Celebrity Deathmatch: Ochoa vs. Sorenstam

The two biggest names in women’s golf top the money list.

ProfilesWe appear to be witnessing a passing of the torch in women’s golf. Come to think of it, it’s more of a snatching of the torch than a genial passing of it.

If you’ve paid any attention to the LPGA over the last three or four years, you’ve probably noticed the steady ascent of Lorena Ochoa. Even as Annika Sorenstam was having a ten-win season in 2005, Ochoa was learning how to stay at the top of a leaderboard. She notched her third win that year (to go with ten top-tens), before really breaking out in 2006-07.

Last year, Ochoa finally won a major, after coming close several times. Now that she can win the big ones, it’s anyone’s guess what kind of record she will end up with at the end of her career… maybe even Annika-like numbers.

What’s really remarkable about these two women is how much they have in common. Their dominance respectively began roughly 10 years apart, with Annika’s currently appearing on the wane even as Lorena’s seems to be gaining steam.

Let’s get ready to rumble!

Nine Holes with the Masters

Nine things to ponder and watch for at the 2008 Masters Tournament.

ProfilesThe Masters Tournament is upon us again, and anticipation is running high. Most of us will spend at least a portion of the Masters sitting in front of our TVs, making many of the same comments we made last year about how pleasing to the eye an immaculately kept golf course is when set against azaleas and pines. We’ll marvel at putts that seem to roll forever. And we’ll dream of seeing the course in person (to play it might be too much to even hope).

It’s not a perfect place, though. Such places don’t exist. At Augusta, there’s the inherent stratification of society made obvious by an elite country club, not to mention issues of color and gender, both past and present.

But for all of that, the tournament is an annual rite of Spring, promising warmer days and brighter skies to those in colder parts of the world. And it’s arguably the most popular tournament of the year.

With all its history and tradition, I’m continually learning new things about the Masters Tournament and Augusta National. For instance, did you know that there’s only one hole on the course that doesn’t feature a bunker? Chinese Fir, #14, is a beachless stretch of perfect turf. Or that the first Masters included four international players: two pros from England, one Canadian, and one English amateur? Did you know that alterations to the course have been taking place for its entire history?

Nine Holes with Myrtle Beach

We’re approaching peak golf trip season. For many of us, that means Myrtle Beach and its plethora of golf courses.

ProfilesTo many American and Canadian golfers, the words “golf trip” are virtually synonymous with Myrtle Beach. Though the total number of open courses, by my count, has now dipped just below 100 due to a number of closings over the last decade, there is still plenty of variety and quality golf to be had.

Sure, I’m personifying Myrtle Beach by putting it in ProFiles, but it is almost like a friend (or antagonist at times). We spend much of the year dreaming of a few days spent golfing our brains out with a motley collection of characters we call our golfing buddies. If you’ve been on a golf trip to Myrtle Beach, you can probably relate. If you haven’t you’ll probably recognize bits of your own golf trip in the hints and observations below.

Mike Strantz

Golf’s maverick designer passed in 2005, but his courses live on.

ProfilesIn the past six months, I’ve had the opportunity to play one third of architect Mike Strantz’s golf courses. That may sound like an impressive total, but because he died much too early, at age 50, his portfolio is limited to nine courses. But if the three I’ve played are representative of his work, Mike Strantz was indeed an artist of golf course design.

Mike Strantz was raised in Toledo, OH, and attended Michigan State University. After graduating in 1978, he returned to Toledo to work for Tom Fazio, who was then preparing the Inverness Club to host the 1979 U.S. Open. Strantz continued to work for Fazio for the next eight years, honing his skills on courses like Moss Creek Plantation in Hilton Head, the Links and Harbor courses at Wild Dunes near Charleston, Lake Nona in Orlando, Osprey Point on Kiawah Island, and Black Diamond Ranch in Florida.

Nine Holes with Henrik Stenson

What’s in the water in Sweden?

ProfilesHave you noticed how many Swedish golfers are in contention these days? Jesper Parnevik (who has been showing signs lately of getting his game back) is the volcano-dust eating, wafer-thin leader of the crew. Then there’s Helen Alfredsson, Daniel Chopra, Niclas Fasth, Mathias Grönberg, Sophie Gustafson, Maria Hjorth, Fredrik Jacobson, Per-Ulrik Johansson, Richard S. Johnson, Robert Karlsson, Carin Koch, Liselotte Neumann, Carl Pettersson, Jarmo Sandelin, Louise Stahle – to name a few of the more famous – and naturally, Annika Sorenstam – the most famous.

If you spend much time watching Golf Central, you probably recognize most if not all of these 17 names. There are several other notable Swedish golfers, but there’s one in particular that is emerging as one of the top golfers in the world…

Nine Holes with the Tiger Taunters

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape.

ProfilesTaking a tiger by the tail is supposed to be a good thing. It’s akin to slaying a dragon. Of course, the unspoken part of taking that tiger’s tail is that you have to actually come out on top. Otherwise, it’s more like tilting at windmills. Brave words, but no accomplishment.

For the most part, PGA Tour pros are very careful of what they say about fellow competitors. Those who dare diss Tiger Woods, whether outright or inferred, tend to pay a hefty price. It seems Tiger feeds on afronts, even when they are not meant as such.

Nine Thankful Holes with the Skins Game

The Skins Game is just about fun, and that can’t be all bad.

ProfilesIt’s almost Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and that means one thing… OK, it means a bunch of things: turkey dinners, football games featuring the Jets/Cowboys and Packers/Lions (and Colts/Falcons if you happen to have the NFL Network), pumpkin pies, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, turkey sandwiches, Black Friday, cranberry sauce, college football, gravy, and, of course, the 25th iteration of that yearly golf tradition without equal… the Skins Game (or, officially, the LG Skins Game).

The Skins Game, Nov. 24-25, provides a last gasp of golf season, and signals the start of the Silly Season proper (though the whole Fall Series has felt a little more silly this year with its near total lack of big names).

Nine Holes with Steve Stricker

Steve Stricker found his golf swing on a range in Madison, Wisconsin, in the dead of winter. It’s always the last place you look.

ProfilesSteve Stricker almost disappeared into the woods of Wisconsin. His resume went from “promising young player” to “washed up 30-something” in a matter of months. But with the help of a space heater, his father-in-law, and a trailer on a driving range, Stricker found his game again.

By all accounts, Stricker is a nice guy, a “regular joe.” Tiger calls him “classy.” His rollercoaster PGA Tour career has been a riches-to-rags-to-riches story.

Stricker showed early promise on Tour. He won twice in 1996, his seventh year as a pro, and he seemed destined to be among the premier players. He won again in 2001, but then gradually, his swing left him and his scores rose.

He missed getting his card at the 2005 Q-School, but he’s has come a very long way since. This year, Stricker finished second in the FedExCup, made the Presidents Cup team, and scored his first win since 2001. He’s on a two-year streak of solid play that shows no sign of slowing. 2008 could be another very good year for Steve Stricker.

Nine Holes with the Presidents Cup

It’s no Ryder Cup, but the Presidents Cup has been a lot more competitive lately than its big sister.

ProfilesHere’s the question this week: will more people tune it to watch David Duval play in the Viking Classic or most of the top golfers in the world play the Presidents Cup? I would think it’ll be the Presidents Cup hands down. After all, Tiger’s playing (but I am pretty interested in seeing how Duval does).