Belen Mozo makes ace at New Zealand Women’s Open, but doesn’t win car due to loophole

With the Presidents Cup taking place at Liberty National this week, and Sam Saunders joining the 59 club at the Web.com Tour Finals, it was difficult to keep up with everything in the golf world.

But the ladies are playing a golf tournament as well, all the way in Auckland, New Zealand. The field at the Mckayson New Zealand Women’s Open is quite strong, featuring stars like Lydia Ko, Brooke Henderson and Danielle Kang. But they are all chasing Spain’s Belen Mozo, who fired rounds of 66 and 64 to take a five shot lead at 14-under 130 through 36 holes.

Mozo, 29, was already working on a stellar second round when she reached the par-3 13th Windross Farm Golf Course, but it got a little more special after her tee shot took flight:

If you notice, there is a sleek little Infiniti Q60 in the background that Mozo eventually embraces after her ball finds the cup. There’s just one tiny problem: the rules say the car can only be won on the weekend. Dagger!

While it will surely sting, she can quickly forget about it with two more solid rounds on the weekend as she searches for her first LPGA Tour victory.

courtesy of Christopher Powers (golfdigest.com)

A 9,000-yard course would be nuts, but it’s also fast becoming a necessity

Over the last month, golf’s ruling bodies—the United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient—have conducted their most important championships, offering a referendum on their stewardship of the professional game.

At the U.S. Open, Justin Thomas became the first man to post a nine-under round at a major and Brooks Koepka decimated the longest course in U.S. Open history, posting a record 16-under on an Erin Hills layout that played around 7,800 yards. One former champion told GOLF.com, “This is not what the Open is supposed to be. It’s a joke. A highlight show.” At last week’s Open Championship, Branden Grace broke golf’s four-minute-mile barrier,torching Royal Birkdale with a record round of 62. Grace ranks 108th on the PGA Tour in driving distance; on his historic day, Birkdale played less than 7,200 yards and a short-knocker like Grace hit 9-iron or less into 10 greens, with the longest club he employed into any par 4 being a 7-iron. The longest hitters faced even less of a test as the game’s oldest championship had essentially been reduced to a pitch-and-putt.

I have been saying for years that to seriously challenge Tour players—to make them hit long-irons into some par 3s and 4s, and have a few 5s be true three-shot holes—a course needs to be around 9,000 yards. Maybe 10,000. I tweeted this in the wake of Grace’s 62 and it ruffled the feathers of many folks, including various Tour players. “That is complete nonsense!” Billy Horschel replied, with typical understatement. Colt Knost offered a similarly nuanced take: “U seriously have no idea what ur talking about!”

I’m not saying a 9,000-yard course is a good idea, only that it has become a necessity. Luke Donald partially fleshed out the problem with this solution: “SMH & 7 hour rounds, how fun Alan.” It’s true that a course of that length would require an obscene amount of land and water and time to play. But the USGA and R&A have shown no stomach for rolling back the pros’ gear.

The entire equipment industry is built on FOMO; we all want to play the latest and greatest stuff that the pros use. A reduced-flight ball would be a disaster for fan interest: Who wants to watch Dustin Johnson drive it 270 when we can do it ourselves? So while throttling back the ball and driver would be an easy fix to make today’s courses relevant again, I am operating under the premise that it will never happen, despite the pleas of Jack Nicklaus and many other truth-tellers. So where does the game go from here?

Course setup seems like an easy answer. As Knost tweeted at me, “They can’t help that there is no wind and soft greens [at Birkdale]. Deep rough firm greens [is the answer]. Course can be 6800 yards and play tough. Look at Olympic club.” The same thing was said of Erin Hills: It would have been a totally different test if it had played tournament and fast. But it often rains during the Open Championship, and every U.S. Open and PGA Championship in the Midwest or East is likely to get wet, just as so many Masters weeks have been touched by storms. To bank on dry, fiery conditions to give a venue its teeth is foolish.

Links courses have always used wind as a primary defense and still conditions led to good scoring, but nowadays no wind means these 19th-century playing fields will be destroyed by modern athletes who optimize their performance with trainers, nutritionists, osteopaths, sports psychologists, putting gurus, stats experts, Trackman, Swedish nannies and a host of other modern advances. Unless every major moves to California (home of the Olympic Club), firm and fast will remain a mirage.

So what about deep rough and narrow fairways? No doubt that setup is a deterrent to low scoring. But it also leads to a tedious, constrained style of golf, where shotmaking is diminished. A very penal setup off the tee means power players will simply leave the big stick in the bag. Driving it long and straight is the toughest task in golf, and those who can do both deserve to be rewarded; if there is no room to hit driver, the sport has been diminished and the venue is not offering a true test.

I should state here that I don’t really care about the concept of protecting par. Whether the winning score at a major championship is six under or 14 under is of little interest to me; what I care about is how the score was accomplished. Laying up off the tee with 3-woods and hybrids and hitting short irons into most greens simply makes the game too easy. Birdiefests at everyday Tour events are fun, but the majors should test every aspect of players’ games while pushing them to the brink spiritually.

Jordan Spieth described his third-round 65 at Birkdale as “stress-free.” I’m sorry, but trying to protect a lead in the final group on Saturday at a major should involve some stress. At the U.S. Open last month Dru Love, son of Davis and a college-aged amateur who was playing in his first Open, described Erin Hills, after a first-round 71 as “pretty easy,” while Matt Kuchar’s caddie, John Wood, noted that “nobody’s playing with any fear.” Wood was right. During the final round there was never a sense of imminent danger, the rain-softened course was simply too short, even at 7,800 yards. Erin Hills had been built to accommodate drivers but in the end was bludgeoned to death by them.

This is the point where I should offer a brilliant solution but, alas, there isn’t one. The USGA and R&A have begat a mess that can’t easily be cleaned up. Golf’s most important events now need the perfect mix of sunbaked greens and stiff wind to offer the right challenge. This will happen only occasionally, so in a doomed effort to protect the reputation of the courses (and ruling bodies) you can expect more silly setups like the dead greens at Chambers Bay or shaved greens at the Old Course in 2015, which led to a suspension of play due to wind (even though every other nearby course was open for play), or what we saw at Merion, with crazy pin positions and players hitting irons off the tee at many/most of the par 4s, which is about as boring as golf gets.

Every sport evolves, and golf has done so rapidly this century, which began with the solid-core ball revolution. In response to my original tweet a few folks pointed out that basketball players have grown bigger and stronger and more skilled but the NBA hasn’t raised the rims. That’s because those bigger, stronger players also play defense, keeping the game in balance. The only defense golf courses have today is the weather, with all of its capriciousness, or extreme setups, with all of their flaws. The equivalent of 6’11″ point guard is a 9,000-yard golf course. Like it or not, the time has come.

Courtesy of Alan Shipnuck(golf.com)

 

Lydia Ko regains form, ties Lexi Thompson for Indy lead

Lydia Ko delivered a clear message to her LPGA Tour rivals Friday.

She’s having fun again – and she’s ready to start winning again.

The 20-year-old New Zealander shot an 8-under 64 and grabbed a share of the lead with Lexi Thompson at 15-under 129 with a round left in the Indy Women in Tech Championship. If Ko puts together one more solid round Saturday, she could finally pick up her first win since July 2016.

“I know I’ve still got a whole, full 18 holes tomorrow to go, but I think really the key was that I’ve just kind of enjoyed being in this position and being able to hit some good shots and give myself some good looks at birdie,” Ko said. “When you start doing that, it builds your confidence and you’re not dwelling on, ‘Hey, am I going to hit a good shot or a bad shot.’ I think that’s kind of the mindset that I’ve kind of gotten into the last few months.”

After a summer full of frustration, the 14-time tour winner has shifted gears at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s golf course.

Ko started the season with four top-10 finishes in seven events, but hasn’t finished higher than 10th since. She even missed the cuts in two of her last three tournaments.

Somehow, amid the intermittent sounds of chirping birds, jet engines, sirens and car horns while playing in the shadows of the racetrack’s grandstands, Ko found some serenity.

While playing partners Anna Nordqvist and Stacy Lewis, the winner last week in Portland, Oregon, struggled, Ko took advantage of the wide fairways and receptive greens and started playing like the world’s No. 1 player- a title she held for more than 80 consecutive weeks.

Now No. 8 in the world, Ko started on the back nine and opened with consecutive birdies to tie Thompson at 9 under. Ko finally broke the tie with a birdie at No. 15, then took charge with five straight birdies on the front side to reach 16 under. The only glitch came on No. 8 when Ko missed the green to the left and slid her par putt to the right for a bogey.

“It was a little disappointing to finish off with a bogey on my 17th hole, but I felt like I played the toughest hole out there,” she said while Thompson prepared to tee off nearby. “Sometimes you have those mistakes but you need to move on from that. To me, it’s just nice to play some solid golf and put myself in a good position.”

Ko also understood her score might not hold up for the outright lead.

Thompson made sure of it, following her opening 63 with a 66.

The 22-year-old Florida player closed out the front nine with three birdies on the final four holes then adding birdies at Nos. 13 and 14 to tie Ko. But Thompson’s birdie putt at No. 16 missed just to the left of the hole and she wound up scrambling for par on the final two holes when her approaches went through the greens.

“Actually, I didn’t hit one bad golf shot today,” Thompson said. “I feel great about it, I’ll never complain about a 6-under round.”

The final threesome Saturday might not need to do much scoreboard watching.

Candie Kung made nine birdies and shot a 64 to reach 14 under.

“Luckily, I was able to hit some really close ones and have some 3-footers and 5-footers for birdies and I pretty much made all of them except the last one,” Kung said.

Ashleigh Buhai was fourth at 11 under after a 66, and Cristie Kerr (67) and Amy Olson (68) were 10 under.

Kerr has more than golf on her mind.

“We live in Scottsdale, Arizona, right now, but my whole family is there (in Florida) and tons of friends and I’m just really, really worried for everybody,” Kerr said as her home state braces for Hurricane Irma.

Sandra Gal was tied with Kung at 14 under, then bogeyed the par-3 15th and hit two drives into the water on the par-4 16th en route to a 10. She finished with a 73 to drop eight strokes behind the leaders.

Amateur Erica Shepherd was 5 under after a 68.

Lewis made the cut on the number at 2 under with rounds of 72 and 70.

Nordqvist failed to advance, shooting 74-71 to finish at 1 over.

Courtesy AP NEWS