Five things: Lexi, Na, Perry and more
1. Ladies Choice
On Friday, Lexi Thompson was granted LPGA Tour membership, one day after she petitioned the tour to waive its policy of members being at least 18. Mike Whan, the LPGA Tour commissioner, had no choice but to grant the talented 16-year-old a tour card for 2012 after she won the Navistar LPGA Classic in September.
What does it all mean for the future of the LPGA Tour?
For one thing, women's golf has a bona-fide star in Thompson, who has the personality and commitment to attract corporate sponsors to the sport in the U.S. She already has a good sponsor in Puma that has been covering her from head to toe in gear in much the same that it has its matinee idol on the PGA Tour, Rickie Fowler. She's already won and though her golf swing has a lot of room for maturity, its fundamentals are strong enough to sustain her through a long career. She has to become more consistent, but she's already one of the top five American players. The U.S. Solheim Cup team might have beaten the Europeans in Ireland last week if she had been on the squad.
Secondly, the LPGA should try to market Thompson's golf and not try to make her a fashionista or a beauty queen or any other thing that stresses her gender. Think of this Florida native from a golfing family as the model of the young player with a growth curve that could show you the kind of dividends that Tiger Woods has paid for the PGA Tour over the past decade.
But then we've seen Lexi Thompson before. She was Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel and Natalie Gulbis and Nancy Lopez before all of them. So the jury is out on what her impact will be on her sport. She has to hit the shots on the golf course but the LPGA Tour and Whan also have to play their part to make her a big star and a torchbearer for the future of women's golf.
2. Kevin Na
It can be tough to watch the 28-year-old South Korean native on a golf course. He's slow and fidgety. He almost never seems to settle over a shot. On Sunday it was almost as laborious to watch him play as it was to say the tournament's name: the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. In a final-round 6-under 65, in which he had eight birdies, he backed away midswing from nearly as many shots that he took all day.
Yet in the end he pulled out his first win in his 211th PGA Tour career start in his eighth year on tour by holding off Nick Watney by two shots. Na, who was eliminated from the FedEx Cup playoffs after the Deutsche Bank Championship, finished at 23 under par.
Since joining the PGA Tour as a 20-year-old kid who had the gumption to turn pro at 17, Na has kept his card and played steady but hasn't always been one of the fastest or more composed players on tour. In 2005, he lost in a playoff in Tucson. That was his best shot at winning until Sunday in Las Vegas, where he also lives.
"I was so young," Na said of the experience of losing to Geoff Ogilvy in the playoff at the Chrysler Classic of Tucson. "I just turned 21 and lost in a playoff, and I always think, Would I be in a different position if I won then? I don't know. The answer is I don't know, but you know what, eight years was worth the wait."
On Sunday at the TPC Summerlin with all the wacky Arnold Palmer-like finishes and a steady churning of inner conflict that always surfaces in his facial expressions, Na always looked like he was on the verge of having the kind of meltdown that led him to a 16 on the par-4 ninth hole during the first round of the Valero Texas Open in April, where he made one unthinking decision after another, en route to an 80 and a missed cut.
We probably haven't seen the best from Na. But now at least we know him for something other than being a very slow player with the wild looking golf swing and vibrant on-course inner dialogue.
3. Kenny Perry
When Kenny Perry stopped playing the PGA Tour full-time after he turned 50 in August of last year, he was still a top-20 player in the world and only a year off his heartbreaking loss at the Masters. Even though he got a win after Augusta at the Travelers Championship, he was never the same and by the middle of 2010 he was playing like a middling tour pro and not the guy who had won 11 of his 14 tour victories after he turned 40. He parted ways with his long-time caddie, Fred Sanders, and brought on his son, Justin, but recently brought Sanders back. Perry seemed to have spent all his drive and desire on that Masters and the 2008 Ryder Cup on his home turf of Kentucky.
But finally he played like the Kenny Perry of old as he won his first Champions Tour title at the SAS Championship with a three-day total of 11-under 205 to beat Jeff Sluman and John Huston by a stroke.
This first win on the Champions Tour comes a day after his sister Kay died from a long battle with breast cancer. Her passing came exactly two years after their mother, Mildred Perry, succumbed to cancer.
When Perry starts playing the senior circuit full-time -- he still splits his schedule with the regular tour -- he should dominate with his mix of length and accuracy. It's a good thing for the game and hopefully a sign that a great Champions Tour career will heal some of the wounds from the PGA Tour.
4. Asian Amateur Champion
Hideki Matsuyama, the low amateur at this year's Masters, is headed back to Augusta in 2012 after winning his second straight Asian Amateur Championship on Sunday in Singapore with a 1-shot win over Lee Soo Min at the Singapore Island Country Club.
The winner and the runner-up from the Asian Amateur also gets an exemption into final qualifying of the British Open.
Matsuyama, a 19-year-old Japanese collegiate champion, finished in a tie for 27th at his first Masters. He was the only amateur to make the cut.
In 2009, the Masters, the Royal & Ancient Club and the Asia Pacific Golf Federation joined forces to sponsor the event to recognize the growth of the game in Asia.
Matsuyama attends college in Sendai, which was devastated by an earthquake in March that triggered a tsunami that left half of the city's million residents without water or electricity. The aftershocks of the earthquake continued for months. One of them came before Matsuyama's first-round 72 at the Masters in April.
He dedicated his week to the people in Japan. Now that he's going back for a second time to Augusta, he can continue his efforts at being an ambassador for his adopted hometown that is still reeling from the devastation.
5. The Tour Championship vs. the PGA Championship
On Thursday of the Asian Amateur Championship, three-time Masters Champion Nick Faldo told Reuters that he was surprised that Tiger Woods had been given a Presidents Cup captain's pick by Fred Couples.
"From his self-imprisonment and getting away from the first troubles, then to physical injuries and now the swing," Faldo said, "he bombarded himself over these last couple of years."
Two days earlier Couples made his decision to pick the 14-time major winner official during a news conference, in which he also announced that he had taken Bill Haas over Keegan Bradley and Brandt Snedeker with his second captain's pick.
Haas earned his ticket to Australia for the biennial matches with his win at the Tour Championship. Bradley, the PGA champion, had a good case for why he should be picked, but he didn't distinguish himself in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Before the start of the playoffs in 2007, Bradley's win at the Byron Nelson and the PGA would have been good enough to get him a place on the team. But the prestige of winning the Tour Championship and all the money attached to the FedEx Cup playoffs was too much for Couples to ignore.
But is there a chance that Bradley, as the 2012 Masters Champion, would have been left off the U.S. team? Or what if a veteran such as Davis Love III or Scott Verplank had won the PGA? Did Bradley being a rookie with no pedigree hurt him? Over the years there have been a number of major winners left off Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup teams in the calendar years that they won -- John Daly and Ben Curtis come to mind -- but this year it seemed an especially curious choice by Couples with Bradley having two wins on the season.
Also there is another striking irony to the pick. The FedEx Cup playoffs champion was determined over four events. But Couples' decision was made essentially off the play of one week, at a tournament with the smallest field of the year. Does Bradley's win in the deepest field of the year -- 98 of the top 100 ranked players in the world -- at the PGA count for anything?
It must have mattered a lot to Couples to even consider Bradley for the team, but apparently it didn't mean as much as Haas' win at the Tour Championship.
Recently, I was involved in a debate here with my colleague Bob Harig about choosing experience versus a hot player in determining what to consider in making a pick for the team. We might have also tried to calibrate the significance of what one win might have over another one.
In the end, the nod to Haas by Couples for his last Presidents Cup pick might not be a snubbing of the PGA Championship, but it does suggest that the PGA Tour is having some success at realizing its dream of creating a bigger and bolder series of tournaments that push the last major championship out of the limelight as the last word on the golf season.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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