Thursday, June 24, 2010

Birthday Girl Under Par

Can you imagine shooting 71 in a major championship on a very tight, tough course with swirling winds at 50 years of age? Body swinging in sync-check, hitting ball long-check, getting ball up and down-check....can you imagine it? Playing on the biggest stage, two decades after giving birth to your first child and thirty years into a strong marriage? Congratulations and Happy Birthday Juli Inkster! I'm constantly reminded of this amazing woman's ability year after year. Not only is she one of the finest competitors ever to play the game with 31 wins and 7 majors, but she is truly one of the most real, down to earth, giving people I've ever met. She's a great wife, mom, sister and friend and I salute her on this special day. Thank you Carol and Jack for bringing this wonderful woman into our world. Keep paving the way Jules!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Locust Hill on Steroids!

This year's LPGA Championship presented by Wegmans is going to produce one great golfer! At 6506 yards, it's not the longest course played for this Championship. However, given the already challenging layout of Locust Hill, the additional yardage and other tweaks to the course have turned into a bear. Ten of the fairways have been "pinched" in, or narrowed by 4 or 5 yards....that's like narrowing a bowling lane by a couple of feet. Bordering the slim fairways is 3+ inches of lush Kentucky bluegrass/rye rough and loads of trees. Superintendent Rick Slattery has the greens rolling 12-12.5 on the stimp meter. Also, the course has been lengthened by 150 yards, which doesn't seem like much on paper, but it is mostly felt on #1, 4, 9, 10, and 14 and will cause grief for the players.

Rochester has been inundated with a ton of rain in the last month, in addition to a good inch the last couple of days, so the course is dark green, lush and slow. Several players claimed that they barely advanced 8 irons more than 100 yards when hitting out of the rough. We could see some ugly scores this week, especially if the greens firm up and continue to be lightening fast. Length off the tee is always an advantage, but not at the expense of direction.

Who will win? The straight driver and best putter. My picks are: Ai Miyazato (except for the fact she's trying to win two in a row), Cristie Kerr, Karrie Webb, Suzann Pettersen, Anna Nordquist (different to defend at a new course), and dark horse Song-Hee Kim. Even though Jiyai Shin won at this course last year, she's not at 100% after her appendectomy and won't be a factor. Oh, let's not forget Yani Tseng who won the first major of the year and is the only one to have a chance to grab the first two legs....Can't wait to see what happens tomorrow!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Paula's Shoprite experience

OK, beyond Ai's amazing performance last week was Paula Creamer's remarkable comeback from surgery. That she was able to compete at the highest level and darn near win an LPGA tournament 2 1/2 months after major surgery was remarkable.

Dr. Hunt performed surgery on her thumb March 31 after trying several unsuccessful non surgical options. She ended up seeing 4 different hand specialists and tried various braces and gloves to help support the thumb and enable her to swing relatively pain free. However, none of the solutions lasted and eventually her injury crept into real life as she couldn't hold a plate in her hand w/o dropping it. At that point it became apparent she'd have to go the surgery route. Her left thumb surgery ended up being much more complicated than initially thought. Originally, the surgery was supposed to just tighten up tendons and ligaments that were stretched and too loose. Ultimately, when they opened up the hand, they discovered that the ligaments and the surrounding foundation were torn. Also, a tendon on top of the thumb was moved back into place to avoid it falling off completely in the future. Long story short, her thumb was basically reconstructed.

All off this started over a year ago in June of 09 when Paula started feeling her hand bothering her. After a couple of cortisone shots, she managed to play fairly well through the year with a T6 at the Women's Open, T3 at the British and T2 at Lorena's event in Guadalajara. In November, her thumb started acting up at the Tournament of Champions at Houston. Another cortisone shot followed, then the off season. February 18, 2010 on the 16th tee in Thailand, Paula hit a knock down shot on the par 3 and felt her left thumb pop/tear. She played the last 3 holes in tears and at the end wondered if she'd ever play golf again. She withdrew after a first round of 69.

After Dr. Hunt did the surgery, he was very conservative with her time frame for coming back to golf. Paula was in a cast for 3 weeks and then it was 6-8 weeks before she could start hitting balls. She started with putting, added chip and runs, then pitch shots followed with wedges. It was several weeks before she could hit more than a 9 iron.

Given that she had only played 3 rounds of golf leading into the first hole of the Shoprite LPGA, it's pretty amazing she even completed the tournament much less finished in the top 10. I'd have to say those first two rounds of 67-65 were amazing considering what she'd been through. Even though she shot 71 on Sunday, she was in contention for much of the day and had a chance to win. Don't forget that she was in major pain the entire way and had to ice her hand 8-10 times each night after play. I have to say that was one of the grittiest performances I've seen in a long time. I was truly astounded as to the level of play that Paula brought to the week. She couldn't go after shots hard. She couldn't "work" the ball or hit knock down shots. Nevertheless, she stayed within herself and did what she could....and what she could was better than most.

This week Paula is in Rochester, NY for the LPGA Championship presented by Wegmans. I think this week is going to be a huge physical test for Paula. Last week's course was short and she had lots of lofted irons into holes and didn't have to hit out of thick rough. This course is set up in major fashion with narrow fairways and small, firm greens. The rough is going to pose a huge problem to Paula in terms of testing the strength of her hand and forearms. Also, she's going to have to hold back the number of balls she hits and be patient with her shot selection. She will have to monitor the hand daily and be honest with herself when it comes to pushing it too fast and too far.

I sincerely hope Paula can bounce back and play all the events that she desires. However, she should error on the safe side and rest her body rather than push herself to compete in too many events and risk straining more body parts in the long run. I certainly wish her all the best.

Ai Miyazato is #1

Watching Ai Miyazato as she effortlessly waltzed around the Seaview Resort yesterday in 64 shots, I found myself captivated....and not just because I was staring at a monitor calling the shots for Golf Channel's telecast. I was inspired and uplifted because of the simplicity she displayed in winning her 4th LPGA event of the year (5th overall) and first on US soil. The utimate compliment of any action done is "you made it look so easy!" That's exactly what Ai did. All of us who play golf and have played golf competetively know it wasn't easy at all. She withstood pressure from returning Paula Creamer, charging Suzann Pettersen and newcomer MJ Hur, among others and continued to execute. Only she knows how it truly felt, but to watch her play so brilliantly knowing she'd be the first Japanese player, woman or man, to achieve the #1 Ranking in the World was impressive.

Beyond the flawless technique, dazzling short game and amazing putting, Ai looks like she's having a blast! In this day of angry outbursts, grimacing faces, death stares or even worse--the robotic, trance-like way golfers work their way around the course, it's refreshing to see such simple pure joy from Ai. Watching her makes you want to grab your own clubs and head out to the course. Next time I tee it up, I am going to visualize her slow, beautiful timing and try to emulate it. I'd suggest the same to everyone!

As if attaining the #1 Rolex Ranking weren't enough, Ai is in Rochester to try and win her first Major at the Wegmans Rochester LPGA Championship. Chako Higuchi is the only Japanese woman to capture a major and she won the LPGA Championship in 1977. The great Hall of Fame golfer Ayako Okamoto won 17 times on the LPGA tour but never captured a major. Hiromi Kobayashi who was set to be the next Ayako was Rookie of the Year in 1990 and won 4 times, but no major. Japan follows Miyazato feverishly and to have her win a major would be "Major" indeed. Ai has handled the pressure of a nation admirably, although it took her several years to feel comfortable and find her "style".

I know she has the game to win a major and will win one in the near future. Expecting her to win this week, making it two in a row might be too much to ask. In the meantime, enjoy Ai and all she brings to the game.