Running out of time
Thursday, December 2, 2010
LPGA Tour Championship
Course: Grand Cypress Golf Club, North and South Courses (6,518 yards, par 72), Orlando, Fla.
Purse: $1.5 million. Winner's share: $225,000.
Last year: Sweden's Anna Nordqvist won the season-ending tournament at The Houstonian, and Lorena Ochoa finished second to take the Rolex Player of the Year points race for the fourth consecutive year.
ORLANDO, Fla. – Suzann Pettersen wasn’t interested in giving a straight answer to my question: “Are all the second-place finishes really getting to you?”
Cue the one-line deadpans:
“It’s a lot better than third.”
“Take the money and run.”
“I always play to finish second.”
“Second place is the first loser. I can tell you how that feels.”
So, is the humor being used to deflect frustration or is this just her normal witty self? She’s probably just tired of the question.
When Ai Miyazato chipped in on the 18th hole in Thailand to nip Pettersen at the season-opener, one got the impression this could be a huge year for the Norwegian. Turns out it was her first of six runner-up showings in a winless 2010.
“I told her, 'Now you know how Greg Norman felt throughout his career,’ ” said Pettersen’s instructor, David Leadbetter.
Pettersen’s latest disappointment came at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, and she noted how many times the hostess herself had near-misses before breaking through to dominate.
Not surprisingly, Pettersen didn’t take any time off after Guadalajara, barreling through the off-weeks in an effort to end on a high note. She’s out of the Player of the Year race, which now consists of Yani Tseng, Na Yeon Choi, Cristie Kerr and Jiyai Shin. The hip injury that limited Pettersen to 18 events also kept her from being in the race for the Vare Trophy, which recognizes the low scoring average, because she did not meet the minimum number of rounds.
The race she’s still in, however, is a big one: World No. 1. Currently ranked second behind Shin, Pettersen hasn’t spent one week at the top spot. She’ll have to fend off Kerr, Tseng, Choi and Miyazato to have a chance.
Pettersen lives about 10 minutes from Grand Cypress Golf Club, site of this week’s season-ending LPGA Tour Championship, and spends a good deal of time practicing there. She plays most of her golf at nearby Bay Hill and gets lessons from Leadbetter at ChampionsGate, just south of Orlando.
Pettersen believes good ball-strikers will have an advantage this week because players will be hitting into small spots on the greens. A technical player who loves to work the ball, Pettersen can get to pins many players can’t. She and Leadbetter worked on opening up her putting stance before Mexico, and she found immediate results. She feels good and rested headed into her last four rounds of competition.
“I don’t think you have to go drastically low for four days to get it done around here,” she said.
Leadbetter said his student insists she hasn’t played her best golf yet, which sounds right coming from a perfectionist.
“It wouldn’t surprise anyone to see her in the next year or two really dominate,” Leadbetter said. “You sort of expect that from her at any stage.”
Indeed, to look at Pettersen, a specimen of power and technique, it’s easy to imagine her running circles around the likes of Shin and Miyazato. But for Pettersen, it’s as much of a mental battle as anything else. In 2007, she won five times. She has won only once since.
It does feel like Pettersen stands on the brink of something big. Leadbetter relayed the story that Arnold Palmer recently came up to Pettersen at Bay Hill, exclaiming, “I’ve got it!”
Naturally, Palmer didn’t share his secret with Pettersen, but it’s easy to imagine a tinkering Pettersen saying something similar if she’s still swinging a club at Palmer’s age.
“Golfers are nuts,” Leadbetter said with a laugh.
And they abhor second.