The Spirit International – Watch if You Love Amateur Golf

The Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship has been around since 2001 but many people that love golf don’t know about it.  The video below is a nice overview of the championship.

I learned about it because I follow Paige MacKenzie on Twitter and Paige is the captain of the 2013 United States team. Paige is also a former Spirit International competitor.  I watched the last hour of coverage on Thursday and Friday online and really enjoyed it. I wish I could have seen more but it is impossible to watch this type of event during a work week.  You can watch it Saturday (November 2, 2013)  via the live webcast at the Spirit International Website.

There are only four players for each country (20 Countries represented by 2 men and 2 women).  It may be a small field but the golfers are some of the best young players in the world and it is a nice preview of what we can expect to see in the coming years on the professional tours.  Past Spirit International competitors include US stars like Brandt Snedeker and Paula Creamer; as well as international stars such as Jason Day, Charl Schwatzel, Lorena Ochoa, and Ya-Ni Tseng. As they say, the list goes on and on.

The format is interesting because they have multiple competitions which include:

  • International Team- combined best ball of the men’s team and women’s team.
  • Men’s Team- Best ball of two players (four ball stroke play)
  • Women’s Team- Best ball of two players (four ball stroke play)
  • Men’s Individual- Most holes under par.
  • Women’s Individual- Most holes under par.

So you can cheer for your favorite country, men’s team, women’s team, and individuals.  I want the United States and Canada to do well because I have lived in the United States most of my life and feel an allegiance to the US; but I was born in Canada and I have a soft spot for athletes from Canada.  I hope that Brooke Henderson (a young Canadian golfer whose career I follow) does well. I am happy to report that as of the end of the second round Brooke is in first place for the Women’s Individual competition.

The United States is leading the overall competition. Check out the Leaderboard to see the other country standings. And if you can’t watch the live webcast then the next best thing is following the championship updates on twitter @thespiritgolf.

UPDATE (November 3 2013) – USA wins overall and Brooke Henderson wins Women’s Championship.  See all results at the Spirit Website.

“Lydia Ko goes Pro” video gets four stars

It has been many months since my last post because I have had a lot of life changes in the past nine months (no, I did not have a child).  I have moved to a new state for a dream job! As we all know with a new job and a big move other things fall to the wayside.  But now I am more settled in my job and new home; and of course fall is here (so less daylight hours to play golf), which makes it a logical time to focus on my blog.

I wanted to start with something light and fun!  And Lydia Ko’s announcement that she is turning pro is just the ticket!  I read that she decided to release a video rather than do a press conference and sure enough she tweeted out to her followers the link to the video on October 22.  Here is the video for your enjoyment:

I give the video four stars because it is entertaining (Lydia speed golfing) and shows her personality (e.g., she laughs a lot); and it certainly beats a boring press conference video.

I have said in a previous post that I am not a fan of the younger and younger players we see in professional events.  And that a player like Michele Wie is a cautionary tale because she is only 23 and struggles to find her game.  But, Lydia Ko seems to be a very poised and talented young women.  Ko has won a number of professional tournaments and made history winning the CN Canadian Women’s Open in 2012 and 2013. As the press has pointed out, Ko has left over $1 Million in money on the table as an amateur.

Now we just have to wait for the LPGA Commissioner, Mike Whan, to approve her request to waive the rule requiring LPGA professionals to be at least 18 years old.  The waiver is a  “fiat accompli” given the popularity of Ko, the fact she has already won multiple professional events as an amateur, and Whan waived the age requirement for Lexi Thompson after she won an LPGA event.

As a professional, Ko will face a new kind of scrutiny because everyone will be watching to see if she falters under the “pressure” of being a pro. Time and time again a young amateur golfer is hailed as the next “Tiger or Annika” and seems to lose their talent (or maybe free spirit) as a professional.  Only time will tell if Ko is able win as much as a professional as she did as an amateur.

Hopefully, she will have a smooth transition from the “darling of the amateur ranks” to a regular pro on tour. Bottom line, I know I will be watching to see how she plays in her first tournament as a professional.

Earl Woods gets my vote for founder of “the youth movement” in golf

The Golf Channel Morning Drive Show has a daily poll question and one question was on a topic I have written about often — young golfers.  The question was posed because a 14-year-old amateur golfer from China, Guan Tianlang, won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and a spot in the 2013 Masters.

Here is the Morning Drive poll question tweeted by Lauren Thompson Twitter coversatin with Lauren Thompson on Morning Drive Poll QuestionI was pleased to get a direct message back from Lauren ThompsonImage of Twitter DM from Lauren Thompson

As you can see from my response to Lauren Thompson I did not select any of the four options.  Yes, I think all (coaching, equipment, global exposure and technology) are important factors but that does not speak to the underlying support system that allows kids to pursue a sport with such intensity at such young ages.

The only way a child can achieve such great success at such a young age is because the parents support it.  There will always be the debate as to whether or not the child truly “wanted” to “live and breathe” golf or if the parents really wanted it for the child.  But either way, the steps the parents must take to create the opportunity is the basis for it all.

Tiger Woods is the most famous child prodigy that ever played the game.  Yes, Tiger has proven his place in history as one of the best golfers ever.  However, I truly believe Earl Woods, Tiger’s father, was the mastermind behind the Tiger brand that exists today.  After all, Earl Woods not only taught his son golf at a young age but also was savvy enough to get his son “exposure” at a very young age.  If you have not seen it, below is the video of 2-year-old Tiger on the Mike Douglas show.

After Tiger, the next young phenom to come along was in women’s golf – Michelle Wie.  At the age of eleven Wei was the youngest player to qualify for a USGA amateur championship.  Wie’s career has not been as stellar as predicted; although she has reaped the financial benefit and fame sponsors like Nike deliver.  In recent years Wie’s poor play has been blamed on her focus on college but now that she is out of school she is still struggling to find her game.  Only time will tell if Wie will become a truly great golfer.  If she does not become a champion golfer then Wei’s rise and fall may become a cautionary tale of burnout or peaking too soon.

In 2012, we have seen a flurry of young golfers making news:

  1. Andy Zhang, a 14-year-old amateur golfer (also Chinese but living in Florida) made history as the youngest player in the US Open.
  2. Lydia Ko, a 15-year-old from New Zealand (originally from South Korea) made history winning the Canadian Open.  Ko is the youngest player to win a LPGA event.
  3. Beau Hossler, a 17-year-old Californian, became a sensation at the 2012 US Open when he took the lead (over Tiger) for a short period of time.
  4. Lexi Thompson won the Navistar LPGA Classic in 2011 at age 16 which triggered Mike Whan, LPGA Commissioner, to waive the 18-year-old age requirement for turning pro and gave Thompson (age 17) her PGA tour card for 2012.
  5. Guan Tianlang, 14-year-old amateur golfer from China, made history as the youngest winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and will make history in 2013 as the youngest golfer to ever play in the Masters.

So is this a good thing for the sport or not?  Some will say “yes” because it will bring a younger audience to the game and hopefully grow the game for the future.  Some will say “no” for reasons such as it is not good for the child (i.e. the pressure, the travel, the risk of injuries at a young age).  Whatever your opinion there is one thing that is hard to argue and that is “the cat — or should I say, Tiger — is out of the bag” and there is no turning back now.

 

2012 Ricoh Women’s British Open: Questions and Answers

In my post Ricoh Women’s British Open: Forget the forecast – it’s time for women’s golf to shine five questions were posted.  Below are the answers to all the questions and more….

(1) Will Yani Tseng win back-to-back Women’s British Opens and end the slump she has been in the last few months?  No, Tseng was not able to win.  Her final score was 299 or 11 over par for the tournament (Position – Tied for 26 place).  She was even par going into the final rounds but shot 76 and 79 to end the tournament.

(2) Can Paula Creamer rebound after the loss to Jiyal Shin last week at the Kingsmill Championship?  Not completely.  Creamer did not play poorly overall but she did not really contented; but then again, no one was close to the winner.  Paula was the top American, finishing in 3rd place (final score 289, or 1 over par for the tournament).  Although she did not win, Creamer actually had an impressive last round — she was in 10th placed and moved up to 3rd place (which was great given the weather was tough during the last 18 holes.)  Creamer still seems to be having trouble with her putter.  I’m sure Creamer will eventually fix the putter issues and we will see her back in the winners circle.

(3) Will Stacy Lewis win another major and finally get the respect she deserves?  Lewis finished in 8th position at 8 over par for the tournament.  I expected Lewis to perform better at the open but she seemed to be a bit frustrated with her play.  We all know that golf is a mental game and she did not seem as mentally tough as she normally appears in tournaments.  I think Stacy Lewis is still the “big hope” for US women’s golf — in terms of being a “contender” for the world #1 position (which is important to the American golf market.)

(4) How will Lydia Ko perform playing links golf and will she outshine the professionals?  If Ko were just “any” amateur, everyone would be impressed with her 17th place finish but Ko has won two professional tournaments as an amateur and people seemed slightly disappointed by her performance.  Really?  She is still only 15, made the cut at a major, won the “low amateur” award at the Women’s British open, and finished in the top 20 — I’m still impressed.

(5) If not the youngest player, Lydia Ko, will one of the “seasoned” players have a moment of glory?  My hopes that one of the older players might win did not come to pass.  Laura Davies, the 48-year-old British player, withdrew on Saturday due to an ankle injury.  This was a real surprise because before play was suspended on Friday, Davies was playing quite well.  Julie Inkster (the oldest player at 52) finished tied for 26th at 10 over par.  She commented to the media that it was the worst weather she has faced in 30-years of professional golf.

So who won?  The winner was Jiyai Shin, the Korean player that beat Paula Creamer in the Kingsmill playoff.  It was an impressive win for Shin — she smoked the field with a score of 9 under par (279 total).  Shin was the only player under par for the tournament. Her rounds were: 71, 64, 71, and 73.  Shin really seized the opportunity (with the low score of 64) on Saturday when the weather cooperated (i.e. little wind).  Shin told the press ““That might well be the best round I have ever played…”

The title of my previous blog began with “Forget the Weather…” but that was impossible.  The weather was a huge story this week.  The first day of the tournament was a bit windy but appeared to be what players expected for links golf.  Friday was just plain awful.  After the first group completed the first 4 holes play was suspended.  And, in an unusual (but not unprecedented move) the scores of those players were scratched.

Scratching scores has caused some debate in the golf world.  I noticed many of the golf analysts that felt they should have played or at least kept the scores were men.  I think the tour did the right thing.  Let’s remember that many of the LPGA players are quite petite and do not have the additional weight men have (so being blown over for the women was a real issue).  Balance is important in a golf swing and many players said that if the wind gusted in their back swing it just blew them off balance.  Even Michelle Wie who is quite tall said on Twitter that she felt like a flag pole and added a link to this image on the LPGA website.  In my opinion, the only “misjudgement” on the part of the tournament officials — starting play in the first place on Friday.

Ricoh Women’s British Open: Forget the weather forecast – it’s time for women’s golf to shine

Due to the 2012 Olympics the Ricoh Women’s British Open was moved from July to September and time of year might have a major impact on the final results.  Why?  Because right now the big story reported from Royal LIverpool at Holylake is the weather. The players faced cold, wind, and even hail during the Pro-Am. Here is a quick video Natalie Gulbis posted from yesterday’s Pro-Am.

Of course after bad weather comes beauty as shown in this tweeted photo from Brittany Lincicome.

LPGA Player, B. Lincicome, tweets a photo of a rainbow from Royal Liverpool GC

Given the tough conditions of the weather, which golfer will shine?  What will be the “big story” (other than the weather) at the end of the tournament on Sunday?  The questions on my mind are:

(1) Will Yani Tseng win back to back Women’s British Opens and end the slump she has been in the last few months?  At the beginning of the golf season all the golf pundits were predicting another big run for Tseng but she shocked the golf world with her poor play this summer.

(2) Can Paula Creamer rebound after the loss to Jiyal Shin last week at the Kingsmill Championship?  It was a disappointing blow to Creamer to 3-putt on the final hole which forced her into a sudden-death playoff and ultimately lost with another 3-putt on the 9th playoff hole.

(3) Will Stacy Lewis win another major and finally get the respect she deserves?  Lewis is the top ranked American player and ranked #2 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings yet she still does not seem to get the exposure that other lesser ranked players get from the golf media.  However, I was happy to see that the Adam Schupak wrote a New York Times article yesterday titled Women’s Golf Money Leader Could End U.S. Drought.

(4) How will Lydia Ko perform playing links golf and will she outshine the professionals?  She has the buzz coming off her amazing win at the Canadian Open this year.  The golf writers are already focused on Ko based on the tweet (below) from Kraig Kann, the Chief Communications Officer for the LPGA.

Lydia Ko is already facing big crowds  in the Media Center at Royal Liverpool

(5) If not the youngest player, Lydia Ko, will one of the “seasoned” players have a moment of glory?  Juli Inkster is at the open on a “medical exemption” (i.e. she is back after recovering from elbow surgery and has not played the full year so she was given a special exception).  I don’t think Inkster will contend given the short amount of time she has played this year.  Perhaps another “grand dame” might have a go at it.  I’ll be keeping my eye on Laura Davies, a 48-year-old British golfer with 45 careers wins (including 4 Majors and 20 LPGA tournament wins).  If the wind is up and experience counts, Davies might just have a chance to tame the links.

There are so many other scenarios that could take place.  Another Asian golf star (other than Yani Tseng) could win.  A player that has been struggling all year (Michelle Wie comes to mind) could suddenly get her game back and win.  Or a rookie (hopefully, Lexi Thompson) could thrill the crowd and get her first major. Of course, we can’t forget all the excellent Ladies European Tour (LET) players that could hold the trophy at the end of tournament.

Whatever happens this weekend, let’s hope it is an exciting tournament because the Women’s British Open is the major golf event this weekend; and with the PGA taking a week off before the tour championship, this is an opportunity for women’s golf to take the spotlight and shine.

Lydia Ko makes history, again. Is Ko an “amateur” in name only?

It was amazing to watch Lydia Ko win the CN Canadian Women’s Open.  However, what was really surprising was that Ko was the lead story on Golf Channel’s wrap-up show, Golf Central.  It is rare that a ladies event overshadows a PGA event, but Lydia Ko’s win overshadowed Nick Watney’s win at the Barclays.

I wrote about Lydia winning the US Women’s Amateur just a few weeks ago.  Ko is an amazing golfer; but what is really surprising is her demeanor on the golf course and during her press conferences.  She has a lovely personality.  She smiles all the time (and said in the press conference she tries to smile even when she makes a bad shot).  She is quick to acknowledge all the people supporting her golf career and seems to recognize that her amateur schedule is like a job.  She stated in various interviews that she has missed many months of school with all the world traveling she is doing for golf.

As I watched Ko play, I noticed she had a Srixon logo on her golf cap and a New Zealand Golf Logo on her shirt.  I did a bit of research and found the New Zealand Golf website.  As an amateur Ko cannot have sponsors but what she does have is the support of the New Zealand Golf Federation.  Lydia Ko is one of the shinning stars of the New Zealand Golf Federation’s National Development Program (or better known to the golf viewing public as the “Srixon Golf Academy.”)

When you read the details of the “National Development Programme” on the New Zealand Golf Website, you realize how much of an advantage players supported by a national federation have over an amateur without such support.  The website states “The National Development Programme is the pathway that assists young emerging talent from throughout New Zealand to succeed on the international stage.”  Here is what the website states a Srixon Golf Academy player can expect:

  • Primary coach
  • Sports psychologist
  • Strength and conditioning coach
  • Golf specific physiotherapist
  • They will also have funding assistance to ensure their attendance at national events throughout their term in the Academy.
  • For the very best of the Academy there will be a contestable ‘International Tournament Campaign Fund’ to help assist them create and manage their own international tournament campaigns.  (Note: the website even lists specific tournaments in Asia, UK/Europe, Canada, and the USA).

Wow, given the “funding” support it is hard to call Lydia Ko an Amateur.  Clearly, the financial support to travel all over the world to compete against the worlds best golfers is a luxury most American amateurs would love.  Actually, I think a lot of “journeymen” players and “rookies” on the professional tours would love that kind of financial support.

The support Lydia Ko receives does not take away from her talent or her win.  She is still a 15-year-old playing an individual sport and it is her talent and mental fortitude that has allowed her to win at the highest level of golf.  However, the support Ko receives “outside the ropes” is not something all amateurs get.  Judy Rankin, Golf Hall of Fame member and commentator for LPGA golf events, often comments during her on-air TV analysis that international amateurs (supported by golf federations) have an advantage over American amateurs.  The lack of international travel and opportunity to play against the best in the world is a big issue for the development of American Amateurs.

Is Lydia Ko like other Amateurs at all?  One way Lydia Ko is a normal amateur is that she does not have the pressure a professional has to win.  Professionals feel pressure because golf is how they make their living.  Maybe a good example is Lexi Thompson.  In 2007, at age 12, Thompson was the youngest golfer to qualify for the US Women’s Open and turned pro at 15 but did not have her LPGA card. Thompson was entering LPGA tournaments on sponsor exemptions. Thompson made history when she won her first LPGA event (the Navistar LPGA Classic) at 16 years, 7 months and 8 days old.  Given her win, the LPGA waived the age minimum/restriction and granted Lexi Thompson her card.  But as a professional, Thompson has struggled this year and missed the cut at the CN Canadian Women’s Open.  The other past “amateur phenom” to miss the cut this week — Michelle Wie.

Is Lydia Ko an amateur in name only?  I say yes because she plays like a professional, she travels and competes worldwide like a professional, and she has “financial support” that mirrors the economic benefit to cover travel costs that a sponsor deal might cover (without the official sponsor).

Who knows when Lydia Ko will become a professional.  Until that time, I’m sure Lydia Ko will continue to amaze the golf viewing public with her amazing talent.  The next big question is when she does turn professional, will she continue her phenomenal rise?  Will Ko be the next Annika or Tiger?.  Only time will tell.  One thing is for sure —  the golf world will be watching.