of the 2007 Fighting Illini Invitational, but is the lowest score in relation to par in Olympia North history. Singh and Fowler were playing against a par of 70.

Oh, and Shon is five strokes back of leaders Danielle Kang and Sei Young Kim going into the weekend.

Kang and Kim each added 5-under 66s to opening 69s and stand at 7-under 135 at the halfway point. First round leader Amy Yang, who completed her 6-under 65 with a birdie on the 18th hole on Friday morning, scored even-par 71 in the second round and is tied for third at 6-under 136 with Chella Choi, Brittany Lincicome and Jodi Ewart Shadoff, the latter two scoring 66s on a North Course softened by an overnight rain and an afternoon cloudburst.

World No. 1 So Yeon Ryu is in a gaggle at 5-under 137, and joined by, among others, defending champion Brooke Henderson, who, buoyed by an eagle at the par-5 18th, added a 69 to Thursday’s 68, and Moriya Jutanugarn, who has toured the North in 68-69.

For Kang, her bogey-free excursions across Olympia’s leafy acreage are going according to plan. A plan concocted in consultation with her brother Alex, a web.com player who played the course in the Fighting Illini Invitational while at San Diego State, firing rounds of 78-76.

“I played Tuesday and walked off the golf course not having a plan,” Kang said. “I kind of was super-overwhelmed and I didn’t know what to do.”

A phone call to Alex and about 10 texted photos later, she had a plan for several previously-baffling holes, and the course in general.

“No matter what, you have to give yourself an opportunity to putt,” Kang said. “I can’t let the greens get the best of me this week. Each shot matters.”

She proved that to herself on the 18th green, when a 30-foot uphill eagle putt came up three feet short.

“I didn’t think about speed, and look, I ended up three feet short,” Kang said. “But it’s not an easy three-footer. It breaks outside the cup. It challenges you.”

She made it for the 66, and while Kim matched her, nobody finished better, though Choi got to 8-under before bogeys on two of her last three holes.

Kim was also bogey-free on Friday, beating the thunderstorm to the clubhouse with her 66, a distinct improvement on an opening 69 that included a double-bogey and two bogeys in four holes late in that round.

“I realized my grip was a little loose,” Kim said of how she held the club. “Just a little adjustment, stronger than before. That was key.”

Seven threes and a deuce on her card unlocked the 66. But she said being in contention won’t alter her outlook.

“I have to focus on what I have to do,” Kim said. “I couldn’t focus on my position, don’t think about it or anything. Don’t think of future. Don’t think of other players scores. Yeah.”

Shon, playing unconscious golf, outdid them all. She had four holes left when the horn blew on Thursday night, and 8-over for those 14 holes. She was clearly on track to miss the cut. But she parred her first three holes of the resumed round on Friday morning, and then dropped a 90-foot putt for an eagle 3 at the last.

“Pure luck,” Shon said. “Dead center at perfect pace.”

A harbinger, to be sure.

“My caddie said to me. ‘I had a feeling you were going to make it. I had a feeling if you made it, you were going to make the cut.”

Shortly after, Shon went back out on the tournament’s back nine and scored 4-under 31, eagling the par-5 18th again, this time with a putt breaking right to left and toppled in. Four more birdies on the front side equaled 32 for a 63, which matched the best score in LPGA/Women’s PGA Championship history. Patty Sheehan and Meg Mallon had scored 63 in the past, but not on courses the caliber of Olympia North.

“I’m really honored by joining those names,” Shon said. “I wish I had known I could have beaten them all by one shot – just kidding!”

Shon is 10-under over her last 19 holes. If she keeps up that pace, she could lap the field by Sunday night – unless Kang and Kim continue to bash the course.

Thanks for coming

The cut fell at 2-over 144 and included 74 players. Among those missing the fun on the weekend: World No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn – who bogeyed her last hole to fall to 3-over 145 – Na Yeon Choi, Yani Tseng, Morgan Pressel, Mo Martin, Laura Davies, Cristie Kerr, Shanshan Feng, Hyo Joo Kim and Karrie Webb, major champions all.

Around Olympia

Among the dark horses is Ally McDonald, who scored back-to-back eagles on Nos. 18 and 1 Friday morning, shot 1-under 70 and stands in a mob at 3-under with Lexi Thompson and Gerina Piller, among others. Thompson posted a 69, Piller a nifty 66. ... There was one stoppage for a rogue thunderstorm from 2:09 to 2:43 p.m. ... Galleries didn’t pick up on Friday, which is a surprise and contrary to Chicago tradition. As with Thursday, over the entire day about 5,000 fans appeared to be at Olympia. The biggest galleries were only a few hundred, following the groups featuring notables including Michelle Wie and Lydia Ko. For all the talent, there’s not a lot of instant name recognition for LPGA players, largely because more coverage in print media and Golf Channel – the only electronic entity to pay attention to the ladies – is dedicated to the PGA Tour. Essentially, the people not on hand don’t know what they’re missing. ... Of Chicago’s traditional print media outlets, only the Chicago Tribune was on hand on Friday. No Sun-Times, no Daily Southtown – the home-area paper, so to speak, no Daily Herald.

Tim Cronin

Thursday
Jun292017

Choi, Yang lead suspended 1st round of WPGA

Writing from Olympia Fields, Illinois

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Thursday afternoon at Olympia Fields Country Club featured Amy Yang against the course, and eventually against the weather.

She opened the 63rd KPMG Women’s PGA Championship chasing morning leader Chella Choi, whose windblown 5-under-par 66 opened a one-stroke lead on Brittany Altomore.

But Yang had the advantage of playing much of her afternoon round on Olympia’s famed North Course in calm conditions, and took advantage from the start, making a birdie on the first hole and holing out from the fairway on the par-4 second, which is usually the 11th for member play.

A bogey on the third followed, but the 27-year-old South Korean’s card for the 6,577-yard course was nearly spotless after that, with four more birdies speckled on a field of pars and one bogey, on the par-3 17th, to stand at 5-under on the 18th tee.

Yang also beat the weather – almost. Play was suspended at 7:01 p.m. for an approaching thunderstorm. Lightning was seven miles away, too close for comfort, and the horn blew before Yang could hit her tee shot. First-round play for the 30 stranded players resumes at 7:45 a.m., with the second round slated to begin on time at 7:30 a.m.

Choi, in contrast, had to deal only with a persistent breeze from the west that gusted to 22 mph at times. While she hit only 12 greens in regulation, she made birdies on seven of those holes en route to the 66.

“My putting is there today, so I made a lot of birdies,” Choi said. “A lot of times, before a shot, I switched my clubs.”

She switched wisely enough to score birdies on four of her last six holes, a garrison finish that vaulted her to the morning lead. If Choi had a technical secret, she couldn’t explain it beyond saying “It’s a perfect line and my stroke is perfect, so I get a lot of birdies.”

That worked enough to open the stroke lead on Altomore before Yang shook down the thunder in the afternoon. And Altomore’s joined by Joanna Klatten, who was at 4-under through 16 before play stopped. She birdied the 14th and 15th to climb out of the second 10.

Meanwhile, defending champion Brooke Henderson and fan favorite Michelle Wie both opened at 3-under 68.

Henderson opened her morning round by saving par on the fourth hole with a long putt, and closed with an inward 32, birdies on three of her last six holes, plus a giddy thought.

“I was going to try to take it a day at a time and see what happens, but I’m in a great spot right now, so I’m really excited,” Henderson said.

Wie went around in the afternoon and poured in four birdies for an inward 4-under 31 after going out in 37. A brilliant approach on the 10th hole jump-started the inward half.

“I hit a sand wedge, and that was the shot that clicked for me,” Wie said. “Had a lot of fun in tough conditions.”

All the way to the finish, where she two-putted for birdie at the last, dodging a spike mark on her four-footer to finish the round.

World No. 1 Su Yeon Ryu celebrated her 27th birthday and first round as the top-ranked player with a 2-under 69, finishing just before play was called. Four birdies and a brace of bogeys were on her card. Like Choi, the wind was a factor for Ryu before it laid down at about 4:30 p.m.

“The wind was howling and sometimes changed direction,” Ryu said. “It’s really hard to make a decision. It was strong enough to affect putting as well, so that was one of the things I struggled with.”

She had 31 putts, but never three-putted, with two of her five one-putts saving par. The other three produced birdies.

Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko each scored 1-under 70 and are in a gaggle tied for 23rd at nightfall.

For Thompson, just playing was a relief. Her mother Judy was diagnosed with uterine cancer, and underwent surgery earlier in the month. She’s doing well enough that Lexi felt comfortable to play this week, and hopes to have her mother on hand at next month’s U.S. Women’s Open.

“It’s been my outlet to go out and play,” Thompson said. “She’s a fighter. She always says to me, ‘Do the best you can do.’ To see how much she’s fighting, she’s an inspiration.”

Around Olympia

Photo by Len Ziehm for Illinois Golfer


Olympia Fields honorary member Carol Mann, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, was the afternoon starter on No. 1. ... The sisters Jutanugarn were eight strokes apart, Moriya scoring 2-under 69, Ariya at 6-over 77 and tied for 128th. The cut is to the low 70 and ties. ... Rounds averaged about 5:15, played in threesomes on a course where many tees are but a few steps from the previous green. ... When you go 84 years between women’s major championships on a course, and have nothing of significance recorded in between, the course record is sure to be beaten. So it was when Brittany Altomore was the first to finish at 4-under 67. That blew June Beebe’s then 1-over 79 from the qualifying round of the 1933 Women’s Western Open out of the water. But Beebe, an Olympia Fields member, went on to win the title, her second in three years. ... The course was not jammed with people in the morning, but there was a good gallery with Michelle Wie’s group, and more fans turned out in the afternoon. There may have been 5,000 on hand over the course of the day. ... An Olympia member knocked down the rumor that only 70 of the club’s members had volunteered, saying, “You could hold a committee meeting out there.”

Tim Cronin

 

Wednesday
Jun282017

Women's PGA is wide open

Writing from Olympia Fields, Illinois

Wednesday, June 29, 2017

It’s hard to pick a winner in this week’s 63rd KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the third under that name since the LPGA and PGA of America went in together on the second major championship of the year.

The reasons are myriad. First, everyone is at Olympia Fields Country Club this week. All of the top 100 players in the rankings are playing. Nobody’s ill, or hurting, or worn out and resting. That indicates a strong interest in glomming onto the big trophy and the $525,000 that goes with it.

Second, the battlefield is new to all. There’s no track record of who played well on the North Course in the past. It’s the first women’s major here in 84 years.

Third, the prize is significant. This was known as the LPGA Championship, the top competition in the organization, until three years ago, when the big partnership with the PGA of America and the luring of KPMG brought a new name to the old trophy. But most everyone of note in women’s pro golf since 1955 has won the title, from Louise Suggs and Mickey Wright to Inbee Park and defending champion Brooke Henderson. The notable exception from days of yore: Carol Mann, who learned how to play golf as a junior at Olympia Fields and is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Here are the likely contenders for the crown on the 6,588-yard par-71 course beginning – expected overnight storms permitting – at 7:30 on Thursday morning:

• Henderson. The defender, a winner at Blythefield near Grand Rapids two weeks ago, jumping her to 12th in the world ranking. A big driver with decent short game, and when she’s on, deft with the putter.  Her stats are baffling. She’s third on the LPGA Tour in birdies but 83rd in putting and averages 1.78 putts when hitting a green in regulation.

“When I won Meijer, I think I kind of proved to some of the naysayers and proved to myself that I’m in a great position,” Henderson said. “This course is very tough. You’ve got to really think your way through. Hopefully that means I’m hitting a lot of fairways and keeping the ball below the hole on my second shots.”

• So Yeon Ryu. The winner last week in Arkansas, a feat that jumped her to No. 1 in the rankings from No. 3. She has a solid short game, as a 10-under 61 in the second round last week proved on top of her lead in season greens in regulation, and enough distance to keep up with the big kids. Nine top-10 finishes in 11 starts this season and the money lead – $1,212,820 – make her the favorite in a crowded field.

“I thought I was kind of far away from No. 1,” Ryu said, “but yeah, here I am, finally No 1. I’m living in a dream. I want to keep this position as much as I can, as long as I can.”

• Aryia Jutanugarn. Champion of the 2011 U.S. Girls Junior on Olympia’s South Course, she can duplicate Walter Hagen’s feat of clinching a national title on each side of the clubhouse by winning this week. She arrived at Olympia in form, having won in Canada a fortnight ago to sit briefly at No. 1, and hasn’t scored over par in her last 15 rounds, as befitting someone first on the LPGA Tour in birdies. So is regaining the top ranking a big goal? 

“It means a lot to me, but the most important thing is not about the ranking,” Jutanugarn said. “It’s more like how I’m going to play golf. I really want to be happy on the course. The ranking is like, if I get there, I get there.”

• Lydia Ko. The longtime No. 1 is now No. 3 and hasn’t won in a year, but recently has shown flashes of jumping back into contention. A tie for second at the Lotte Championship, advancement to the sweet 16 in Lorena Ochoa’s match play tournament, subsequent ties for 10th including a 65 and 64 on the card auger well for a big showing this week for Ko, ninth in scoring this season.

“I’m thinking more about how can I be more consistent and put myself in contention rather than thinking about, ‘Hey, I really want to be the No. 1 ranked player again,’ ” Ko said. “I think we all motivate each other.”

• Lexi Thompson. The world No. 4 shoulda-coulda-woulda won the first major of the season, the ANA Inspiration, but never got her hands on the Dinah Shore Trophy thanks to mismarking her ball on Saturday and getting penalized for it on Sunday. She fell to Ryu in sudden-death, but has won since, at Kingsmill in Virginia, on May 21, and has followed with a pair of joint runner-up finishers in her last two starts. She’s $410 from winning $1 million this season.

Unfortunately, her mother Judy took ill recently and was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Judy Thompson had surgery June 6. Thompson hasn’t spoken with reporters this week, but her agent said she will beginning Thursday.

• Michelle Wie. Apparently out of a long slump, Wie has contended enough to score six top 10s this year and rise to eighth on the money list. A fan favorite, she tied for fourth in Arkansas and tied for second at Blythefield.

Stacy Lewis, whose personal sponsorship by KPMG aided the arranging of tournament sponsorship, doesn’t think Olympia North is a bomber’s course.

“So I think it’s good,” Lewis said. “This golf course is opened up to a lot of different types of players. It’s really going to be a thinker’s course, plotting your way around because there’s quite a few holes here that I don’t need driver on. Ariya never hits driver, but for someone like Lexi’s length, there are holes where driver is taken out of play, and there’s opportunities for her to hit driver and go over bunkers.”

Ryu noted that the rough wasn’t as long as the previous two WPGAs, at Westchestern Country Club in 2015 and Sahalee Country Club in 2016.

“Easiest so far,” she said. But there’s a catch.

“Very different, these greens compared the last two years and any other major tournament course. To me, smaller, and really slopey, so the greens, one of the toughest for sure.”

At Olympia Fields, it almost always comes down to the short game. This week should prove no different.

Around Olympia

Golf Channel has offered a pair of special previews and a host of other programming from Olympia Fields this week, but live tournament coverage is only three hours a day, and from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Commitments to PGA Tour play take up the rest of the daylight hours. ... It’s hard to say how many people will turn out. While organizers are hoping most fans take the train, the main public parking lot on Dixie Highway appears to hold only about 500 cars.

Tim Cronin

Page 1 ... 3 4 5 6 7 ... 53 Next 5 Entries »