"Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel"

My new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" is the follow-up to "Illegal Procedure" and "Roughing the Passer" and is now available in print and in e-formats at amazon.com, smashwords.com and iBooks. Follow me on twitter @kevinkrest.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A SURPRISE FINALE TO THE USGA'S 73RD U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN


When Ariya Jutanugarn stood on the 10th tee Sunday afternoon in the U.S. Women’s Open, her lead over Hyo Joo Kim was a seemingly insurmountable seven shots. It appeared the rest of the field was playing for second place and a nice piece of the biggest purse on the LPGA Tour schedule. Five birdies and a bogey by Jutanugarn had bettered her score by four shots to 16 under par. A couple of hours later, she stood over a five foot  bogey putt to secure a spot in a playoff against Kim, who carded a bogey-free 67, with two birdies on the back nine, including a chip in on the 15th hole, to erase the huge deficit. I’m certain Ariya was asking herself, “How did this happen?”

It began with a pushed three wood on the 10th hole that found the water hazard on the right side of the fairway. She had to play a short third shot because of tree issues and finally brushed in a short putt for a triple-bogey seven. The shock of the score was not just the three lost shots, but the break down by the most reliable club in Jutanugarn’s bag: her three wood. Without a driver in her bag, Ariya had depended on the length and accuracy of her fairway metal to forge the big lead and it was surprising to see that wayward drive on the 10th hole. Compounding her problems, she decided to abandon the three-wood for most of the rest of the round in favor of a driving iron and it appeared to shake her confidence and rhythm.

Ariya Jutanugarn With Her Driving Iron
Meanwhile Kim, the 2014 Evian Championship winner, was putting together a flawless inward nine holes. The similarities between the 22 year-old Korean and Jutanugrn are interesting. Both share a birth year, the same number of majors as well as only a single previous  made cut in the U.S. Women’s Open in 2016. Of course, there was nothing similar about what transpired for the players on Sunday’s back nine. Kim entered the two-hole aggregate playoff without a bogey in her last 31 holes and was beaming with confidence before teeing off on the 14th hole. Her mood further improved after her birdie on the first playoff hole. giving her a one-shot lead going to the 18th hole. Forty-five minutes later, Ariya Jutanugarn was holding the trophy after somehow averting one of the biggest collapses in major championship history after Kim bogeyed the 18th hole twice, the second time after the playoff had gone to sudden death when the two players were tied after the end of the two-hole aggregate portion.
Hyo Joo Kim

Initially, this piece was going to be about the weekend dominance of Jutanugarn, who had turned a five shot deficit to Sarah Jane Smith at the beginning of her second round into the large lead with nine holes remaining. It was going to be about how far she hits the ball, out-driving most of her competitors using a three wood off the tee. It was going to be about her calm under pressure and her ability to make big putts at the right time, as she’s done to chalk up eight LPGA titles, including the
2016 Ricoh Women’s British Open. It was going to be about we might be looking at the next dominant player in women’s golf, especially with the way she can close out wins after leading going into the final round. The question is did a bad nine holes, including a pair of closing bogeys, change all of that? If all we look at is the result, perhaps not. She won her second major championship at the age of 22 and did so by demonstrating incredible resiliency by hanging in there despite falling a stroke behind with one hole left in the playoff. A bad nine holes certainly doesn’t diminish her power and poise. In fact, coming back and winning despite a collapse of that magnitude should actually enhance the impression we have of the best golfer to ever come out of Thailand. It was no surprise that Ariya Jutanugarn was holding the trophy as the light faded Sunday afternoon at Shoal Creek, but the three hours leading up to the moment certainly was.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" at  Amazon.com. Also check out www.thechtonsports.com for our podcasts and live broadcast on Tuesday's at 8:30 pm EST. I can also be reached via email at kevin@pkfrazier.com.




Saturday, June 2, 2018

MOTHER NATURE MAKES A COMEBACK AT THE 73RD U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN


Shoal Creek, Alabama: Mother Nature decided the match wasn’t quite over, making another run at the U.S. Women’s Open Friday afternoon. Play was suspended at 2:27 p.m., just before the final groups of the afternoon wave teed off, because of dangerous weather conditions, primarily due to lightning in the area. Three hours and 49 minutes later at 6:16 p.m., with darkness looming, players returned to the course and made it to 7:20 p.m. before play was suspended once again due to weather. With sunset  at 7:50 p.m., it was doubtful, given the cloudy conditions, that the players would have
had enough light to play much longer. There was little or no rain that fell during the initial suspension, so officials had hoped to begin play at Saturday at 6:45 a.m. with 78 players still on the course. This is where Mother Nature decided to try to even the match, dumping just short of an inch of rain on the course overnight and delaying the start of play until 7:45 a.m.

Despite the weather delays, there were some highlights of round two. First round co-leader Sarah Jane Smith of Australia birdied six holes in an 11 hole stretch to get to 11-under par and take a six-shot lead on Ariya Jutanugarn, who was in the afternoon wave. Smith eventually cooled off, playing her final six holes in one-over par to finish at 10 under par for the tournament, the same total she was able to post for the back nine. “I think the side sets up nice for a fade and there’s been a few pins tucked on the right side of greens and that’s made it a little easier for me to get at them, I think,” the leader remarked after her round. Smith’s caddie also happens to be her husband. “We’re experienced together. He knows me better than anyone on the course and off, probably. So I think it’s just a comfort level that comes with that.” Smith has been on tour since 2006 and has yet to record a victory. Her best finish in a major were a pair of ties for second at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in 2010 and 2017. This is her seventh U.S. Women’s Open and she’s only made one cut, when she finished in a tie for 46th in 2013. Her 2018 season has been disappointing, with six made cuts in 13 tournaments and a highest finish of just a tie for 26th at the Kia Classic. To categorize her hot start as a surprise would be a vast understatement.

Ariya Jutanugarn’s presence on the leaderboard is no surprise, as she’s coming off a victory at Kingsmill, her eighth win on the LPGA Tour, including a major title in the 2017 RICOH Women’s British Open. Her record in the U.S. Women’s Open isn’t nearly as impressive, with only one made cut in five appearances. Jutanugarn birdied her first hole and stood at six-under when play was halted Friday evening, putting her in a tie with Su-Hyun Oh, another Australian who completed play in the early groups. No one else was better than three-under par for the tournament, with only Jutanugarn among the late starters in the top ten.

In other news, there was a somewhat premature announcement that Brittany Lincicome will be competing in the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship, July 19 - 22 in Lexington, Kentucky. Lincicome will be playing on a sponsor’s exemption in the event held opposite The Open Championship. “I love competing with the guys. I feel like I step up my game when I play with them. I always thought it would be cool to try,” the two-time major champion commented following her round on Friday. “I just got a text from my agent. We weren’t going to announce it until Monday, so I don’t think anyone knows.” Well, that all changed in a big way following  her quick appearance before the press. The seven time winner on the LPGA tour will join Annika Sorrenstam and Michele Wie as the only women to play in a PGA Tour event.   

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" at  Amazon.com. Also check out www.thechtonsports.com for our podcasts and live broadcast on Tuesday's at 8:30 pm EST. I can also be reached via email at kevin@pkfrazier.com.




         

Friday, June 1, 2018

73rd U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN ONE UP ON MOTHER NATURE


Shoal Creek, Alabama: In a golf match where Mother Nature took a big lead on the USGA in the opening holes, the staff and grounds crew scored a comeback and despite heavy rains earlier in the week inflicted by Tropical Storm Alberto, the U.S. Women’s Open started on time at 6:40 a.m. Thursday morning. Under cloudy skies, groups teed off on the first and tenth holes, and with the only rain in the forecast coming on Friday afternoon, it appears the tournament will end as expected on Sunday. The players are playing the ball as it lies, with the USGA choosing not to break with its tradition of never having held a round in any of its championships where they went with lift, clean and place rules. “Our intention is to rely on our considerable experience. We played 72 of these U.S. Women’s Opens, in fact, 117 U.S. Open Championships playing the ball as it lies, finishing the competition and so it’s our intention to do that this week as well,” commented John Bodenhamer, Sr.Managing Director of the USGA during an interview Tuesday afternoon. So far he’s been true to his word.

Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie on the 8th green
I’m here at Shoal Creek to continue my coverage of U.S. professional golf. My first experience with the U.S. Women’s Open was as a nine year old wandering the fairways of The Cascade Course in Hot Springs, Virginia. That tournament boasted some of the pioneers of women’s golf, including Mickey Wright, Betsy Rawls, Louise Suggs and Patty Berg, who between them had 11 U.S. Women’s Open titles. The course was brutally difficult, with the winner posting a score of 10 over par 294 on the par 71 layout. It turned out to be an historic finish for Catherine Lacoste of France, still the only win by an amateur in the history of the event. I remember watching her joyfully running through the parking lot after her victory, back in the day when the players were much more accessible to the spectators than they are today. Former champions Betsy Rawls and Brittany Lang both came close as amateurs, finishing second, but neither matched the feat of Lacoste, from the famous alligator shirt company family.

Shoal Creek Clubhouse

Shoal Creek, which opened in 1977 and  hosted the 1984 and 1990 PGA  Championships, as well as U.S. Amateur in 1986 and the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2008, was the first solo design by Jack Nicklaus. It’s situated southeast of Birmingham and offers beautiful, rolling terrain, not unlike another of Nicklaus’ designs, Muirfield Village where the PGA Tour’s Memorial is taking place this week. Although the grounds of the course are wet, the fairways and greens themselves appear very playable. I watched several groups come through the par 4 eighth hole and didn’t see any mud on the balls. The putting surfaces, which have sub-air drying systems, are still firm. With the weather forecast of sunny conditions, light winds and no rain, it’s possible the course will get dryer and firmer as the weekend moves on. 

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" at  Amazon.com. Also check out www.thechtonsports.com for our podcasts and live broadcast on Tuesday's at 8:30 pm EST. I can also be reached via email at kevin@pkfrazier.com.




Monday, May 7, 2018

THE GREATS OF GOLF: NICKLAUS, PLAYER AND SORENSTAM COMMENT ON THE GAME


The buzz around the grounds of The Woodlands Country Club indicated that some big names had made their way onto the property. Media members are accustomed to being around the top players in golf, but occasionally circumstances turn even the most seasoned reporters into fans. About 10:15 am on Saturday, Annika Sorenstam made her way into the media center, accompanied by son Will and husband Mike.  The 10 time LPGA major championship winner was relaxed and cordially greeted the gathering of press members. Next, global golf ambassador Gary Player entered, dressed all in white and taking every opportunity to espouse exercise and a healthy lifestyle. Finally, the greatest of all time, Jack Nicklaus made his appearance and the trio were led to a table in front of the small interview room adjacent to the area housing the media . Sorenstam is the first woman to play in the 3M Greats of Golf, an exhibition following the second round of the PGA Tour Champions Insperity Invitational in The Woodlands, Texas. It features twelve past champions of the game, including seven
Jack Nicklaus, Annika Sorenstam and Gary Player
members of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Nicklaus, age 78, Player, 82 and Sorenstam, 47 covered a wide range of golf topics during a session that lasted just under 35 minutes. It began with Gary Player commenting on Sorenstam’s presence in the event. “I just think it’s wonderful that they decided to invite a woman to play. I’ve seen a lot of them play the last five years. I’ve been so impressed. They play so well.” The legendary global ambassador of golf’s remarks seemed apropos, considering that only 250 miles to the north, the Old American Golf Club in Colony, Texas was hosting the Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic.

Coincidentally, this month marks the fifteenth anniversary of Annika Sorenstam’s play at the PGA Tour’s (then) Bank of America Colonial, where she missed the cut, shooting 71 - 74 for a five over 145. The fact that she failed to qualify for the weekend really didn’t matter that much, as she had shown that she could compete at the highest level. Sorenstam reflected on the tournament. “I remember most of that week. Certainly it was the highlight of my career. It was at a time that I was at the peak of my career and I  was looking for different motivators to take my game to a new level.” For the record, she always played at a high level. From 1995 - 2006, Sorenstam won ten major championships and was LPGA player of the year and money winner ten times. She retired following the 2008 season, making the announcement a couple of days after winning her 90th professional tournament. “At that time it was golf, golf, golf. Now my life is fulfilled with other things.”
Gary Player watched by Annika Sorenstam and her son Will

Jack Nicklaus at the seventh hole at the Woodlands
One of the things that I knew from prior comments by Jack Nicklaus, in particular, was that all three of the greats have a keen interest in making sure the game of golf is healthy and established for future growth. I asked the trio how we do that. Jack Nicklaus was the first to respond. “We've got to get out of the dark ages. The millennials are looking for instant gratification. When Gary and I used to play the British Open, we’d play in two hours and 25 minutes. Why can’t we play in two hours and 25 minutes?” The 18 time major championship winner went on to answer his own question. “The three things are, golf courses are too difficult, the game is too expensive and it takes too long. We need to do things to bring people into the game and keep them in the game. I think the USGA and the PGA of America are very aware of that and I think they’re working on things to try to get there. It just takes time.” Gary Player, the always outspoken career Grand Slam winner, chimed in next. “I think the ball is the biggest detriment to golf. We should keep the ball as it is for weekend golfers because the professionals are not important at all when you think about the game. For professional golfers, it’s becoming a joke. It’s becoming the ruination of golf.” He was referring to the distance the current golf ball travels relative to past versions. “The head of a golf ball company in this country says, ‘Oh, well, the guys are bigger and stronger today’. That’s nonsense.” Player went on to name a number of former players who were every bit as athletic as many of those playing today, referencing George Bayer, Mike Souchak, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. “So that’s hogwash. The ball is just going too far.” Player’s solution? “Just cut the ball back fifty yards. The man who markets the best will still sell the most golf balls. I think the ball is the big problem.” Nicklaus then responded to Player’s comments. “The ball has always been the big problem. The ball is a contributing factor to all those other things. Gary’s absolutely dead right.”

Annika Sorenstam at the fifth hole of the Woodlands
Finally, Annika Sorenstam had a chance to give her take on the subject. “I think family is what we need to focus on. Growing the game within families, making clubs family friendly, kids friendly. It’s not just about introducing people to golf, how do we get them to stay in the game. I think that’s the biggest issue. You can do that by doing  a little bit more, you have to modernize a few things.” It’s no surprise that a woman who retired from the pinnacle of golf to focus on her family would bring that perspective to the conversation. “There’s so many options for young kids and families, of course time is the essence, you don’t have time to be out there for four hours. Can you play three holes, six holes, nine holes? Can you build courses that are easier to walk around for families? Maybe make clubs not just for golf.” The World Golf Hall of Famer has a foundation that focuses on bringing young girls into the game of golf. “It’s not just about hitting seven irons or being good players. It’s much more than the game. What other game do you have someone in their seventies and eighties being here? That’s what the game of golf has to offer, it’s a game for life, so we need to get families in there. I still think there’s growth for women. I know there are women out there who can pick up the game. We can grow the game, there’s no doubt. I know there are initiatives out there and we've just got to keep on going. Address the difficulty, accessibility and the time.”
 
An hour later, the hoopla moved to the practice range, with the rest of the 3M Greats of Golf warming up for the 18 hole, scramble format event. The area was filled with interested media, including former players Lanny Wadkins, John Mahaffey, John Cook and Billy Ray Brown, all with the Golf Channel. Wadkins was giving Tom Weiskopf, who is coming off knee surgery, a driving
lesson. Fuzzy Zoeller was talking to just about anyone who would listen in between practice shots."I don't play five days in a row anymore", he remarked as he showed Billy Ray Brown a sore left hand
. Meanwhile, a PGA Tour staffer was trying to gather all participants for a group photograph. It
The 3M Greats of Golf
seemed as if the second round of the Insperity Invitational was secondary in importance.  Finally, the 3M Greats of Golf began, with Fuzzy Zoeller, Charles Coody and Bill Rodgers leading off with the team of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam the last to tee off. Zoeller's group started fast, with birdies on the first four holes and they held on to tie the group of Hale Irwin, Larry Nelson and Dave Stockton at 12 under par. After a slow start, the Nicklaus, Player and Sorenstam started making some birdies but finished at 10 under par, the same score as the team of Tony Jacklin, Tom Weiskopf and David Graham.

Hear my interview with legendary sports agent Leigh Steinberg, where we discussed his agency, concussions, franchise relocation and philanthropy at http://thechtonsports.com/cold-hard-truth-sports-radio-show-1242017/

Also listen to our conversation with author and sports journalist Mike Carey, as we discussed his latest book "Bad News" about Marvin Barnes and reminisced about Mike's coverage of the Boston Celtics during their glory years with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge and Robert Parish. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/golongmedia/2017/02/08/the-cold-hard-truth-on-sports-radio-show

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" at  Amazon.com. Also check out www.thechtonsports.com for our podcasts and live broadcast on Tuesday's at 8:30 pm EST. I can also be reached via email at kevin@pkfrazier.com.