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  • Feng remains No. 1 in Rolex Rankings
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, November 20, 2017

    Shanshan Feng maintained her hold on No. 1 in the Rolex Women's Golf Rankings released Monday.

    • The first player from China, male or female, to ascend to the top of the rankings, Feng was No. 1 for the second straight week -- ahead of the two players that previously held down the top spot.

      Rookie Sung Hyun Park of South Korea, who ended countrywoman So Yeon Ryu's 19-week run earlier this month, was second and Ryu was at No. 3.

      Park, who held the 36-hole lead at this past weekend's CME Group Tour Championship, and Ryu finished the season tied for the lead in Player of the Year points.

      American Lexi Thompson, who missed a two-foot putt on the final hole Sunday while leading by one stroke, was ranked fourth. Thompson would have claimed Player of the Year honors if she won the tournament.

      Instead, Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand won the tournament title with a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday and moved up four spots to No. 5 in the rankings.

      Jutanugarn, who ended the 84-week reign of New Zealand's Lydia Ko earlier this season at No. 1, had been steadily slipping in the rankings before recording her seventh career win.

      In Gee Chun of South Korea, Anna Nordqvist of Sweden, I.K. Kim of South Korea and Ko each dropped one spot and were ranked fifth through ninth, respectively. Cristie Kerr of the United States rounded out the top 10.

  • Take 5 with Angel Yin
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, November 14, 2017

    Angel Yin, an 18-year-old Southern California native, swept to the forefront of the consciousness of women's golf with her prodigious display of power in the Solheim Cup in August. In that tournament, Yin routinely hit her drives 30 yards past her playing partners and kept the United States' team loose with her corny sense of humor.

    • Yin has five top-10 finishes in her rookie season on the LPGA Tour, and has already earned more than $450,000 this year. She took some time to answer a few questions as she prepares to compete at this season's final LPGA tournament, the CME Group Tour Championship.

      Q: Who got you first started in golf and how did that person influence you?

      A: "The person who got me into golf was actually a friend of mine. He needed a partner to play golf with, so we joined this little academy and I loved golf, so I just kept playing. Just a simple story."

      Q: What's your favorite memory about golf, both before and since turning professional?

      A: "My favorite memory has to be playing on the Solheim Cup this year."

      Q: What's your favorite thing to do away from golf?

      A: "Well, I like to sleep. It's no secret. Everyone knows about that, I can sleep for 17 hours straight. I love exploring new cities, finding good restaurants to eat at and taking food pictures."

      Q: What's the best shot you've ever hit?

      A: "My caddie had to remind me of this one. At Green Bay there's this par-5 (No. 9) that's a dog leg to the left, to carry the water it's about 260 so I have to hit it really good, and every day it's into the wind. So, I hooked it in the water, but I was like, 'No, it's fine, I can do this.' So I pulled out a 2-iron with 220 to the hole, hooked it, went 4 feet and made birdie."

      Q: If there's one thing you could change or improve in your golf game, what would it be?

      A: "I'd like to improve my ball control. And making birdies with wedges inside 120 yards, that's what I'm working on right now."

  • Hull aims to repeat feat at CME Group Tour Championship
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, November 14, 2017

    A year has passed since Charley Hull, the toast of English golf and one of the world's up-and-coming players, captured the CME Group Tour Championship at the age of 20 to claim her first victory on the LPGA Tour.

    • Since that breakthrough triumph at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Fla., Hull has not returned to the winner's circle, but her 2017 campaign has still been a success.

      Hull has finished in the top 10 three times this season -- most recently forging a tie for sixth at the LPGA KEB HanaBank Championship in South Korea. She also had three top 20 showings in the Tour's recent Asia swing.

      Last year, Hull played brilliant golf when she turned in back-to-back 66s in the final two rounds to claim the championship. She finished at 19-under-par to defeat South Korea's So Yeon Ryu by two strokes.

      "I was really buzzing to get my first win on the LPGA at the end of 2016," Hull said. "The field at the CME Group Tour Championship was really strong and I had a great week from start to finish and a lot of good shots that paid off."

      Given her recent form, Hull has a lot of confidence as she heads back to Naples and the LPGA Tour Championship to defend her crown. She has a matter-of-fact strategy that allows her to play golf and compete at the highest level with minimal pressure.

      "I don't really like to set too many goals," Hull said. "I will keep focusing on good shots, as each good shot leads to a good hole and lots of good holes lead to a good round, which leads to a good tournament. This is my second full year on the LPGA, and it means I've had a bit more flexibility about which events I wanted to play in."

      Hull has been a force in the women's game since before she turned professional at the age of 17. She was first introduced to golf when she was 2 years old and began playing with her father at Kettering Golf Club in England. She left school when she was 13 to be home schooled and started playing in amateur tournaments.

      She made her professional debut in March 2013 and reeled off five consecutive second-place finishes on the Ladies European Tour. With five additional top-10 finishes that season, Hull finished sixth on the tour's Order of Merit despite playing in just 15 official events and won the LET Rookie of the Year award.

      In August 2013, Hull was selected by European Solheim Cup captain Liselotte Neumann to compete in the 2013 edition of the event. Then 17, she became the youngest person ever to play in the tournament.

      The team was the first European Solheim squad to win on United States soil, with a final score of 18-10. Hull contributed two points, including a 5 & 4 singles win over Paula Creamer.

      On March 16, 2014, four days shy of her 18th birthday, Hull won her first professional title at the Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco. She overcame a five-shot deficit to the overnight leader, Gwladys Nocera of France, via a bogey-free round of 62 that forced a playoff. Hull birdied the first sudden-death hole to secure the victory.

      Hull has battled a wrist injury for her entire career and learned earlier this season that it's a situation that can't be repaired.

      "I saw a guy who works with a lot of NFL players and he told me my wrist is fractured," Hull explained. "It's more like a chip is out of the bone and it's been there a while. He told me it's always going to be there, but that I will be able to play with it."

      Hull must now obey a strict routine to protect her wrist.

      "I sleep with a brace on my wrist and do everything else with it strapped up," Hull said. "That way I can take it off when I play golf."

      Hull is blessed with the ability to leave her profession at the golf course and practice range, spending most of her time away from the course doing things that most other women enjoy.

      "Honestly, I don't even think about golf, not even when I'm playing in competition," Hull claimed. "Sometimes I will be thinking about the dress I'm going to wear out next weekend or something to do with my friends and stuff.

      "It's cool because I got to the point a few years ago where all I did was golf and all I thought about was golf, golf, golf, and it made me kind of ill -- it was really weird. After that, I kind of loosened up and it's helped me."

      While only 21 years old, Hull has already competed in three Solheim Cups representing Team Europe (2013, 2015 and 2017), and feels the best is yet to come.

      "I'm happy with the way my game is progressing," Hull said. "I will just keep taking it one step at a time. I want to be playing and enjoying competitive golf for as long as possible. I know I have many more successes ahead of me."

  • Feng moves to No. 1 in Rolex Rankings
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, November 13, 2017

    Shanshan Feng reached No. 1 in the Rolex Women's World Golf Rankings released Monday, becoming the first player from China, male or female, to sit at the top.

    • "It's the longest day in my life to wait for the update of the world ranking," Feng said Sunday after winning the Blue Bay LPGA on Saturday on Hainan Island, China. "When I finally see the Chinese flag on top of the ranking, I feel all the efforts over the past 18 years on golf is worth it. I really enjoy the moment and hopefully this could encourage a younger generation in China to go for this sport."

      Reaching No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings culminated a superb four-week stretch for the 28-year-old Feng, who began her streak sitting sixth. On Oct. 22, she tied for third at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship, followed by a tie for second at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, marking the fourth consecutive year she finished first or second at that event.

      The next week and up to fourth in the rankings, Feng took her second straight victory at the TOTO Japan Classic, becoming the first player to successfully accomplish a title defense on the LPGA Tour in 2017.

      Going into last week's Blue Bay LPGA, Feng was ranked third, which tied the highest ranking of her career. She then became the first LPGA Tour player of 2017 to win in consecutive weeks when she took home the title Saturday in her home country, and vaulted over South Koreans Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu to reach world No. 1.

      Feng has one additional win in 2017, coming at the LPGA Volvik Championship in May, and nine for her career. She has nine other top-10 finishes this season, including at three of the season's five majors.

      Feng, who won the bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, is second to Ryu in the Rolex Player of the Year rankings and sits third in the season-ending Race to the CME Globe and on the LPGA Official Money List.

      In 2012, Feng captured her only career major title when she earned a two-stroke win at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. She also has seven career wins on the Ladies European Tour, including four of the last five Omega Dubai Ladies Masters.

      To reach the top spot in the Rolex Rankings, Feng moved past Park, who reached No. 1 last Monday. on Nov. 6. The last person to hold the No. 1 honors for a single week was American Cristie Kerr, from Oct. 25-31, 2010.

      Feng is the fifth player to reach No. 1 in 2017, joining New Zealand's Lydia Ko, Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn, Ryu and Park -- the most players at the top in a single year since 2010.

      Park and Ryu each dropped one spot in the rankings to second and third, respectively, followed by American Lexi Thompson and South Korean In Gee Chun.

      Sweden's Anna Nordqvist is No. 6, followed by South Korean In-Kyung Kim, Ko, Jutanugarn and Kerr.

      The LPGA Tour heads back to the United States this week for the CME Group Tour Championship, the final event of the 2017 season in Naples, Fla.

  • Park, world's new No. 1, heads field at Blue Bay LPGA
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, November 7, 2017

    Last year at this time, South Korea's Sung Hyun Park was dominating the Korea LPGA Tour, one of the world's true proving grounds for the best women golfers on the planet.

    • Park is now the top-ranked female player on Earth, having overtaken countrywomen So Yeon Ryu for that spot this week, and will headline a stellar field of 81 golfers in competition beginning Wednesday at the Blue Bay LPGA tournament on Hainan Island in China.

      Sixty-six LPGA Tour players will be joined by 15 golfers from the China LPGA in search of a portion of the $2.1 million total purse, with $315,000 and 500 Race to the CME Globe points going to the winner of the 72-hole event at Jian Lake Blue Bay Golf Club.

      Hainan Island is set in the South China Sea between Vietnam to the west and the Philippines to the east. Rain and overcast conditions with temperatures in the upper 70s are forecast for the tournament, which enjoys the Tour's only Wednesday-Saturday schedule.

      The roster of players this week includes five of the top 10 players in the world, highlighted by a trio of major champions in Park, world No. 3 Shanshan Feng of China and fifth-ranked Anna Nordqvist of Sweden.

      Rounding out the top 10 in the field are No. 7 In-Kyung Kim of South Korea, who is returning to Blue Bay for the first time since 2014, and No. 9 Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand, who finished third in this event last season.

      "This year is going to be really tough because the course is going to be wet and the weather is going to be pretty hard for us," Jutanugarn said. "I just really want to go out and enjoy myself and have fun on the course.

      Park is in the hunt for her third win of the season as she makes her first appearance at Blue Bay.

      The news of Park's jump to the top of the world rankings came one day short of one year after she held a press conference to announce she would take up membership on the LPGA Tour. When she made that announcement, Park was the 10th-ranked player in the world.

      "I was very surprised and amazed by what I've achieved," Park told LPGA.com about her performance this season "The ultimate goal of my career was to join the LPGA. I dreamt of playing side by side with global golf stars and didn't want to miss the opportunity when it eventually arrived."

      Park has won twice, so far, on the LPGA Tour, including her first major at the U.S. Women's Open, which she considers her biggest achievement of the year.

      Park has already locked up Rookie of the Year honors and currently owns the second-lowest scoring average on Tour. She's ranked second in the Player of the Year standings. And she is now in position to do what just one other player has done in the history of the LPGA Tour.

      Nancy Lopez is the only player to earn both Rookie and Player of the Year honors in a single season. That was in 1978.

      "I think everybody knows it's really difficult to not only become the No. 1 but to maintain that status moving forward," Park said. "So, we'll just have to keep going and doing my best."

      Seven of this season's winners are in the field this week, including Mi Hyang Lee of South Korea, winner at the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open, who is coming off a tie for fifth last week in Japan, and Volunteers of America Texas Shootout champ Haru Nomura of Japan.

      Defending champion Minjee Lee would love nothing more than to cap off this season with a win. Lee picked up her third career win and second victory of 2016 at last year's Blue Bay LPGA where she carded an opening-round 65 to take early control of the Tournament.

      This is the fourth year for the Blue Bay LPGA, and this tournament is the penultimate event on the LPGA Tour schedule. The season wraps up Nov. 16-19 at the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla.

      This week marks the 32nd event of what has been an exciting 2017 campaign that has seen two Rolex First-Time Winners along with 22 different tournament winners.

  • Nordqvist shows she's one of world's best golfers
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, November 7, 2017

    As inconceivable as it may seem, Anna Nordqvist sometimes is forgotten on the LPGA Tour, even though the statuesque 6-foot Swede is one of the most striking players in the game.

    • Nordqvist has talent in spades and sports credentials on her resume that place her on the short list of the best players in the world.

      With a lot of the focus on the Tour's young players and the swarm of great Asian golfers owning the majority of the spots in the Race to the CME Group standings, Nordqvist can sometimes get lost in the mix.

      Last week at the Toto Japan Classic, Nordqvist finished third after making a hole-in-one on the third hole and adding five other birdies during the final round. It was her second ace in competition this season and her third overall on the LPGA Tour.

      "I'm very happy," Nordqvist said of her season. "It's been a bit of a rocky road but I have two wins, including a major, so I'm pretty happy. I lost a lot of good training time in the summer. Finishing (well in Japan) certainly brings a lot of confidence for the last two events of the year. I've had a good season and a good Solheim Cup, so I'm just looking forward to two more events."

      Nordqvist, 30, has been a force on Tour since her rookie season in 2009, but especially in recent years. She has earned more than $8.1 million and posted eight wins and 61 top-10 finishes in her career. Nordqvist played her college golf at Arizona State where she was national freshman of the year her first season and all-Pac 12 the second.

      She's won twice this year -- at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix in March and at the Evian Championship (one of the LPGA's majors) in France in September.

      Nordqvist has six top-10s, with winnings this season of over $1.3 million. She is the fifth player to claim multiple wins on Tour this season

      Nordqvist won her first major, the McDonald's LPGA Championship, in her initial year on Tour and added a victory in the LPGA Tour Championship that season as well. Then she didn't win for five years, until the Honda LPGA Thailand in 2014. Since that victory, Nordqvist has won at least once every year since.

      Fully recovered now from a bout with mononucleosis that weakened her through the summer months, Nordqvist is the highest ranked European woman in the world at No. 5 and stands in ninth in this season's Race to the CME Group standings with one event to play before the Tour championship.

      She said this year has been a "roller coaster" but she does admit it's been a learning experience. Nordqvist started working with noted swing instructor Cameron McCormick this year (he also coaches Jordan Spieth and women's world No. 2 So Yeon Ryu of South Korea) after going without a coach from April to July.

      "I really just worked on my own until Cameron and I got together in the week of the U.S. Open," Nordqvist said. "He cleaned up my backswing a little bit, and we worked quite a bit on my putting and just simplifying my short game. He's a great guy, very positive, and helped simplify everything."

      Nordqvist's play at this year's Solheim Cup vaulted her into the sports world's consciousness. Despite battling mono, she won 3 1/2 points for the losing European team in her four matches in Des Moines and was part of an epic singles duel against American Lexi Thompson that ended all square.

      In 2012, she seriously considered quitting the tour and returning to Sweden. Family is important to Nordqvist, who has two brothers. Mikael is three years older, and Mattias is three years younger. Both played some professional golf, but they tired of the travel.

      Last year, Nordqvist made news for the wrong reason, when a high-definition camera that caught her 5-iron brushing against a few grains of sand out of a fairway bunker in a playoff at the 2016 U.S. Women's Open against Brittany Lang and cost her a two-stroke penalty and a chance to win. The USGA has since instituted a "naked eye" standard on penalty rulings of the sort that hurt Nordqvist.

      "I'm very happy right now," she said. "I can't say that the road hasn't been bumpy, and there has been a couple of major struggles over the years. But that just makes things better when you do work it out."

  • Take 5 with Jennifer Song
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, November 7, 2017

    Jennifer Song has been on the cusp of victory the past two LPGA Tour seasons, with three of her four lifetime top-10 finishes coming since 2016. The Michigan native has won more than $1.4 million on Tour since her rookie year in 2011 and is currently 47th in the Race to The CME Globe standings.

    • In 2009 Song won the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship, the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links and was the low amateur at the U.S. Women's Open. While playing at USC, she recorded 12 top-10 finishes, including two wins. She was a member of the victorious U.S. Curtis Cup team in 2010.

      Song took the time to answer a few questions in advance of this week's Blue Bay LPGA in China.

      Q: Who got you started in golf and how has that person influenced you?

      A: Both of my parents play golf. Being from Michigan, in the wintertime we didn't really get to play year around. I just kind of followed my dad to the course and learned to play by watching him.

      Q: What's your best memory from golf?

      A: That would have to be winning the two amateur events in 2009. I still look back on that feeling as I'm trying to break through out here to get my first LPGA Tour win. When I look back at when I first started playing golf, it was always a challenge to play in Michigan in the winter because it was snowing, so my main interest became eating hot dogs at the snack shop. I always went to the course with my dad just for the hot dogs.

      Q: What's your favorite thing to do away from golf?

      A: I like to watch movies, and if there is a theater close to where we are playing I will go see new films that are out. During the season when I'm travelling I like to read. During the off weeks I like to go sightseeing, and I bowl and I play tennis. I like a lot of other sports besides golf.

      Q: What is the best shot you ever hit?

      A: This is really hard, because I've hit a lot of really good shots. When I first turned pro in 2010, and I was playing a Symetra Tour event -- I won my first event -- and I was in the fairway ready to hit my second shot. I hit it, and it struck a wire that was strung out over the course. I got a free drop and I hit again, and I hit the wire again. On the third time, I aimed a little further right and missed the wire and ended up with a short birdie putt. That stands out because it was so unusual.

      Q: Who are your best friends on Tour?

      A: I am really good friends with all the Korean players out here. Lately I've been hanging out with the younger Korean players. We get along very well.

  • Park overtakes Ryu for No. 1 in Rolex Rankings
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, November 6, 2017

    Sung Hyun Park passed fellow South Korean So Yeon Ryu for No. 1 in the Rolex Women's Golf Rankings released Monday.

    • Despite Park not playing in the LPGA Tour's TOTO Japan Classic at Ibaraki, Japan, this past week, the points difference were so tight that Ryu needed a tie for sixth or better to hold her position on top.

      Ryu, who held the No. 1 ranking for 19 consecutive weeks, finished tied for 33rd in Japan after a final-round 73. She plans to take this week off in order to rehab her still-injured shoulder as she makes a push for LPGA Player of the Year honors.

      Park, 24, becomes the first LPGA Tour rookie in the history of the rankings to reach the top position. She is the fourth South Korean to sit atop the rankings, joining Ryu, Inbee Park (92 weeks) and Jiyai Shin (25 weeks).

      "It is a great honor to me and my family," Park said from Hainan Island in China, where she is competing in this week's Blue Bay LPGA. "There won't be any changes because of the ranking. I believe my future play is more important than the fact that I moved up in the ranking."

      Park became a first-time winner and first-time major champion by capturing the U.S. Women's Open Championship in July. She followed that in August with a victory at the Canadian Pacific Women's Open.

      Since becoming a full-time LPGA member at the start of the 2017 season, Park has nine top-10 finishes, including her two victories. She also finished in the top 20 at four of the season's five majors, and has never missed the cut in her 29 career LPGA Tour starts.

      Ryu plans to return at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship starting Nov. 16 in Naples, Fla.

      Shanshan Feng of China, who fired a 4-under 68 on Sunday to defend her Japan Classic title by two strokes, moved up one spot to No. 3.

      American Lexi Thompson dropped one spot to No. 4, followed by Anna Nordqvist of Sweden. South Koreans In Gee Chun and In-Kyung Kim are next, followed by Lydia Ko of New Zealand, Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand and American Cristie Kerr to round out the top 10.

  • Kerr keeps on ticking with win at 40
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, October 31, 2017

    In a world dominated by players in their middle 20s, Cristie Kerr continues to show that age will sometimes take a back seat to preparation and determination.

    • After all, the ball doesn't know the age of the golfer.

      Kerr's victory on Sunday at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia event in Kuala Lumpur adds further credence to her claim that age is just a state of mind. Kerr rolled in a 35-foot putt for birdie of the final hole to win by a stroke over fellow Americans Danielle Kang and Jacqui Concolino and defending tournament champion Shanshan Feng of China.

      Kerr checked off a bevy of career milestones in the process, including being the first woman in her 40s to win on tour since 2011, when Catriona Matthew of Scotland captured the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.

      Her $270,000 first-place check pushed her career earnings past the $19 million mark, making her the third woman in LPGA history to do so, joining Annika Sorenstam of Sweden and Karrie Webb of Australia.

      It was Kerr's second victory on the LPGA Tour this year and her third worldwide. She won her 19th LPGA title at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii in April and her first-ever Ladies European Tour championship by capturing the Lacoste Ladies Open in France earlier this month. She also has six other top-five finishes this season.

      "I was so determined all day," Kerr said. "Things were just not going my way. When I hit good shots, I'd get in some bad spots. You know, that's just the way it goes sometimes in golf, but I stuck it out."

      Kerr celebrated her 40th birthday on Oct. 12, four days after winning of the first time in Europe. She is winning the battle against age stereotype on professional women's golf.

      "Forty is the new 30," Kerr said after her win in Malaysia. "I've been telling myself that. Why not? I want to try to break some of the stereotypes out here. I feel like as long as I'm working at it, feel like training and trying to keep my body fit, you can play for as long as you want."

      The average age of the top-10 players in the women's world rankings this week is 25.3 years old and the average age of the winners on tour last year was just 22.

      Kerr, who is in her 21st season as a pro golfer, is undeterred by those trends or the challenges they pose.

      "I want to prove it's not just a game for the 20-somethings," she said. "I love to practice. I love to compete. I often say golf was the first thing I ever fell in love with, and it's a relationship that you can have for a lifetime."

      Kerr is nowhere near the oldest player to win an LPGA event. Hall of Famer Beth Daniel was 46 when she set the mark in at the 2003 Canadian Women's Open, beating Juli Inkster by a shot.

      Inkster, who is 57 years old and still occasionally plays on the LPGA Tour, knows why Kerr is still competitive.

      "She doesn't mind putting the time in," Inkster said. "She loves to play. And that's 90 percent of the battle when you get to a certain age. You have to want to play and you have got to want to be good. She still has that."

      Kerr is projected to move up from seventh to fifth in the LPGA Tour's season-long Race to CME Globe standings.

      That's an important jump because if a player who is ranked in the top five at the beginning of the CME Group Tour Championship wins that season finale, she will also garner the $1 million CME Globe bonus. The Tour Championship will take place Nov. 16-19 in Naples, Fla.

      Kerr donated a portion of her winner's share in Malaysia to the tournament's cancer-awareness campaign. A tireless advocate of anti-cancer efforts, Kerr is the founder of the 10-year-old Birdies for Breast Cancer, to which she donates $50 to for every birdie on her tournament cards.

      She has raised almost $4 million for the cause. Her efforts spearheaded funding of the Jersey City Medical Center's Cristie Kerr Women's Health Center. Kerr's mother, Linda, is a breast cancer survivor.

      Kerr now needs just five points to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame. A player gets two points for winning a major, one for winning a regular LPGA tour title and one point each for winning a Rolex Player of the Year Award or Vare Trophy for low scoring average.

      She has already met the World Golf Hall of Fame's playing requirements and will become eligible for induction in that hallowed hall when she turns 50, or is five years removed from active tour membership.

      "Definitely winning another major is a goal," Kerr said. "And the Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it."

  • Free-spirted Feng seeks second straight title at TPC Kuala Lumpur
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, October 24, 2017

    Shanshan Feng, China's most successful golfer, is a free spirit.

    • She also is one of the sports idols of a country with a population of nearly 1.4 billion people -- a trendsetter and champion in a game that swings back and forth and in and out of favor with the nation's communist government.

      The 28-year-old Feng heads to one of her favorite courses and events this week as she looks to defend her title in the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, set to begin competition on Thursday at TPC Kuala Lumpur.

      Feng also won this tournament in 2014 and was runner-up in both 2013 and 2015, so it would be a surprise if she was not in the mix from the opening tee shot to the final putt.

      "At the prize ceremony last year, I was like, 'Can I get a membership card here because I play so well here? '" Feng said Monday

      Feng followed her initial statement with her trademark booming laugh.

      "Every time when I lose my confidence, maybe this is where I should come back and play and try to find it," Feng said. "I really love the course and the city and always enjoy my time here."

      Feng begins this week's event ranked sixth in the world and in 14th in the LPGA's Race to the CME Globe standings.

      She has won once this season, in May at the LPGA Volvik Championship in Michigan, and showed that she's in good form in advance of playing one of her favorite events with a tie for third last week in the Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship.

      Feng's season includes nine top-10 finishes and more than $1 million in earnings.

      For her career, she has 75 top 10s and has garnered over $9 million in prize money since she turned professional in 2008. She is the first player from China to become a member of the LPGA Tour,

      Feng has seven victories on Tour, including the 2012 LPGA Championship, in which she shot a bogey-free 67 in the final round to win by two strokes. That win made her the first player from China to capture an LPGA major championship, as well as the first player from mainland China (male or female) to triumph in a major championship.

      At the age of 10, Feng started playing golf with her father, who worked for the Chinese sports bureau. Because of limited resources and a lack of established golf coaches, Feng's father worked with her every day. Golf quickly became Feng's focus and just a few years after picking up a club, Feng started winning major tournaments in China.

      In 2004, she won the China Junior Championship and China Junior Open and then went on to win the China Amateur three years in a row, a tournament she would capture three years in a row.

      An agent discovered Feng at a tournament in China when she was in high school, and shortly after she met coach Gary Gilchrist. Impressed by her play, Gilchrist offered Feng a full scholarship in late 2007 to attend his junior golf academy in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

      The then-17-year-old accepted and left her homeland and her family behind with little knowledge of the English language or the country, and culture (both on and off the course), to which she was moving. In only six months, she decided to try to qualify for the LPGA.

      By December 2008, Feng became the first golfer from mainland China to earn her LPGA Tour card.

      "There were no other Chinese players, so it was a huge surprise that I made it on my first try," Feng said. "Everyone from China was surprised, but really happy for me. I never thought I was going to make it past Q-school, to be honest."

      While her play on Tour resonates in the golf world, Feng gained considerable more accolades in her homeland for winning the bronze medal in women's golf at the 2016 Rio Olympics than she did becoming the first Chinese player to win a major championship.

      She got a hero's welcome home from Rio at the airport in Guangzhou and was among the large Olympic contingent who met Chinese president Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing after the games. Standing on the front row of the more than 400 athletes that had represented her country in the Games, Feng spoke up when President Xi approached to shake her hand.

      "When it came to my turn, I was like, 'President, you're so handsome,'" Feng said. "The others didn't say anything, but when it came to my turn, I did say that."

      "He shook my hand," Feng added. "He was shocked, and then he shook my hand one more time. I've only seen our president on TV, but that was in person, real life, and he looked so handsome to me at the moment. He looked really confident."

      It was expected that Feng's success in the Olympics and on Tour would drive more Chinese to golf, but the windfall of good feelings about the game in China has fallen under debate recently. The LPGA was forced in September to cancel a tournament in Shanghai less than one month before it was due to be played after failing to get local government approval for the event.

      The Alisports LPGA tournament was scheduled for Oct. 5-8. It is the second time in three years the tournament, previously known as the Reignwood LPGA Classic, was canceled.

      Since 2011, the government has closed at least 113 of the country's 683 golf courses, citing illegal land and water use, according to state media. Just last week authorities shut down two high-end golf courses at a resort in northeastern China owned by Chinese real-estate tycoon Wang Jianlin.

      So until the game finds favor again, Feng -- who is now married and lives in Los Angeles -- will carry the mantle for her country on some of the world's best golf courses and play the game at its highest level.

      "I still believe that golf is going to become so popular in China," Feng said.

  • Ryu continues run atop Rolex Rankings
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    There was no change in the top six spots in the weekly Rolex Rankings released on Monday.

    • So Yeon Ryu of South Korea held down the No. 1 spot for the 18th consecutive week. She finished in a tie for third in the Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship after closing with a 65 on Sunday.

      Countrywoman Sung Hyun Park remained at No. 2 and was followed by Lexi Thompson of the United States and In Gee Chun of South Korea. Sweden's Anna Nordqvist rounded out the top five.

      Shanshan Feng of China held steady at No. 6 while South Korea's I.K. Kim and New Zealand's Lydia Ko each moved up a spot to seventh and eighth, respectively.

      Ko, the former world No. 1 who had her 144-week reign atop the rankings halted in June, finished second Sunday in Taiwan after a final-round 65.

      Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand, who bumped Ko from the top spot in June and held the No. 1 ranking for two weeks, dropped two spots to No. 9.

      Inbee Park entered the top 10 while Canada's Brooke Henderson fell to No. 11. American Cristie Kerr remained 14th.

  • Kang aims to recapture magic from major victory
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, October 17, 2017

    Danielle Kang has always been one of the most effervescent players on the LPGA Tour.

    • Her enthusiasm grew, to the point of exhaustion, however, after capturing her first career professional tournament -- a major no less -- in July when she won the KPMG Women's PGA Championship.

      In the following months, Kang has struggled to regain her form as she tries to balance the opportunities created by her breakthrough victory with the demands of travel on tour and the need to bring her best game to the course every week to be competitive.

      Kang, a 24-year-old Californian, is one of the 81 players in the field this week at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship.

      She's played in just seven tour events since her win, missing the cut in the first three (including the U.S. Women's Open and the British Women's Open), withdrawing from the fourth and finishing tied for 18th, 24th and 66th in the past three.

      Kang birdied the final hole to win the Women's PGA Championship, edging the defending champion, Brooke Henderson of Canada. Kang shot all four rounds in the 60s at tough Olympia Field Golf Club outside Chicago, and had just five bogeys for the week, all in the final two rounds.

      "Winning the major was great, and, honestly, I wasn't ready to compete afterward," Kang said last week at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship, which was played in her "homeland" in South Korea.

      Kang won the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship in 2010 and 2011, and she was expected to flourish once she turned pro. Instead, it took Kang 144 tour events to find the winner's circle for the first time.

      She went through some trying times, including the death of her father, K.S., to brain cancer in 2013 and injuries that forced her to miss six tournaments in 2016.

      "It's a difficult journey. I started to think that I won the U.S. Amateur so long ago," Kang said. "I just wanted to have a win that's recent. A lot of people have told me you can't focus on winning one tournament out here or winning 40 tournaments out here.

      "My mom mentioned that the U.S. Amateur is something no one can take away from me. I won it back-to-back. So I don't dwell on it anymore. I've changed my attitude on that in the last couple of months."

      Kang is currently No. 23 in the world rankings and 21st in the Race to the CME globe standings on the LPGA Tour. She has banked nearly $2.5 million in her professional career while recording 13 top-10 finishes since joining the tour in 2012.

      She has rebounded from a rough 2016, when she suffered torn tendons and a lunate bone fracture in her left wrist, disk problems in her neck and surgery in December to remove a pterygium (benign growth commonly known as surfer's eye that can be caused by sun exposure) in her right eye.

      Her vision in the repaired eye has yet to return to what it was, as she still lacks depth perception. Kang's wrist still has micro-tears, but her orthopedist cleared her to play.

      "I just need to keep up with the rehab," she said, "and constantly be aware of the risk because it's golf -- you hit the ground on every single shot. As long as the doctors give me the green light, I don't think about it."

      Family comes first to Kang. She has two tattoos on her right hand. "Just Be" was inked on her index finger seven years ago. And on the side of her hand is a Korean word honoring her father.

      "That says 'Dad' in his writing," Kang said. "When I go, 'Hi, nice to meet you' (and shake hands), everyone can meet my dad. I took it off one of the letters he wrote me and had it stamped."

      Kang said winning this year came with emotions that lingered after her last putt fell at Olympia Fields. She confessed her reserve for competition was depleted for a spell that continues.

      "Not winning while my dad was alive had been the biggest regret," she said. "Finally, winning, I could breathe again," Kang said. "I am free. I love golf, and I want to play, but it's been an obsession. Now there is inner happiness.

      "People say when they win they get a monkey off their back. That was a gigantic rhinoceros, elephant, mammoth off my back."

      It's time to move forward -- she said her father would tell her so -- and for Kang, there's no better time to win again than right now.

  • Take 5 with Gaby Lopez
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, October 17, 2017

    Gaby Lopez is one of the fresh faces on the LPGA Tour. She has two top-10 finishes and three more tournaments in which she earned spots in the Top 25 in this, her second year on Tour. A native of Mexico and a collegiate star at Arkansas -- where she won three tournaments and was runner up in the NCAA Championship in 2015 -- Lopez has career earnings of almost $600,000. She took some time during her preparation for the stretch run of the LPGA Tour season to answer and few quick questions.

    • Q: Who got you started in golf and how did that person influence you?

      A: My dad introduced me to the game when I was 5. I started out with just sticks when I was little, but I eventually switched to real clubs. I found golf to be very fun and I loved riding in the golf cart. After a while, golf became a passion.

      Q: What's your favorite memory about golf, either as an amateur or as a professional?

      A: I would say playing at my home course (Club de Golf Mexico, in Mexico City). Every year is very special. Being around my family there and the people I grew with makes for great memories.

      Q: What's your favorite thing when you are not playing golf?

      A: I love to dance, that's one of my hobbies. I also like to read and spend time with my family -- we spend so much time traveling that the time I get to spend at home is something I really appreciate.

      Q: What's the best shot you've ever hit in competition?

      A: I was in Mexico last year at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. Somehow I got off to a really hot start and I was 195 yards out and hit a cut 4-iron to two feet. Everyone was there and it made it really special.

      Q: Who's your best friend on Tour?

      A: Carlota Ciganda (of Spain). We've roomed together during the Asian leg, and she is just really fun to be around. We spent a lot of time together off the golf course and have become really good friends.

  • So Yeon Ryu clings to top spot in Rolex Rankings
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 16, 2017

    So Yeon Ryu of South Korea made it 17 consecutive weeks at No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings -- barely.

    • Ryu maintained her top spot in the weekly rankings released on Monday, keeping her streak alive after No. 2 Sung Hyun Park finished second in Sunday's KEB Hana Bank Championship.

      A victory by Park would have vaulted her past countrywoman Ryu for the No. 1 spot. Ryu has been atop the rankings since the final week of June.

      Lexi Thompson of the United States held down the third slot while In Gee Chun of South Korea moved up three spots to No. 4 after finishing third at the Hana Bank Championship. Sweden's Anna Nordqvist of Sweden rounded out the top five.

      Shanshan Feng of China and Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand each dropped a spot to sixth and seventh, respectively. Jutanugarn briefly held the No. 1 ranking this year before she was supplanted by Ryu.

      South Korea's I.K. Kim remained at No. 8 and was followed by former world No. 1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand and Canada's Brooke Henderson, who re-entered the top 10.

  • Take 5 with Katherine Kirk
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, October 10, 2017

    Katherine Kirk of Australia has won 11 times as a professional, with three of those victories on the LPGA Tour -- including this season at the Thornberry Creek in Wisconsin that allowed her to end a seven-year absence from the winner's circle. Kirk took a few minutes in preparation for this week's LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea to answer a handful of questions.

    • Q: Who got you started in golf and how did they influence you?

      A: My dad got me started when I was 12 after he'd been playing for a couple of years. He taught me the basics and then had me join a junior clinic at his golf club. We had a couple of veteran members of the club that helped us out with course etiquette and course management and were a big influence on me and helped me enjoy the game.

      Q: What's your favorite golf memory?

      A: One of my early ones was playing with my dad and my grandfather, who played until he was 85. He wasn't a very good golfer but he enjoyed it. It was a great bonding experience and a fond memory. Then, of course, winning out on the LPGA Tour is pretty special. There is more to this game than winning and I have certainly seen countries and places I would never have been able to if it weren't for golf.

      Q: What's your favorite activity outside of golf?

      A: I enjoy fishing and cooking -- I'm not very good at either but I enjoy them. I like hiking, too, but finding the time is very difficult. Thankfully my husband enjoys those activities as well, so we can do them together.

      Q: What's the best shot you ever hit?

      A: I've had three holes-in-ones in competition, but I would say that the shot I hit on the 18th hole on the final day at Thornberry Creek this year was the best because I made it under pressure. I had to draw the shot around a tree, and I hit it as well as I could. It set up a birdie that helped me win the tournament -- it was a 7-iron of about 160 yards.

      Q: If you could change or improve one thing in your golf game, what would it be?

      A: I would like to improve my short game -- I don't think you can ever master it. You could spend eight hours a day working on it and it still wouldn't be enough.

  • Work ethic has Henderson ascending in rankings
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, October 10, 2017

    For Brooke Henderson, playing and winning on the LPGA Tour is a 60-hour-per-week job, the kind of work someone who really loves to play golf at the highest level relishes.

    • Henderson is very good at what she does, as evidenced by her climb up the world rankings to 10th this week after winning the McKayson New Zealand Women's Open on Oct. 1. The final two rounds of the tournament were played in wind-swept, rainy conditions, but those challenges barely slowed Henderson as she posted a five-stroke victory.

      "My season has been a little bit up and down and I am so happy to win (in New Zealand)," Henderson said. "It gives me a lot of confidence going forward with the British Open and things like that knowing that I can play well on links golf courses, and especially in terrible conditions."

      Henderson, a native of Smiths Falls, Ontario, is authoring quite a golf resume -- and she's just getting started. She now has five LPGA Tour career titles, 22 top-10 finishes and has eclipsed $3 million in official earnings.

      And she just turned 20 years old on Sept. 10.

      Henderson has six top 10s this year and earnings of nearly $1.4 million. She is the only player on Tour with multiple victories in both 2016 and 2017. She's played in 25 tournaments this season, the second most on Tour, after topping that list in 2016 when she played in 31 official events.

      Henderson has played the most rounds (89) of any golfer on the LPGA circuit this season and forged some impressive results outside her two wins. She is second in total birdies (338) and sub-par holes (348), is third in eagles and has 41 rounds in the 60s.

      She carries a lot of confidence and momentum as she leads the Tour into its annual Asian swing that begins this week at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea.

      Henderson is no stranger to being ranked among the top 10 in the world having spent 51 consecutive weeks in the top 10 from March 14, 2016 through Feb. 27, 2017. Her highest ranking was No. 2 after winning the 2016 PGA Championship, a spot she held for seven consecutive weeks.

      "I always felt like I could do this," Henderson said. "I had big goals going into this year, including being top 10 in the world. I don't feel like I exceeded them -- I've met my goals."

      Always a good athlete -- she was a hockey goaltender as a child -- Henderson started playing golf at age 3 after being introduced to the game by her father Dave and her sister Brittany. Those two, along with her mother Darlene, make up her team; her father is the only coach Brooke has ever needed and Brittany, who is seven years older and a fine golfer in her own right, is Brooke's caddie.

      "(Caddying) has been so fun for me," Brittany said. "At the end of the day, if Brooke plays well, I feel like I did. I think that's really good for me, and I've been having fun. I think she's enjoyed having me because I'm still here. I must be doing something right."

      The foursome travels to most LPGA Tour events together and are as tight-knit a group as you'll find in professional golf.

      "My fondest golfing memory growing up was the time spent with my family," Henderson said. "When I was little, I actually thought the goal of the game was to get the ball in the hole as fast as possible, rather than in as few strokes -- so I would be sprinting around the golf course trying to smack it in the hole while my dad and sister just laughed at me."

      Henderson turned professional at the end of 2014 and made the cut in six of eight LPGA tournaments that year but didn't have a tour to play on.

      "My goal was just to try and earn some type of membership in 2015," she said. "Luckily, I was able to win a Symetra event, earn invitations to LPGA events, and try to Monday-qualify at others."

      It worked out pretty well, as Henderson ended up winning Cambia Portland Classic on the LPGA Tour that year by eight strokes after Monday-qualifying that week.

      "I took up my LPGA membership right away, which was fun to do at just 17," Henderson said. She won the Cambia Portland Classic in 2016 as well and keeps rolling along.

      Henderson won last year's KPMG Women's PGA Championship at 18 years, nine months and two days, defeating New Zealand's Lydia Ko in a playoff. In the process, she became the Tour's second-youngest major title winner after Ko's 2015 Evian Championship victory at 18 years, four months and 20 days.

      "I had a banner year last year where everything seemed to go perfect but I had a tougher start this season until I got a win in June and finished second in the major I won the previous year," Henderson said. "Sometimes you've got to ride the rollercoaster -- I've learned that over the last two years. Stay patient, work hard and good things will happen."

  • Ryu remains atop of Rolex Rankings
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 2, 2017

    So Yeon Ryu of South Korea continued to hold down the No. 1 spot in the latest Rolex Women's Golf Rankings released on Monday.

    • Ryu has been atop the rankings for 15 weeks in a row, since she bumped Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn from the No. 1 perch in the final week of June.

      The top four slots remained unchanged with South Korea's Sung Hyun Park sitting at No. 2 and followed by Lexi Thompson of the United States and Anna Nordqvist of Sweden.

      In Gee Chun of South Korea moved up one spot for the second week in a row to enter the top five while Shanshan Feng of China jumped up one spot to sixth.

      Jutanugarn, who ended the 84-week reign of New Zealand's Lydia Ko earlier this season, tumbled two spots to No. 7. South Korean I.K. Kim moved up to eighth while Ko dropped to No. 9.

      Canada's Brooke Henderson, who wrapped up a victory at the New Zealand Women's Open on Monday, jumped up two slots to 10th.

      South Koreans held down five of the next six spots, with American Cristie Kerr wedged between them at No. 14.

  • Ko heads home looking for first win of season
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    Former world No. 1 Lydia Ko still is looking for her first victory of the 2017 LPGA Tour season, and she's hoping a return home for the first-ever LPGA Tour event in New Zealand will push her back into the winner's circle.

    • The 20-year-old Ko is back home in Auckland to play in the inaugural McKayson New Zealand Women's Open at Windross Farm Golf Club. She has won 14 times on the LPGA Tour but has gone 29 starts and over a year since her last victory, which came at the 2016 Marathon Classic just outside Toledo, Ohio.

      She's familiar with winning in her home country, having garnered three of the last four New Zealand Women's Opens (before the tournament was an LPGA Tour event) and finished as runner-up in 2014.

      "It gets more exciting each time I am home and come to this course that I realize that we have an LPGA event coming here," Ko said. "I'm always proud to play my national open and now with to have the best golfers here is an extra bonus.

      "The crowds (here in the past) have been awesome. I'm really going to get great energy from them and feed off that. No matter if I make birdie or bogey, they'll always be there supporting."

      When the 2017 LPGA Tour season began, there were no signs that Ko would have to endure this current winless swoon.

      She racked up three wins last year, including her second major triumph, and captured a silver medal at the Rio Olympic Games. Even with that success, Ko changed her coach and her equipment, and brought onboard another new caddie before the start of this season.

      She started the year well, with three top 10s in her first four events, but then things started to go off the track as Ko suffered just the second missed cut of her career. After righting the ship a bit with four more top-10 finishes, she went four straight events without a top 15 and then missed two more cuts in the space of three tournaments.

      After having been the top player in the world for 85 weeks, Ko lost that spot in June and has slipped to eighth in a matter of just three months.

      She's fought out of her mini-slump by accentuating the positives and understanding that she can't make everyone happy.

      "I try not to really read anything about me, that way I don't get caught up with everything," Ko said. "I just try to focus on what is going on in front of me and not so much of the bigger picture. All I can do is try my best in everything I do.

      "I've just been able to get a few different aspects of my game to work well in one (whole) round," Ko said. "That gives me more opportunity for birdies and making more birdies and having good finishes is a good confidence booster. Playing well at Indianapolis definitely gave me confidence going into the Evian and it's nice to have some good results leading into the New Zealand Open."

      While working through her changes this season, Ko has become more analytical, which works against her nature.

      "Lydia has never been analytical about any part of her game," said Gary Gilchrist, Ko's swing coach. "She is probably the most natural player, who just used her feel, and went out and played with it. I think the biggest thing for her is to go out again and just play, without too much thinking."

      Ko has shown serious signs of life recently, playing in the last group on the final day and finishing as the runner-up at the Indy Women in Tech Championship before ending up a stroke out of a playoff two weeks ago at The Evian Championship in France. Those are the kind of results Ko has become used to producing in her four-plus years on the LPGA Tour.

      "I really feel like all changes were good changes and there are no regrets," Ko said. "Sometimes you might not see results right away but you have to keep with it and find what's best for you. Every year, no matter if you're the player of the year or not, there's always aspects where you feel like, 'Oh man, how come this not as good', but because I haven't won for the last year or so it feels like a longer period.

      "With everything, there's always going to be ups and downs. You just have to be patient, and patience is the hardest thing."

      This week, Ko will seek to become the first non-American player to win a LPGA tournament in their home country since South Korea's Kyu Jung Baek at the 2014 LPGA KEB HanaBank Championship.

  • Take 5 with Moriya Jutanugarn
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    The Sports Xchange caught up with Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand as the LPGA heads to Auckland and the McKayson New Zealand Women's Open, which begins on Thursday. The LPGA then travels to Asia for a seven-week stay, with visits to the People's Republic of China, South Korea, Chinese Taipei, Malaysia and Japan.

    • Q: Who got you started in golf?

      A: My parents took me and my sister to the golf course, and after we got tired of running around we started playing golf. My sister (fellow LPGA Tour golfer Ariya Jutanugarn) and I started at the same time.

      Q: What's your favorite memory in golf?

      A: When I shot a 9-under-par 63 this year in Phoenix (Jutanugarn finished tied for eighth at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup). Sometimes when you play golf, everything just comes together and that was one of those days.

      Q: What's your favorite thing to do outside of golf?

      A: I like cooking. When I'm at home, I like to cook three meals a day if I can. I always cook Thai food -- it's more about what I want to eat. I check out Google or YouTube for the right recipes.

      Q: What's the best shot you've ever hit?

      A: I've had two hole-in-ones but I don't consider those my best shots. Last year when I played in (the Marathon Classic in) Toledo, I hit this shot so well that I was surprised it didn't go in the hole -- it felt so good coming off the club and it never left the pin. I almost cried when it didn't go in the hole. It was a really good feeling.

      Q: Who are your best friends on Tour?

      A: Maybe -- no, not maybe -- it's my sister. We are not always friends but most of the time we are OK.

  • So Yeon Ryu continues stay atop Rolex Rankings
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, September 25, 2017

    So Yeon Ryu of South Korea continued to set the pace in the latest Rolex Women's Golf Rankings released on Monday.

    • Ryu, who moved up to No. 1 in the final week of June, holds the top ranking for the 14th consecutive week -- the eighth-longest run by a player in that spot.

      Consistency has been the hallmark of Ryu's season -- she leads the LPGA Tour with 10 top-10 finishes in only 18 events this year.

      There was no change among the top five, with South Korea's Sung Hyun Park holding the No. 2 spot, American Lexi Thompson third, Sweden's Anna Nordqvist fourth and Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn fifth. Jutanugarn has nine top-10 finishes this year, tied with Thompson, No. 8 Lydia Ko and younger sister Moriya for second on the tour.

      The only change in the top 10 came when South Korea's In Gee Chun moved up one spot to No. 6, dropping China's Shanshan Feng to seventh.

      Ko, whose 84-week reign at No. 1 was ended by Jutanugarn earlier this year, was followed by South Koreans I.K. Kim and Inbee Park at Nos. 9 and 10.

  • Popular Miyazato departs LPGA Tour with no regrets
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 19, 2017

    Japanese golfer Ai Miyazato walked away from the LPGA Tour last week at the age of 32, retiring after a successful 12-year career that saw her win nine times and become the top-ranked women's player in the world for 11 weeks in 2011.

    • Miyazato, whose popularity rivals that of Japanese baseball players Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui and made her the equivalent of a movie star in her home country, in May surprised the sporting world when she announced her plans to retire at the end of the 2017 season due to a lack of motivation.

      "Looking back now, I had a great time and I'm glad I came to the U.S. and challenged all the things," Miyazato said. "Right now, to be honest, I feel so proud of myself. I got through so many things and of course, I had so much up and downs, too."

      Rather than competing in the Tour's swing through Asia, which includes a stop in her home country, Miyazato chose to stop playing two months ahead of the season's end following last week's Evian Championship, the event she won in 2009 for her first title on the LPGA Tour.

      Miyazato also won the Evian in 2011, after which donated money from the winnings to help earthquake victims from her Japanese homeland.

      Miyazato's retirement was the latest in a series by the game's superstars during the last decade, including Annika Sorenstam of Sweden, Lorena Ochoa of Mexico and South Korea's Se Ri Pak.

      But those three golfers either walked away to pursue interests away from golf or to start a family -- Miyazato is not sure what she will do next professionally, but because of her popularity she will have myriad options.

      "It's about motivation, so it's more personal," she said. "I feel very happy right now and I've felt this way since I made the decision to retire, so there really haven't been any mixed emotions or regret.

      "It's kind of a little bit bittersweet. I feel happy, but I'm kind of sad to leave at the same time because I'm going to miss all my friends on the Tour."

      From the beginning of her career, more than three dozen Japanese media traveled the world following Miyazato, documenting every round she played, putting her life on and off the course under a microscope.

      As a teenager in high school, Miyazato burst into the international spotlight by becoming the first amateur to win a JLPGA Tour event in 30 years. Miyazato is a 15-time winner on the Japan LPGA, where she won two majors.

      A year later, she won five times as a JLPGA rookie and won the 2005 qualifying tournament by 12 strokes to earn her LPGA Tour card for 2006, with more than five dozen Japanese journalists on hand.

      Miyazato racked up seven top-10s in her rookie season and crossed the million-dollar mark in career earnings the following year.

      Her breakout year was 2010. Miyazato opened the season with back-to-back wins -- which hadn't been done on Tour in more than 40 years -- and picked up three more victories that season as Miyazato Mania had engulfed Japan. She rose to the top of the Rolex Rankings as No. 1 in the world a year later, becoming the first Japanese player -- male or female -- to hold the top spot.

      "Ai is like Tiger Woods in Japan," Golf Channel Japan reporter Mitsuki Katahira said. "Everyone said she is like a god. Even people (who) don't play golf, they will recognize her."

      There's nowhere Miyazato can go in Japan without being recognized. She has often taken refuge in the United States, where she has been able to live a relatively normal life without a disguise. The grind has certainly taken its toll on her over the years.

      More than 300 people packed a press conference in Tokyo in May to hear the her explain her decision to retire. Massive crowds came out to support Miyazato at the Suntory Ladies Open in Japan in June, as it began to sink in that she was nearing the end of her playing career.

      Miyazato's last victory on the LPGA came five years ago in Arkansas. Eventually, her motivation began to wane. For the past four years, she has wrestled with the decision to keep playing.

      Miyazato made an impression on her peers throughout her career.

      Reigning world No. 1 So Yeon Ryu said that she got emotional when Miyazato announced in May she would be retiring later this year.

      "I nearly cried," Ryu said. "When I was young, Ai was one of my idols. As everybody knows, she was a great ambassador for this game, and she will be forever. She's not just a great golfer. She's a really great person."

      Miyazato said he hasn't decided yet whether she will stay in America or go home to Japan.

      "I really like living in the U.S. because you know, almost like half of my life I spent time ove here," she said. "I would love to keep my place in the U.S."

      When asked on Sunday if there was anything that she put off doing because she was playing golf that she can't wait to do now, Miyazato flashed her brilliant smile and laughed.

      "Staying home without any trouble -- maybe just having a normal life," she said. "Just seeing my friends every day maybe and having a dinner, and just talks about nothing maybe. That's what I'm expecting right now. So I can't wait.

      "I have always wanted a pet, but couldn't because of all the traveling I do," Miyazato added. "I'd like to bring a dog or a cat, maybe both, in to my life and I'm definitely going to adopt."

  • Take 5 with Chella Choi
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 19, 2017

    After a whirlwind period of globetrotting from Canada to the United States' Pacific Northwest, to middle America and then to France, the LPGA Tour will take a week off before heading to Auckland and the McKayson New Zealand Women's Open, which begins on Sept. 28.

    • South Korea's Chella Choi, who has one career victory and four top-10 finishes on Tour this season, took some time during last week's Evian Championship to answer a few questions from The Sports Xchange about her game, her memories of golf and what she does away from the course.

      Q: Who are your best friends on Tour?

      A: "Hyo Joo Kim of South Korea and Ayako Uehara of Japan."

      Q: If there's one thing you could change about your golf game, what would it be?

      A: "I would like to be able to hit the ball further. I hear from my parents all the time about how I need to hit the ball further to keep up with all our long hitters out here."

      Q: What do you like to do off the course?

      A: "I like to stay at home and sleep and play (Nintendo) Wii -- I really like playing tennis on television. I spend most of the time just relaxing and reading and having fun in social networks.

      Q: What's your favorite memory from golf?

      A" "The first (and only) time I won on Tour (2015 Marathon Classic). Also the day I earned my LPGA Tour card (Choi earned her card on her first attempt, in 2008, at age 18).

      Q: Who influenced you to begin playing golf?

      A: "My mom -- my parents got me into the game. Every day they would drag me to the course with them and I followed my mom. I thought, 'This looks very easy, I want to hit and build my swing.' But then I couldn't hit the ball and I found out it wasn't so easy. It's very complicated. My golf game is better now, but -- for me -- the game is harder now because I want to be perfect all the time."

  • Nordqvist shoots up Rolex Women's Golf Rankings after win
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, September 18, 2017

    Anna Nordqvist's dramatic win in the LPGA Tour's final major of the year led to a dramatic jump in the Rolex Women's Golf Rankings released Monday.

    • Nordqvist, who erased a five-stroke deficit in the final round before winning Sunday's Evian Championship in a playoff, vaulted nine spots to No. 4.

      That matched the highest career ranking for the Swede, who was fourth in the world for a four-week span in 2010. The Evian represented Nordqvist's second major victory; she also won the McDonald's LPGA Championship in 2009.

      So Yeon Ryu of South Korea remained atop the rankings, holding down the No. 1 perch for the 13th consecutive week.

      The jockeying for No. 2 continued as Sung Hyun Park of South Korea moved up to No. 2, bumping American Lexi Thompson back to the third spot. Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn, who briefly took over at No. 1 in June, rounded out the top five.

      Shanshan Feng of China held steady at No. 6 while South Korea's In Gee Chun dropped two spots to seventh. Lydia Ko of New Zealand, whose 84-week reign at No. 1 was ended by Jutanugarn, was eighth while South Koreans I.K. Kim and Inbee Park completed the top 10.

      Canada's Brooke Henderson fell out of the top 10, dropping one slot to 11th. Americans Cristie Kerr and Stacy Lewis are 14th and 16th, respectively.

  • Creamer (wrist) out of Evian Championship
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, September 15, 2017

    Paula Creamer withdrew from the LPGA's Evian Championship with a sprained tendon in her left wrist.

    • Creamer was hurt Tuesday during practice and said setting the club brought extreme discomfort and emotional anguish. Creamer said she fought the decision to bow out of the LPGA's final major of the season because she didn't want to let down Ai Miyazato. Miyazato is playing in her final professional event.

      "Every time I set the club, it's just like excruciating," Creamer said.

      Miyazato chose Yani Tseng and Creamer to be in her group for the first two rounds of her final competition.

      "I wanted to be out there for (Miyazato), and who knows, I'll definitely be out there on the green when she finishes tomorrow," said Creamer. "And hopefully on Sunday."

  • Ryu, Thompson highlight top field at The Evian Championship
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, September 12, 2017

    The LPGA Tour heads to France and the south shore of Lake Geneva this week for The Evian Championship, in which a stacked field of 22 of the world's top 25 players will try to win the fifth and final major championship of the season.

    • World No. 1 So Yeon Ryu, the 27-year-old from South Korea, heads the roster of players that includes newly elevated second-ranked player Lexi Thompson, third-ranked Sung Hyun Park of South Korea (the erstwhile rookie of the year frontrunner) and all four players who have claimed this major championship -- Suzann Pettersen of Norway (2013), Lydia Ko of New Zealand (2015) and Hyo Joo Jim (2014) and In Gee Chun (2016) of South Korea.

      The field includes 92 of the top 100 players on the LPGA money List, and the winners of a combined 51 majors.

      The golfers will tee it up beginning Thursday at the Evian Resort Golf Club, in Evian-les-Bains, France, which will play to a par of 71 and at 6,479 yards. On the line is a total purse of $3.65 million, with $547,500 and 625 Race to the CME Globe points going to the winner of the 72-hole event.

      This tournament, which was born in 1994 as the Evian Masters, became an official LPGA Tour event in 2000 and was elevated to a major in 2013.

      Past Evian Masters winners in the field are Laura Davies of England (1995 & 1996), Juli Inkster (2003), Paula Creamer (2005), Karrie Webb of Australia (2006), Natalie Gulbis (2007) and Ai Miyazato of Japan (2009 & 2011), who is retiring after this championship.

      Ryu is chasing her third win of the year and her second career major championship victory, following the ANA Inspiration in April. She has now been atop of the Rolex Women's World Golf Rankings for 12 consecutive weeks.

      "Being world No. 1 is a lot of pressure," Ryu said. "Finally I realized how much it is -- how tough it is. But another thing I realized is that I don't want to, like, give up. I don't want to just run away. I just want to put on this pressure, and I want to fight through."

      If Ryu can take the victory on Sunday, she will join countrywoman In-Kyung Kim as the season's only three-time winner. Ryu currently leads the Rolex Player of the Year standings by three points over Thompson and also sits atop the standings for Rolex ANNIKA Major Award honors.

      Defending champion Chun captured her first Evian Championship title by four strokes over Park and Ryu. Chun's 72-hole score of 21-under-par 263 is the lowest major championship score in the history of men's and women's golf, and she went on to win the year's Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year honors.

      Thompson enters The Evian Championship in peak form after posting her second victory of 2017 at the Indy Women in Tech Championship last week in Indianapolis. She is the only American with multiple wins this season and the only player on the LPGA Tour with wins in each of the last five seasons.

      While many of the world's top players took last week off to prepare for this event, Thompson played and won. Now she's dealing with the flight to France and the jet lag that comes with such travel.

      "Even though it's only a six-hour time difference, it's hard to get used to," the 22-year-old Thompson said. "I think I slept for like 11 hours last night. I've never slept that long, in a while. It is definitely hard to get used to the time change and just a lot of travel and having to play golf the next day, but it's something I'm kind of used to.

      "I've done the travel since I was 15-years old going out of the country and everything, so I'm pretty used to it."

      If she wins this week, Thompson would join Pettersen (2013) as the only players to win both The Evian Championship and the event preceding. The other three players to win the event prior went on to miss the cut at Evian Resort Golf Club.

      If Thompson can forge victory again this year, she'll be the first American with three or more wins in a season since Stacy Lewis won three times in 2014.

      The Evian Championship is the 26th event in the season-long Race to the CME Globe. Thompson currently leads the standings with 3,192 points, followed by Ryu (2,652 points) and Park (2,563 points). This week could provide a major shakeup to the Race standings, as the five LPGA major championships carry 25 percent more value.

      After The Evian Championship, the LPGA Tour will take a week off before heading to Auckland and the McKayson New Zealand Women's Open.

      It's then on to seven consecutive weeks in Asia, with the Tour visiting the People's Republic of China, South Korea, Chinese Taipei, Malaysia and Japan, before heading back to the United States for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, in Naples, Fla.