Friday, April 12, 2024
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PEBBLE BEACH, California: The USGA doesn’t hold an annual dinner for past champions like at the Masters or PGA Championship, just on special occasions.

Being at Pebble Beach is a special occasion, and the “Reunion of Champions” attracted quite the crowd. The USGA said 39 former Women’s Open champions gathered on Monday night, ranging in age from 22-year-old Yuka Saso to 84-year-old Jo Anne Carner.

“To see 39 of the champions to gather together and to get a chance to catch up and talk, great food, great wine, and for the USGA to put this together, to fly everybody in and for Pebble Beach to host down there at the beach club, it doesn’t get much better than that,” said Annika Sorenstam, who has three Women’s Open titles.

Sorenstam said various players were asked to share stories of their victories, and that went as far back as the 1960s — Mary Mills defeated Louise Suggs and Sandra Haynie at Kenwood Country Club in Cincinnati in 1963.

“I hope that we can continue that tradition,” Sorenstam said.

The most recent winner was Minjee Lee last year at Pine Needles, and she said some of the stories include prize money. The entire purse was $9,000 in 1963, and Mills earned $1,900 that week. This year’s purse is expected to top the $10 million from last year. “Every time you have interactions with the older generation, you just realize that we all have a job because of them,” Michelle Wie West said. “Because they were our founders, because of the women that came before us, because of all the hard work and things that they did to make the tour better.”

Lee got a special pep talk from two-time Women’s Open champion and fellow Australian Karrie Webb. Lee is the defending champion. The last player to go back-to-back in the Women’s Open was Webb in 2001. “She said the next one has to be an Aussie, too,” Lee said. “A little bit of added pressure, but it was pretty cool for her to say that to me.”

TRAVEL PLANS

The LPGA Tour was in New Jersey for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and then had a week off before the US Women’s Open at Pebble Beach. Good thing, too, because last week was chaotic with all the flight cancellations.

The winner, Ronni Yin, was trying to get to her home in Orlando, Florida. Her flight was cancelled on Monday, and Tuesday wasn’t looking good until she got a flight from Newark to Key West, and then a plane change to Orlando. “It’s very strange,” Yin said.

And then there was Rose Zhang. Appearing on Golf Channel, Zhang said she had a Monday outing at Merion and then her flight out of Philadelphia was cancelled. By the time she got booked on another flight, all the hotel rooms were booked so she slept on the couch at a hotel.

Eventually, Zhang paid to be driven to Baltimore, only for that to be cancelled. She headed up to Atlantic City where her management, Excel Sports, got her on a private flight with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who was headed to Las Vegas for a made-for-TV golf exhibition.

She finally got to Los Angeles on Wednesday night.

“I’ve been sitting for around eight to 10 hours in the time that I was there at the airport and in the hotel, hopping on, I guess, Ubers and hopping on flights,” she said. “But I was able to go home for a little bit and get a little massage, was able to practice at my home course, and spent three, four hours there.”

ROUGH START

Ronni Yin is the latest major champion on the LPGA and the second major winner from China. She first picked up a club when she was 4. She didn’t really start playing until she was 10, and there’s a reason for that. She was at a driving range with her parents. Her father was teaching her mother how to swing. The young girl was curious. “He was standing behind me and he told me, ‘Don’t swing,’ because I was grabbing a club,” Yin said. “I did one swing anyway, and I just hit his head and he got four stitches. It wasn’t very fun. After that, I didn’t touch a club at all until I was 10.”

Her passion was basketball, and she still loves to shoot. But she didn’t give up entirely on golf, even if it took some coaxing. “There’s a summer camp in China and my mom said, ‘Maybe you should go try it. If you go, I’ll take you to a movie.’ That’s why I really started,” she said.

It has worked out well. The Women’s PGA at Baltusrol was her second LPGA victory this year.

THE CLIFF

Nelly Korda got her first look at Pebble Beach on Monday and loved everything she saw, except for one view. She played her second shot to the par-4 eighth and glanced over at the steep cliff at the end of the fairway. She couldn’t help but think of Jordan Spieth hitting a 7-iron from the edge of the cliff during the 2021 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. “I looked to the side and I was like, ‘Oh my God, Jordan was crazy,’” Korda said. “I saw that they actually grew out the grass there. That’s probably because of him.” She might have a point. The cut of rough was extended and slightly thicker at this year’s PGA Tour event in February.

SHOTLINK

Michelle Wie West believes a strong set of statistics would go a long way toward being able to present women’s golf to a broader audience. It’s a costly venture. KMPG contributed a few years ago with an “Insights Performance” in which a player’s caddie records all the information to provide shot analysis. “We need to be able to engage fans with technology and statistics, especially for our broadcasters,” Wie West said. “When they say, ‘Jin Young Ko is good,’ OK, we need stats to back that up.” The US Women’s Open will be different. The USGA is relying on the PGA Tour’s ShotLink system in which cameras are in every fairway and around every green that will allow for each shot from each player to be recorded and analyzed. It also was available at the US Open two weeks ago in Los Angeles.

DIVOTS

Alabama sophomore Nick Dunlap followed his victory in the Northeast Amateur at Wannamoisett by capturing the North & South Amateur at Pinehurst, strengthening his bid to make the Walker Cup team this year. … Bernhard Langer won the US Senior Open at SentryWorld for his record 46th title on the PGA Tour Champions, making Wisconsin the 15th state where he has won on the PGA Tour Champions. By way of comparison, Tiger Woods won his 82 PGA Tour titles in 16 states. … The Heritage Classic is returning to the PGA Tour of Australasia schedule next January for the first time since 2013. … Albane Valenzuela tied for sixth in the ShopRite LPGA Classic two weeks ago. That moved her up seven spots to No. 70 in the world, and she got into the US Women’s Open this week for being in the top 75.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Bernhard Langer occupies the top five spots on the list of oldest winners of the PGA Tour Champions.

“I think his secret sauce is his desire. I don’t know that he’s ever lost his desire to play, to compete, to improve. And I think that’s what it takes as you get older.” — Jay Haas on Bernhard Langer, who set the PGA Tour Champions record at the US Senior Open with his 46th title.

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