Sunday, July 31, 2011

Futures Tour Road Trip Day 1 (Hannah Yun, Kendall Dye, Seema Sadekar)

With rain forecast pretty much all day Friday and huge thunderstorms hitting Hamburg in the wee hours that morning, I decided not to leave home on my own either Thursday night or Friday morning to catch the 1st round of the LPGA Futures Tour's Alliance Bank Golf Classic. Instead, I convinced the Full Metal Archivist and the girls to come on out with me that evening and spend the weekend in Syracuse. Yesterday morning and early afternoon, we were able to relax together in the hotel pool and in front of our room's tv watching a bit of the 3rd round of the Ricoh Women's British Open and follow it up lunch with my parents at Drumlins East. I was able to introduce my family to Ithaca's own Lori Atsedes (now a teaching professional in northern Arizona who competes part-time on the Legends and Futures Tours), the girls were able to play hide-and-seek with Victoria Park's little sister around the putting greens, and my folks were able to catch up with Libby Smith, who they've known for a long time and have been suffering vicariously with as she's followed up her final-round collapse at last year's Q-School with nightmarish driving that's been making it difficult for her to even break 80 this season on any tour. And then it was time for me to head out onto the course to follow Hannah Yun, Kendall Dye, and Seema Sadekar as they played their 2nd round.

With Tiffany Joh getting a slight taste of Carnasty yesterday as she posted a 75 that dropped her back to -1 for the week in the WBO, Yun was the player I knew best in the Futures Tour field. I had done a 2-part e-interview with her early last year and followed it up by following her on different days last summer in Syracuse. But it was a total bonus that I got to learn about Dye's and Sadekar's games, as well. Even though none of them had anything approaching a good round, it was great to see how they handled themselves on the course even as they were struggling with different aspects of their game. Of the 3, only Yun made the cut, and only just barely, but there were plenty of memorable moments from everyone.

Sadekar had the toughest day in the group, as she's working on an entirely new swing and had loads of trouble with her irons. But I can't remember her missing a fairway all day, her 3 great scrambling pars in a row as she made the turn still stick out in my mind, and she must have left half a dozen putts dead center but a revolution or 2 short. Although she came a bit unravelled after she missed a tiny par putt on the tough par-3 12th, doubling the par-5 13th and bogeying her last 4 holes in a row, she never got mad, just sarcastic ("Seriously?" she asked her ball while it was in the air after she missed her her last iron of the day). With a glittered-up golf bag and style to spare, she has the golfing persona and charisma to draw kids of all ages to any pairing she's in. If she can groove this wider swing path that she was grinding away at yesterday, she definitely has the accuracy off the tee and the touch around the greens to go far.

Dye's round was probably the most frustrating in her pairing. By contrast with Sadekar, she was hitting her irons great and giving herself loads of birdie chances, but she didn't convert a single one of them until the tricky downhill par-3 16th. Even though she was fighting her driver a bit, sometimes going left and often missing right, she really hung in there for the 1st 12 holes and would have been even if she hadn't 3-putted the par-5 1st after missing a short birdie putt and missed a tiny par save on the 12th. As it was, though, frustration set in over her last 6 holes as she missed very makeable birdie putts on 13, 14, and 17 and bogeyed the tough 15th. She couldn't have known as she stood on the 18th tee that all she needed to do was make a par to be playing today, but when she blocked her drive OB right--her only really bad drive of the day at exactly the wrong time--she knew she was done for sure. Her 75 could easily have been a 68 if her putter had shown up. But that's golf. Even though she's going to drop from her 46th spot on the FT money list because of that MC, she's only a win away from the top 20, and from what I saw she has the game to win any given week. In only her 3rd year as a professional, she's already a consummate one, plus she's a fellow blogger. Can't wait to see what she writes about Syracuse!

Yun had the lowest score in the group, but having recently switched coaches and in the middle of switching coasts (from Florida back to San Diego), she's dealing with the enviable problem of having gained 10-to-15 yards per club virtually overnight. She told me in her post-round interview (on which more later) that it literally happened during the 2nd round in Connecticut 2 weeks ago. Since then, she said, she's pretty much learned to trust that she now hits her 8-iron 150 yards and has a decent feel for the longer irons, but from inside 125 she's completely at sea. And of course when you're driving the ball as long and accurately as she was yesterday (even when she missed a fairway, it was almost always on the side that gave her the best angle at the pin), most every approach shot was from inside 125. Her distance gains were evident to me on her 1st few holes, even before her folks told me about them and she confirmed them. She just missed the par-5 1st in 2 and had a hybrid in on the par-5 2nd when she bombed her drive 25 yards past a trap most players last year in much drier conditions weren't getting much past. But she had trouble dealing with the wet rough and soft greens on both holes, failing to birdie either. And even after she made a great birdie on the 3rd, she bogeyed the 5th and 6th when the wind blew her approach on the par-4 long left and on the par-3 short right and she again couldn't recover with a good pitch on either hole. A muscle spasm on a tap-in on the next hole made it 3 bogeys in a row, but she bounced back with a great birdie on the uphill par-3 8th and got another stroke back when she hit the par-5 13th in 2. After a missed birdie chance on 14 after being shown the line by a Sadekar miss and a fantastic up-and-down on the 15th after punching out from the right trees (her only bad drive of the day), she was still E with 3 to play. But distance control in heavy winds proved too much for her on the next 2 holes, a short par-3 off a cliff and a very short par-4 to a very elevated green, and once again, her recovery shots weren't nearly close enough to allow her to save par. But she calmly stuck a short iron from the left rough to a front pin, landing just past the bunker guarding the front right of the green, and just missed yet another birdie putt for a 73. She was sure she had missed the cut after the round, but I get to say "I told you so" here--and I'll be heading out in about a half hour to tell her directly.

How did I know she had a good chance to make the cut despite beeing 6-over-par through 36 holes. I've played Drumlins enough as a kid and I've watched enough tournament golf to know that the course wasn't playing easy at all. Sure, the greens were holding much better than last year--the huge soaking they got on Friday ensured that, at least--but as the afternoon went on an annoyingly changeable breeze morphed into a swirling, variable-speed, at times heavy wind. Combine that with soft fairways which brought in the possibility of chunking irons, wet rough that made pitches and chips from around the greens an adventure, greens that were drying out and speeding up at different rates, and tucked pins galore--plus many greens that were open to the wind and many shots that became the wind's plaything the second they rose above the treeline--and I wasn't at all surprised that there were only 7 rounds in the 60s and that the leaders failed to separate themselves from the field.

What Sadekar's, Dye's, and Yun's rounds remind us all is how hard golf can be. And it reinforced my view that E. Michael Johnson would need to have a career day just to have a chance of beating even a struggling Futures Tour player. Looking forward to seeing if Hannah can go low today and checking in on the leaders for the back 9!

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