In today’s PGW Rundown, two South African golfers make news in Europe; one getting praise while the other getting criticism, a change could be coming at the top of the Rolex Rankings, an NCAA champion is deciding whether pro golf is for her, and a Tour vet created controversy at the Senior PGA Championship.
Els Lauded For Calling Penalty On Self
In a sport that prides itself on class, few players in professional golf have exemplified that trait more than South African legend Ernie Els. On the course, he has been one of the best ever: 71 career wins worldwide, including 19 on the PGA Tour, and four major championships. Off the course, he is known as an ultimate gentleman of the game.
On Thursday, during round one of the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event, the 47-year-old made a move that has further improved that already strong reputation. He called a penalty on himself that he almost definitely would have gotten away with had he stayed silent.
- Originally Els was reported to have shot a three-under 69 in the first round of the BMW PGA Championship, which would have put him just three strokes off of Johan Carlsson’s lead. He ended up with a one-under 71 after calling a penalty on himself on the par-5 12th
- Els replaced his ball in a greenside bunker when his lie was plugged. He then holed his chip for an eagle-3.
- The great shot came with compunction, however. Els felt that the chip was easier than it should have been given the situation. He was worried he did not replace his ball correctly, possibly taking an easier shot than he should have.
- The rules official Els consulted left the decision up to Ernie, stating that only Els knew what kind of lie he really had. Els made the decision to call the penalty on himself, even though he was not sure he had actually gotten an advantage.
“Under the rules you try and put it back the way you think it should be, but I still felt uncomfortable with it, so we took a two-shot penalty,” Els said. “I know deep down the ball wasn’t quite where it should be and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”
Grace Criticized For Taking Drop
While Ernie Els improved his already-immaculate public image by taking a penalty he didn’t need to take, fellow South African Branden Grace is facing scrutiny for a decision he made on the course.
Grace got relief from a bunker after claiming that he could not take a proper stance due to the rubber lining beneath the sand. Grace is now defending the action after criticism from other players. Grace finished the round at four-under 68, just two strokes off the BMW PGA Championship lead.
- Branden Grace hit his second shot on the par-4 13th hole into a bunker. After twisting his feet attempting to make a proper stance, Grace reached the rubber-lining under the bunker and called a rules official over, who then allowed him to take a drop. He bogeyed the hole, although it looked appeared he would do worse before the drop.
- The drop was met with much criticism. Danny Willett took to Twitter, asking for an explanation of why burying his feet got him a drop.
- TV analyst Paul McGinley called it ridiculous, saying that anyone can reach the rubber lining if they twist their feet enough.
- Grace defended his actions, noting that he was standing on a steep upslope. He was familiar with the rule and did not feel guilty for getting the relief.
“A rule is a rule, and I took advantage of the rule there, and it helped knowing the rule in some respects. Fortunately for me, I got away with a good drop but I still made bogey. The rules are there for a reason. Sometimes it works in your advantage, and sometimes it doesn’t. In this case it did.”
Sadlowski Shoots 73 (+3) in PGA Tour Debut
One of the more intriguing storylines at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational is the inclusion of Canada’s Jamie Sadlowski in the field. Sadlowski is famous for his incredible success in long-driving competitions, which he retired from last year to pursue a professional golf career.
He has been playing on the Web.com and MacKenzie Tours, but was given his first entry into a PGA Tour event as a “champion’s choice,” a Colonial tradition where the past champions decide on two players to give a special exemption to. Sadlowski was 3-over in his first round, which left him in a tie for 75th.
- Sadlowski showed off his long-driving prowess at Colonial, which actually has a reputation for requiring great iron play over long drives.
- His first drive went 365 yards, and he finished third in the field in driving distance (297.5), trailing only Jon Rahm (304.3) and Jonattan Vegas (298.8).
- While Rahm is near the lead, Vegas did not get much of an advantage from the longer drives, shooting a 12-over 82, the worst round in the field.
- The 28-year-old Sadlowski had three birdies and six bogeys in the first round.
- Sadlowski has twice won the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship, the biggest event on the long-drive circuit.
“I look at this as I’m trying to start a new career and I’m working hard at it. At the end of the day, I want to prove myself I can play out here.”
World No. 1 Lydia Ko’s Three-Week Break Could Come At a Price
For the past 83 weeks, 20-year-old LPGA phenom Lydia Ko has stood atop the Rolex Rankings, the women’s version of the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR), the third longest stretch at No. 1 in the history of the Tour.
However, Ko may not have it much longer. Currently taking a three-week break from the LPGA, she is risking losing that No. 1 spot to two players who are in the field for this week’s event, No. 2 So Yeon Ryu and No. 3 Ariya Jutanugarn, who are both close to her in the rankings.
- Ko is sitting out this week’s LPGA event, the Volvik Championship, part of a personal three-week break, and there are 22 scenarios where someone (either Ryu or Jutanugarn) could usurp her for #1 this week.
- Ko has 14 career LPGA wins, including two majors, despite just turning 20 last week.
- The early returns on her 2017 season have been somewhat underwhelming by her standards, however. She has not won any of the 10 events she has entered, although she has finished in the top 10 in six of them.
- Only Lorena Ochoa (158 weeks) and Yani Tseng (109 weeks) have a longer streak of consecutive weeks at #1.
“I’m going to take some time off, maybe chill, and maybe see a little of Orlando. I’ve lived there for four years, but I haven’t been able to travel around there and maybe be the tourist.”
–Lydia Ko, in an interview with the Golf Channel.
NCAA Women’s Champion Unsure of Future Plans
While the biggest star of LPGA Present (Lydia Ko) is making news for taking time off, a talented woman who could be a big part of the LPGA’s future, is deciding whether she even wants to go professional.
Monica Vaughn, a star collegiate golfer who just won the NCAA individual title, and was the best player on the Arizona State team that won the NCAA team title, could not have asked for a better end to her senior season. Vaughn unquestionably has the talent to go pro, but at least for now, she is keeping her amateur status.
- Winning the NCAA individual title got Monica Vaughn an invite to the LPGA’s Marathon Classic in July. As of now, she is planning on playing, but does not yet know if she will be there as an amateur or a professional.
- Vaughn was resolute as recently as four months ago that she would not be turning pro, but recent events are causing her to reconsider.
- If Vaughn does not go pro, one option for her is working for Ping, who has already given her a job offer.
- Vaughn had originally committed to playing on the men’s team (that is not a typo) at Army, but ended up at Arizona State.
“I can’t say I’m 100 percent going to do it,” she said. “But it’s there if I want, I think. I want to make sure that I do it for the right reasons and not because someone else wants me to do it or because it’s the only thing I’ve ever done. I want to do it because I love golf and I want to practice and improve and be the best player I can be. At the moment, I just want to have fun and relax.”
Fred Funk’s Son Takes Issue With Criticism of Dad
Fred Funk won eight times on the PGA Tour during his career, and since turning 50 a decade ago, has added nine more victories to his total as a regular on the Champions Tour. Funk has avoided controversy for most of his career, but was unable to do so in the lead-up to this week’s Senior PGA Championship.
A comment he made was referred to as “sexist” by USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan, and now Funk’s son, a collegiate golfer at the University of Texas, is taking up for his father.
- During a press conference for the Senior PGA Championship, Fred Funk joked that he “feels like he should be on the ladies tour right now,” a self-deprecating comment referencing his struggles with the length of modern courses.
- USA Today columnist Christine Brennan took offense to the comment, calling Funk’s words “sexist.” She said that the words “tumbled off his tongue as if he had said them one hundred times before.”
- Funk’s son, Taylor, responded to Brennan on Twitter, defending his father.
- The Senior PGA Tournament has already come under lots of controversy, as the event is being played at a course owned by U.S. President Donald Trump. Many have protested the tournament.
“I’m sorry Ms. Brennan, but there is 1 thing my dad is not and it is sexist. The fact that you think these comments are sexist is beyond me.”
-Taylor Funk, via Twitter