Posted by: Mike Cornelius | September 16, 2018

Golf’s Majors Conclude With A Veteran’s Victory

A NOTE TO READERS: On Sports and Life will be on the road late this week through next weekend. The next two posts will be Friday and Monday, both one day later than usual. Thanks as always for reading, commenting, and for your support.

The curtain came down on golf’s major season Sunday, nine tournaments and almost six months since it began with the LPGA’s ANA Inspiration in the California desert, back in the first days of spring. Beginning with that tournament, which those of an older generation will forever think of as the Dinah Shore, the women of the LPGA and the men of the PGA Tour alternated major events across the breadth of the United States and from northeastern Scotland to the west coast of England, finally concluding in the ritzy spa village of Évian-les-Bains, France, on the shores of Lake Geneva.

The four men’s and five women’s majors produced eight different champions, consistent with the pattern of recent seasons. Both tours currently boast deep talent pools, with the days of one player dominating their tour while winning multiple majors a thing of the past, for now at least. Jordan Spieth in 2015, Rory McIlroy in 2014, Tiger Woods in multiple years during the century’s first decade are matched by Inbee Park’s incredible run from 2013 through 2015, and earlier by Yani Tseng and Annika Sorenstam as golfers who for a time seized control of their respective tours, seeming to turn aside all challengers with ease.

Now, although members of the golf media continue to offer predictions at the start of every major, the reality is that when play begins on Thursday there are many in the field fully capable of putting together four rounds that will end in championship glory. The one player to win multiple majors this season was Brooks Koepka, who became the first player to defend his title at the US Open since Curtis Strange went back-to-back in 1988 and 1989, and then added the PGA Championship to his resume eight weeks later. But despite his three major titles in just fourteen months, even Koepka would readily concede he is not dominating the PGA Tour the way the aforementioned players did during their runs, for those three wins are also Koepka’s only career Tour victories.

The story of a golfer who “only wins majors” is but one of the tales to come out of this season. It was, not surprisingly for a sport in which youth is regularly served on both Tours, a good year for young champions. For the men, both Koepka and Masters winner Patrick Reed are just 28 years old. On the women’s side, Ariya Jutanagarn and Georgia Hall, US Open and Women’s British Open champions respectively, are both 22, and KPMG Women’s PGA Championship victor Sung Hyun Park a mere two years older.

It was a major season of compelling back stories, both dark and light. Masters champion Reed’s background includes allegations of cheating on the course and theft in the locker room that alienated him from teammates at the University of Georgia, causing him to leave Athens and transfer to Augusta State University, whose main campus is a ten-minute drive from the storied golf club where Reed won his green jacket. More recently, his relationship with his family is so fractured that his wife has barred them from attending PGA tournaments. On a brighter note, under a glorious summer sun in Lancashire, the Women’s British Open came down to a Sunday duel between the final pairing of Hall and Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum. With the hopes on an entire country on her shoulders, Hall displayed an icy calm, firing a 5-under par 67 to win by two shots, becoming just the second English woman to win her Open in the last two decades.

Their wins were the first major titles for both Reed and Hall, as was the case for three others among this year’s winners, Pernilla Lundberg at the ANA Inspiration, Francisco Molinari at the Open Championship, and Angela Stanford on Sunday. The wins by Hall and Lundberg were also their first LPGA wins ever, putting them, at least for now, on equal footing with Koepka.

For most of the final round at Evian Resort Golf Club, it looked like the season’s final major would add a fourth member to that unusual club. Amy Olson won twenty individual events while attending North Dakota State University, breaking a NCAA record set by Juli Inkster. But since turning pro in 2014 she was still looking for her first LPGA title when she teed off Sunday with a two-shot lead, earned on the strength of back-to-back 65s in the second and third rounds.

Olson couldn’t duplicate that magic in the final round, not surprising given the dual pressures of both trying to win for the first time and Sunday at a major. But she held on as others fired and fell back. Playing partner Sei Young Kim had a putt to tie at the 9th but missed and then promptly double-bogeyed the 10th hole. Making her 80th major start at age 40 and six years removed from her last LPGA victory, Stanford fired the shot of the day with her second to the par-5 15th, leaving her little more than a tap-in for an eagle 3. That moved her into a tie with Olson, but she immediately gave the two shots back.

Stanford’s tee shot on the par-3 16th was wide right, leaving her a difficult downhill chip. Her second raced across the green and into deep rough, just inside a hazard line. Thus unable to ground her club, Stanford’s third shot moved the ball just a couple of yards. She finally chipped close with her fourth and made the putt, but Olson again led by two.

For all the focus on youth in professional golf these days, there is something to be said for the resiliency that comes with years of experience. Stanford played on, and on the 17th she rolled in a long birdie putt to gain one stroke back, and then hit two perfect shots at the par-4 18th to set up a birdie effort to again tie the leader. The putt started well outside the hole, broke hard to the right as it slowed, and crawled by the hole, missing by an inch. Thinking that her chance had been lost, Stanford wiped away bitter tears after tapping in for par.

But then Olson, who had missed just one fairway all day, opened the door wide with a hooked drive into deep rough at the 18th. Her second failed to make the fairway. From 130 yards and out of the rough, her third shot landed very softly, stopping on the front half of the green, forty feet from the hole. The lengthy putt for par raced ten feet by the hole. When Olson’s putt for bogey and a tie died short of the cup, Angela Stanford, 2018’s last and oldest major winner, wept once more. But these tears, as are those of every major champion, were of a very different nature.

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Responses

  1. A well-told story, Mike. Here’s to safe travels this week.
    Ω

  2. Thanks for this. I don’t pay enough attention to the womens’ tour, so I appreciate your reports.

    • Thanks very much Don. The LPGA players all outdrive us, just like the men!

      M-


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