Sunday, June 30, 2013

Juggernaut: Inbee Park Wins the US Open

The #1 ranked player in the world did it again. With a four-shot lead going into the round, Inbee Park cruised to a four-shot win. Park has won the last three tournaments, the last three LPGA major championships, and every LPGA major played in 2013. Park opened the final round with her closest challenger being In-Kyung Kim. Inky, my nickname for In-Kyung, was one of my picks for this week and one of my favorite players. I was pulling for her but Inky didn't get closer than three shots to Inbee. No other golfer contended and Park won without much of a struggle.

Let's put Park's win in perspective. She has joined Se Ri Pak as the only South Korean golfer to win three different LPGA major championships. Pak has won five majors in her career. Park has four triumphs. Her first was the 2008 US Open. Park has won the last three LPGA tournaments played. She has won ALL three LPGA major championships this year. The last time a LPGA golfer won three majors in one year was Pat Bradley in 1986. Mickey Wright also won three major championships in 1961. The only other golfer besides Park to win the first three major championships in a year was Babe Didrickson Zaharias in 1950! 1950 was the LPGA Tour's first ever season. Tiger Woods is the last golfer to win three majors in one year. He did it in 2000. Woods won four consecutive majors. The last three of 2000 and the 2001 Masters. It was titled the 'Tiger Slam'. In 1961 and 1962, Mickey Wright won four straight majors but I might be about the only person to note it in recent memory. She won the last two majors of 1961 and the first two of 1962. Ben Hogan won three majors in 1953. Bobby Jones remains the only golfer to complete a Grand Slam. He did it in 1930. Note- Hogan won all three major championships he played in that year. The British Open and PGA Championship at that time were played at almost the same time. Hogan won the British Open but couldn't compete in the PGA.

Park is one win away--The Women's British Open, which she finished 2nd at in 2012--from becoming the seventh golfer to win four different LPGA Major Championships. The others are Mickey Wright, Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Juli Inkster, Louise Suggs and Pat Bradley. Ordinarily a Park British Open triumph would give Park a career Grand Slam, except the LPGA has designated the Evian Masters as a major championship also. Beginning THIS YEAR. So Park would have to win two more majors this year to do a Bobby Jones. Memo to LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan--Do you wish now that the Evian wasn't made into a major championship? Honestly, I'm not being critical of Whan, just giving a friendly poke. Whan isn't a prophet. He's done a much better job as LPGA Commissioner than Carolyn Bivens did. People who are familiar with my blogging know how critical I was of Bivens. Inbee Park BTW is the defending Evian Masters champion. So Park will be going for four majors in one year in a little over a month. It will be played at St. Andrews, the same course Tiger Woods completed a career Grand Slam at back in 2000.

A run at golf or any other sports history like this would ordinarily gather lots of media attention but I'll be surprised if the Women's British Open gets more than a minor increase in coverage. Golf bloggers who I won't mention are paying attention to silly things from golfers with wet pants to a player firing their caddy in the middle of a round. Newspapers will have the story buried on page 8. They can hardly be bothered to write about a LPGA major and I'm not expecting much from them on the WBO.  ESPN does broadcast the WBO, but I again will be surprised if they do anything extra for this year's tournament. That Park is South Korean, has something to do with it. The ugly reality is that a good chunk of the media has a bias against the Asian players. I will admit, however, the 4th major being not in the United States will be one reason for the limited coverage though the Men's British Open rarely has trouble getting talked about. If it were Paula Creamer going for the Slam five weeks from now in say New Jersey, there would be plenty of people writing and talking about it. With Park trying to do it in Scotland, hardly anybody.

U.S. Women's Open Sunday: Can Inbee Park Make History?

Casie Cathrea fired a 5-birdie 70 in early-round play on U.S. Women's Open Sunday and Meena Lee and Austin Ernst finished their weeks with 71s, so there's some hope for those chasing Inbee Park today.  Lee actually had a bogey-free round going until she doubled the par-3 17th.  Lydia Ko, meanwhile, had a good round going but had to settle for a 72 after doubling the par-4 14th.

According to the USGA, the 4th is playing 265 yards but overall length is comparable to Saturday's round.  There was a lot of fog in the morning, which probably helps account for the 5 scores over 80 already and 16 rounds at 75 or over.  But the overall high scoring shows that there's a chance Inbee Park could come back to the rest of the field.  A small chance, but still non-zero.

Right now there are 4 players under par on the course with the last 2 pairings yet to tee off.  More coming!

[Update 1 (1:30 pm):  How wide are Sebonack's fairways?  Well, Meena Lee missed only 1 of them all week and Jane Park missed 2.  Lee finished at +10 and Park at +13.]

[Update 2 (1:36 pm):  With 27 golfers thus far hitting the fairway off the tee over 90% of the time and all but 1 golfer who made the cut hitting it at least 75% of the time, it's not that big a deal to avoid missing the fairway this week--so long as you avoid the fescue and fairway bunkers.  Hitting the greens is a much bigger deal, as only 6 players are doing it more than 69% of the time thus far.  Brittany Lincicome is probably playing the best from tee to green of everyone, particularly when you factor in driving distance, too.  But she's barely in the top 50 in the field in putting, which just goes to show how much putting for dough matters at Sebonack.]

[Update 3 (1:39 pm):  Jodi Ewart Shadoff is also barely in the top 40 in the putting stats, which helps explain why Inbee Park (#1 right now) and In-Kyung Kim (T16 right now) are so far ahead of them.]

[Update 4 (1:45 pm):  Nice piece on Park by Ron Sirak.]

[Update 5 (1:54 pm):  The race for the bronze medal is tightening up, as Jessica Korda is -2 through 4 to join So Yeon Ryu at -1, while Paula Creamer, Angela Stanford, and Jodi Ewart Shadoff (+3 through 3, unfortunately) are at E and Brittany Lang is +1.]

[Update 6 (1:57 pm):  In-Kyung Kim birdies 2 to cut Inbee Park's lead to 3.]

[Update 7 (2:09 pm):  Paula Creamer has birdied 1 and 4 to join Korda and Ryu at -1.]

[Update 8 (2:18 pm):  That short 4th hole is giving some players opportunities and others fits.  Ryu just bogeyed it to fall to E for the week.  Curious to see how the final pairing plays it!]

[Update 9 (2:20 pm):  The par-4 6th is another early test--playing 2nd-hardest today.  Korda and Miyazato both bogeyed it.]

[Update 10 (2:23 pm):  Scoring opportunities on #7 through #10 today--if anyone's going to make a big move, it'll probably start there.]

[Update 11 (2:28 pm):  IK bogeyed 4, back to 4 down to Inbee.  Is it wrong to kick my kids off the WiiU so I can watch the pre-game show?  They have friends over....]

[Update 12 (2:33 pm):  OK, going dark until coverage is over.  Rooting for Mitsuki Katahira to win the Symetra Tour's Island Resort Championship.  She's +3 heading into the back 9 but only 2 off the lead!]

Earth Mondamin Cup Overview: Natsuka Hori (-21) Blitzes the Field for 2nd Career Win on JLPGA

Natsuka Hori went 69-67-64-67 in Chiba at the Earth Mondamin Cup to turn a 2-shot lead on Mi-Jeong Jeon after 54 holes into an 8-shot win today, her 2nd on the JLPGA, just a week before her 21st birthday.  Others playing well this week included Bo-Mee Lee and Asako Fujimoto (9 back), 20-year-old Misuzu Narita and 21-year-old Hiroko Azuma (10 back), and Sun-Ju Ahn, Teresa Lu, and Kumiko Kaneda (11 back).

Money-list leader Rikako Morita finished T14 at -7, extending her lead on Miki Saiki, who missed the cut in the U.S. Women's Open, while Hori passed her to take the #2 spot.  The youth movement on the JLPGA continues!

1. Rikako Morita ¥88.79M
2. Natsuka Hori ¥58.16M
3. Miki Saiki ¥56.46M
4. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥47.36M
5. Sakura Yokomine ¥45.87M
6. Mamiko Higa ¥45.47M
7. Yumiko Yoshida ¥35.90M
8. Hiromi Mogi ¥35.88M
9. Ritsuko Ryu ¥32.88M
10. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥32.56M
11. Yuki Ichinose ¥29.88M
12. Kumiko Kaneda ¥29.05M
13. Junko Omote ¥28.41M
14. Yukari Baba ¥25.64M
15. Teresa Lu ¥25.27M
16. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥24.28M
17. Shiho Oyama ¥22.34M
18. Mayu Hattori ¥22.15M
19. Bo-Mee Lee ¥20.55M
20. Na-Ri Lee ¥19.87M
21. Asako Fujimoto ¥19.32M
22. Na-Ri Kim ¥19.07M
23. Kaori Ohe ¥18.83M
24. Megumi Kido ¥18.43M
25. Miki Sakai ¥18.32M
26. Erika Kikuchi ¥18.01M
27. MIsuzu Narita ¥17.74M
28. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥17.64M
29. Esther Lee ¥16.36M
30. Soo-Yun Kang ¥15.49M
31. Yuri Fudoh ¥15.42M
32. Kaori Nakamura ¥15.26M
33. Phoebe Yao ¥15.00M
34. Rui Kitada ¥14.56M
35. Ji-Hee Lee ¥14.53M
36. Yuki Sakurai ¥14.47M
37. Erina Hara ¥14.26M
38. Harukyo Nomura ¥12.63M
39. Da-Ye Na ¥12.45M
40. Ji-Woo Lee ¥12.26M

Next up is the Nichi-Iko Ladies Open which features the visiting Shanshan Feng along with most of the JLPGA's finest.

U.S. Women's Open Saturday: Inbee Park Rights Ship, Extends Lead on In-Kyung Kim

On a day when most players were moving backwards at Sebonack, Inbee Park extended her U.S. Women's Open lead lead on In-Kyung Kim to 4 shots and Jodi Ewart Shadoff to 7 shots, despite bogeying 3 holes in a row on the back.

At first, it looked like Park would blow out the field like Cristie Kerr and Ya Ni Tseng have done at Locust Hills in the Wegmans LPGA Championship in recent years.  With her birdie on 9, she got to double digits under par and had extended her bogey-free run to 20 holes and counting.  Meanwhile, Kim shot a 37 on the front, making 3 bogeys and a double in her 1st 7 holes, but bouncing back with birdies on 6, 8, and 9 to limit the damage.  When Park parred 10 and Ewart Shadoff bogeyed it, Park's lead was 5 on both golfers.

Next, it looked like Park would let them back into the tournament with pushed approach shots and shaky short game on 11, 12, and 13.  This was different from the back 9 at Locust Hill this year, when Park's driver was the culprit.  This time, it looked like she all of a sudden forgot how to play Sebonack's contours and lost her feel with her wedges.  But Kim and Ewart Shadoff failed to put extra pressure on Park while she was struggling.  Each made a bogey on par 4 in that run and failed to birdie the par-5 13th.

The tide turned again when Park made a 20-foot double decker birdie putt on the difficult 14th and Kim and Ewart Shadoff responded with clutch birdies of their own.  For the Korean players, their birdies sparked a return to their great golf of the 1st 2 rounds.  Park ended up making birdies on 3 of her final 5 holes and Kim on 2 of them.  Kim, who had been +4 over her 1st 7 holes, played her last 11 holes in -3.  But for Ewart Shadoff, as for most of the rest of the field, the wheels came off down the stretch, as she made 2 bogeys in her last 3 holes and suffered her 2nd 40 of the week on the back.  When the dust had settled, Park was -10, Kim was -6, and Ewart Shadoff was -3.  So Yeon Ryu and Angela Stanford were the only other players to remain under par through 54 holes, but both bogeyed the par-5 18th to fall back to -1 for the week.

Once again, Park outplayed the field by a large margin.  The only golfers to come within a single shot of her on moving day were Paula Creamer, Ai Miyazato, defending champion Na Yeon Choi, and Kristy McPherson, but the latter 3 sealed their fates before the weekend, Miyazato with a 76 on opening day, Choi with a 77 in round 2, and McPherson opening rounds of 74 and 75, and Creamer hasn't been able to get any momentum going all week.  Probably the most they can hope for today is to fight back to E and hope everyone else collapses around them.  But it seems pretty unlikely that Park will comply, to say the least.  You could look at all the great golfers who blew up like Choi and Miyazato did at least once this week and say Park is due for a round in the mid-70s herself.  However, Creamer and Karrie Webb (+3) haven't shot worse than 73 this week and Park is playing way better than they are.  (Like Park, Webb bogeyed 3 holes in a row on the back, but unlike her she shot a 40 there yesterday exactly when she didn't need it.)

Frankly, the odds are that if conditions are tough enough to be tough on Park, they'll be disastrous for everyone else.  After all, Anna Nordqvist (+3) and Karine Icher (+3) blew up with 77s on a day they could have struck a blow for Europe, and Catriona Matthew (+3) didn't do much better with a 74.  Not that the Americans have much to say for themselves, either.  Jessica Korda (76, +1) is entering the final round with her boyfriend on the bag after firing her caddie mid-way through Saturday's round.   Cristie Kerr (+3) bogeyed 4 holes in a row on the back yesterday just when it seemed she was finally going to take advantage of her long experience on Sebonack and needed a birdie on 18 to salvage a 40 and a 74. Lexi Thompson (+4)  was -2 and bogey-free over her last 7 holes, but had played so badly in the previous 11 that she still shot a 76.  The best that can be said for Brittany Lincicome (+2) and Brittany Lang (+2) is that they both hung tough, but they still lost ground to Park after shooting a 74 and a 73, respectively.  Lizette Salas suffered another round in the 80s in a major to fall back into the middle of the pack after entering the day at -4.

Of course, this is a U.S. Women's Open and anything can happen over the final 18 holes.  But it's hard to imagine Inbee Park being in better position to make history today.  I'd be shocked if she didn't end up with her 3rd major and 3rd win in a row when all is said and done.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Inbee Park and In-Kyung Kim: Best of the LPGA's Class of 2007 Face Off Today

A lot of golf's been played since I last updated my ranking of the LPGA's Rookie Class of 2007 at the end of the 2001 season.  At the time, In-Kyung Kim was the #1 player in the class and Inbee Park was #4 (behind Song-Hee Kim and Eun-Hee Ji).  Obviously, a lot has changed in the last season and a half!

Let's take a look at the key career results for Inbee and IK:

Inbee Park, $6.79M (#24), 147/3/8/19/44/64/1/1/22/123 (.837)
In-Kyung Kim, $5.65M (#37), 152/0/3/17/55/80/1/0/19/132 (.868)

As you can see, In-Kyung has been a way more consistently elite golfer than Park, who's gone through more slumps than her compatriot.  But Inbee's peaks have been way higher than IK's.  World #1 Park has definitely done a much better job of converting good play into victories than the 15th-ranked Kim:

Wins/Top 20s:  Inbee 12.5%, IK 3.8%
Wins/Top 10s:  Inbee 18.2%, IK 5.5%
Wins/Top 3s:  Inbee 42.1%, IK 17.6%

When you looks at key performance stats this year, you'll see why IK has been so consistent and why Inbee has been so dominant:

Driving Accuracy:  IK 81.4% (#4), Inbee 71.9% (#55)
Greens in Regulation:  Inbee 71.6% (#17), IK 70.9% (#19)
Putts per Green in Regulation:  Inbee 1.702 (#1), IK 1.780 (#15)
Birdies per Round:  Inbee 4.72 (#3 in total birdies), IK 3.95 (#22)
Under-Par Rounds:  Inbee 73.8% (#2), IK 61.9% (#12)
Rounds in the 60s:  Inbee 54.8% (#1), IK 28.6% (#30)
Scoring Average:  Inbee 69.643 (#1), IK 70.595 (#11)

Clearly, Inbee's approach shots and putting have been light-years beyond IK's, even though IK's are both very very good by normal planetary standards.  Given that Sebonack's super-wide fairways take away IK's big driving accuracy advantage over Inbee, she's going to have to upgrade the rest of her game to continue competing with her over the last 2 rounds.  Obviously anything can happen in 36 holes at a U.S. Women's Open, but you have to say going by both career and more recent stats that Inbee has a big advantage over IK.

U.S. Women's Open Saturday Pairings

The USGA has just released the 3rd-round pairings for the U.S. Women's Open.  They're going out in threesomes in case of weather delays.  Here are the coolest ones to me:

12:40 pm, 1st tee:  Inbee Park, In-Kyung Kim, Jodi Ewart Shadoff
11:01 am, 1st tee:  Karrie Webb, Ai Miyazato, Mi-Jung Hur
12:18 pm, 1st tee:  So Yeon Ryu, Anna Nordqvist, Karine Icher
11:34 am, 10th tee:  Mika Miyazato, Hee Kyung Seo, Gerina Piller
12:29 pm, 1st tee:  Angela Stanford, Jessica Korda, Lizette Salas
11:12 am, 1st tee:  Amy Yang, Shanshan Feng, Mariajo Uribe
12:07 pm, 1st tee:  Cristie Kerr, Ha-Neul Kim, Caroline Hedwall
11:56 am, 1st tee:  Lexi Thompson, Haeji Kang, Lindy Duncan
11:12 am, 10th tee:  Lydia Ko, Carlota Ciganda, Natalie Gulbis
11:56 am, 10th tee:  Kristy McPherson, Moira Dunn, Jane Park

Friday, June 28, 2013

U.S. Women's Open Friday Afternoon: Who Can Keep Pace with In-Kyung Kim?

In-Kyung Kim leads the U.S. Women's Open at -7 after firing a 69 in today's morning wave.  But a lot of the other leaders from yesterday's afternoon wave tumbled down the leaderboard.  Who will keep pace with Kim in today's afternoon wave?  So far, Inbee Park continues to play great golf and is 1 back through 10, while Caroline Masson and Ai Miyazato have the low rounds of the wave thus far at -2 through 6 and 9, respectively.

[Update 1 (6/29/13, 8:18 am):  Well, Inbee Park had no trouble outdoing Kim by a single shot for the 2nd day in a row, despite missing a slew of make-able birdie putts on the back.  Jodi Ewart Shadoff (-5) and Lexi Thompson (E) kept pace with Kim, while Ai-sama (+2) came within a single shot of her.]

[Update 2 (8:21 am):  Not such a great Friday afternoon (and Saturday morning, for those who didn't finish before fog suspended play last night) for Caroline Hedwall (75, -1), Stacy Lewis (76, +3), Lydia Ko (76, +4), Na Yeon Choi (77, +4), or Jane Park (76, +5).  But at least they're playing on the weekend.]

[Update 3 (8:24 am):  Lots of huge names won't, the biggest from this wave Se Ri Pak, Suzann Pettersen, and Michelle Wie (WD) among them.  If the cut line stays at +5, Moira Dunn's morning 72 won't be enough to get her into the weekend.]

[Update 4 (9:09 am):  Yay, the cut line ended at +6.  68 golfers made it into the rest of the weekend.]

[Update 5 (9:13 am):  The 2nd round's scoring average was 76.624 and it's only supposed to get tougher for the last 2 rounds.]

[Update 6 (9:16 am):  Got a great, bunched, race for low amateur this year!]

U.S. Women's Open Friday Morning: Opposite Day?

Several golfers who played great yesterday afternoon to start the U.S. Women's Open aren't doing at all well this morning, but it seems that for every player going in the wrong direction today someone else is bouncing back.  Paz Echeverria is +8 through 15, while Maude-Aimee Leblanc is +6 through 14, but Nicole Castrale is -2 through 12 after opening with a 78 and Brittany Lang is -3 through 11 to almost make back everything from yesterday's 76.  I'll have more after I take imoto shopping for birthday presents!

[Update 1 (2:02 pm):  In-Kyung Kim broke the trend, following up yesterday's 68 with a 5-birdie 69 to take the lead at -7.]

[Update 2 (2:04 pm):  So Yeon Ryu matched Kim and moved to -2 at the halfway point, while Angela Stanford did them both 1 better with a 6-birdie 68.]

[Update 3 (2:05 pm):  Lang ended up with a 69 to fight back to +1 for the week thus far.]

[Update 4 (2:06 pm):  Beatriz Recari turned it around after her opening 81, improving on it by 10 shots today, but at +8, it's probably too little, too late for her to make it to the weekend.]

[Update 5 (2:08 pm):  Steady as it goes for Jessica Korda, who's -3 overall after firing a 71 of her own today.  She's rocking the par 5s this week, -5 on them thus far....]

[Update 6 (3:44 pm):  It was opposite day for Ha-Neul Kim, who followed up yesterday's 66 with a 77.  Anna Nordqvist went from 68 to 74 and Catriona Matthew from 70 to 75.]

[Update 7 (3:49 pm):  More opposite day disappointments:  Paz Echeverria (69-82), Maude-Aimee Leblanc (69-77), Juli Inkster (72-79), Katherine Hull-Kirk (73-80), Pornanong Phatlum (71-77), Tiffany Joh (75-81), Mika Miyazato (72-77), Shanshan Feng (71-75).]

[Update 8 (3:56 pm):  Lizette Salas did 4 shots worse than yesterday's 68 today, but I don't think she'll be disappointed to be -4 through 36 holes!  Moira Dunn's 72 today improved on yesterday's round by 6 shots and looks to have ensured she'll be playing on the weekend!]

[Update 9 (4:01 pm):  Biggest names from the morning wave to (most likely) miss the cut:  Ji-Yai Shin (76-78), Chie Arimura (76-78), Ilhee Lee (76-78), Annie Park (79-75), Brooke Pancake (74-81), Hee-Won Han (80-76), Mariah Stackhouse (78-79).]

[Update 10 (4:34 pm):  Easy-to-overlook players who are right in this thing:  Cristie Kerr (72-72), Haeji Kang (71-73), Paula Creamer (72-73), Amy Yang (74-72).]

U.S. Women's Open Thursday Afternoon: Ha-Neul Kim Passes Inbee Park with Bogey-Free 66

Lots of golfers took runs at Inbee Park's opening 67 in the morning wave of the U.S. Women's Open.  Late in that wave, Caroline Hedwall came to 9 needing a birdie to pass Park and bogeyed it.  In the afternoon wave, the weather stayed placid and several golfers took advantage of their opportunities.  In-Kyung Kim birdied 6 of 8 holes in the middle of her round, but a 3-putt bogey on the par-5 18th left her tied with Hedwall at -4.  Lizette Salas and Anna Nordqvist each made 6 birdies and 2 bogeys to join them 1 shot behind the world #1.  In the end, though, it was KLPGA superstar Ha-Neul Kim, who's actually been having an atrocious year at home, to match Park's 25 putts and outdo her with a bogey-free 66.
Others played almost as well in the afternoon wave.  Maude-Aimee Leblanc bombed her way to a 69 while Paz Echeverria did it with precision play.  Catriona Matthew bounced back from a double on 18 with 3 birdies in her last 4 holes on the front to post an opening 70, while Jessica Korda matched her by offsetting her 4 bogeys with 6 birdies.  Shanshan Feng, Haeji Kang, and Pornanong Phatlum put together 71s that could easily have been lower.  A bunch of prominent Americans hung tough and played solid golf, including Juli Inkster, Paula Creamer, and Cristie Kerr at E and Morgan Pressel and Angela Stanford at +1.  Other heralded international players also stayed in the mix, including Mika Miyazato with a 72, So Yeon Ryu and Azahara Munoz with 73s, and Amy Yang with a 74.

But others struggled.  Ya Ni Tseng took a triple late in her round and had to settle for a 76.  Chie Arimura bogeyed 3 of her last 4 holes to join her at +4.  Ji-Yai Shin went 8-4-3-7 to start her round and opened with a 44 on the back, but fought back with a bogey-free 32 on the front.  It was even worse for Beatriz Recari, who opened with 4 bogeys in a row and tripled the par-5 8th on her way to an 81.  Annie Park, who led USC to a national championship as a freshman star, had a tough day, as well, with a 79, 1 shot behind her Stanford rival Mariah Stackhouse.

All in all the 1st-round scoring average was 75.319.  It certainly makes you wonder what the scores will look like when the winds come up!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

U.S. Women's Open Thursday Morning: Inbee Park Sets the Pace

Inbee Park began her quest for a 3rd consecutive LPGA major in fine form this morning, firing a 6-birdie 67 at Sebonack to take the early lead in the U.S. Women's Open.  At the moment, the world #1 leads Caroline Hedwall by 1 and Karine Icher, Natalie Gulbis, and Ryann O'Toole by 3, but the lowest scores in the clubhouse to date besides Park's are 71s by Stacy Lewis, Meena Lee, Kyung Kim, and Lindy Duncan.

[Update 1 (12:51 pm):  Other solid morning scores thus far:  Yueer Feng at E, Nelly Korda at +1, Doris Chen and Rachel Rohanna (who eagled the par-5 8th) at +2.]

[Update 2 (12:55 pm):  Meanwhile, Michelle Wie leads the field in driving distance but is +9 through 17.]

[Update 3 (12:57 pm):  Others with disappointing 1st rounds:  Suzann Pettersen (76), Ayako Uehara (75), Ai Miyazato (+4 through 17).]

[Update 4 (12:58 pm):  Karrie Webb is fighting back from a stretch in which she made 5 bogeys in 6 holes (including 4 in a row!)--she's back to +1 with the short 9th to go.]

[Update 5 (1:02 pm):  Solid 73 from former champion Eun-Hee Ji.]

[Update 6 (1:08 pm):  Wie fights back for an 80 (don't laugh--she was +11 through 14 after opening with a quad on the 10th).  Only 1 shot worse than Vicky Hurst.]

[Update 7 (1:14 pm):  75 for Lexi Thompson and 76 for Ai Miyazato.  33 putts is what did Ai-sama in, not to mention going +3 on the par 3s.  Ball-striking largely looks to be there, so I expect better things tomorrow for her.]

[Update 8 (1:16 pm):  How much does putting matter?  Inbee Park had 25 of 'em today!  I'd like to see anyone beat that!]

[Update 9 (1:18 pm):  More scores:  Karrie Webb (73), Emily Tubert (74), Tiffany Lua (76), Jenny Shin, Belen Mozo, and Carly Booth (78).]

[Update 10 (1:24 pm):  Jodi Ewart Shadoff posts 1st 70 of the day, thanks to 3 birdies in her last 4 holes.  The one she missed was on the par-5 8th!]

[Update 11 (1:25 pm):  Mariajo Uribe matches her with walkoff birdie on par-5 18th.]

[Update 12 (1:29 pm):  Hedwall has made 3 birdies in her last 5 holes to catch Inbee at -5.  1 short par 4 left to take the 1st-round lead!]

[Update 13 (1:31 pm):  Defending champion Na Yeon Choi in with good scrambling 71--10 greens in regulation but only 26 putts.]

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Likely Standouts at Sebonack: Fourteen to Watch at the U.S. Women's Open (Besides Inbee Park and Stacy Lewis, That Is)

OK, so everyone who hasn't been living in a men's-only cave in 2013 knows that all eyes will be on Inbee Park at the start of the U.S. Women's Open at Sebonack, and that Stacy Lewis will (rightly) be billed as the Great American Hope.  But who else is likely to contend on the weekend?  Here's my list:

1) Suzann Pettersen:  She's nabbed a win, a silver, 3 bronzes (2 of them coming in the LPGA's 1st 2 majors), and a T7 in her last 8 starts, her last 4 rounds have been 65-67-70-67, she leads the tour in greens in regulation, and she's both driving for show and putting for dough, so what's not to like about Team Euro's Solheim Cup leader this week?  If she's anywhere near the lead heading into Sunday, watch out for her, as she's been scorching just about every course she's played in her closing rounds, including 6 rounds in the 60s in her last 7 Sundays (the only bad one in that stretch came in the water-logged Bahamas).

2) Na Yeon Choi:  If it can be said that a defending champion is ever coming into an Open under the radar,  NYC enters Long Island air space pretty close to the deck.  Since her runner-up finish in Singapore, she's added 3 further top 10s to bring her total to 5--and 7 other top 20s to bring her total to 9--so it's not like she's had a bad 2013.  In fact, given that her performance stats have been much more impressive than her finishes, I'd say she's due to snap up win #8 sometime very soon.  That final-round 66 in NW Arkansas makes me think she's ready to do it this week.

3) So Yeon Ryu:  She's a former Open champion (in a memorable playoff win over fellow KLPGA star Hee Kyung Seo) who's comfortable in contention:  her playoff loss to Inbee Park last week was her 2nd silver of 2013 (her other also came to Inbee at the Kraft Nabisco Championship), plus she also has a bronze, a T4, and an 8th-place finish to her name this year.  Yes, she only has 1 other top 20, missed the cut at Locust Hill in the last LPGA major, and isn't coming in with as hot a putter as some of the others on this list, but make no mistake:  she's the real deal.

4) Ji-Yai Shin:  If she can step up her iron and hybrid play at Sebonack, watch out for her this week.  She's the most accurate off the tee of anyone on tour, she'd be the top putter on the LPGA this year if Inbee weren't completely unconscious and Lewis out of her mind on the greens, she followed her 11th career LPGA victory in the season-opener Down Under with 7 other top 20s, and 2 of her 3 top 10s this season have come in majors.  It's about time she breaks 70 again on a Sunday--the last time she did it, she did it in style, with a 63 at Mobile Bay, capping off a run of 4 in her last 6 Sundays--so if the Final-Round Queen rides again in a few days, the rest of the field had better beware.

5) Karrie Webb:  The Hall of Famer would love to make LPGA win #40 a major and get her 3rd U.S. Women's Open and 8th major at Sebonack.  Surprisingly, I'd have to say her iron game has been lagging behind the rest of her play this season, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if she stepped it up this week and put herself in position to win.

6) Beatriz Recari:  She's not quite as hot as she was at the start of the season, when she had 3 top 5s in her 1st 5 starts (including her 2nd career win on the LPGA), but she comes to Sebonack on a 4-event top 20 run and gave herself a chance to win last week.

7) Ai Miyazato:  The hands-down "Best Without a Major on the LPGA" has put together some great performances in 2013--an opening 63 at the RR Donnelley, a 3rd-round 66 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, and a 2nd-round 64 last Saturday in NW Arkansas--but she hasn't put it all together for 72 (or even 54 holes) as of yet, with her only 2 top 10s coming early in the season.  But she's added 4 top 20s in a row coming into Sebonack, and with 9 LPGA wins and 15 JLPGA wins under her belt, including 2 JLPGA majors, she doesn't need to be on a super tear to contend this week.  With her ball-striking and putting both improving of late, this could turn out to be the major that doesn't get away.

8) Paula Creamer:  She's another golfer with impressive performance stats who's been racking up top 20s (10 of 'em and counting) in 2013 but struggling to find the top 10 (only 3 thus far, including a T7 last week).  The culprit has been her putter, but given that she won the Open at Oakmont, it's clear she's capable of excelling on the toughest greens the USGA can throw at the LPGA.  Win #10 has been a long time coming, and her steady performance last week (3 straight 68s) calms my worries about seeing her left wrist taped on Sunday at Locust Hill.

9) In-Kyung Kim:  With 4 top 5s, 6 top 10s, and 7 top 20s already this season, she's done everything but win.  She's putting up Ji-Yai Shin-like performance stats and is playing like Suzann Pettersen over her last 4 rounds (69-70-64-69), so it's about time she contended again in a major.

10) Shanshan Feng:  With 5 top 10s and a 6-event-and-counting top-20 streak going coming into Sebonack, all she needs to do is roll the rock like she's capable of to make her 2nd LPGA victory her 2nd LPGA major.

11) Anna Nordqvist:  With 4 top 10s and 7 top 20s in 2013 (including a streak that ended at 5 last week in an uncharacteristically ho-hum week), very good performance stats underlying those finishes, a major victory already under her belt and a T7 and T12 in her last 2 starts in majors--not to mention a season-low 61 on moving day at Mobile Bay to prime the memory banks--Nordqvist is poised to remind everyone what's she's capable of.

12) Cristie Kerr:  I'd put her higher on this list if she hadn't WDed last week:  she has 2 other top 5s to go with her Kingsmill win that put her 1 ahead of Ya Ni Tseng, she has 4 other top 20s (which makes it 5 in a row--if we don't count NW Arkansas, of course), she's putting like herself again, and she's got a game built for Opens.

13) Mika Miyazato:  Never mind her overall performance stats, just note that she's been near the top of the leaderboard in her last 4 starts and has radically improved her putting in particular, so much so that she's been at par or better in her last 6 rounds and has broken 70 twice in her last 3 starts.  Don't forget that she's won a major on the JLPGA and is accustomed to contending in LPGA majors.

14) Chie Arimura:  Another golfer with a lot of JLPGA wins to her name (13), including a major last season, she's finally started getting over rookie jitters in the past month on the LPGA and started getting the ball in the hole much more quickly.  If she can put together good starts like she has in her last 2 events with a scorching weekend like she did in Mobile Bay, she can make her 1st LPGA victory a major.

The Hottest of the Rest:  Moriya Jutanugarn, Caroline Hedwall, Morgan Pressel, Jenny Shin, Julieta Granada, Ayako Uehara

Not Hot But Could Heat Up Quickly:  Lizette Salas, Jessica Korda, Guilia Sergas, Angela Stanford, Hee Kyung Seo, Haeji Kang, Hee Young Park, Chella Choi, Carlota Ciganda, Ilhee Lee, Pornanong Phatlum

Non-LPGAers Who Could Make Some Noise:  Lydia Ko, Annie Park, Miki Saiki, Carly Booth, Doris Chen, Kyung Kim

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Recommended Reading: All Eyes on Inbee

There have been some great pieces on Inbee Park out there in recent days, most notably from Happy Fan of Seoul, Emily Kay at SBNation, Bill Rand at Eye on the Tour, and Les Bailey at Fansided.  What seems not to be common knowledge is how Inbee learned how to contend and how to win on the JLPGA (something I mentioned yesterday and went into more detail on back in December 2010 and March 2011).  I questioned her strategy back in October 2010, but the 3 years she played more than 10 events in Japan (14 in 2010, 14 in 2011, 11 in 2012) garnered her 4 golds, 10 silvers, 16 top 5s, 21 top 10s, and 30 top 20s.  It's true that she's taken it to an entirely new level in the last calendar year, but without the experience and confidence gained in Japan, I wonder if Inbee would be where she is today:  looking to make it 3 wins and 3 majors in a row!

[Update 1 (9:16 pm):  Add Neil Sagebiel at Armchair Golfer to the list!]

Monday, June 24, 2013

Congratulations to Inbee Park and Yumiko Yoshida!

I got to see Inbee Park flush her playoff birdie putt to win the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship on Golf Channel for her 2nd consecutive playoff win (this time over So Yeon Ryu), 5th of the season, and 8th of her career, despite being on the road at Saratoga Springs (Th-F), Fort Lee (F-Sa), NYC (Sa), Norwalk (Sa-Su), and Clinton (Su) over the past few days before returning home to Hamburg about 11 hours ago, but I didn't see much else.  And I didn't follow Yumiko Yoshida's win at the Nichirei Ladies at all--her 1st on the JLPGA.

But there is a lesson in Park's career trajectory for Yoshida.  If you're a regular reader here, you'll know that Park played quite a bit on the JLPGA for a couple of seasons.  In her 1st year, she played the bridesmaid a million times before figuring out how to win there and doing it repeatedly in her 2nd season.  Well, the same pattern has repeated itself for her the last 2 seasons on the LPGA:  last year she won a bunch of silvers, and this year she's on pace to rival the record for most golds in a single season, has a chance to complete an Inbee Slam, and is the undisputed #1 female golfer on the planet.  So even though Yoshida's 1st win comes mid-career, she can take a page from Park's book and use it as a springboard for bigger and better things!

[Correction (6/25/13):  Park won the last event of 2010 and the 1st of 2011, but didn't win in bunches after that (in fact, the rest of 2011 was a little disappointing and she went back to her bridesmaid ways in 2012).  For the correct details, see today's post!  So my larger point stands if you squint really really hard....]

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Friday: Mika Miyazato's 65 Opens Up 1-Shot Lead on So Yeon Ryu and Angela Stanford

I would love to be able to say "I told you so" about Mika Miyazato's bogey-free 65 and Chie Arimura's 7-birdie 67 in the opening round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, but I didn't have time to write up my observations of both players from the Wegmans LPGA Championship.  Take my word for it, though, these rounds were definitely coming.  There's a reason I picked Mikan and Arimura to finish 2nd and 9th this week, respectively:  both have been playing much better golf in the last month than the beginning of the season, both have started making birdies in bunches again, and both have been becoming used to hanging around the top of the leaderboard again.  We'll see if they can avoid the kind of blow-ups over this weekend that have knocked them out of contention or prevented them from winning when they were in the hunt recently, but it's official:  their games are heating up just in time for summer.

I wish the same could be said for the golfer I picked to repeat as the winner this week, Ai Miyazato.  Inexplicably, she bogeyed 3 holes in a row early on the back 9 to start off her day; her 38 on the back was 7 shots worse than Mikan's and Arimura's performances and she bounced back weakly with only 2 birdies all day.  At +2, she's in danger of missing the cut.  I'd like to say that's shocking, but even as she's shown flashes of brilliance all season, she hasn't yet been able to reliably extend or sustain them and her greens in regulation rate has been declining fast.  Where Arimura hit 17 greens yesterday and Mikan 16, Ai-sama hit only 13.  That's going to have to improve if she wants to score like she did in the 3rd round of the LPGA Championship, which was not just her 2nd-lowest round of the season but may well be her best (I'd rate a 66 at Locust Hill better than a 63 at the RR Donnelley, given the difficulty of the former set-up and conditions and occasion).

I know there's lots more to talk about:  So Yeon Ryu and Angela Stanford in the hunt with opening 66s, local favorite Stacy Lewis only 2 shots off the pace, along with Suzann Pettersen, Azahara Munoz, Beatriz Recari, Mina Harigae, and Danielle Kang, Ya Ni Tseng, Morgan Pressel, and Momoko Ueda impressing with opening 68s (tying players you'd expect to shoot such numbers like Ji-Yai Shin and Paula Creamer), young guns Lydia Ko, Moriya Jutanugarn, Carlota Ciganda, Pornanong Phatlum, and Jennifer Song starting with solid 69s (matching world #1 Inbee Park), Michelle Wie disappointing with an opening 75 and Hee Kyung Seo with a 77, and Cristie Kerr withdrawing.  But it's late, we're heading into NYC tomorrow early, and we stayed out in Fort Lee so long this evening that I entirely missed Golf Channel's coverage.  Hopefully we'll get to Connecticut in time for me to catch some of today's round!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Recommended Reading: If You're Wondering Why I've Been Away from Mostly Harmless This Week....

Check out my post on the Neil Gaiman interview/book signing event at Saratoga Springs last night!  For those who come here for the golf writing, there is a little bit on interviewing LPGA players in it....

Monday, June 17, 2013

Who Are Your Picks for the Northwest Arkansas Championship?

Here are my picks for the Northwest Arkansas Championship, the last tournament on the LPGA schedule before the U.S. Women's Open at Sebonack, for this week's PakPicker at Seoul

1. Miyazato Ai
2. Miyazato Mika
3. Park Inbee
4. Shin Ji-Yai
5. Yang
6. Pettersen
7. Feng
8. Choi Na Yeon
9. Arimura
10. Lewis
11. Nordqvist
12. Kerr

Alts: Munoz, Creamer, Kim In-Kyung

Who are your picks?  If you like picking horses for courses, here are the tournament results over its 6-year history.  If you like picking hot hands, check out the 2013 performance chart you can download from the LPGA's statistical records page.  If you're a moneyball-type picker, the LPGA's stats page is the place for you.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Suntory Ladies Sunday: Rikako Morita Fires 31 to Notch 3rd Win of 2013

JLPGA money-list leader Rikako Morita fired a bogey-free 31 on the back 9 of the Suntory Ladies, which included 3 birdies in her last 4 holes, to pass 3rd-round leader Kumiko Kaneda and hold off Yumiko Yoshida and 19-year-old Mamiko Higa by a single shot.  The 23-year-old Kyoto native has now won 3 times on the JLPGA this season; because she's also had 2 silvers and 4 bronzes, she's already earned more this season than in any of her previous 4 full seasons on tour.  Having brought her career victory total up to 5, Morita is clearly the player to beat in 2013 on the JLPGA.

To get the win, she didn't just outduel the JLPGA's top youngsters (such as Ritsuko Ryu, who blistered the course with a 66 to finish at -8, 2 shots behind Morita), she also outran some truly accomplished players on tour, such as Yuri Fudoh (50 career wins, almost 1.3 billion yen in career winnings), whose 70 brought her to -8, 2 shots behind Morita, Ji-Hee Lee (17 wins, over 777 million yen in winnings), whose 69 got her into a tie for 7th at -6, and Sun-Ju Ahn (11 wins in only 4 years on tour, over 387 million yen in winnings), who slipped into neutral for the weekend but still managed to earn her 3rd top 10 of the season this week.  And she left former money-list winners like Sakura Yokomine (73, -2) and Shiho Oyama (72, E) in the dust.

With Miki Saiki finishing in the middle of the pack, the money-list leader extended her lead this week.

1. Rikako Morita ¥86.91M
2. Miki Saiki ¥56.46M
3. Sakura Yokomine ¥43.53M
4. Mamiko Higa ¥41.79M
5. Hiromi Mogi ¥35.49M
6. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥35.04M
7. Natsuka Hori ¥32.60M
8. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥32.56M
9. Ritsuko Ryu ¥31.85M
10. Junko Omote ¥27.81M
11. Yuki Ichinose ¥27.61M
12. Kumiko Kaneda ¥24.10M
13. Yukari Baba ¥23.61M
14. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥22.77M
15. Yumiko Yoshida ¥21.50M
16. Shiho Oyama ¥21.46M
17. Teresa Lu ¥21.07M
18. Mayu Hattori ¥20.29M
19. Miki Sakai ¥17.67M
20. Na-Ri Kim ¥17.56M
21. Megumi Kido ¥15.78M
22. Erika Kikuchi ¥15.67M
23. Rui Kitada ¥14.56M
24. Esther Lee ¥14.44M
25. Na-Ri Lee ¥14.05M
26. Soo-Yun Kang ¥13.87M
27. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥13.44M
28. Yuki Sakurai ¥13.33M
29. Phoebe Yao ¥13.12M
30. Ji-Hee Lee ¥13.05M
31. Harukyo Nomura ¥12.63M
32. Kaori Ohe ¥12.43M
33. Erina Hara ¥12.01M
34. Ji-Woo Lee ¥11.80M
35. Bo-Mee Lee ¥11.45M

Next up on the JLPGA is the Nichirei Ladies in Chiba prefecture.  Morita will get a chance to make it 2 in a row and join a list of former champions that includes Yuri Fudoh, Ai Miyazato, Sakura Yokomine, Shiho Oyama, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Ji-Hee Lee, and Yuko Mitsuka.

Father's Day Video: Cockatiel Sings Totoro Theme Song

For all the Miyazaki dads out there!

Happy Father's Day!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Suntory Ladies Set-Up: 23-Year-Old Kumiko Kaneda Looks for 2nd Career JLPGA Victory

At -8, Kumiko Kaneda leads the Suntory Ladies after 54 holes on the strength of a bogey-free 69 today that leapfrogged her 1 shot ahead of Esther Lee (72) and 2 shots ahead of 19-year-old Mamiko Higa (73) and kept her 2 shots ahead of  living legend Yuri Fudoh (68) and Yumiko Yoshida (whose 66 matched Sun-Ju Ahn's from the 1st round and Rikako Morita's from the 2nd round as 2nd-best scores of the week thus far after Misuzu Narita's opening 64).  Former and current money list leaders are only 3 shots off the pace, as Ahn (71) and Morita (72) played solidly, while Sakura Yokomine made a bid to get into contention with a bogey-free 67 that left her 5 shots behind Kaneda.

Other notables lost ground on the leader, including Ji-Hee Lee (72, -3), Ritsuko Ryu (74, -2), Narita (who shot her 2nd-straight 75 to fall back to -2 for the week), 2nd-round co-leader Akane Iijima (78, -1), Shinobu Moromizato (71, -1), Miki Saiki (69, E), Shiho Oyama (73, E), Soo-Yun Kang (71, +1), Yuko Mitsuka (72, +1), Mi-Jeong Jeon (75, +2), last week's winner Junko Omote (75, +2), Tamie Durdin (75, +3), Young Kim (73, +4), and Simin Feng (73, +4).  But at least they're playing on the weekend, unlike Harukyo Nomura, Na-Ri Kim, Erina Hara, Li-Ying Ye, and Onnarin Sattayabanphot, who all missed the cut, or Teresa Lu, who WDed during the 2nd round with abdominal pain.

Still, the winner will most likely come from the group of 8 golfers within 3 shots of the lead who are playing together tomorrow in the final 3 threesomes.  It'll be interesting to see if Fudoh can continue the JLPGA veterans' winning streak, Kaneda or Higa can strike a blow for the youngsters, Ahn or Lee can put Korea back on the map, Yoshida or Kaori Nakamura can pull off a surprise win, Morita can extend her money-list lead, or Yokomine can go super-low and steal the title from everyone else!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Constructivist Family Highs and Lows on Wegmans LPGA Championship Sunday

I saw Ai Miyazato hit 1 shot at the 2013 Wegmans LPGA Championship, a beautiful fairway wood on the 11th hole at Locust Hill, her 2nd hole of the final round and 20th of her day.  At the time, I had no idea she had just doubled the difficult downhill 10th, or would fail to birdie the par 5 but would go on to make her 8th, 9th, and 10th birdies of the day over the course of the back 9 to move from +5 to -2 and into contention yet again in Pittsford, or would falter over her final 9 with 3 bogeys and only 1 birdie to extend her streak of non-wins at LPGA majors to 34 starts.

Nope, I was with onechan at the time, following Paula Creamer, Lydia Ko, and Jennifer Rosales.  We had wandered over from the 17th fairway to the 11th against onechan's wishes because I had figured out that Ai-sama's group had just hit their drives, but she made the best of the situation by calling out "Gambatte-ne!" to Ai-sama before she started sizing up her 2nd shot.  The wave we got from my favorite golfer was one of my high points of the day, but for onechan it was just one of many cool moments, like the chances she and imoto got to ride a shuttle bus, the smiles she got from Paula Creamer (whom she had followed for 15+ holes during last year's final round) at different times while she and I followed her for most of the back 9 of the final round, the golf ball Mika Miyazato rolled to her on the 1st tee a little while later after onechan had seized the opportunity to send a "Gambatte-ne!" her way, the signatures she got from Kristy McPherson, Moira Dunn, Ya Ni Tseng, and others on her floppy pink hat towards the end of the day, the chance to see Ai-sama again at our favorite Korean restaurant in Rochester early that evening, or, her favorite moment, when Paula stopped to ask her her name, age, and favorite color.

Sure, I could have gone straight to find Ai-sama on the front 9 when we first arrived at Locust Hill and the girls were having fun at the play area and Wegmans loot tent with their mom, but by the time I realized what a great 3rd round she was having, I had already committed to following Chie Arimura (who got it to -2 with 19 holes left to play, but doubled 18, tripled 4, and sprinkled 3 other bogeys into her final round to plummet out of contention), Michelle Wie, and Shanshan Feng on the back.  I had thought the Full Metal Archivist would take both girls to follow imoto's favorite player, Ji-Yai Shin, when she and Amy Yang and Sarah Jane Smith had hit the 11th tee, so that I would get more time with the Arimura threesome, but the FMA wasn't handling the heat well and understood the flow of play worse, so had ended up tiring the girls out walking up and down the 10th and 18th hills after they had gotten bored with the free shopping and eating.  As a result, I had to backtrack back to the loot tent sooner than I expected go meet up with them and decide what to do next, which was for imoto and the FMA to camp out in the shade by the 17th green while onechan and I caught up with Paula's group.  By the time onechan and I returned to 17 from doing just that, the FMA and imoto had taken the opportunity to follow Shin's group up 18, gotten Shin's autograph and a ball from Yang, and booked down the hill again and crossed Jefferson Road to rendezvous with us.

Again, I could have had us all wait for Ai-sama's group to reach us there at 17, but Mika Miyazato, Caroline Hedwall, and Belen Mozo rolled in just as we got settled in and onechan and I decided to follow them on 18 and 1, before peeling away back up the #2 and #3 hill to get back to the FMA and imoto, who was getting stir-crazy at the 17th green (but had gotten a chance to see Ai-sama, which is more than I could say!).  Given that Mika was -2 on her final round, had just missed a short birdie putt on 17 (I just realized it would have been her 9th in her previous 21 holes!) and made a great up-and-down from about 100 yards out on 18, it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.  I could always get the ladies situated by the putting green to collect as many autographs and balls as they could while I caught back up with Mika and then followed Ai-sama for her closing holes on the front.  But even that plan didn't work out all that well, as the FMA was feeling exhausted by the time onechan and I got back to the 17th green and needed to get out of the sun, so we wasted almost an hour trying to figure out where to pick up the shuttle to take us back to the back-up media lot before realizing we were better off hitting the loot tent and just staying on the course as long as the FMA and girls could hold up.  By the time we made it back to the putting green area, and I could look for Mika's group, they were finishing up #6, so all I got to see was Mika missing 2 short birdie putts in a row on 7 and 8 and making a great par save on 9 to preserve her 72 (she had been done in by a bogey on 1, a double on 4, and those 3 missed short birdie putts I saw).  After taping the Japanese media's interviews with Mika, I was all set to finally backtrack to Ai-sama's group, when I thought I'd better drop by the putting green on the way to see how everyone was doing.

And that's when my plans went out the window.  Turns out while I was awkwardly interviewing Mika in English, onechan had incited imoto to make a dash across the empty putting green, so by the time I got there, the FMA was furious, onechan was crying, and imoto was trying to blend into the background to minimize the trouble she was in with her mom.  A volunteer graciously brought ice cream bars for the girls and we got them away from Golf Channel's interview booth, but the damage had been done.  One look at the FMA's face was enough to convince me I wasn't going back out on the course.  No way I would get a chance to see Tiffany Joh or Ayako Uehara or Mina Harigae hit a shot or 2 as I made my way back to Ai-sama's group.  No way the family could even hang out together in the 9th- or 18th-green grandstands and watch the rest of the groups come in.  Nope, it was time to back up my wife's disciplinary strategy, get everyone back to the car and into a restaurant, and get us all fueled up, cooled off, and calmed down.

So, yeah, not only did I miss Ai-sama, but I didn't even know there was a playoff going on until the end of our meal (and I didn't even find out its results until after we got home, woke the girls up for a quick bath and teeth-brushing, and got them to bed).  But what a meal it was!  It started with us getting seated right behind Se Ri Pak, waving hi to Ai-sama midway through our meal as she and her manager Takumi Zaoya walked into the restaurant, trying hard not to react as Ji-Yai Shin joined Se Ri a few minutes later and Amy Yang walked right by us, and it ended with us convincing the girls not to bother the Hall of Famer or the former world #1s, or the sure-to-break-through-soon star.  Sure, imoto made more visits than strictly necessary to look at the fish in the ornamental display at the front of the restaurant (and try to catch Ji-Yai's eye!), and onechan decided as we were leaving to bring me with her to the bathroom area at the back of the restaurant (passing by Ai-sama's table in the process), but we didn't initiate contact with any of the players.  It was actually Zaoya-san who started talking to onechan and I as we were passing by them on the way to leaving the restaurant.  Ai-sama was relaxed and friendly, but I was embarrassed and incoherent and onechan had lost her voice, so I missed a chance to have a real conversation with them, although I did accidentally find out that she wouldn't be playing the Manulife in Waterloo.

So it was all worth it, right?  Well, of course!  Not to say I won't do things differently in the future, like maybe bring the ladies on a Saturday afternoon after Japanese school and come alone on Sunday, or stay overnight Saturday so the girls could get their fixes with their favorite players on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning and plan to split up so I could focus on covering the closing hours of the tournament.  But this year was different, and not just because of the washed-out Thursday round or the 36 holes on Sunday.  We needed to be together, for reasons I won't go into here.  And except for one big mistake and blow-up at the end of the day, the girls had a great time and the family had another memorable vacation in Rochester.  They got to see a decent proportion of the 76 women trying to be the best on the planet that day, focus on a couple of players they both really admire, and spend some quality time with their parents and each other.  Sure, the FMA suffered and I sacrificed, but it was definitely worth it.  We even got to visit an Asian market before we hit the Thruway, although not the Korean market we usually love to raid when we're in Rochester.

Maybe someday I'll break down and get a smartphone, so I won't have to rely on walking by the many electronic scoreboards or hiking back to the media center to fire up my Chromebook to find out what's going on outside my immediate vicinity.  Maybe someday onechan and imoto will be more interested in the actual golf than in being fangirls, so they'll learn something they can apply to their own games.  Maybe someday the FMA will enjoy walking the golf course more, so she can appreciate the sport more.  But given what we had and where we were and how young the girls still were, last Sunday may not have gone according to plan or supplied me with all the golfy and bloggy material I was hoping for, but it was still a great day!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Congratulations to Inbee Park and Junko Omote!

Huge congratulations to Inbee Park on her Wegmans LPGA Championship playoff victory over Catriona Matthew and to Junko Omote for holding off some of the JLPGA's top young guns and going wire-to-wire to take the Yonex Ladies.  It was Park's 2nd-straight LPGA major and 3rd of her career, while for Omote it was her 1st JLPGA victory since 2005.

Park made 5 birdies in her last 10 holes in the morning 3rd round to chase down Morgan Pressel, who had birdied her last 3 holes in a row on the front to get to -9 for the week, but stumbled home with a birdieless 39 to fall back to -7.  In the final round, it looked for most of the afternoon like a Park-Pressel duel, as Park birdied the 5th to get to -9, but then bogeyed 2 of her next 3 holes to fall back into a tie with Pressel, who had bogeyed the par-3 7th to fall to -6 but birdied the par-5 8th.  From there, though, both leaders struggled.  Pressel was 1st to do so, with bogeys on 10 and 12 that dropped her to -5, while Park extended her lead to 3 shots with a birdie on the par-5 11th.  Playing bogey-free golf 2 groups ahead of the leaders, Matthew seemed to be playing for 3rd, even as she birdied 2, 9, 12, and 17 to get to -5.  But then it was Park's turn to struggle, as she bogeyed 14 and 16 to fall to -6 and failed to birdie 17.  She still maintained a 2-shot lead on Pressel, who had also bogeyed the short par-4 16th, but her lead on Matthew was 1 as she went to the 18th tee.  That proved to be too small, as she bogeyed the final hole to allow Matthew into a playoff.  Both players parred 18 and 10, but when Matthew bogeyed 18 and Park made an 18-footer for birdie, the victory belonged to the #1 player in the world of women's golf.  Park becomes the 7th player in LPGA history to start off the year with 2 consecutive major titles and extends the streak of Asian winners in LPGA majors to 9.  

Other players had great chances to be the ones to extend that latter streak, but even an eagle on the par-4 13th in the final round couldn't get Amy Yang into the winner's circle for the 1st time on the LPGA, while Ji-Yai Shin, who was hanging with Park and Pressel for a good part of the 3rd round, made an uncharacteristically high number of bogeys (8 in her final 19 holes), with her last 3 on the back offsetting her 4 birdies between 11 and 16, particularly the last one on the par-5 17th that dropped her to -3.  In addition, Chella Choi was -4 with 6 holes to play but made bogeys on 13 and 16 to fall out of contention, while Na Yeon Choi and Sun Young Yoo were -4 with 9 holes left to play but the former bogeyed 10, 14 and 18 while the latter doubled 10 and bogeyed 14 to end their hopes for their 2nd LPGA majors.  Meanwhile, Matthew wasn't the only player to have a great chance to break the Asian streak in LPGA majors:  Suzann Pettersen made a slight adjustment to her putter's address position between the 3rd and 4th rounds and fired the low round of the week in the afternoon, a bogey-free 65 that features 7 birdies (despite her going 0 for 3 on the par 5s), beating Ai Miyazato's 3rd-round 66 by a single shot but falling outside the playoff by exactly that margin.

Although conditions were clearly tough in Niigata for the final round of the Yonex Ladies, Omote orchestrated her 2nd-straight bogey-free round in a row (she made only 1 bogey in 54 holes!) to hold off money-list leader Rikako Morita, who closed with a Pettersen-esque 65, by 2 shots and Ritsuko Ryu (69) by 3.  It was her 3rd win on the JLPGA in a career that stretches back to 1998 but had been a far cry in the last 7 seasons from her peak in 2003 to 2005, when she won twice, finished 2nd 10 times, and ended up in or near the top 10 on the money list.  Her win moves her up to #10 on this year's money list, on which more tomorrow.

In fact, I'll have much more tomorrow and in the coming days, including a few Constructivist family anecdotes and observations on golfers I followed today (either alone or with onechan):  Chie Arimura, Michelle Wie, and Shanshan Feng; Paula Creamer, Lydia Ko, and Jennifer Rosales; and Mika Miyazato, Caroline Hedwall, and Belen Mozo.  So even though the LPGA is taking a little break, keep on coming back here for more!

The Constructivist Family Heads to Pittsford

Well, play began at 6:30 this morning for the 3rd round of the Wegmans LPGA Championship, and the Constructivist family is getting ready to leave for Pittsford to see as much as we can of the last 36 holes of the tournament today.  The players we most want to follow will be fairly scattered over Locust Hills by the time we get there, so the plan is to let the girls play in the bounce house when we first arrive while I hand out at the 17th green getting a feel for where everyone is, then picking a spot for all of us to watch groups go by once the girls are tired of playing.  After that, it's lunch, then we split up to follow the girls' favorite players for awhile--Paula Creamer for onechan and Ji-Yai Shin for imoto.  At some point, we'll regroup and the girls will stay with the Full Metal Archivist for awhile (perhaps with a stop at the Wegmans tent!) while I bounce between the Ai Miyazato/In-Kyung Kim group, the Mina Harigae group, and the Ayako Uehara/Tiffany Joh group and eventually work my way ahead to Mika Miyazato's group.  The plan will be for all of us to rendezvous with the Paula Creamer/Lydia Ko group until they finish their final round, so the girls can get autographs and talk to them and I can get interviews with them and other players by the putting green as they come in.  Then I'll try to catch up with the Chie Arimura/Michelle Wie/Shanshan Feng group for their final holes.

I'll post updates when I find a wi-fi connection on my Chromebook!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Wegmans LPGA Championship News Flash: Eagle Time for Masson and Yoo

Sun Young Yoo and Caroline Masson have eagled par 4s on the back 9 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship this afternoon. For Masson, it was the 12th, while for Yoo it was the 10th.  Yoo's eagle ties her with Amy Yang for the low round of the afternoon wave thus far; Yang is riding a 16-hole bogey-free run and is 1 shot behind leader Morgan Pressel, who got it to -7 early in her round but is now -5 through 10.

[Update 1 (4:22 pm):  Inbee Park just birdied 18 and 1 to get to -3 for the day and tournament!]

[Update 2 (4:38 pm):  Yoo has found her groove--she's gone birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie and is -6 over her last 11 holes of bogey-free golf!]

[Update 3 (4:40 pm):  More updates on my twitter feed!]

Wegmans LPGA Championship News Flash: Michelle Wie -4 through 11 Holes

Michelle Wie struggled in her 1st round yesterday at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, opening with a 76 that featured a double bogey on the par-5 11th, her 2nd hole, and 2 bogeys in her last 4 holes.  But she's -4 through her 1st 11 holes today and so far has the low round of the day going (defending champion Shanshan Feng played the front in a bogey-free 32).  Let's see if she can keep it going in a week that counts double for Solheim Cup team qualification and counts extra in the Rolex Rankings!

[Update 1 (10:55 am):  Aussie Sarah Jane Smith is getting into the act, as well:  she's -3 through 11 holes of bogey-free golf today and actually has an 18-hole bogey-free run going!]

[Update 2 (11:16 am):  More not-quite-live blogging on my twitter feed!]

[Update 3 (12:11 pm):  Gotta give a shout-out to Lydia Ko, who bogeyed 2 of her 1st 3 holes to drop to +7 on the week, but is now -3 today through 17 and only +2 overall!]

[Update 4 (12:29 pm):  Wie's 68 low round of day so far!  Back to E for the week!]

Friday, June 7, 2013

Wegmans LPGA Championship Friday: Chella Choi Leads Ji-Yai Shin and Morgan Pressel by 1

I can't tell you how impressed I was by Morgan Pressel's 68, Brittany Lincicome's 69, and Se Ri Pak's and Jessica Korda's 70s this morning in the long-delayed 1st round of the Wegmans LPGA Championship, so you may be able to imagine how shocked I was that Chella Choi surpassed Pressel by a shot and Ji-Yai Shin tied her from the afternoon wave.  To tell you the truth, I was expecting -1 to be the best anyone would be able to manage on a soaked and nasty Locust Hill today.  Instead, Laura Davies, Angela Stanford, Che Arimura, Amy Yang, Catriona Matthew, Anna Nordqvist, Lexi Thompson, Ilhee Lee, and M.J. Hur find themselves 4 off the pace after shooting what would normally be considered fantastic 71s.  Sure, I figured something on the order of 25 golfers would finish at par or better (it was actually 23)--and today the likes of Inbee Park, Na Yeon Choi, Ya Ni Tseng, and Suzann Pettersen hit that number on the dot--but I never expected anyone to break 70.

Why am I so amazed by the 4 who did so and the 15 who got under par today?  Just consider the damage some of the world's best female golfers--or at least big names who have been playing well of late--sustained today:

80 Hee-Won Han (who just WDed), Amanda Blumenherst
79 Azahara Munoz, Sandra Gal, Gerina Piller
78 Karine Icher, Jodi Ewart Shadoff, Jenny Shin
77 Mika Miyazato, Lydia Ko, Caroline Hedwall, Mo Martin
76 Karrie Webb, Paula Creamer, So Yeon Ryu, Melissa Reid, Guilia Sergas
75 Cristie Kerr, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park, Jennifer Johnson, Lizette Salas
74 Stacy Lewis, Ai Miyazato, Shanshan Feng, Hee Kyung Seo, Beatriz Recari, Moriya Jutanugarn
73 Haeji Kang, Nicole Castrale

To be sure, it could have gone either way for a lot of the players I've mentioned already.  Ya Ni Tseng recorded her 1st-ever LPGA hole in 1; Stacy Lewis doubled 2 holes and birdied 2 holes; Cristie Kerr was E through 10 but bogeyed 3 in a row, then played bogey-free the rest of the front (her back); Inbee Park doubled 18 to fall back to E, while Suzann Pettersen birdied 2 of her last 3 holes to get there; Morgan Pressel birdied 4 in a row to close out her round, while Amy Yang followed up a 10th-hole par with 4 birdies in a row to kick off her round.  And the list goes on.

In any case, that's just the golfers you might have expected to do better than that today.  If Locust Hill was that evil to them, what was it like, you might wonder, for those who hadn't been playing well?  Yes, a good number of them played well beyond expectations today (MP, BL, SRP, LD, AY, MJH, to initial a few).  But   when 20 players failed to break 80 today, you know conditions were brutal.

That just underscores that the bottom line today for today was just surviving.  It's not expected that a whole lot of rain (if any) will fall the rest of the tournament, so course conditions should improve markedly the next two (or more) days.  Assuming Locust Hill remains pretty evil tomorrow, despite that, the cut line will be +5 or (much) higher, while it's very easy for all 4 players who broke 70 today to come back to the field.  Frankly, I think anyone at E through 54 holes will have a chance to win this thing.

I wasn't able to go up to Pittsford today (took imoto with other parent-chaperones to the Niagara Aquarium) and won't be able to go tomorrow (we're helping out a friend whose husband passed away unexpectedly by taking her youngest out to the movies), but the entire Constructivist family will descend on Locust Hill on Sunday.  So for now, enjoy the major-quality notes and interviews from and let me know in comments what you saw on Golf Channel!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Rain Likely to Wash Away 1st Round of the Wegmans LPGA Championship

The word is out that the earliest they can possibly start play at the Wegmans LPGA Championship is 2 pm, but I'm betting the tournament organizers call the whole day off in their planned noon announcement.  The course has already received about a third of an inch of rain and there's a big line of thunderstorms massing in the southwest corner of the state on a northeasterly track to reach Pittford by late afternoon, with no obvious breaks in the rain cover over the entire western NY region in between.  Everybody with an afternoon tee time won't be playing any golf today, so why subject those in the morning wave to radically different conditions than everyone is likely to face the rest of the week?

[Update (12:15 pm):  No golf today is the word from the LPGA twitterverse!]

Who Are Your Picks for the Wegmans LPGA Championship?

Here are mine from this week's PakPicker competition at Seoul

1. Miyazato Ai
2. Miyazato Mika
3. Creamer
4. Kerr
5. Webb
6. Feng
7. Lewis, Stacy
8. Park Inbee
9. Pettersen
10. Shin Ji-Yai
11. Kim In-Kyung
12. Arimura

Alts: Pak Se Ri, Ryu, Choi Na Yeon

Morgan Pressel and Jeong Jang have great records at Locust Hill, but I couldn't bring myself to put them in my top 15 this year, nor could I include more than my top 3 players without a major (plus Chie Arimura) coming into this week!

How about you?

The Best on the LPGA without a Major: 2013 Wegmans LPGA Championship Edition

All right, it's time to update my last round of predictions as to who will break through for her 1st career LPGA major, this time at the Wegmans LPGA Championship being played this Thursday through Sunday (weather permitting). As always, the numbers in parentheses following the players' names are for LPGA wins and international wins (but only from the other major tours: JLPGA, KLPGA, LET).

Most Likely to Survive Locust Hill

1. Ai Miyazato (9/17): I've said it before and I'll say it again: she's due. She's got a very good history at Locust Hill and has been on the verge of playing great golf again.  Could this be her week?

2. Mika Miyazato (1/1): She already has 9 top 15s to her credit in LPGA majors in her short professional career, including 3 top 10s in a row in 2011 (a T7 at the KNC, a T8 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, and a 5th-place finish at the USWO) and another 3 in a row last year (T2 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, T7 at the USWO, and 4th at the WBO). Plus, she's already won a JLPGA major, getting revenge at the '10 Japan Women's Open for her final-round collapse in the '09 edition--and she finally broke through for her 1st LPGA win last season in the midst of her major run.  Only problem is she basically shut it down early late last season, playing only 3 events after the WBO, and started off 2013 on a limited schedule, as well, with very unimpressive results for someone of her talents.  Has she been she injured? sick? burned out?  Or did she just need a break?  I didn't get to talk to her on Tuesday to find out, but I will after her morning round today.  Whatever the cause, she's contended in the last 2 events she's played and seems to always play Locust Hill well.  So I'm moving her way up this list!

3. In-Kyung Kim (3/1): Here's what I wrote on the eve of her near-miss at last year's KNC: "Talk about due: she hadn't finished worse than 12th in her last 6 majors until coming to Carnoustie, where she had her worst finish in her last 14 majors besides an exceptionally windy KNC in 2010. Even with an uneven start to 2012, I have to rank someone with 11 top 20s in that stretch of majors, one who's had plenty of shots at the winner's circle, among the most likely to get there this week."  Even after all her injuries and heartaches over the remainder of last season, she's come back strong in 2013 with another playoff loss at the Kia and 4 other top 10s, including a T5 last week on the Jersey Shore.  We know she's playing well enough to win; what we'll find out this week is what shape her psyche's in.  At #2 among the LPGA's Club 36, I would love to see her break through this week!

The Contenders

4. Beatriz Recari (2/1): Yes, she beat IK at the Kia, and she's been playing great golf for quite some time now, but her record at the majors isn't as strong (to say the least) as most of the top players on this list.  Still, it would be criminal to rank her lower than this, and you could probably make a case for putting her higher, given how accurate off the tee she is.

5. Angela Stanford (5/0): Her best chance to win a major to date was back in the 2003 U.S. Women's Open, but Hilary Lunke answered Stanford's 27-foot birdie with her own walkoff birdie to win the 18-hole playoff instead. Since then, Stanford's had 19 more top-25 finishes in majors, including 2 top 5s at the LPGA Championship (back when it was sponsored by McDonalds), a T3 and T11 in the 2 KNCs before this year's (where she fuinished T19), and a 4th-place finish at the 2011 USWO (where she was the 3rd-round leader). She's another one of those "any given week" golfers whose game is custom-made for majors--so why not this one, particularly since I believe course conditions will favor a straight shooter like Stanford?

Quantum Leap Candidates

6. Chie Arimura (0/13): She added a close call at last week's ShopRite LPGA Classic to her 2 other best finishes on the LPGA, a near-win at the 2011 HSBC Women's Champions, which always features a major-quality field, and a top 10 at the KNC that same year (her 2nd in a row there at the time).  Looks to me like her game is also rounding into shape at just the right time.

7. Hee Kyung Seo (1/11): It took her awhile last year, but she finally got over the disappointment of giving up a late-Sunday lead at the KNC and got used to being near the top of the leaderboard again in the 2nd half of the season. This season, she has 2 top 10s and 6 top 25s, so could very well kick it up a notch this week.

8. Karine Icher (0/5): She had a great 2012 and despite a slow start in 2013, she hasn't finished outside the top 30 in her last 6 starts.  She only has 1 top 10 at Locust Hill, way back in 2006, but already has 2 top 10s this season.

9. Guilia Sergas (0/0): She's playing very well in 2013 and is coming off her only top 10 at Locust Hill last year.

10. Moriya Jutanugarn (0/0): Little sister Ariya beat her to the winner's circle at the start of their professional careers, so can Moriya continue to outpace Chie Arimura in the Rookie of the Year race with a good finish at Locust Hill?  I wouldn't put it past her, but I'm less confident for her than I was at the KNC.  A win?  Might be asking for too much too soon, especially given the troubles she's had after getting herself into contention this year.  Wonder if Ariya will be on the bag for her big sister, given that she had to WD with a shoulder injury sustained during a fall in Monday's practice round....

11. Azahara Munoz (1/1): Despite missing her 1st cut in an LPGA major as an LPGA member at last year's Wegmans LPGA Championship, she played some great golf in the 2nd half of the season.  2013 has been less impressive and has included a missed cut at the KNC, but she's showed flashes of brilliance and has put in more solid starts than bad ones, so maybe she can jumpstart her season this week.

12. Jessica Korda (1/1): Yeah, she doesn't have a great record in majors and hasn't won on U.S. soil as a professional, but she's been playing really well in 2013 and is very accurate off the tee for a bomber, so who says she can't win this week?

13. Chella Choi (0/0): She's coming off a T10 at last year's WBO and a T32 at this year's KNC and already has 2 top 10s and 5 top 20s this season.  She doesn't have a super-strong record at the majors, but she has tasted what it feels like to contend on the LPGA and has made steady improvements every year she's a pro, so maybe she's ready to take it to the next level this season.

14. Haeji Kang (0/0): She's quietly becoming a non-surprise leaderboard presence and is coming off a top 10 at the Kia, a T5 in this year's KNC, and a T15 in last year's KNC.  She hasn't played well in her last 4 starts, but don't count this dark horse out!

15. Amy Yang (0/4): I still believe in what I saw from her in person in 2011 at Locust Hill:  she has a great game for majors, she's capable of going toe-to-toe with Ya Ni Tseng (or Stacy Lewis, for that matter), and she's way overdue for her 1st LPGA win.  She came really close at last year's U.S. Women's Open, falling short to Na Yeon Choi's weekend heroics (and some good bounces!), and was in the mix in last year's KNC, but the problem is that she skipped the last 2 LPGA events and finished T72 on a Mobile Bay course that should have suited her game to a T, so I suspect she's injured.  Maybe she's recovered already?

16. Lexi Thompson (1/1): Sure, she hasn't yet followed up on her top 10 at the 2010 USWO in another LPGA major, but cut her some slack, will ya? She's another one with the talent to contend any time and a surprising amount of experience in majors for someone so young, even though it hasn't all been good in terms of results.  Still, she showed off some big improvements last year, with 2 top 20s and 4 top 30s in majors, and already has several solid finishes in 2013, plus she's almost as accurate off the tee as Korda.

Watch Lists

Most wins/longest careers without a major: Hee-Won Han (6), Sophie Gustafson (5), Maria Hjorth (5)

Slumping stars in field: Michelle Wie, Morgan Pressel, Seon Hwa Lee, Momoko Ueda

Rising starsCarlota Ciganda, Caroline Hedwall, Pornanong Phatlum, Ilhee Lee, Lizette Salas, Gerina Piller, Jennifer Johnson, Mo Martin, Danielle Kang, Jenny Shin

Possible non-LPGA winners: Lydia Ko, Melissa Reid