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U.S. Women's Open winner Inbee Park, a putting maestro

By John Strege

A club is not a baton and golf is not a symphony, but Inbee Park with a putter is a maestro orchestrating a masterpiece, and it would behoove us to listen carefully: Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

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It isn't a name we often hear anymore, but Park has resurrected it with her victory in the U.S. Women's Open on Sunday. Park has won each of the first three women's major championships this year, joining Zaharias as the only player in history to have done so.

Related: Why Women Putt Worse Than Men

Listen, too, to NBC's Roger Maltbie, who watched it all up close at Sebonack Golf Club on Sunday. "It's almost uncanny," he said. "Every putt she hits looks like it's going in the hole. When they miss I'm shocked."

This was not a one-club win; they never are. But more than any of the others it is the club that has set her apart from her contemporaries (at this point it wouldn't do to call them her peers) and put her on a path toward history.

Curtis Strange once said that Nancy Lopez, "from eight feet in is the best putter, man, woman or child." More than one have suggested that Park's putting has achieved similar gender-free stature. We'll leave that debate for others. This much we do know: "I'm pretty sure everybody is jealous of her putting," Park's friend So Yeon Ryu told Newsday earlier in the week.

Putting guru Dave Stockton believes that good putting begins with the mind, not the mechanics, and that Park "mentally is in a league of her own out there," he said. "What I love that I see is her total lack of being affected by where she stands. She's very calm, very composed and it serves her well. The rhythm with her stroke and throughout the whole swing, most of the time in a U.S. Open you see others losing that. But she's withstood it really, really well. I think it's because of that demeanor that no shot is more important than the last one or a future one. She doesn't change her routine depending on the pressure."

Related: She's Back in the Picture

Suzy Whaley, a teaching pro at TPC River Highlands who once played in the men's Greater Hartford Open there, analyzed her stroke for PGA.com this way: "The key to Inbee's stroke is the total lack of tension in her arms and shoulders. If you were to walk up and grab her putter at address you could pull it out of her hands because of how loosely she holds it."

Park, 24, has now won six times this year and would be pursuing the grand slam at St. Andrews in a month were it not for the fact that the LPGA has designated the Evian Championship in September a major. Then again, why not go five for five? Last year, she won the Evian Masters, as it was called then, and required only 22 putts in the final round.

"As long as she keeps putting the way she is she's going to be very hard to beat," NBC's Gary Koch said.


Photo by Getty Images

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Gear & Equipment

What happens to golf courses when they close?

By Mike Stachura

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Dust in the wind: A lot of closed courses remain in limbo.

More than 1,400 golf courses have shut since 2001, and according to a National Golf Foundation study of 60 closed courses, 70 percent have yet to be repurposed. Of those, "about half were in planning or awaiting approval for reuse, and half remained in limbo (up for sale, being litigated, being actively opposed by citizens groups, or fallow)," the NGF reports. "About one in three fallow properties were being maintained to some degree, and about one in four were in formal litigation or being protested by residents." Of the golf-course land that has been repurposed, uses have ranged from reclaimed wetlands to dog parks, skate parks and even a wedding pavilion. One Florida course is in the planning stages to be -- we're not making this up -- a cemetery.


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News & Tours

Cheat Sheet: What you need to know for Sunday in golf

By Derek Evers

130629-inbee-park-us-womens-open.jpgWill Inbee Park join Babe Zaharias in the record books?

After winning her last two starts and now leading by four going into the final round of the U.S. Women's Open, we're starting to wonder if Inbee Park will ever lose again. It feels as though no one has dominated the ladies circuit quite this way since the great Babe Zaharias was teeing it up over half a century ago. Now Park has the opportunity to confirm those assumptions. By winning the U.S. Open, she would join Zaharias (1950) as the only players in tour history to win the first three major championships in a season. But even Babe never won a fourth. As if that's not enough historical perspective, Park can etch her name in the record books at the world's most historic golf course when the LPGA Tour hits St. Andrews in early August for the Women's British Open.

Related: Inbee Park chasing history at U.S. Women's Open

Does anyone want to win at Congressional?

Maybe the PGA pros are trying to give their LPGA and Champions Tour brethren the spotlight this week, because it doesn't seem like anyone wants to pull away at the AT&T National. Already without host Tiger Woods and U.S. Open champ Justin Rose, the third round of the Tour's annual Congressional stop did little to define a favorite in their absence. Four players are tied atop a group of ten players separated by only four shots. Second round co-leader, 19-year-old Jordan Spieth had a two-shot lead after opening with two straight birdies before missing five putts inside eight feet during a four-hole slide. Roberto Castro has been near the top of the leader board all week, but he needed a chip-in par on Saturday just to finish even on the day. Bill Haas is the only player to break 70 in all three rounds, but his Saturday 68 was dampened by the fact he had nine birdies and only finished three-under. With so much parity, the AT&T might not be about who wins, but who survives.

Will Freddie keep his cool in Senior Players final round?

After a Friday 62, Fred Couples has resided atop the leader board at the Senior Players and will be two-shots clear of the field when he starts his final round on Sunday. Couples won this tournament in 2011 and was in control last year after a second-round 63, but he shot one-over on the weekend to finish four strokes behind winner Joe Daley. So which Freddie is it going to be? With eight wins on the Champions Tour since making his debut in 2010, a betting man would probably side with Couples, but it's hard to discount a leader board that boasts the likes of Perry, Waldorf, Huston, and Calcavecchia hot on his heels.

Another bad day for caddies.

Last week it was Bubba Watson publicly chastising his caddie, this week it was Jessica Korda firing hers mid-round. Korda, who is currently tied for 6th place, but 11 strokes behind leader Inbee Park at the U.S. Women's Open, fired Jason Gilroyed after the 9th hole and replaced him with her boyfriend Johnny DelPrete; a move first reported by Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman on Twitter.

After her round, the 20-year-old Korda said she needed to make the switch to have a little more fun. "It's a U.S. Open," she said, "It's tough out there. It just wasn't working out."

Can Duke do it again?

Last week Ken Duke was finally rewarded for his consistent play by winning the Travelers Championship -- his first PGA Tour victory at the tender age of 44. This week he finds himself five strokes off the lead heading into the final round of the AT&T National, and while it may be a stretch to say he's in contention, Congressional has a way of quickly closing the gap. Case in point: Bill Haas found himself five shots out of the lead after a triple bogey on the 11th hole on Saturday. Four holes later, he had the lead to himself. With so few AT&T story-lines to follow, wouldn't it be nice to see Ken Duke get his second (consecutive) PGA Tour victory in exciting come-from-behind fashion?

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Gear & Equipment

Adam Scott's Cameron putter on its way to stores

With a Masters win already and prominent use on tour by Jason Dufner, the Scotty Cameron by Titleist Futura X putter was a topic of discussion in golf shops nationwide. Soon they'll be able to hold and sell the real thing.

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The Futura X, a prototype of which was used by Adam Scott to hole the winning birdie putt at this year's Masters, is designed with heavier head mass to improve stability during the stroke and extreme perimeter weighting to improve moment of inertia, or head stability on off-center hits, through the use of milled 6061 aluminum and four widely spaced weights. A rear balance bar, factory installed heel and toe weighting and two 20-gram extreme perimeter weights help increase stability. The total head weight is 20 grams heavier than a standard Scotty Cameron steel putter.

FuturaX2.jpg"I like to describe Futura X as a lethargic putter, for those golfers that need a slow, steady stroke that doesn't jump around a lot," said Cameron. "It's the perfect design for Adam, and will give confidence to all golfers that want stability during the stroke and less hand manipulation."

The Future X, which features a double-bend, stepless steel shaft with one shaft of offset, actually has a swingweight that measures out at a meaty E8, but the perimeter weighting makes the club's weight feel more balanced, Cameron says.

"Futura X is what I call a 'force balanced' design," he says. "While the putter has a near-face balanced shaft configuration that would normally produce a slight toe hang, there's so much weight off the back of the putter that it forces the face to hang flat. The rear balance bar allows us to add considerable weight a fairly long distance away from the shaft axis, which is really what drives the high MOI."

The putter will be available at an MSRP of $375 beginning Aug. 1. Mid-length and long versions will be available by custom order only. 
 

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Gear & Equipment

Callaway unveils ultralight, adjustable loft driver

It's rare for Callaway to introduce a new driver mid-season, but then its new entry is a rare breed, combining more technological elements than any in the company's history.

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The FT Optiforce features multimaterial construction, a low-drag aerodynamic profile, an ultralight total weight and, for the first time ever on a Callaway driver, loft adjustability. To add to the mix, the driver comes in a choice of two heads to accommodate two distinct performance and visual preferences.

The FT Optiforce comes in a 440 cubic centimeter model, designed with a slightly forward center of gravity, and a 460 cc model, designed to produce higher flight. Each club features a single head and an adjustable hosel sleeve that accommodates a unique range of lofts and lie angles for each head. The 440 cc model comes with a 9.5-degree standard setting that can be adjusted to a low loft of 8.5 degrees and two higher loft settings of 10.5 and 11.5 degrees. The 460 cc version starts at a standard setting of 10.5 degrees and can be adjusted to 9.5 degrees or two higher lofts of 11.5 and 12.5 degrees. Each loft setting on both drivers can be placed in a neutral or draw (more upright lie angle) position. 

"Between these two heads, we're changing size, the range of lofts, different lie angles, different CG positions, different bulge radius. all optimized for two different parts of the player spectrum," says Alan Hocknell, senior vice president of research and development for Callaway. "Effectively, we've got two clubs that cover the ability range better than any one club would."

But while the drivers incorporate different elements, they share some fundamental technologies. The first is an enhanced aerodynamic profile that Hocknell says reduces drag during the swing by 20 percent, compared to some previous Callaway drivers. "The aerodynamic improvement alone can be equal to about one mile per hour of clubhead speed," he says.

The second element is lighter total weight of 290 grams, the lightest driver Callaway has introduced in the U.S. That lighter total weight is achieved largely through the use of a 43-gram Project X Velocity shaft. A second shaft, the Mitsubishi Rayon Diamana S+, at a more standard, mid-60-gram weight is also available. The shaft lengths for both drivers is 46 inches. 

The third technology is the adjustability element. It is the first time Callaway will introduce a single head that adjusts to multiple lofts, joining the field that includes TaylorMade, Nike, Cobra and Adams.

The FT Optiforce also features the composite crown technology found in the RAZR Fit Xtreme and the variable face thickness technology seen in both the RAZR Fit and X Hot drivers.

The club goes on sale July 14 ($400). 

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Gear & Equipment

As You Like It: Customizable wedges

By E. Michael Johnson

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All yours: The options for customization are plentiful.

Cleveland golf, which has offered personalization options through its My Custom Wedge program for two years, is launching My Custom Wedge 2.0, featuring the new 588 Forged RTX wedges and a redesigned website that includes a gallery for golfers to share their designs. If you're the kind of person who knows what type of specs and paintfill colors you want, it likely will take you no more than seven or eight minutes to design a wedge.

Among the options: black pearl or raw finish, 24 grind combinations, seven logos, 20 paintfill colors and five "skins." Grip, shaft, length, loft and lie angle options also are available. The starting price is $150, but expect closer to $210 if you seek any true customization such as a skin and any personalized engraving. More info.


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News & Tours

Cheat Sheet: What you need to know for Saturday in golf

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

Can Inbee Park finish like she started?
She led after a 67 in the first round and followed it with a 68 on Friday to stay in the lead. But while the 24-year-old may be looking rock solid as she hunts for her third straight LPGA major, she's only two strokes ahead of I.K. Kim, who has six top-five finishes in majors.

blog-cheat-sheet-290.jpgWill Jordan Spieth break away from the pack?
Spieth has been scary good this year for a 19-year-old, racking up four top-tens and close to a $1 million already this season, but he's still waiting for that elusive first win. He's tied for the lead with Roberto Castro at -7 after two rounds, but can he use Moving Day to take his chance at breaking away from the pack?

"These guys are a lot better than you" highlight of the day
Vijay Singh dunked his second shot in the water on the 579 yard Par 5 sixth hole after deciding to go for it in two. After taking a drop in the fairway, Singh almost put his fourth shot over the green, but spun it back from the rough to 20ft and made the putt for par.


Should we be getting excited about Peter Uihlein? 
The 2010 U.S. Amateur Champion is just 23, and he played on the same Oklahoma State team as PGA Tour players Rickie Fowler and Morgan Hoffman. But instead of trying to break through on American circuit like his former teammates, he went to Europe and picked up his first tour victory in May. Now he's tied after 36-holes at the Irish Open, which always boasts a strong field. Let's see what happens...

(photo by Getty Images)

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News & Tours

O'Toole's approach to Sebonack? Slow and steady

By Keely Levins

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- Sebonack has proven a host of extremes.  Off the tee you're either somewhere on the acres of tightly-mown fairway, or you're stuck in the knee-high fescue.  The air here is either sitting low, hot and stagnant, or the wind is gusting off the Great Peconic Bay. When it comes to the greens, you're either in a position to make birdie, or you're not.

ryann-otoole-300.jpg The greens are fast, rolling at just under 12 on the Stimpmeter -- but speed is expected for a U.S. Open.  Bunkers and fescue guard the areas around the greens, making it a gamble to go for certain pins.  But it's not just misses off the greens that could put you in a tough spot to make par from: the undulations of the greens themselves make getting to the hole a difficult task. 

Ryann O'Toole (even par 72 in the first round) said that, "There were times out there that I gave myself 30- to 40-footers because I knew that was the best play instead of trying to get cute on some of these greens."  Tied for the lead in greens in regulation after the first round, O'Toole knows better than anyone that striking the ball well does not necessarily mean you're going to score under par here.

Related: U.S. Women's Open leader board

"These greens are crazy... There were a few times I hit good shots or missed shots just a little bit, and then you've got a putt from ten feet coming back -- and that's just one of those things you just accept."

At this stage in the game, O'Toole is just as unconcerned with going for the lead as she is about going for every pin. "I don't want to go and chase Innbee [Park] or anyone else that's having a good round. I'm not worried about it.  If you can shoot even for four days, you're going to be fine. Obviously people are going to say you're not going to win it [doing that], but I'll let the winning take care of itself." 

Considering how well she's striking the ball, O'Toole's approach may seem conservative, but her focus is on the long run. "People always talk about the Open being the most demanding event you could get ready for. By the end of it you're exhausted. . . If I can go through the first rounds without stressing, I'm going to be in better shape."



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News & Tours

It's 119 in Phoenix today and golf will be played

By John Strege

The weather forecast for Phoenix today calls for a high of at least 119 degrees, which got me wondering what a tee sheet at the area's most heavily played public course might like like on such a day.

"On a day like today, it's going to be peachy," Buffy Labombarde, head pro at the municipal Cave Creek Golf Course, where 60,000 rounds are played annually. "We have 50 brave souls. We've got a foursome booked for 1:30. Yesterday was surprising. It was no bargain [110 degrees] and we had 124 players."

The Weather Channel website (weather.com) noted that "it's possible that we could see highs flirt with 120 degrees on Friday and Saturday. Phoenix has only been in the 120s three other times in history."

Related: Playing golf in extreme heat

"Most players try to go early," Labombarde said. "I'm here at 4:30 [a.m.] and right about 5 they go out. But what always gets me is that you'll get the knuckleheads at 3 in the afternoon hitting the jumbo bucket. What are they hoping to accomplish?

"What's amazing here in Phoenix is that you would think you'd have more heat stroke, but you don't. I've been here seven years and I think we've had maybe one person. They have the solar sleeves, the wide-brimmed hats, the towels that keep you cool. They do all that and they drink water and GatorAde."

Phoenix, incidentally, won't be the hottest place in the U.S. today. The forecast for Death Valley, Calif., today calls for a high of 126 degrees. It has a golf course, too, appropriately named Furnace Creek, home to the Heat Stroke Open last weekend. No kidding.

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Gear & Equipment

Who's that girl? The Lady Precept returns... sort of

By Ashley Mayo

Introduced 13 years ago, the Lady Precept has long been the go-to ball for women and golfers with slower swing speeds. (Frank Lickliter II made news last week for playing the Precept Lady iQ at the Travelers Championship.) Beginning in July, the Precept Lady iQ (the successor to the Lady Precept) will fall under the Bridgestone label as the Bridgestone Golf Lady Precept. This shift is more than a name change, says Corey Consuegra, ball-fitting manager for Bridgestone Golf.

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Hello ladies: Introducing the new Bridgestone Golf Lady Precept.

Using data from more than 14,000 ball-fittings, engineers decided to make the cover thinner and the core, which is soft in the center and firmer near the perimeter, slightly larger. "This combination of a thinner cover and larger core increases launch angle and minimizes spin," Consuegra says. "The average woman golfer swings less than 90 miles per hour, so higher launch and lower spin will help her hit the ball as far as possible."


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