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Cheers to your 2021 U.S. Women’s Open champion

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We’re not giving it away THAT easily, headline skimmers. It was THAT good on Sunday.

Through 10 holes of Sunday’s final round, there was little drama at Olympic Club in San Francisco. That seemed unfair to a club whose very name suggests the height of competition. Come to think of it, Lexi Thompson’s performance to that juncture was quite olympian in its dominance. She had reached 8 under par and was far ahead of all chasers. Her final-round partner, Yuka Saso, had tumbled from the mountain’s heights with consecutive double bogeys at the second and third holes. Along came Nasa Hataoka, a runner-up at the 2018 PGA Championship, with a back-nine run of her own. Thompson then created the drama with double at the 11th and bogey at the 14th. It was as if the inhabitants of Olympus themselves had grown bored and decided to inject the aforementioned drama into the proceedings. How did it finish?

Let’s begin with Saso. She began the day at 6 under one shot behind 54-hole leader Lexi Thompson. At the second hole, her drive squirted far to the right, and she needed two recovery pitch shots to reach the fairway. From there, a third pitch and two putts dropped her to 4 under. At the third, Saso tugged her tee ball into the left front bunker, then exploded to the green’s second tier. She was tentative with her attempt at par, and missed the second putt, making a second double bogey. Saso would find her compass, however. She made birdie at seven, bogey at eleven, and a pair of coming-home birdies at 16 and 17 to reach 4 under par.

Next came Hataoka. The Japanese champion, three times a winner on the LPGA Tour, opened day four with a birdie, then made a double bogey of her own at six. She bounced back with birdie number two at seven and added a third at the ninth. Her train paused momentarily with bogey at 11, then accelerated into the station with three closing birdies, at 13, 14, and 16. She was the first to reach the clubhouse at minus 4 and was joined minutes later by Saso.

And what of Lexi Thompson? If the words to Mighty Casey come to mind, alas, they are all too appropriate. Thompson wore the mantle of leader for so long, it grew heavy. After turning in 34 strokes on the day, a seer would tell her that a score of 39 coming home would win the trophy outright. Thompson is a power player, with a step-out follow-through. For 3.5 days, her swing was in sync, and the numbers were admirable. On Sunday’s inward half, everything came unglued. At 11, her drive went left, but her recovery was quite good, ending thirty yards shy of the green, leaving an uphill pitch for three. The swing decelerated and her wrists cupped, chunking the ball into the slope. From there, another pitch and two putts gave her a crushing double bogey.

Crushing? Not necessarily. Thompson made par at 12 and 13, but missed the fairway high and right at 14. Another pitch down left a wee recovery toss, and again, she was tentative. Two putts led to another bogey, her tally was five-under, and her lead had shrunk to one. Although she made par at 16, that might have been the hole that gutted her. Three perfect shots left her a twelve-foot, downhill run at birdie. For a time, the putt looked good, and what a boost that would have given her. It turned left with 18 inches remaining, and par was all that came of her excellent execution.

It might be too much to review her struggles on the closing 750 yards. Suffice it to say that she took nine strokes. Seven would have won the event. Eight would have gained her a spot in the playoff. Another drive left brought on the bogey at 17 while a misclubbed or mishit approach at 18 dropped her into the Lion’s Mouth bunker fronting the final green. Each of us would clamor for the chance to play as the professionals play, but none of us would ever wish to experience what Lexi Thompson did on June 6, 2021. Our hearts were with her.

And thus did Saso and Hataoka join in the second, two-hole playoff for a U.S. Open crown. The USGA traded its three-hole, aggregate-score format for a two-hole method in 2018. That year, Ariya Jutanugarn survived against Kim Hyo-joo after two additional, sudden-death holes. In 2021, Saso and Hataoka each parred the ninth hole, the first of two in overtime. At the tenuous 18th, the pair again traded fours, so it was off to another sudden-death resolution, the second in three playings of this event.

Return to the ninth tee, they did. And left did Yuka Saso go, into the rough. From there, she hit the approach shot of the week, slashing an iron out of the lettuce onto the putting surface, 10 feet from glory.

And just like that, one hole removed from draining an eight-footer to stay alive, Saso dreamed the birdie putt into the hole and tied Inbee Park to the day as the youngest U.S. Women’s Open champion in history.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Carolyn

    Jun 7, 2021 at 10:56 am

    The back nine Lexi unlike the other girls continued to put on the happy having fun look, when it was time to grind she was done…maybe too much of the “head” coach at that time. Winning always takes a killer instinct and some of that has been taken away form Lexi Others have tried the “Having fun” approach and found you have to toss that out the window when it is crunch time. Maybe that will be be Lexi’s next lesson…….

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19th Hole

‘OMG’ – Pro golfers go wild over Tiger Woods’ swing video

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If you are a fan of golf, there’s a good chance you have seen the most recent video of Tiger Woods hitting a golf ball on the range posted to his twitter account yesterday.

As ecstatic as golf fans are about seeing Tiger Woods effortlessly swing a club again, players on Tour seem to be just as fired up about Tiger’s video.

Here we’ve rounded up some of the best tweets from Woods’ fellow PGA Tour players:

The PGA Tour is in a great place, with many young superstars on the rise and interest in the game at all time high. Even still, yesterday was a reminder that nothing moves the needle in the sport of golf like Tiger Woods. If more evidence is needed, the video Woods tweeted currently has 6.8 million views in under 24 hours.

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Brooks Koepka signs with Srixon/Cleveland

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Srixon and Cleveland Golf have today announced that Brooks Koepka has joined its tour staff.

As part of the new deal, the four-time major champion will play a Srixon driver, Srixon irons, Cleveland wedges, a Srixon golf ball, as well as carry a Srixon Staff bag.

The 31-year-old began working with Srixon’s Tour Department earlier this year and played the brand’s ZX7 irons throughout the 2021 PGA Tour season.

On joining Team Srixon/Cleveland, Koepka said

“I am very excited to join my good friends Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell and Hideki Matsuyama as a Srixon and Cleveland Golf Tour Staff member. I’ve been an equipment free agent for the past few years, so it will be fun to be involved with a company on a daily basis and be able to contribute to the development of their future equipment.

“I put the ZX7 Irons in play in January and it is the best iron I have played on Tour. I look forward to kicking off our new partnership this week in Las Vegas!”

Speaking on the Koepka signing, Rodney McDonald, Vice President of Tour Operations at Srixon, said

“We’re extremely proud to have Brooks come on board as our newest Staff member. He’s one of the best players in the world and brings his major championship pedigree and validation to our brands. We’re excited for Brooks to join the Srixon and Cleveland Golf family and look forward to supporting him out on tour.”

Koepka will make his debut as a member of Team Srixon/Cleveland at Capital One’s The Match on November 26th against Bryson DeChambeau. 

 

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Tour Rundown: Morikawa wins twice on Sunday | Race to CME goes to JYK

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This is it. Really, this is it. This is really it. The soon-to-be-renamed European Tour is done. The PGA Tour is done. The LPGA is done. I’m done. Happy American Thanksgiving. It’s colder than the Canadian one, but a good cold breeze is bracing. It also reminds us to get inside, so that we don’t get sick, or frostbite, or some other malady. It also reminds us to be thankful for things like … shirts that don’t tear when you shoot 74 in the final round and fall from first place to another level of frustration (hypothetically speaking, of course.)

Anyhoo, anyhow, anyway, join us one last time for a running of the tours, which is much, much safer than a running of the bulls.

European Tour: Morikawa wins twice on Sunday

I remember that summer of 2019, when Collin Morikawa and two other college stars made their debuts on tour. The guy with the powerful, funky swing won right away. The other guy, the Nordic one, seemed destined to win soon enough (he would win in February of the next year.) Even though Morikawa won in 2019, pundits assessed him to be third in line to the throne. Two years have passed, and there is no line. the Iron Throne belongs to Morikawa.

The Californian from Cal-Berkeley owns two major titles, six worldwide wins, and his first Order of Merit. I’ve always liked that title. Way better than Race To The Cup or any other moniker out there. I’m bringing it back. Morikawa had a good hold on the European Tour’s season-long race, thanks to his Open title in July and his WGC last February. He came to Dubai with great focus, answering few to none of the pointed questions aimed his way. In contrast, and to his credit, Matt Fitzpatrick wasn’t giving up.

The Englishman wasn’t defiant, but he was gritty. He insisted that, as we all know, the tournament and the season were not over until the flagstick was replaced. Fitz did his part with a 66 on Sunday, moving all the way up to a tie for second with Alexander Bjôrk. At that point, sadly, Fitz was finished. He needed a win.

Who topped him? Morikawa, of course. His Sunday 66 at the Earth Course included five birdies on the inward half, when he simply decided to say By the way, I’m the best of 2021. Here’s my third win to prove it. Morikawa’s swing has zero moving parts that should not be moving. It is modern, but classic, if that is possible. If he chases zero distance over the next fifteen years, and simply plays well from tee to green, he should win five more majors and a few more Orders of Merit around the world.

LPGA: Race To CME goes to JYK

Remember last week when Nelly Korda became Rolex Rankings number one again, despite not playing? Pretty sure that’s about to change again. Jin Young Ko steamrolled the field at Tiburón in Naples. The Original JYK was nine-under on day four, breaking out of a four-way tie for the lead at dawn’s first light.

Nelly? She had 69 for T5. Celine? 68 for T3. Nasa? She gave Jin everything she could handle. Hataoka signed for 64, and her 6th-hole bogey was her only blemish on the day. She matched Ko birdie for birdie, posting nine of her own on the final day. She made up strokes on three of the final four holes. Trouble was, Young Ko did not wilt. She turned in 30 and added three more chirps on the inward half, putting things away at the 17th with her last of the day.

The title was her fifth of 2021, and her 12th overall. Ko hit 63 consecutive greens this week, and is on a runaway-train path to the LPGA Hall of Fame, and it will be a pleasure to watch her do just that.

PGA Tour:  RSM Classic crowns Gooch by a smooch

Talor Gooch knocked on a number of doors this fall, most recently the Fortinet and the CJ Cup. At both events, he finished top-five, but could not break through for the “V.” At Sea Island, Gooch went into the final round with a one-shot lead over Sebastián Múñoz. Feeling balanced, Gooch went out and bookended his opening 64 with the same closing number. He made a pair of birdies on the front, then turned on the juice and recorded four more coming home. No bogeys found his card this day.

Mackenzie Hughes, the 2016 champion at the RSM, went out in 30 to pick up three strokes on Gooch. Feeling his own brand of juice, Hughes posted four more birdies on the back nine, but also stumbled to a bogey at the par-three twelfth hole. He missed long and left, and failed to get up and down for par. When Gooch made three at the same hole, minutes later, the road to victory got easier.

Two unofficial events (Hero and QBE) will take place in December, and the Tour will return to action on January 6th, for two consecutive weeks in the Hawaiian islands.

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