Different Strokes: Irish missing in action from first Major

Steve Stricker’s arrival on Champions Tour is putting it up to Bernhard Langer

Irish from the off

Who knows, maybe this time next year an Irish professional golfer will get to play in the first Major of the season? Nope, not the Masters - for it is the women, with the Ana Inspiration at Rancho Mirage in California, who traditionally get first dibs on the Majors each year.

With Leona Maguire - who recently slipped to number two in the world amateur rankings, having occupied the top spot for 83 straight weeks - set to turn professional after completing her university studies at Duke University in June, and with a Symetra Tour card in her back pocket and also the prospect of LPGA Tour invitations to boot, there is the real possibility she will be competing by right come next year's Majors' campaign.

For now, though, the first Major of the season will see no Irish playing involvement (although there are a number of caddies on tour bags) in what is a tournament that generally produces its fair share of excitement.

Originally known as the Dinah Shore tournament when it first became part of the LPGA Tour circuit, it was elevated to the status of a Major in 1983; and it was in 1988 that a tradition which stands to this day was incorporated: that of the champion jumping into the pond surrounding the 18th green, known as Champion's Lake (or Poppie's Pond, after former tournament director Terry Wilcox).

Who’ll be jumping into the water come Sunday night as the first Major champion of the season? South Korea’s Ryu So-yeon is the defending champion but there have been seven first-time winners in the last eight years, the exception being Brittany Lincicome (winner in 2015, having previously won in 2009), which generally makes for an open tournament.

Indeed, the LPGA Tour so far this season has witnessed six different winners, most recently Eun-Hee Ji - who included a hole-in-one in her final round to win the Kia Classic on Sunday, also driving away with not one but two cars from the title sponsor (one for the ace, the other for her tournament win) - and, interestingly, there is an even fifty-fifty split between American and Korean winners: Lincicome, Michellie Wie and Jessica Korda (USA), and Ji, Inbee Park and Ko Jin-young (Korea).

Champions Tour

Is it a case of “Move Over Bernhard, your time is up!” . . . certainly, Steve Stricker’s arrival as a serial winner on the Champions Tour would indicate that the German’s period of dominance is at least threatened.

Stricker collected his second title inside three weeks, adding the Rapiscan Systems Classic to the Cologuard Classic he won earlier this month. It means that Stricker has seven top-10 finishes in his nine career starts on the Champions Tour.

Not that Stricks is sticking with only playing on the seniors circuit. This week he returns to the PGA Tour to play in the Houston Open, just as he did a couple of weeks ago when he followed up that win in the Cologuard with an appearance in the Valspar when he finished 12th.

By the Numbers - 10 & 15

Advance ticket sales for the grandstand around the 18th green at Ballyliffin for the DDF Irish Open in July have gone on sale, priced at €10 (for Thursday/Friday/Saturday) and at €15 for the final round (Sunday). Spain’s Jon Rahm, the current world number three, is the defending champion. “This is a week not to be missed in one of Ireland’s most idyllic locations, recently voted the ‘Coolest place on Earth’,” said Simon Aliss, the championship director, who also revealed advance general ticket sales are “ahead of schedule.”

Word of Mouth (I)

"I haven't had such a hard time not thinking about something so much. And that really sucked. I couldn't stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest...... but I need to be mentally stronger than that" - Justin Thomas on being affected by the pressure of trying to leapfrog Dustin Johnson to world number one. Thomas lost to Bubba Watson in the semi-final of the WGC Dell Match Play.

Word of Mouth (II)

"It feels good to have a week off now and recharge my batteries and kind of see my coaches and fine tune what wasn't going so well" - Sweden's Alex Noren - third in the Match Play - on taking a week off before the Masters. Noren has moved to 14th in the latest world rankings, but is still outside the automatic places on the European Ryder Cup tables.

In the Bag - Bubba Watson (WGC Dell Technologies Match Play)

Ball - Titleist Pro V1x

Driver - Ping G400 LST (7.6 degrees)

3-wood - Ping G (13.2 degrees)

Irons - Ping iBlade (2-iron), Ping S55 (4-iron to Pitching Wedge)

Wedges - Ping Glide 2.0 (51.6 degrees, 55.3 degrees, 62.8 degrees)

Putter - Ping PLD

Twitter Twaddle

"Just to let you know..I am not in the Masters, I was told after this mornings round that I was in the Masters by Golf Channel, The Media, @EuropeanTour, 10 minutes before I tee'd off this afternoon I was told sorry points weren't correct your not in yet. DisappointingMistake" - Ian Poulter on the "fake news" that had him under the impression that he'd earned a ticket to Augusta. In actual fact, Poulter needed to win his matchplay quarter-final over Kevin Kisner. He didn't, and failed to break into the world's top-50 for the Masters cut-off on Monday. He is ranked 51st.

“Giving a massive (fist pump) to @K_Kisner for showing how to act in the face of defeat on the world stage. Chin held high, knows there are better days ahead. Class act Kevin, cheers!” - former PGA champion Rich Beem - an analyst with Sky Sports - on how Kisner took the heavy loss to Bubba Watson in the WGC Dell Match Play.

"Not ideal!!! Leaving without me, Nairobi bound. First missed flight in 20 years, luckily on a later one! @Challenge_Tour Kenya" - veteran tour player Michael Hoey on missing his Emirates flight en route to starting his season at the Kenyan Open. Fortunately, the Northern Irishman got a later flight . . . . and finished tied-18th in a tournament won by Italian Lorenzo Gagli.

Know the Rules

Q.

In view of the fact that a player may change caddies during his stipulated round, may a player briefly change caddies for the purpose of receiving advice from the new caddie?

A.

No. It would be contrary to the purpose and spirit of the Rules for a player to change caddies briefly for the purpose of circumventing Rule 8-1 (Advice). Therefore, in equity (Rule 1-4), the player would incur a penalty of loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play for each hole at which the action occurred.