Monday, May 05, 2008

SemGroup Championship Epilogue

I felt like I was reading my own thoughts as I checked out Waggle Room this morning. Mulligan Stu sees the same correlation that I see between Paula Creamer and the Lorena Ochoa of about two years ago. UPDATE: Ryan at the GNN blog weighs in as well. While I feel that her relative lack of distance will always be an obstacle, Paula will win a major someday, continue to win events for many more years and eventually enter the Hall of Fame. The last two weeks showed me that she has the resolve to overcome disappointment and internal doubts much like Ochoa has done. You could count the players we’ve seen do that in the last two years on one hand.

There were a lot of people at 18 cheering when Creamer missed her two putts there (final regulation and first playoff hole). I’m sure they were rooting for Inkster but isn’t it a little rude to celebrate someone’s failure like that? I’m biased for Paula, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. If Juli had won, I would have been very proud of her achievement as well.

The first three rounds of the SemGroup were the three highest scoring rounds on Tour this season. So it shouldn’t be surprising when I tell you that the overall event average of 75.27 was the highest this year and the highest since the British Open’s 76.01. Of course St. Andrews played to par of 73 while Cedar Ridge played to 71. Creamer and Inkster were the only players to finish under par – or better than +2, for that matter.

Ochoa didn’t extend her winning streak but she finished tied for fifth, her ninth straight Top 10 and 30th straight Top 20. I already know who my three picks are at the Michelob Ultra this weekend – the trick will be deciding which one gets the #1 spot. Speaking of picks, I finished 12th in the PakPicker this week – an improvement, but still out of the running.

Inkster wasn’t the only player to rediscover her game this weekend – Jeong Jang closed with a 68 to finish tied for third, her first Top 10 since being runner-up to Creamer at Fields. Leta Lindley didn’t have a great Sunday but she registered her first Top 10 since September 2005, at this very event (it was the John Q. Hammons Classic then). Jimin Kang posted sub-par rounds the last three days (coming back from an 82 on Thursday) to finish eighth. Dorothy Delasin gets my Big Surprise Award by finishing tied for fifth, her first Top 10 since the Mitchell TOC in 2006 and her first Top 5 since the 2005 Corona Championship. The Big Disappointment goes to Morgan Pressel, who missed her second straight cut.

In honor of Delasin’s great week, here is a clip which shows her finishing up on the final hole. It also includes Angela Stanford’s birdie at 16 which helped her tie for third.

17-year-old Vicky Hurst finished T21. Since we’ll probably be seeing a lot more of her in the near future, here’s a clip of her at 18.


lpgafan said...

Great blog.

I think people put too much into Paula's lack of distance. Everyone always talks about how shes not long enough, but does it really matter? Shes 21 and already has SIX wins. If you ask me that shows she can overcome any disadvantage that may cause.

diane said...

I'm so disappointed. I set my DVR to record only the time ESPN had scheduled. I usually add an hour to cover running late or a playoff, this time I did not.

Regarding Paula's "lack of distance," the only area where I see her being disadvantaged is eagle opportunities on par 5s. According to LPGA statistics, through last week's Miami tournament she had exactly zero eagles. Sophie Gustafson leads the tour with 6. The solution is make lots of birdies.

The Constructivist said...

I don't want to be a broken record on distance, but so far the LPGA hasn't made any moves to Ochoa-proof courses like the PGA has done for Tiger--and we all know who has been hurt by the move to lengthen, narrow, and roughify the men's layouts. And I support the LPGA's decision. The day a precision player can't win multiple times on the LPGA is the day the tour becomes a whole lot less interesting.

I mean, you'd think the long course and windy conditions this week would favor a power player, but the usual suspects there were struggling for top 25s and top 40s and people like Creamer, Lindley, and Jang (who has gotten longer this season, it seems) rose to the top. Certainly went against my expectations. Being able to work the ball and adjust to changing conditions is always going to be at a premium--and should be.

As long as Paula focuses on her ballstriking and shotmaking and keeps working on her short game, she's going to keep improving. She's shown that she can go super-low and run away from a quality field (at the end of last season) and that she can win a nail-biter under tough conditions (this week). So far nobody from younger rookie classes has shown they can win at her pace or even put together a multiple-win season (which she's now done three times), so she's entering an early prime maybe even ahead of schedule (and a decade away from that Sorenstamesque second one)--who knows how good she can get?

Not that getting longer is to be avoided. I think increased distance would better be arrived at from a long-term fitness program that aims at incremental overall progress, which would allow her to adjust her swing to her changing body at a reasonable pace. But on the list of things that matter, I'd put distance in my top 5 but not my top 3 if I were Paula. (I wish!)

Hound Dog said...

Great comments, all.

Having distance can mask your other deficiencies better than any other talent (except maybe putting). If you don't have that distance, there's no reason that a player can't be talented enough across the rest of her game to be a Hall of Famer. Creamer has shown that she has that broad-based talent.

Keep in mind - to keep winning, that combination of skills has to remain elevated. For example, if Paula has even a slight off-week of hitting the fairway, I wouldn't expect her to finish anywhere near the Top 10. That seems to set up her entire game.

svenson said...

When I think about distance, I think about Hilary Lunke's 2003 US Open win. She has no distance off the tee, but won because of her iron play, if I recall, and some lousy play by her competitors. But she has not been near the leaderboard since.

Also, big-hitter Gustafson hasn't hit the top ten yet this year.