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.

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What was the biggest surprise last week in golf — Curtis, Tseng, Wie, or Rio?

I was watching Ben Curtis win the Valero Texas Open yesterday and the thought went through my head that he was a “surprise” winner.  He had not won since the Booz Allen tournament in June 2006.  The surprise about the lack of wins between 2006 and 2012 is fueled by the fact that Curtis is a “Major” winner (he won the British Open at Royal St. George in 2003.)  Curtis won just a few years after turning pro and then did not live up to the expectations of a “Major” winner.  Expectations that now Bubba Watson will have to live up to in the coming years.

But was Ben Curtis the biggest surprise?  If we look at the LPGA tour, we could list the fact that Yani Tseng did not win (she finished tied for 10th at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii.)  But it is not a big surprise to me because I may just be the one person on the planet that does not believe Tseng will win every tournament she enters.

Is the bigger surprise the fact that Michelle Wie missed the cut again (making it three missed cuts in a row?)  I don’t think so.  She has missed three in a row in previous years.  The expectation some folks had that she would come out of Standford University and suddenly be great was ridiculous.  Every top golfer in the world talks about the focus it takes to be at the top of their game.  Wie is struggling because she has not been focused on golf in the last few years and it is clearly showing on the course.  Give her time to get mentally “back into the game.”

I think maybe the biggest surprise for me this week was not how well or poorly a professional golfer played; but the announcement that the site selected for the golf course for the 2016 Olympics is under a land dispute in Rio.  According to an Associated Press article it threatens the ability for the golf course to be ready because if they can’t use the land, they have to start from scratch for the golf course design.  This is a big deal given the designer has stated plans to “break ground” in October 2012.

The article goes on to say that “Elmway Participacoes has been trying to claim ownership of the land for the past three years.”  Really?  You would think the city/organizers of the Olympics would not pick a plot of land that someone has been trying to claim ownership of for three years.  But who knows what is really going on behind closed doors.  But the article also stated that this is not the first time a land dispute caused delays for another major sporting event (world soccer) in Brazil.

Bottom line, I want to see my favorite sport in the Summer Olympics — after all, the last time it was part of the Olympics was 1906 — and I would hate to see “a land dispute” keep it from happening.  Let’s hope the golf course designer, Gil Hanse, doesn’t face too many more surprises.

LPGA – First Major of the Season

This week the ladies play in the first major, The Kraft Nabisco Championship.  In many ways this is “The Masters” for the women.  I say this because it is their first major of the season (as is The Masters for the men), it has been played at the same course (Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California) since its inaugural tournament (again, The Masters is always played at Augusta National), and the winner jumps into “poppies pond” at the 18th hole as part of the tournament tradition and they are given a bathrobe when they get out of the pond. Many have said the robe is the LPGA’s version of a green jacket (o.k., it is not a green jacket but hey, it’s better than just standing in dripping wet golf clothes).

The tournament was not always a major.  It started in 1972 as the Colgate – Diane Shore tournament.  I remember watching it as a young girl and thinking how exciting it was that the company my dad worked for had a golf tournament.  In 1983 it became a major and the sponsor was Nabisco.  Amy Alcott won in 1983 and two more times.  In fact, in 1991 when she won for the third time she jumped in the pond — this was the beginning of the tradition.  The video below gives a great overview of the history of this tournament.

This year all the golf pundits are saying Yani Tseng will win.  It seems like a “no-brainer” given she has already won 3 times this year, won last week by 5 shots, and is the number one female golfer in the world.  But I’m hoping for an upset like last year.  In 2011, Stacy Lewis beat Tseng by three shots.  Below is a nice video for Stacy Lewis.

Don’t get me wrong.  Yani Tseng is an amazing player but I want an exciting major — and that will only happen if someone can challenge Tseng.  My ideal ending on Sunday would be to see Cristie Kerr go head to head with Yani Tseng and win.

Yani Tseng – Close to Tears?

I was watching a golf news recap after the second round of the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and the commentator briefly mentioned that Yani Tseng was close to tears on the course. I missed the start of the segment so I went online to see what I could find.

I read the press conference notes and it turns out that Tseng shot an 8 (or a quadruple bogey or snowman) on the par-4, 7th hole.  She said in her press conference, “I almost cried; but no I didn’t.”  Tseng then went on to say, “I don’t remember when I had an 8 for the last time. Wait, I remember. It was last year at Evian.”  She was referring to the Evian Masters which is held in France in July.

Tseng recovered at the end of the round of the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and was six shots behind the leader.  Today, at the end of round three, she is just two shots off the lead. I would not be surprised if she wins.

The reason Tseng’s admission of being near tears fascinates me is because it speaks to the enormous expectations these young talented golfers put on themselves.  Tseng is 22 years old, last year won eleven times; and since her rookie year in 2008 has won five majors.  Tseng was named the LPGA’s Rolex player of the year for the past two years. With all those accomplishments, why was she close to tears (or so hard on herself) over one hole?

Now, I know that a PGA pro cried a few weeks ago but it was because he lost a huge lead on the final round of what would have been his first professional win.  But Tseng’s admission that she almost cried after an 8 in an early round was odd to me.  Odd because she still had a lot of golf to play and could turn things around.

I guess the only explanation I can come up with is that Tseng is human and her emotions just got the best of her.  Sometimes when you watch the pros play they seem like machines hitting one amazing shot after another.  So it is actually kind of refreshing to know that even “the best of the best” are human and hit a “snowman” once in a while (or in Tseng’s case, once a year).

Yani Tseng Best Swing in Golf

One of my favorite shows to watch on the Golf Channel is Morning Drive. I found it one morning when I was channel surfing because I was tired of the “same old, same old” on the morning network shows.

The show has a lot of guests from the golf world and last week Annika Sorenstam and Hank Haney were on the show.  When asked who had the best golf swing, I expected Haney to mention a male golfer but to my surprise he said Yani Tseng.  I think Annika was pleasantly surprised because she had a big smile on her face and quickly agreed with Haney.

What stuck with me was why Annika thinks Yani Tseng has the best swing.  It is that the swing is “repeatable under pressure.”  Any golfer can relate to that statement.  Sometimes you listen to golf experts talk about the swing and it is all about swing plain, club head speed, the grip, clearing your hips, etc. and you quickly realize how much goes into a great swing. It can be overwhelming to have all that swirling around in your head.

As an amateur golfer there is nothing more frustrating than starting off the round feeling great because you are swinging well which results in decent shots; then suddenly you hit a bad shot and you can’t figure out what just changed in your swing.  And even though there is nothing big at stake (like a career) you start to feel “under pressure” to fix it.  And often times it is that self-inflicted pressure that makes it even worse.  At that point, golf really becomes a “head game” and you go from feeling great to awful in just a few shots.

I think it is great that Yani Tseng has the ability to repeat her amazing swing under pressure.  For me, I’m just happy when I can repeat my decent swing for a full round of golf.  Of course, then the next thing to worry about is putting.

Waiting on the Ladies

The golf world is all a buzz that the golf season has begun with the start of the PGA tour, the European tour, and the Champions tour (or senior men’s tour). But there is not much talk about the LPGA because the ladies season doesn’t begin for a few more weeks.

In my opinion, I think many golf fans, myself included, don’t pay as much attention to the “official” start of the LPGA (this year begins with the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open).  For me, the LPGA starts with the first major, The Kraft Nabisco Championship on March 29.  The other tournaments I pay attention to, at least in terms of marking my calendar, are the other three majors for the women.

It’s not that the women are any less talented than the men but there is less “excitement” in the non-major tournaments.  Actually, the lack of excitement has the same feeling that the PGA tournaments had a few years ago — when Tiger wasn’t playing in many tournaments or playing well; and there were no young guns grabbing anyone’s interest.

The LPGA has suffered since Annika retired and Michelle Wie, who got all the hype as the next “Annika”, could not live up to such unrealistic expectations. There are other great women golfers but the LPGA needs a “big star.”  A “big star” is important to any tour — it’s the Annika and Tiger factor that make the average golf fan turn on the TV or buy a ticket to a tournament. When Tiger announced he would play at the 2012 AT&T Pro Am, ticket sales jumped 35%.

Let’s hope 2012 is the beginning of the turning point for the LPGA because they have some really great talent in Yani Tseng (number one women golfer in the world who many believe could possibly break many of Annika’s records) and now the LPGA has their own young guns getting buzz.  In particular, Lexi Thompson.

Lexi Thompson has been called a “golf prodigy” and the proof was in her play last year when she won the Navistar LPGA Classic at the age of 16 as a non-member of the LPGA. Thompson was the youngest women to win any LPGA event.  After her win she petitioned the LPGA to waive the age requirement (members must be at least 18 years old) to become a member. She was granted full membership.

This just might be the year that I (and many other golf fans) pay attention to more than just the majors for the ladies.