The best vibe in professional golf right now isn’t at Valhalla

The LPGA, this week, is in Part II of its Great Northeastern Golf Swing series. If you haven’t been tuning in, you’re missing out.

The post The best vibe in professional golf right now isn’t at Valhalla appeared first on Golf.

The LPGA, this week, is in Part II of its Great Northeastern Golf Swing series. If you haven’t been tuning in, you’re missing out.

The post The best vibe in professional golf right now isn’t at Valhalla appeared first on Golf.

It’s become almost fashionable, to say that professional golf is in a state of chaos right now, a gilded version of As the World Turns, starring Yasir and Tiger and Greg Norman, with Pat Perez’s wife in a cameo role. But really that statement is way too broad. This would be more accurate: elite men’s professional golf is a mess. Even Seth Waugh, silver-haired CEO of the PGA of America and one of the game’s most reliable Establishment figures, will tell you that.

Still, by Sunday night at the PGA Championship at Valhalla, some golfing mega-talent, a male of the species, likely wearing oil-based pants and a shirt tattooed with logos, will clean-and-jerk the Wanamaker Trophy and earn a permanent place in elite men’s professional golf history. (He will also get a check for $3.15 million.) If this PGA is anything like the last one at Valhalla, the 2014 model featuring Rory and Rickie and Phil and a fast-setting August sun, it’ll be a high-wire act. So we have that going for us, which is — all together now — nice.

But all this while, the best thing in professional golf now is right under our visors and almost invisible. And that is the elite women’s professional game, in all its elegant, athletic excellence. The LPGA, this week, is in Part II of its Great Northeastern Golf Swing series. We are all corrupted by our allegiances, but to this reporter, there really is nothing like golf in the Northeast in May and June and October and November. May Day to Thanksgiving. To everything there is a season. Go ladies go.

Last week, in Part I of this GNGS tour, the LPGA congregated at the Upper Montclair County Club, a stop-time A.W. Tillinghast course in northern New Jersey, where Nelly Korda tried to win her sixth straight event, and Rose Zhang, Stanford University student and professional golfer, won her second LPGA title. She shot 24 under. I was at the course, early in the week. I would have guessed 10 under as a winning score. These guys are good. Wildly good and crazily modest.

This week (GNGS II) the LPGA is playing down the road from Upper Montclair, at Liberty National, in Jersey City. (That’s a joke. Bruce has spent his life singing about Garden State backstreets and boardwalk traffic but in northern New Jersey there is no such thing as down the road. The phrase itself is too country.) Nelly Korda is in the field. So, too, was Rose Zhang until she fell ill and had to withdraw. Also on the tee sheet: Lydia Ko, Jennifer Kupcho, Lexi Thompson and (I am a new fan of this threesome) Yealimi Noh, Bailey Tardy and Wei-Ling Hsu.

You know how one of the stated problems of elite men’s professional golf is that there are so few occasions when the best players in the world all gather in one place? Elite women’s professional golf doesn’t have that problem. When the women play, they all play, pretty much.

The gals will all gather again (GNGS III) for the great grandmother of all women’s golf events, the U.S. Open, to be played May 30 through June 2 at the Lancaster Country Club, a William Flynn masterwork in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish country, with its lazy hills and lush spring grass. This will be grand, for any number of reasons, including the chance to celebrate Bill Flynn, who put his stamp on Merion, Shinnecock Hills and Pine Valley without leaving any fingerprints. He’s the least me-me-me of the great architects. In a recent interview, Tom Doak, the golf course architect and historian, talked about how underrated and underappreciated Flynn is.

rose zhang swings a driver during the 2024 founders cup

What every golfer can learn from Rose Zhang’s swing secrets

By: Zephyr Melton

What a treat this will be, to have the chance to see one of golf’s great championships unfold on such a good course. (Tickets are still available — a scandal! — and you can watch the weekend play on NBC. Yes, easy-to-find network TV. You remember network TV, don’t you?) On June 2, on that tournament’s concluding Sunday afternoon, some golfing mega-talent, likely wearing an oil-based shirt tattooed with logos, will lift the Semple Trophy and will have earned a permanent place in elite women’s professional golf history. That same woman will also get a check for about $2.2 million.

Then, at GNGS IV, comes the ShopRite Classic, played on the lovely old Bay Course of the lovely old Seaview Resort in early June. On June 7, on the Friday of the 90-hole event, Patti LaBelle will be playing down the road at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. Yes, Lady LaBelle. Hey sister, go sister, soul sister, flow sister. Hey sister, go sister, soul sister, flow sister indeed!

OK, yes: To win the ShopRite, what you actually need to do is shoot the lowest score over the tournament’s 54 holes, one round on Friday, one on Saturday, one on Sunday. That’s what Ashleigh Buhai, the South African golfer, did last year. Buhai, the 2022 British Open winner, shot 14 under over the three rounds, one shot better than Hyo Joo Kim of Korea. (Other nations represented among the top finishers last year were from Japan, China, Sweden, Denmark, Thailand and some other countries, including the United States of America.) We say 90 holes because the ShopRite event has not one but two days of pro-am fun, featuring hundreds of golfers, professional and amateur. Everywhere you look on the Wednesday and the Thursday of the ShopRite, there are shuttle vans and golf carts depositing golfers of all shapes and sizes to various sea-level teeing grounds. Brackish air. Good times.

Are you catching this fever here? I have had the good fortune of being dropped into the distinct pleasures of this Great Northeastern Golf Swing. Through the kindness of others, I was able to play in the Part I pro-am, at the Cognizant Founders Cup at Upper Montclair, and the Part II pro-am, at the Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National. As a teenager, I caddied in a couple of LPGA pro-ams on Long Island and it was neat to these events unfold from the other side of the bag. The Founders Cup, a Mike Whan invention when he was the LPGA commissioner, honors the 13 founding mothers who got the LPGA off the ground in 1950, every last one of them a remarkable person with a one-off life story.

Madelene Sagstrom of Sweden plays her shot from the third green during the third round of the Cognizant Founders Cup at Upper Montclair Country Club
Madelene Sagstrom came up just short in her Founders Cup duel with Rose Zhang. getty images

Before too long here, all 13 will be in the World Golf Hall of Fame, as the whole gang is being inducted on June 10, at the Hall’s new hall in Pinehurst. Hallelujah. The only shame of it is that all 13 are now dead. The last to go was Marlene Bauer Hagge-Vossler, who died last year at 89. MBHV was already in the WGHF, as were most of the others, but now the 13 women are being recognized as a group.

An early highlight of the Cognizant event was its Wednesday night pro-am party, where I saw Nelly Korda and Rose Zhang hanging around a buffet station.  (One of several, I might note, all of them excellent, with food for every taste!) The ladies were parked in front of a large bowl of red-pepper hummus. Turns out, these two golf stars were knocking off two birds with minimum fuss. LPGA regulations require the players to appear at 60 percent of the pro-am parties of the tournaments in which they play, and yes, attendance is taken and noted. Also, in an adjacent room, the Jerome Travis Room, a dinner meeting of potential members of the 2024 U.S. Solheim Cup team would soon be meeting. Zhang and Korda will be on that team, Ms. Stacy Lewis presiding.

At that pro-am party, four Hall of Famers were milling about, Pat Bradley, Nancy Lopez, Beth Daniel and Meg Mallon. The LPGA commissioner, Mollie Marcoux Samaan, was in the house, too. If you wanted to talk to any of them, about most anything, all you had to was ask. So. Much. Fun. Pat Bradley was dancing. Too good. The next day, I got to see Yealimi Noh’s game up close at the pro-am. The round took nearly six hours. Her parents saw every shot. Yealimi’s strikes are solid, and her shots soar and she takes some aggressive lines. A pleasure to watch and play with and now root for. That’s the beauty of the LPGA pro-am. I started rooting for Lori Garbacz in 1980, when I caddied for her in her pro-am group. I got to see young Addie Parker’s game, too. Addie is a sports journalist who took up golf by way of the First Tee program in Richmond. Her swing is a study in good rhythm and she drives it long. I will save my analysis for the other members of our troop — the editor Alan Bastable and his caddie, his son Declan; our colleague Zephyr Melton and his caddie, Leia Schwartz, rising star of the USGA communications team; my own caddie, Jofie Ferrari-Adler, former cart boy at the Athens (Ga.) Country Club, now a book editor — for another occasion.

This week, at the Mizuho pro-am at Liberty National, I played the front nine with Bailey Tardy, who won in China earlier this year, and the back nine with Wei-Ling Hsu, who represented Taiwan in the 2020 Olympics, who speaks perfect Chinese (her native language) and English (her adopted one). Two golfers in their 20s playing the world with totally different games and styles and personalities, both women so interesting, each in her own way. Bailey talked (comically) about winning in China amid the various on-course challenges brought on by . . . food poisoning. Wei-Ling talked (contemplatively) about driving along from Upper Montclair to Liberty National, past the George Washington Bridge (George Washington!), the New York skyline to her left (New York, New York!), heading south toward the Statue of Liberty. She has a condo in Orlando, though she is almost never there.

Tom Kite, who co-designed the course with Bob Cupp, was on the course, on the driving range, in the pro shop. We talked some about the pleasure of a 530-yard hole being a true par-5 for the women playing this week. Sane golf is so great. The course has matured beautifully over the past nearly 20 years. If you don’t like playing it, there may be something wrong with you. If you don’t like a format that features 24 elite junior girl golfers playing with the pros, ditto. Sensible innovation. What a concept!

Elite women’s professional golf is in a good place. I, II, III, IV. North Jersey, Jersey City, Amish Country, Jersey Shore. Anybody wanna go on up to Greasy Lake? A good time. A good time to be on the bandwagon.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected].

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