ORLANDO, FL. — Funny thing about the LPGA. The premier women’s tour in golf ended its 2022 season and started its 2023 campaign with Florida tournaments that were marred by some discontent.
The sponsor of last November’s CME Championship wasn’t happy that all the players competing for the biggest first-prize in women’s golf didn’t show up for the tournament’s gala banquet. The players weren’t happy when they arrived at Lake Nona Country Club last week for the season-opening Tournament of Champions and found out that they weren’t provided with lockers in the clubhouse and that their time on the practice range would be limited.
Still, the show — featuring 29 LPGA players who had won tournaments in the last two years and a concurrent co-ed celebrity event, conducted with a Stableford point format for 56 players from the sports and entertainment world — had to go on, and it turned out a good one.
Especially for Canadian Brooke Henderson, who led wire to wire in winning the LPGA event with a 16-under par score of 272 for the 72 holes and earned $225,000. She had a four-stroke advantage on England’s Charley Hull and Sweden’s Maja Stark, neither of whom were disappointed.
“It was a great way to start the season,’’ said Hull. “When I got here I didn’t know where my swing was at. Now I’ve got three weeks off (the next tournament is in Thailand next month).’’
“This wasn’t a normal competition, but if I keep going like this it could be my best year yet,’’ said Stark.
Henderson was the runner-up to Danielle Kang in last year’s Tournament of Champions. On Sunday she claimed her 13th LPGA title in her first tournament after switching to TaylorMade clubs.
“I’m really happy I made the switch,’’ said Henderson. “I’m super-excited. This was a dream start, and I love this championship because it’s so unique.’’
The celebrity event was won by Mardy Fish, a former tennis star who had captained the U.S. Davis Cup team. Fish was also the celebrity champion in 2021.
This time that division turned into a unique sideshow because it featured a load of Chicago athletic stars, past and present. Jeremy Roenick, the former Blackhawks’ great, did the best of that lot. Paired with legendary golfer and Lake Nona member Annika Sorenstam, Roenick finished fifth – one point behind Sorenstam. Brian Urlacher, the ex-Bears’ star, tied for ninth. Baseballers Ian Happ, Jon Lester, Greg Maddux and A.J. Pierzynski were also in the celebrity field.
SEBRING, FL. -The International Network of Golf is a fixture at the PGA Merchandise Show and the Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship. ING also hosted an annual Spring Conference around the country prior to pandemic concerns.
Still on the brink of celebrating his group’s 30th anniversary, ING executive director Mike Jamison moved in another direction. He organized his first Fall Forum, an event that was smaller in number of attendees than other events when ING members got together but its format may well be the wave of the future.
Attendees got a more close-up look at new golf gear in advance of January’s PGA Show as well as an informative social marketing seminar led by Sabrina Andolpho, a former college golfer turned social media whiz.
And all that was in addition to two golf outings – the first at the Citrus Golf Tour Open’s pro-am and the second at the return of the Durland Cup scramble. The Citrus Tour is a minor league circuit that offered a $20,000 first prize at its tournament immediately after the pro-am at Sun ‘N Lakes Country Club. The Durland Cup has been a fixture at ING events over the years.
This time, though, the four — more personalized — new gear presentations may have been the event’s biggest hit. Here’s what they revealed:
ZERO FRICTION’S WHEEL PRO – Illinois-based Zero Friction has come on like gangbusters, with president John Iacono coming out previously with new tees, gloves, rangefinders and balls. Now comes the much more cutting edge bags and trolleys.
Iacono introduced his first version at last January’s PGA Show but the launch of the Wheel Pro, a pushcart bag, didn’t go smoothly. It has removable wheels, weighs only 10 pounds and is great for traveling.
“We had a delay in getting them out,’’ Iacono said. “They were supposed to arrive in April but didn’t until late August. Supply issues.’’
That’s been an all too frequent problem in many industries in the aftermath of the pandemic, but Iacono is more optimistic about his newest products – The Hybrid and The Fairway. He expects the Hybrid – a power version of the Wheel Pro — to hit the marketplace in mid- to late-2023 and he’ll provide a sneak preview of The Fairway on the Thursday of the 2023 PGA Show in Orlando, FL.
The Fairway is an electric, follow me remote control golf bag that is being developed in England. Golfers can set the speed, and it’ll include a 36-hole rechargeable battery. A ramp is under construction that will be used during the PGA Show introduction.
Weighing 32 pounds, The Fairway is not designed for carrying and Iacono anticipates a market price of $1,899.
PROUD 90 – Want something different in golf apparel? Rick Versace has it, though he isn’t sure his famous clothing designer last name is part of the equation. Versace founded Proud 90 three years ago and is now its chief executive officer.
“Our mission is to make golf as much fun as possible for all skill levels,’’ said Versace, who said the company name comes from that fact that “most golfers don’t break 90.’’
He got the idea after watching PGA star Rickie Fowler (on television) playing with no shoes on one of the nicest courses in the country.
“We wanted to create a vacation vibe, no matter where you’re at,’’ said Versace. His polos started with Hawaiian prints and progressed from there to include a variety of eye-catching designs. They’re also known for being especially comfortable. The company’s logo – a dog standing on a green gazing up at a flagstick – underscores that. That dog is Versace’s Great Dane, named Tank.
Versace now has 12 sales reps and his polos are in 250 clubs around the country. They’re priced at $79 retail and $39 wholesale. They have ING’s support. Jamison declared the Proud 90 “the official ING apparel company for at least six months….We’ll see how that goes, but we love it so far.’’
MAKEFIELD PUTTERS – Pennsylvania-based Everett Farr was browsing through a lot of golf ads during pandemic days, and that encouraged him to take his engineering talents into the creation of a state-of-the-art putter. Its adjustable weighting system makes it stand out and provides its users with a wide variety of customization options.
The Makefield putters are designed with Path of Inertia, which guides your stroke, balances the clubface to the path to the hole and provides centeredness of impact. That encourages an immediate, consistent roll that should lead to lower scores. Five tour players and some Walker Cup players are testing it.
“One of my companies made a prototype,’’ said Farr, who got immediate positive feedback. Three months later the putter was in construction.
Michael Little, a two-time Philadelphia PGA Player of the Year, is a co-founder of Makefield and Michael Brown, who held the amateur titles of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware at the same time, is part of the Makefield team.
Farr came up with the Makefield name on a drive through Lower Makefield, a Pennsylvania town on the Delaware River.
“Make’’ is what a putter is designed to do, and `field’ is who you play against in a tournament,’’ said Farr, who still occasionally plays with a Ping putter that his father – a PGA Tour official – gave him in 1968. The Makefield version has captured his heart, however.
“This is all new to me, but it’s an absolutely amazing putter,’’ said Farr.
BUCKET GOLF – You’ve got to have fun with this company’s golf balls. Mac Ross certainly has.
“We sell golf balls,’’ said Mac Ross, who launched his company last May. “Buckets is associated with basketball, but it works with golf, too.’’
Mac’s wife is a teaching pro who grew up on a golf course, and he recalls selling balls gathered off a course near his home when he was 10 years old. Both have full-time jobs now but are having fun with their new business venture.
They’ve named the apparel company logo “Buckey’’ and are looking to give their raccoon mascot a marketing personality. The ball packaging is the best part, though. Its round shape —like a coffee can — makes it multi-purpose. It could be converted into putting cup, along with a variety of storage uses. No other golf ball manufacturer showcases its product the way Bucky does.
Apparel and golf accessories will come later, but for now Bucket balls are working out just fine. Ross got off to a promising start at the ING Fall Forum. Though not professing to be a great golfer, he won the long drive contest at one of the Fall Forum outings.
“He hit it at least 350,’’ marveled Jamison. Ross, of course, hit a Bucket ball on his long blast and another player made a hole-in-one with the ball at another of the outings.
Bucket balls so far have been made in China, and Ross is looking for manufacturers in South America and Taiwan. Ross has applied for USGA ball approval and expects no problem getting it. The balls are being sold off the company’s website (BucketsGolfBalls.com) for $28.99, not including shipping.
SEBRING, FL. — The International Network of Golf’s first Fall Forum in 2022 couldn’t have been scripted better for Joy and me.
In Tuesday’s pro-am for the Citrus Golf Tour Open we played on different teams. Joy witnessed a hole in one by her professional partner, Chris Wiatr, and my team’s pro, Donnie Trosper, tied Chris for low pro honors by holing out his last shot from the rough. Donnie, good friend Tony Leodora and I won the team title.
That produced some understandable excitement but nothing like Joy created on Wednesday in the Durland Cup Scramble at Sebring Golf Club. Joy wasn’t happy with her play on Tuesday but that was quickly forgotten in the Durland Cup, an annual feature at ING events. Joy started her round playing well and made her first-ever hole-in one on the fifth hole, sinking a 7-wood shot from 101 yards.
Joy and I were in the same group this time, with noted golf architect Ron Garl, eSouthernGolf editor Dave Daubert and Joey Johnson of Alabama’s Southern Fairways as our partners. Joy used the new Buckets golf ball, which was introduced at the Fall Forum by Mac Ross of Palm City, FL.
BELLEAIR, FLORIDA – This is the ultimate crunch time for women’s golf. The CME Group Tour Championship, which offers the biggest prize fund in women’s golf history — $7 million with $2 million going to the champion. That tournament tees off on Thursday at Tiburon in Naples, FL.
The last full-field event on the LPGA Tour, the Pelican Championship, concluded less than a three-hour drive from Tiburon on Sunday to set the stage for this week’s big one. This year’s CME event provides a stage eerily reminiscent of last season when South Korea’s Jin Young Ko emerged the champion for the second straight year.
She didn’t play in the Pelican — won by Nelly Korda in another duel of American stars with Lexi Thompson — and may not play in the season finale, either. As was the case last year, Jin Young Ko has been bothered by a wrist injury and hasn’t competed since September. But this year the stakes are even higher for the season finale. Women’s golf is clearly on the upswing.
Last year’s CME purse was $5 million with $1.5 million to the winner. The Pelican is offering more, too. Korda took home $300,000 from a purse of $2 million in her second victory, and next year the tournament will be rebranded as The Annika – a tribute to the legendary Annika Sorenstam who will become the tourney’s hostess. There’ll be $3.5 million in prize money with $2 million going to the winner in 2023.
Anyway, those upgrades paled with the comparisons to last year on this day. Again, it was a Korda-Thompson battle to the end. The day started with Thompson in a three-way tie for second, one stroke behind leader Allisen Corpuz, and Korda another stroke back.
Korda’s playing partner, Spain’s Carlota Ciganda, was the only other player to contend. She birdied the first four holes to take a two-stroke lead, then dropped back with two late front-nine bogeys and didn’t threaten again.
In the end Korda shot 64, finished her 54 holes at 14-under-par 196. Thompson was one stroke back after posting a 66.
A year ago Thompson and Korda were tied for the lead with two holes remaining in the Pelican. Korda made triple bogey on No. 17 but in the end It didn’t matter. Thompson made bogey at 17 and another one at the 18 to set up a four-player playoff to determine the winner. Korda won it, nabbing her fourth title of a great season and savoring the No. 1 world ranking going into the CME shootout.
This time Thompson took the lead midway through the final round, then lost it with bogeys at Nos. 12 and 13. Korda took command with birdies at Nos. 16 and 17 but made bogey at 18. Thompson couldn’t take advantage, and that made Korda a repeat champion who will regain the No. 1 world ranking officially on Monday – a great accomplishment since she suffered a blood clot in her left arm and missed some tournaments after undergoing surgery in March.
“Back-to-back sounds sweet,’’ said Korda. “Life’s been a roller coaster, and there’s been more downs than ups this year. That’s what makes this win so much sweeter to me.’’
Korda was No. 1 from Nov. 8, 2021, to Jan. 30, 22. Her health problems made her regaining the lofty status all the more remarkable.
“I’ve never been a player who looked at the rankings too much,’’ said Korda, “but going through what I’ve been through this year and regaining the world No. 1 rank is really special.’’
While Korda celebrated Sunday was another downer for Thompson. She was the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open when she was 12. She turned pro at 15 and won her first major title at 19. Now she’s 27 and hasn’t won since the ShopRite Classic of 2019.
The tales of the top American stars will be only minor sidelights once the top 60 players in the CME rankings gather at Tiburon, the only course to host events on three tours. PGA Tour Champions has its Chubbs Classic there and the PGA’s QBE Shootout, formerly the Shark Shootout, is also played there. Thompson and Korda are scheduled to compete against the men in the QBE event.
Jin Young Ko was last year’s star, and this year it could be the Atthaya Thistik, a 19-year old from Thailand. She won her first professional tournament at 14 and was this year’s LPGA Rookie of the Year. Like Jin Young Ko, she didn’t play in the Pelican.
BELLEAIR, Florida – As the last full-field event of the season, the Pelican Championship is important for LPGA players. The top 60 on the season point list qualify for next week’s $7 million CME Group Championship in Naples, where $2 million – the largest first prize in the history of women’s golf – will be on the line. Plus, the top 100 on the point list after Sunday’s final round here earn their playing privileges for the 2023 season.
The final staging of the 120-player event under the name of The Pelican hasn’t been ideal. Originally scheduled for 72 holes, the first round was cancelled due to a visit from Hurricane Nicole on Thursday and the event was reduced to 54 holes.
Nicole, the second hurricane ravaging most of Florida in the last six weeks, left the course soggy for Friday’s rescheduled Round 1 and created a shortage of space for parking. The main lot was too muddy in some spots on a day when organizers had planned a Veterans Day celebration amidst the golf.
None of that bothered Mexico’s Maria Fassi, however. She wasn’t qualified for the CME event heading into the Pelican but took the first-round lead with an 8-under-par 62. That was good for a two-stroke lead on American Lexi Thompson, Hong Kong’s Tiffany Chan, Spain’s Carlota Ciganda, Republic of Korea’s Hy Joo Kim, and Germany’s Isa Gabsa entering Saturday’s Round 2.
“Every one of us wants to be at the CME,’’ said Fassi, “and this had been a tough season for me at the beginning. I got back on my feet towards the middle and now – especially after today’s round – I have a chance. I’ve just got to keep doing what I did today. If I keep taking care of myself and hitting good golf shots that will take care of itself.’’
The day off caused by the hurricane worked in Fassi’s favor after she played tournaments in Japan and Korea the last two weeks.
“I loved it,’’ said Fassi. Poor putting held her back the last two weeks, but not on Friday. She shot 30 on the back nine, making an eagle at No. 14 and lipping out a birdie put on No. 18 that would have given her the tournament course record. Ireland’s Leona Maguire shot 62 in the first round last year.
“I knew a round like this could happen any time in the year,’’ said Fassi. But she was especially glad it happened Friday when she badly needed it.
Despite the inopportune time for the hurricane’s visit, the Pelican has been elevating its profile lately.
In September the LPGA and tournament staff announced that the Tampa Bay area’s LPGA event would be rebranded as “The Annika Driven by Gainbridge at Pelican,’’ in honor of legendary Annika Sorenstam assuming the duties of tournament host. Sorenstam’s Foundation will benefit from the event, to be played Nov. 6-12, 2023.
Along with that development came the announcement that the prize fund would be increased from this year’s $2 million to $3.25 million in 2023. That’ll make the tournament the LPGA’s best-paying event outside of the major championships and the CME Group climax to the season.
Gainbridge had sponsored LPGA tournaments in Indianapolis from 2017-19 and Boca Raton and Orlando, in Florida, the last three years. The company wanted to stay involved with the premier women’s golf circuit.
More recently The Pelican was named the site of “The Match,’’ an exhibition entering its seventh season on Dec. 10. The format has changed over the years, and next month’s version at the Pelican will be played over 12 holes under the lights with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy taking on Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth.
FRENCH LICK, Indiana – It’s transition time for women golfers at Indiana’s premier golf resort.
It’s hard to imagine any golf facility doing more for the women’s game in the last decade than this southern Indiana resort has been willing to step forward for two pro circuits — The Legends for players who have reached their 45th birthday and the Epson (formerly the Symetra) for future Ladies PGA Tour stars.
“We’ve been a long-term supporter of women’s golf,’’ said French Lick long-time director of golf Dave Harner. “There’s been a lot of opportunities here for the ladies to play.’’
That’s putting it mildly.
French Lick, best known for being the boyhood home of basketball legend Larry Bird, was in a revival mode after its oldest course – the Donald Ross – underwent a renovation while construction on its newest one – the spiffy Pete Dye Course – was wrapping up.
The resort needed a big event to showcase its new course, and the LPGA’s Legends Tour needed a big tournament. It was a good marriage.
French Lick put the focus on the Legends Tour, which was only nominally a part of the LPGA at the time. It consisted of women touring professionals who had hit their 45th birthday. One of them, Jane Blalock, struggled to get a circuit started for her colleagues in 2000, but it took French Lick leadership to really get it done.
The Legends Championship, a 54-hole tournament with a $500,000 purse, made its debut in 2013 on the spectacular Pete Dye Course, and that wasn’t all. The resort also established the Legends Hall of Fame in its West Baden Springs Hotel.
Lorie Kane was the Legends first champion followed by Laurie Rinker, Juli Inkster and Trish Johnson. In 2017 the Legends Championship was transitioned into the first major championship for senior women players. It became the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship, and Johnson won again.
French Lick not only paid a substantial price to get television coverage but 2017 also marked the arrival of the Symetra Tour in town. The young, budding LPGA stars competed in the Donald Ross Memorial tourney, held to celebrate the centennial of the oldest of the little town’s three courses. Three LPGA tourneys had been held there, including the 1959 and 1960 LPGA Championships.
Using the golf spotlight to benefit the Riley Children’s Hospital, French Lick also hosted Senior LPGA Championships in 2018, 2019 and 2021 and the Symetra’s Donald Ross Classic in from 2017-19 and 2021. Neither tournament was held in 2020 because of pandemic issues.
That was a big load for any golf facility to take on, so something had to give. It was “So long, Legends’’ and a big welcome back to the Epson Tour, which had taken over the title of the developmental circuit.
The Legends had a great run at French Lick, with some celebrated champions before departing. Laura Davies followed Johnson as the winner of the Senior LPGA in in 2018, Helen Alfredsson was the champion in 2019 and Johnson won again last year.
Harner, in a final farewell to the senior stars, played in the pro-am prior to this year’s Senior LPGA at Salina Country Club, in Kansas. Their circuit is now called The Legends of the LPGA but it’s in transition, too. Blalock took a diminished role in the circuit’s operation when Jane Geddes was named executive director. Geddes didn’t stay in that role very long, though, and now Linda Chen is the circuit’s executive director of business development.
Over the years the Legends have raised nearly $24 million for charity, and that number will grow with three more events on this year’s schedule – The Land O’ Lakes Classic in Minnesota this month, BJ/s Charity Classic in Massachusetts in September and the Rosie Jones Invitational in South Carolina in October. Those players also have a second major championship coming up with the U.S. Senior Women’s Open Aug. 25-28 at NCR in Dayton, Ohio.
This year’s Donald Ross Charity Classic won’t have the same big names in women’s golf in its field but will have the brightest young stars, headed by the season’s leading money-winner, Lucy Ly.
Previously known as the Futures and Symetra tours, the Epson has been around for 41 years but the tourney at French Lick will be something special.
Most significant is the prize money — $335,000, with $50,250 going to the champion. It’s also a 72-hole event, a rarity on the women’s pro circuits, and has been designated as the Epson’s flagship eent, meaning it will offer more Rolex World Golf Rankings points than any tournament this season.
Two full-field pro-ams are on tap for Wednesday on the Pete Dye Course and the LPGA is livestreaming the last two rounds of the tournament.
“It’ll be big,’’ said Harner. “It’s the biggest purse in their history.’’ The previous biggest purse was $300,000 in 2019 when the tourney was held at a layout on Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
Casey Danielson earned $37,500 for her win in last year’s event at French Lick. That catapulted the former Stanford University golfer to the LPGA, but she’s coming back to French Lick to defend her title this week.
Erynne Lee, in 2017; Stephanie Kono (2018) and Patty Tavatanakit (2019), were other winners of the Donald Ross tourney. They’ll find a much different atmosphere and challenge when they take to the Pete Dye Course.
A couple young stars to watch include 17-year old rookie phenom Alex Pano and Jaravee Boonchant, who arrived last week from her native Thailand. Even without a practice round on the tournament course Boonchant was a seven-shot winner in the Illinois Women’s Open immediately after arriving in the United States. She went on to finish a strong tie for 13th on Sunday in the Epson Tour’s Firekeepers tournament in Michigan.
The Firekeepers had a surprise champion in Xiaowen Yin, who won in a playoff with Gina Kim. Yin, who won $30,000, came into the tournament at No. 24 on the season money list while Kim was No. 6.
“The Pete Dye Course has a tradition of hosting major championship golf,’’ said Mike Nichols, chief business officer of LPGA Qualifying Tours. “By elevating the tournament experience for the Epson Tour, French Lick Resort has set an example for our current and future partners of how we can ally to support these professional athletes chasing their dreams.’’
The 27th version of the Phil Kosin Illinois Women’s Open turned into one of the more unusual ones on Tuesday. It all turned on great approaches to the No. 10 green by the only two players who seriously contender for the title on the Mistwood course in Romeoville.
Amateur Addison Klonowski stuck her approach on the short par-4 to within inches of the flagstick, then playing partner Jaravee Boonchant rattled her’s off the flagstick. After Boonchant’s ball hit Klonowski’s ball both marked their balls and made their birdie putts. They both felt that the weird turn of events was the key to Boonchant’s seven-stroke victory.
Boonchant made five back-nine birdies en route to a closing 67, and Klonowski – a high school senior who lives in Naples, FL. – was convinced she couldn’t keep up after that. As it turned out, she couldn’t.
“There was nothing I could do. She was making everything,’’ said Klonowski, who used the IWO as preparation for next week’s PGA Junior Championship at Cog Hill. “I just tried to stay in my own game and stay composed.’’
“On the back nine I got momentum,’’ said Boonchant, who turned professional last summer and won her first tournament in America at Mistwood. She’s from Thailand and didn’t get to Chicago until Sunday.
That meant she couldn’t get in a practice round at Mistwood, but she still played the course in 7-under-par 137 in the event’s new 36-hole format. She was the only player to finish under par and her margin of victory tied the second largest in IWO history. Emily Collins won by nine in 2014.
Both Boonchant and Klonowski have only remote ties to Chicago. Klonowski’s father is from Downers Grove, and she’s been a summer visitor to Chicago in an effort to avoid the Florida heat. This, however, was her first IWO appearance.
Boonchant, like Klonowski, also spends most of her time in America in Florida. She stays in Orlando while she is preparing for events on the LPGA’s Epson (formerly Symetra) Tour.
“I have a host family in Chicago, and they signed me up for this tournament,’’ said Boonchant. She used a Mistwood member, Boone Chommany, as her caddie and the victory earned her $5,000.
As has been the case in recent years, the field was dominated by amateurs. There were 17 of them in the final nine threesomes on the final day. Nicole Jeray, an LPGA veteran who now teaches at Mistwood, tied for 25th.
Jeray had a strong showing – a tie for 15th – on Sunday in the Senior LPGA Championship in Kansas. A two-time IWO champion, she spent Monday night as a guest speaker in the Illinois Junior Golf Association’s first Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at Cantigny, in Wheaton, in between her rounds in the IWO.
SILVIS, IL. – This has been one weird John Deere Classic.
Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour stop usually has a few big names. This one had such mainstays on the circuit as Bubba Watson, Daniel Berger, Steve Stricker and Jason Day among its entrants, but none made it to the starting line.
The local players haven’t stepped forward, either. Highwood’s Patrick Flavin continued to be the best of that bunch, but he’s down in 30th place entering Sunday’s final round. Flavin, at least, got to see Saturday’s round of the day up close and personal. His playing partner, Ohio State alum Bo Hoag, shot a 63, but he’s still back in a tie for sixth after 54 holes.
What this 51st playing of the tournament might produce on Sunday is a wire-to-wire champion – the first since Michael Kim set the tournament scoring record of 27-under-par 257 in an eight-shot victory in 2018.
J.D. Poston has dominated this year so far, and he takes a three-shot lead into the final round. Poston, after rounds of 62, 65 and 67, is three ahead of Scott Stallings, Emiliano Grillo and Denny McCarthy and is at 19-under-par 194 through three rounds.
Poston has had a strange season, though. He missed the cut in his first six tournaments and 10 of his first 14. Last week, however, he tied for second in The Travelers Championship in Hartford, Ct. Xander Schauffele beat him by two shots last Sunday, but Poston didn’t let that get him down.
“I feel great,’’ he said in the midst of his three-day hot streak at TPC Deere Run. “My last few rounds have been great going back into last week, so I’m just trying to keep riding that momentum and not change anything.’’
Poston has but one win in six seasons on the PGA Tour, at the Wyndham Championship in his home state of North Carolina in 2019.
McCarthy was more than just his third-round playing partner this week. They comprised two of the six players sharing a house during the JDC.
“It’s been a fun week,’’ said McCarthy. “We’ve been playing cards and go to dinner together. There’s been no alcohol and we haven’t been throwing any parties, that’s for sure.’’
McCarthy could wind up as Poston’s top challenger on Sunday. He hit all 18 greens in regulation on Saturday and finished birdie-birdie to cut into McCarthy’s lead that was five shots at one point.
While Poston’s game has been sharp for two weeks, McCarthy’s has been encouraging, too. Though McCarthy is winless on the PGA Tour he did contend in two of his last three tournaments, tying for fifth in the Memorial and tying for seventh in the U.S. Open.
In Saturday’s round Stallings shot 64, Grillo 65, McCarthy 66 and Poston 67. Poston’s lead was slipping away until he made eagle at the par-5 seventeenth.
Zach Johnson, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, is gearing up for the British Open in two weeks at St. Andrews – where he won in 2015. He’s also on the JDC Board of Directors and the tourney’s champion in 2012. Johnson goes into Sunday’s final round in a tie for 36th.
“That’s where my mind is right now. I’ve got 11-12 days before St. Andrews so I’ll get focused on that next week,’’ said Johnson. “I’m not there yet. That’s obviously a totally different animal, so my mind is still on tomorrow here.’’
While not ruling himself out, Johnson is interested in Sunday’s battle with three British Open spots on the line for other players.
“There are some guys who may not be household names on this board right now, but they will be,’’ said Johnson. “The quality of golf is going to be spectacular.’’
The first day of spring also coincided with the last day of the PGA Tour’s four-tournament Florida Swing this year, and the final tournament of the Sunshine State’s moment in the sun for 2022 provided the best weather, the biggest crowds, the best scoring and the most drama of the four events.
Sam Burns repeated as the champion of the Valspar Championship, dubbed the PGA Tour’s “most colorful tournament’’ thanks to its paint company sponsor, by beating Davis Riley with a 33-foot birdie putt on the second hole of a sudden death playoff. The winning putt came at the par-4 sixteenth hole – the start of the treacherous three-hole Snake Pit that concludes the respected Copperhead course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor.
The winning putt circled the hole before dropping in, spoiling what would have been a Cinderella-type win for Riley who started the day with a two-stroke lead, then had to bounce back from a triple bogey on the par-5 fifth to force the playoff. He had a chip shot from green-side rough to continue the playoff after Burns’ bomb went in, but his desperation shot went long but didn’t leave him deflated.
“I got punched in the mouth early and had to hit the reset button,’’ said Riley. “But he won in the moment. We’ve probably played against each other since we were 11-12 years old. He just did what he needed to do.’’
“I was really excited,’’ said Burns, who climbed into the No. 10 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings, and he also soared to second in the FedEx Cup standings. “The last couple weeks I tried to not get too high or too low. When the putter came through it was really cool.’’
The winning putt came on the same No. 16 green where he made a key birdie putt en route to his win in the 2021 Valspar. The event was played in May then, and Burns gained more respect for the trio of finishing holes known as the Snake Pit.
“That’s its M.O.,’’ he said. “It comes down to some dramatic finishes, and crazy things happen on that stretch.’’
Burns took a break from the tour after three consecutive missed cuts on the West Coast and he also bypassed the Honda Classic, first of the tournaments on the Florida scene. When he returned he was ready to play. A tie for ninth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a tie for 26th at The Players Championship preceded his rousing win on the Copperhead layout.
The Valspar tournament came down to a battle of 25-year olds after Justin Thomas and Matthew NeSmith faltered on the final hole of regulation play. Burns and Riley played their 72 holes in 17-under-par 267 and Thomas and NeSmith came up one stroke short. Those four players comprised the final two twosomes of the day. No one else really challenged that foursome.
In the other Florida tournaments this last month Austrian Sepp Straka won the Honda Classic with a 10-under performance. Scottie Scheffler was 5-under to take the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Australian Cameron Smith was 13-under in capturing the weather-plagued Players Championship. Those performances paled in comparison to the shot-making on display at Copperhead.
Though NeSmith and Riley haven’t had the success that Burns and Thomas have had on the circuit, NeSmith shot a course record-tying 61 in the second round and Riley had 62 in the third.
Burns, meanwhile, took another big step toward behind recognized as one of golf’s top stars. He won his first PGA Tour event at last year’s Valspar Championship, then won again at the Sanderson Championship in Mississippi last fall. Now he has three wins in a year’s span.
PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL. – Neither Zach Johnson nor Luke Donald looked threatening during Thursday’s first round of the PGA Tour’s traditional Florida Swing.
The veterans teed off within 20 minutes of each other, Donald starting his round off No. 1 and Johnson off No. 10 at the Honda Classic – the first of four straight tournaments in Florida. Johnson finished at 4-over-par 76 and Donald at 2-over 74 and were far back of the leaders.
Their competitiveness figures to change very soon, however, though not as players. Johnson and Donald loom to be opposing captains in the next Ryder Cup matches, to be played in 2023 at Marco Simone in Italy.
If the matchup materializes it’ll pit the most popular player over the years at Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour stop against a Northwestern alum who has remained involved in the Chicago golf scene through his philanthropic and design efforts.
Johnson’s selection as the U.S. captain will become official on Monday at a press conference at PGA of America headquarters here, the day after the Honda finishes its 72-hole run at PGA National. It won’t come as a surprise. Clair Peterson, long-time tournament director and now executive director of the John Deere Classic – Illinois’ lone annual PGA Tour event – congratulated Johnson via Facebook on Thursday and fans at the Honda Classic did the same as Johnson played his first round.
Leading the U.S. won’t be easy. The American side will be trying to end a 30-year stretch without a win on European soil, the last one coming in 1993 at the Belfry in England. Johnson will also have a tough act to follow. A U.S. squad captained by Steve Stricker handed Europe its worst beating with a 19-9 romp at Whistling Straights in Wisconsin in September. That was only the fourth U.S. win in the last 13 Ryder Cups.
Stricker was part of a six-man committee named to pick the next U.S. captain — three PGA Tour players and three PGA of America executives.
Currently battling health problems that have kept him out of tournament play the last three months, Stricker was a long-time U.S. vice captain before becoming the head man, and Johnson was a vice captain at the last two Ryder Cups after playing on five Ryder Cup teams.
A two-time Masters champion, Johnson has long been involved in the operation of the John Deere Classic, a fixture for 50 years in the Quad Cities area. The Iowa native has been a member of the tournament board almost as long as he’s been playing the tour, and he won the JDC in 2012.
Europe has yet to announce its next Ryder Cup captain but Donald has loomed as the likely choice since Lee Westwood, preferring to focus on his playing career, withdrew as a candidate. Padraig Harrington was the captain of the European side at Whisting Straits and is on a five-member committee to pick his successor.
Harrington gave Donald a resounding endorsement in January. So did Graeme McDowell, who served along with Donald as Harrington’s vice captains.
While he hasn’t won a major title Donald’s playing record stands up to Johnson’s. Donald spent 56 weeks holding the No. 1 spot on the Official World Golf Rankings and, in 2011, became the first player to win money titles on both the PGA and European PGA tours in the same year.
After Monday’s big announcement the PGA’s Florida Swing continues with the Arnold Palmer Invitational, at Bay Hill in Orlando; The Players Championship, in Ponte Vedra; and the Valspar Championship, at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbour.