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Sunday, February 17, 2013

How long can Ko resist going pro?

  With the countdown to the 2013 U.S. Open teeing off at Merion Golf Club’s famed East Course at 116 days on this President’s Day, a quick look around the wide, wide world of golf.  
  The PGA Tour provided a little excitement with John Merrick, who starred collegiately at UCLA, winning a playoff at one of the Bruins’ practice haunts, Riviera Country Club to take the Northern Trust Open (the L.A. Open has a much better ring to it) Sunday.
   But the big story in golf over the weekend was occurring half-a-world away as the LPGA kicked off its season with the Women’s Australia Open.
  There, Lydia Ko, the 15-year-old New Zealander who is a native South Korean, fired an opening round of 10-under 63 and held a share of the lead as late as the end of the third round. The teen sensation  was very much in the hunt for for her fourth professional win and second in as many weeks, for which she has earned absolutely nothing since she is still an amateur.
   Ko faltered in the final round Sunday, carding a 3-over 76 to finish third behind the very accomplished Jiyai Shin and Yani Tseng, the No.-1 player in the world who closed with a 66 to take second.
   It was not lost on many golf observers that one-time teen sensation Michelle Wie, still only 23, missed the cut at the Royal Canberra Golf Club while Ko was turning heads with her solid play and poise way beyond her years.
   When she won the LPGA stop in Canada last summer on the heels of her U.S. Amateur triumph, Ko insisted she wants to go to college in the United States and play college golf on a scholarship.
   Wie quite famously went to college, graduating from Stanford following the spring semester last year, long after she had turned pro. Wie seems to have lost her edge on her golf game, although getting a college degree and having the college experience may pay long-term dividends that might not be obvious at the moment.
  It will be interesting to see if Ko can resist the urge to turn pro as the zeroes on the amount of money she is not making start to add up. In the meantime, the young lady can really play.
Slow start for Kan, Purdue
   Aurora Kan, a sophomore at Purdue who was the 2010 PIAA champion as a senior at Chichester, got the second half of her season off to a bit of a slow start as the Boilermakers played host to a typically strong field at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico last week.
  Coming off a solid fall campaign, Purdue entered the event ranked No. 9 in the nation, but settled for a seventh-place finish in the field of 10.
   Kan  had rounds of 77, 81 and 78 over the 6,191-yard, par-72 River Course at the Rio Mar Beach Resort for a 236 total that left her in a tie for 64th in the individual standings. The Boilermakers had rounds of 303, 300 and 301 for a 904 total.
   Reigning NCAA champion Alabama showed it will once again be a force to be reckoned with as the Tide rolled to a 13-shot victory with rounds of 293, 290, and 288 for an 871 total. The Tide was led by Stephanie Meadow, who finished second with a 2-under 214 total.
   Runnerup Arkansas (291-296-297­—884) was led by individual champion Emily Tubert, who followed up a pair of 1-under 70s with a final-round 73 for a 3-under 213 total.
  Purdue was led by Paula Reto, a senior from  Cape Town, South Africa. Reto had a pair of 2-under 70s after an opening-round 75 to finish fourth at 2-over 215.
   Classmate and reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Laura Gonzalez-Escallon of Belgium finished In a tie for 38th at 230 (75-79-76).
  Also counting for Purdue were senior Kishi Sinha, who finished in a tie for tie for 45th at 232 (77-78-77), and freshman Margaux Vanmol, another Belgian who finished in a tie for 50th at 233 (76-73-84), and Kan. Competing as an individual, freshman Brooke Beegle, from Fishers, Ind., matched Sinha’s 232 total.
Pellegrini takes off for spring
  The spring portion of The Citadel’s women’s golf team’s schedule got under way this weekend, but junior Erica Pellegrini, the two-time PIAA medalist at Garnet Valley, was not in the lineup at The Club of Savannah Harbor.
  But she’s missing the spring part of the schedule for all the right reasons. One of Pellegrini’s academic pursuits at The Citadel is Spanish language and she’ll be getting a crash course as she travels to Europe to enhance her academic interests.
   Citadel head coach Lori Hatcher Bonacci, while admitting she’ll miss her top player, said on The Citadel website that Pellegrini is expected back in the fall for her senior season.
   Pellegrini became the only player in program history to capture a tournament title when she won the Hilton Head Invitational last March. Her average of 77.44 last fall featured seven rounds in the 70s, including a sparkling 71 at the South Carolina State Bulldog Invitational.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Merion: Short on yardage, long on history

   Just 124 days until the 2013 U.S. Open tees off at Merion Golf Club’s historic East Course and that means Merion keeps coming up more  and more in the golf press.
   Of course, everybody in golfdom can’t stop talking about how short Merion East is. In introducing a Merion item in his weekly notebook, Doug Ferguson, who follows the PGA Tour for The Associated Press, said simply, “The U.S. Open at Merion will be the shortest course for a major championship in eight years.”
   USGA executive director Mike Davis, better known as the mad scientist of course setups for USGA championships, said last week that the East will measure 6,992 yards on the card for the 2013 Open. The last major to be contested on a course measuring under 7,000 yards was the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island.
   Davis loves to fool around with course setup. At the 2009 Walker Cup Match at  Merion, he used the adjoining sixth tee at No. 3 to  make an already long par-3 a monster. A day later, he moved the tee up on the short par-4 10th, so that it actually measured less than the par-3 third had a day earlier.
   Of course, if you bomb one straightaway at 10, no matter where the tee is located, you could end up on Ardmore Avenue and you know what that means -- “Sir, I think you’re hitting three now. Would you like to take one less club?”
   “Merion is just this wonderful blend of short and long holes,” Davis said at the USGA’s annual meeting. “By the time you walk off the fourth green, you’re done with the par 5s. … I think it’s going to be unique in the sense that you are going to see many  more birdie opportunities at Merion than you are going to see at most other U.S. Opens. But also, there are some critically tough holes at Merion.”
   Or as Lee Trevino, who beat Jack Nicklaus in a playoff to win the 1971 U.S. Open at Merion, likes to say, “Yeah, there’s 18 birdie holes at Merion. There’s also 18 bogey holes at Merion.”
   Merion, wedged into a corner of the Ardmore section of Haverford Township, is much smaller than most Open venues. The USGA, as Ferguson pointed out in his note, will take a financial hit by staging its bell-cow event in Delaware County, but Davis has no regrets.
   “We felt this is the right thing to do for the game of golf, to bring it back to a straighter test and let’s see,” Davis said. “So in my view, it’s short. But it’s a fabulous test of golf.”
   And if you need any further proof of Merion’s standing in golf history, you need to do nothing more than page through the most recent issue of GolfWorld. The magazine’s cover story is “The 18 Most Important Moments In Golf.”
   The impetus for the piece is the No. 1 moment, 20-year-old amateur Francis Ouimet staring down the reigning superstars of the sport, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, in an 18-hole playoff to win the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
   When the site for the 2013 Open was first being discussed, it was assumed by many that the 100th anniversary of Ouimet’s victory made The Country Club a natural pick for this year. But The Country Club was either not willing or able to stage the event and Brookline’s loss turned into Delco’s gain.
   Bill Fields’ recounting of the Ouimet victory is highly recommended reading for any golf fan.
   But if you couldn’t return to The Country Club for the 100th anniversary of Ouimet’s win, why not the course that owns two of the 18 “Most Important Moments In Golf?”
   That, golf fans, is Merion’s East Course. And there can really be no argument about the inclusion of these two events among the 18.
   The first, of course, was Bobby Jones completing the original Grand Slam in one year by winning the 1930 U.S. Amateur at Merion. He added the U.S. Amateur win to victories earlier in the year at the U.S. Open, the British Amateur and the British Open, then promptly retired from competitive golf at the ripe old age of 28. Of course, he did go home to Georgia and build that little golf course that hosts the first leg of the modern Grand Slam each April (and, as in most years, can’t get here soon enough).
   The second, of course, was Ben Hogan completing his comeback from a near fatal car accident in 1949 to win the 1950 U.S. Open. He won in a playoff after barely being able to walk the final-day 36-hole test the USGA demanded of its Open champion back in those days.
   The picture of Hogan’s approach to the 18th green at the East Course, his final hole of the regulation 72 holes, remains one of the iconic golf photos 63 years, and many photographic advances, later.
   History will be made at Merion again in 2013. You can count on it.
Calamaro gets a fresh start
   Jackie Calamaro, the 2009 PIAA champion at Radnor, got right back in the groove for the spring half of the season for the redshirt sophomore at Illinois.
   The Illini opened their spring campaign with the Illinois Challenge as they escaped the winter chill to take on Illinois State in a Ryder Cup-style series of matches last weekend at the 6,980-yard, par-72 Venice Golf & Country Club layout in Venice, Fla.
   Calamaro teamed with sophomore Pimploy Thirati for a 3 and 2 victory over Jordyn Wzygoski and Courtney Cossell in a four-ball match for the Illini’s only point in three four-ball matches.
   A tight travel schedule forced some of the afternoon singles matches to be cut short, but Calamaro needed just 14 holes to pick up another point for the Illini with a 5 and 4 victory. With half-points awarded to each team for two of the matches that weren’t completed, the Illini picked up five of a possible six points in the afternoon for a 6-3 overall victory over their cross-state rival.
   The Illini will return to tournament action Feb. 24 at the Westbrook Spring Invite In Peoria, Ariz.