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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.

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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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Report: PGA Tour set to ban green-reading books

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The PGA Tour is on the verge of banning green reading books as early as this year, according to a report from GolfWeek’s Eamon Lynch.

Per the report, the Players Advisory Committee voted “overwhelmingly” to ban the books at a meeting during the Memorial Tournament a fortnight ago. The onus is now on the PGA Tour Board, who will vote on whether to ban the aid or not.

Green reading books are one of the most popular aids on tour, with the vast majority of tour pros using them on the greens. However, critics of the aid have often commented that the books take the art and skill of putting away, with others believing they lead to slow play.

Augusta National Golf Club is currently the only club that bans the books, which is brought up each time the club hosts the Masters.

Per the report, The Players Advisory Council met at the Memorial Tournament in Ohio on Tuesday, June 1 where they voted overwhelmingly to ban the books. The PAC is currently chaired by Rory McIlroy and includes Justin Thomas, Billy Horschel and Zach Johnson.

One player who was at the meeting is firmly in favor of the ban and told Lynch: “It was overwhelming. It wasn’t close. The books should be banned. Green reading is a skill to be learned.”

Before this week’s U.S. Open, Rory Mcilroy told media at Torrey Pines:

“Everything that’s talked about in those meetings is somewhat confidential, but what I can say, I think — I use a greens book, and I’d like to get rid of them.

I think everyone is in the same boat, most guys on tour are in the same boat, that if it’s going to be available to us and it helps us, people are going to use it, but I think for the greater good of the game, I’d like to see them be outlawed and for them not to be used anymore.”

Should the PGA Tour vote to outlaw the books, the ban should come into effect at the beginning of the 2021/22 PGA Tour season later this year.

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U.S. Open Tour Truck Report: #7woodSZN, mini drivers, fresh grooves, and tinkering

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A nearly 7,700-yard, par-71 track featuring penal rough off the fairway and green, Torrey Pines’ South Course presents a difficult, demanding examination for players at this week’s U.S. Open. From every television, computer, and mobile device screen this truth is being conveyed to the point that, as is often the case in the leadup to U.S. Opens, a certain fatigue sets in.

However, it’s worth pointing to the obvious in order to highlight the fact that some players are making changes to their setups to accommodate the long approaches into par-4s and the need to maximize descent angle into — what are expected to be — thoroughly baked out greens.

Additionally, we’re hearing a ton of players are putting 7-woods in play primarily for the purpose of advancing the ball from the rough — not exactly “a get out of jail free” card, but hopefully a key to slip out of one’s cell.

Let’s get into the specifics.

Titleist

Jordan Spieth is testing a 21-degree TSi2 fairway wood, which is a game-time decision to add to the lineup in place of his 818 H2 hybrid.

Both Lanto Griffin and Matt Jones are adding TSi2 (21-degree) fairway woods in place of their utility irons.

Adam Scott is going with four woods this week. He’s adding a 13.5-degree TSi2 fairway wood. The Australian is also putting a Vokey 60A wedge in play (switching from a 60-06K). With four degrees of bounce, the wedge works well on tight lies.

Titleist Tour Rep J.J. Van Wezenbeeck: “The rough is really, really difficult this week. And the greens are starting to firm up. So we have a lot of players evaluating TSi fairway wood options. The TSi 21-degree 7-wood has been very popular. Players are really liking what it does out of the rough and then into the greens – really high launch angle and landing very softly has been really effective.”

Max Homa put a new Scotty Cameron Phantom X 5.5, which is a similar profile to the 11.5 model he played earlier in the year. Homa likes the feel, forgiveness, and ease of alignment in the smaller profile.

Vokey

Not surprisingly, the majority of players asking for fresh grooves this week.

Vokey Tour Rep Aaron Dill on wedges this week: “This golf course is a beast. As you would imagine, rough is long and thick, but it’s a really cool different style of golf course where you’ve got a couple different types of grasses and just the way they put it together, it makes it extremely challenging. Because of this rough, because of the fairways, because of the greens, you would think that you’d want a little bit more bounce because of just how juicy and thick and healthy this rough is. But the reality is the more bounce you get, the slower it moves through that tall grass.”

“And so we see a lot of guys gravitate to something with less bounce: T grinds, A Grinds, L Grinds, Low-bounce K’s. Adam Scott switched to a 60A this week. He dabbled a little bit with it at Augusta National this year, but this is that week where it really fits the conditions. He wants that speed. He wants that comfort. He wants to be aggressive, so it’s great fit for him. Guys like Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth are bringing in fresh 60’s this week. So these guys are prepared. They’re ready to go. But again, very difficult golf course. You’ve got to have fresh grooves and you’ve got to have a little bit less bounced to maneuver through this tall grass.”

(Photo via Titleist)

Callaway

Phil Mickelson was spotted with a TaylorMade 300 Mini Driver (Fujikura Ventus Black shaft) in practice rounds. He’s also reportedly testing a 5-wood with a Fujikura Ventus Red 9 X shaft.

Akshay Bhatia is testing a Fujikura Ventus Black 7 X shaft in an Epic Max LS driver.

Patrick Rodgers is testing a Callaway Epic Speed 7-wood (Graphite Design Tour AD DI 9 TX).

Henrik Stenson has new Jaws MD5 Slate wedges in the bag (52-10S, 58-08C).

(Photo via Callaway’s Johnny Wunder)

TaylorMade

Dustin Johnson looks to be returning to a TaylorMade TP Bandon putter (now outfitted with an LA Golf shaft) after rolling it with his Spider IB Limited at the Palmetto Championship. He’s sticking with the prototype LA Golf shaft in his driver, which makes sense, considering he now owns part of the company.

Ping

Reportedly “half of the tour staff” are putting 7-woods in play, according to our source at Ping. Bubba Watson and Mackenzie Hughes included.

Watson’s 7-wood specs: Ping G425 Max (23.5 degrees). 40.5-inch Fujikura Black 9 X shaft in custom pink (tipped 2 inches, D2+).

Cole Hammer is testing a Graphite Design Tour AD HD 7 TX shaft in his driver.

Others, free agents

Hideki Matsuyama is testing a Graphite Design Tour AD UB 9 X shaft in a SIM2 Max 3-wood.

Rikuya Hoshino is testing Graphite Design Tour AD UB 9 X in a Srixon ZX5 driver.

Shane Lowry has a new Cleveland RTX Full-Face 58-degree wedge in play.

Zack Sucher is putting a 16-degree Srixon ZX hybrid in play.

The king of stout shafts, Jhonny Vegas is testing a Fujikura Ventus Black 100 X shaft in his 5-wood.

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Tour Rundown: Higgo crosses pond to claim initial PGA Tour title, Castren latest to claim first LPGA win

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This particular weekend was unique, sandwiched between two U.S. Open championships, and it was filled with events. There was much newness across the tournament board as the PGA Tour visited a new venue in South Carolina. The European Tour matched women and men in one event in Sweden, and the Forme Tour held its final qualifying school in anticipation of its season opener in two weeks.

June is a popular month for weddings, so the something new is, well, nothing new. On those notes, let’s track down what we know and what we learned in this week’s Tour Rundown on GolfWRX.

PGA Tour: Higgo crosses pond to claim initial Tour title

Last week, we watched helplessly as Lexi Thompson gave up a lead in her stretch run at the U.S. Women’s Open. This week, we had more of the same at the inaugural Palmetto Championship. Chesson Hadley came back in the morning for two shots in his delayed third round but took three. After hitting a marvelous approach into the last, he missed a wee birdie attempt and signed for par. Ominous? Sure, if you believe in portends and things of that ilk.

Hadley began the fourth round with a four-shot advantage, but the day’s play was never consistent for him. Two bogeys and a birdie had him out in plus one, and another bogey at 10 took him higher. He rebounded two holes later with birdie at twelve and, had he remained at that figure, would have won his first Tour event since 2014. Instead, golf scratched at him slowly and painfully. Hadley approached poorly to each of the final three greens, missed them all, and recovered not once. His three lost strokes brought him back to minus-10, tied with five others for second position.

In the winner’s circle, courtesy of a closing 68, was 22-year-old Garrick Higgo of South Africa. His score wasn’t the lowest on the day; that number came from Ryan Armour and Will Gordon, both shooting 64 to shoot into the top 15. What Higgo did was hold the rudder steady. He, Doc Redman, and Tyrrell Hatton were the only leaders to not make a bogey down the stretch. Fortunately for Higgo, he had one more stroke to spare at the end and emerged victorious. Countryman Wilco Nienaber might have garnered attention early on with his prodigious drives, but in the end, it was Higgo. How unlikely? No media footage on the PGA Tour Twitter feed of the lad!

European Tour: Caldwell edges Otaegui and Hewson in Sweden 

The hands-down winner for best format goes to the Scandinavian Mixed Hosted by Henrik and Annika. There may have been an ampersand in there, but we didn’t want to risk it. The two Swedish greats teamed up to host a creative event that pitted women and men at the Vallda Club in Gothenburg. Sam Horsfield of England and Christine Wolf of Austria jumped out to the opening-round lead at 64, intimating that players from both tours would contend in the event. Unfortunately for Sam and Christine, it would not be them. Wolf went 72-73-74 for a t37 finish, while Horsfield followed his 64 with 74-72-71 for a t25 placing.

On day four, Australia’s Jason Scrivener jumped up to the lead, then closed with a bogey and two doubles in his final eight holes, for a T7 result. Adrian Otaegui of Spain was excruciatingly close all day, until bogey at the last dropped him out of the lead. He finished at -16, in solo second. Alice Hewson began day four in a tie for first, but rode a front-nine 3-3-3 of pars-bogies-birdies out of the top spot. She snapped around and closed with a back-nine 33 to finish at -15, two shots out of a playoff, in third alone.

The week’s honors went to Northern Ireland’s Jonathan Caldwell. The 37-year old stood eight-under on the day, in first spot, through 14 holes. Deciding to add to the day’s drama, he finished bogey-birdie-bogey-birdie, with his three at the last gaining two shots on Otaegui, propelling him to a career-first win on the European Tour. Prior to this week, the lad from Bangor had not finished higher than fifth in his career.

LPGA: Castren latest to claim first title

Celine Boutier posted an early 64 on Sunday at Lake Merced, and jumped up 34 spots in the standings as a result. Her electric performance served notice that mid-60s rounds were available to those who dared to risk all. Matilda Castren of Finland took notice, and torched the front nine in 30 strokes, thanks to four birdies and an eagle. When it seemed that the young Fin would run away from pursuers, she settled into an eight-par stretch, allowing overnight leader Min Lee an opportunity to give chase.

Lee had turned in one-under 35, but birdies at 10 and 15 brought her within one slice of Castren. On the 17th hole, a tricky par three, Lee faltered with bogey. Although she made birdie at the last to post 69, Castren was able to match that score at 18, and finish off a stellar 65. The win moved Castren inside the top 25 in the Race to CME Globe season-long chase. A bit down the money list, but of no less importance, Lydia Ko assumed the top spot in the season-long race for the first time in five seasons. With her win, Castren became the #FirstFinLPGA champion in history.

Korn Ferry Tour: Pereira by four at the BMW Charity Pro-Am

Interstate 85 runs past Greer, South Carolina, home to BMW in the USA. There’s no test track on site at the plant, but if you listen closely, you hear engines roar down 85, past Greenville. On Sunday, a Chilean import driving a Pereira raced past 54-hole leader Justin Lower, on his way to a four-shot victory.

Pereira tallied nine birdies on the day, enough to offset his two bogies. Lower was stuck somewhere between neutral and park, and did well to count even-par 71 on Sunday. That number was enough to keep him in solo second position, but he was helpless to stop the South American’s acceleration. The 64 wasn’t even the low round of the week for the man from the thin land, as he signed for 63 on Friday. As they (or I) say, a 64 on Sunday is equal to a 60 on Thursday. Doesn’t account for Friday, but who cares?

The victory was Pereira’s second in a row (shades of Cameron Young!) and will vault the 26-year old into the top spot of The 25, if only for a time. Why? BMW was his third victory of the 2020-2021 extended season, and triggered an instant promotion to the PGA Tour.

 

PGA Champions: Kelly storms back to edge Jiménez

The unfortunate part of senior tours is the window of winning opportunities. We grow accustomed to names atop the leader board, but Father Time eventually catches them all. For two days this week, Miguel Angel Jiménez shouldered the lead at the American Family Insurance Championship. On day three, homestate hero Jerry Kelly rode a horse called 66 into town, and galloped off with the sheriff’s badge.

Jiménez played fine golf on Sunday in Madison. His card was clean, with three birdies for 69. His problem was the 11-hole string of par, from seven through seventeen. Birdie at the last elevated him from a tie for third, to a tie for second with Fred Couples, but did no more to add to his Rioja cellar. The day belonged to Kelly, although the first hole might disagree.

The lad from Madison, began with bogey at the first, courtesy of never seeing the fairway between tee and green. He settled in to seven birdies over the next seventeen holes, with the final one arriving at the 16th hole. By then, he had eased past the Spaniard into first place. Pars at the final two holes ensured his seventh win on Tour Champions. Couples had a putt at the last to force extra holes, but it stayed on the high side.

 

Forme Tour: Davison by two over Du Toit in final Q-School

We might jump the gun with this one, but it’s worth alerting readers to the imminent arrival of the Forme Tour. Billed as the stateside counterpart to the Mackenzie Tour, the Forme Tour will serve as competition ground for PGA Tour Canada players who are unable to cross the USA-Canada border, currently closed to non-essential workers. Seven qualifying schools were held at eastern and western USA sites. Eight events will be held from June through September, culminating in a tour championship in New Jersey.

This week, at The Home Course near Tacoma, Washington, Callum Davison and Jared Du Toit battled throughout the entire, 72-hole event. Each golfer birdied hole 70, and Davison followed up with another at hole 71, to reach 13-under par. Du Toit stumbled with a bogey to drop back to minus-eleven. Both made par at the final hole, with Davison claiming medalist honors. Both golfers will compete in two weeks in Georgia, at the Forme Tour’s first official event.

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