Sunday, August 1, 2010

Futures Tour Road Trip: Day 2 (Tiffany Joh, Christine Song, Garrett Phillips)

When I got to Drumlins East yesterday afternoon, I thought scoring conditions for the 2nd round of the Alliance Bank Golf Classic would be a little more favorable than they had been yesterday. The wind was down and stayed down for most of the day, plus the players had 1 round of competitive golf under their belts on a course that required a lot of local knowledge. But in fact there was only 1 more round in the 60s on moving day than there was on opening day. And although Lucy Nunn posted a 31 on the front for the low round on that side thus far this week, leader Cindy LaCrosse matched but couldn't surpass yesterday's low round of 66, despite firing an awesome 32 on the tougher back 9, including back-to-back birdies to finish her round. In the end, only Amelia Lewis and Jane Rah could join LaCrosse in breaking 70 both days. By the end of play yesterday, there were only 20 players at par or better, 9 fewer than after Day 1.

So if there wasn't much wind to hold the players back, what made it harder for more of them to go low? Well, the key factor was that the already firm green complexes got that much harder and bouncier. I didn't think the pins were in tougher positions than in the 1st round, although that could have been because I followed a threesome that put on a real ball-striking clinic. Christine Song got the most out of her round, a bogey-free 68, in the sense that she made the most putts, even more for clutch par saves than for birdie. Garrett Phillips probably had the best chance to go super-low; her 69 was just fine, but she must have missed 3 to 5 short birdie putts--plus 1 bad swing (on the 11th tee when she tried and failed to drive it to the upper shelf on the short, tight, sharply uphill par 4) cost her a double bogey. And Tiffany Joh didn't score nearly as well as she played. Nothing wrong with a 70, particularly when you consider how well she salvaged pars from badly pulled drives on 3 and 14, but she missed a very short birdie putt on 2 and got frisky with her approach shots on 16 and 18 (in fact, she did well to make bogey on both holes from very difficult positions over and short-sided on both greens).

However, it's not what the threesome I followed shot--or could have shot--that impressed me so much today. It's how well they each understand their own games and play to their strengths. Song is very much a feel player. She has a nice smooth tempo on her full swings and has really strong hands and wrists (I'd call it a flat, not fully extended at the top, handsy swing that can pack a lot of punch when she wants it to), but her real strength is her precision with her irons and touch around and on the greens. She had the pace of the greens down perfect, from beginning to end of the round. She made several great par saves from 6 to 12 feet on the front, came within inches of making a pair of 60-foot-plus lags on the back, and took advantage of most of her birdie opportunities. Phillips is very much a power player, but played like a straight shooter on Drumlins East's narrow fairways, taking advantage of her very high ball flight on her irons to land her approach shots more softly than the vast majority of her competitors. She hit the flagstick on 15 on 1 bounce (but missed the 4-footer for birdie, even though it was in perfect position below the hole) and stuck it to 6 feet on a tucked way back-right pin on 17 that was very difficult to get close to (and missed the birdie putt). In fact, if she were as good a putter as Song or as good with her pitches and short game as Joh, she'd be scary good.

And what about T-Joh? In a nutshell, she's got it all. Very powerful off the tee, likes to draw the ball, can keep it low when she wants to. Great with her fairway woods--threaded the needle between traps with a runner that never got more than 10 yards in the air when she almost reached the 2nd in 2. Very crisp, pure contact with her irons, with lots of spin (she was holding the greens better than anyone else I've watched this week, at least until 18). Fantastic touch with her 30-to-100-yard game. Very good around the greens (although she got a little sloppy on 18). And a very good putter who had the pace of the greens down and was giving herself routine pars when she wasn't making birdies after hitting the green. Like I said, she made some amazing par saves. On 3, she tried to punch a wedge around/over a big tree partially blocking her approach after she pulled her tee shot into the left rough. The ball hit a branch and fell in the rough, maybe 50 yards short of the pin. She had a very uphill pitch from only a decent lie to a slippery pin that was practically sitting on the inflection point between the lower-right and upper-left tiers--and stuck it to a foot. On 14, when her drive clipped a tree branch high on the left side of the chute, she had to hit a hybrid (I think) into the short par 4, and left it on the fat part of the green, 60 feet short and left of the far right pin. Well, after she couldn't lag it within 5 feet of the cup, she grinded over the par save and made it to sustain her momentum from her birdie on the previous hole.

Now, if I had to identify one predominant strength of T-Joh's game, I'd have to say that she has a fantastic imagination when it comes to visualizing where and how she wants her approach shots to land--and she's pretty amazing when it comes to execution, too. Trivial but telling example: on 5 Song's approach shot from the rough looked great when it left her club, but it landed on a hard spot and ran so fast through and over the green that I got worried for a second that it would reach the OB stakes behind it (it didn't, and she made a fantastic 10-foot-plus par save after her pitch and run ran out on her more than she expected). T-Joh had outdriven her and put her tee ball in the right-center of the fairway. She had a little mound guarding the right-front of the green to contend with and a pin that was tucked behind it--close enough to the back-right edge to be dangerous. Now she could have taken an aggressive line and tried to fly it to the pin--she did have a little backstop above and to the left of it and could have tried to spin one back. But instead she decided on a higher-percentage shot--it looked like she was planning to hit a high, soft, baby draw that would land on the front half of the green near the mound and kick or spin toward the pin at best or the middle of the green at worst. Even though she pulled it and babied it a little, she had everything else down and put it on the fat part of the green, safely 20 feet below the hole. It was a good place to miss and she just missed her birdie putt. Routine par, yes, but it's 1 of many examples where her choice of where and how to hit the green took bogey out of the equation and freed her up to take an aggressive birdie run.

They're going off both sides later today because the weather forecast isn't the greatest. I think I'll follow the Hannah Yun-Ayaka Kaneko-Laura Bavaird pairing on the back to get a feel for what the leaders will have to deal with, then after they finish 1 wait for the Tiffany Joh-Nontaya Srisawang-Garrett Phillips pairing to finish 10 and walk the last 8 holes with them. Given how bunched groups tend to get on those upper holes (11 through 16), I'll get to see plenty of Pornanong Phatlum's group ahead of them and the final 2 groups behind them. Should be fun if the weather holds up. And if it doesn't, at least it provides an opportunity for those a little back in the pack to make up some serious ground on the leaders (if any don't handle the change in conditions well, that is)....

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